How I’d Ruin It: Star Wars

I may have missed the moment where this article would live up to its title, because the state of Star Wars radically changed just a couple months ago. Still, despite the radical changes The Last Jedi made to the core of what Star Wars is and can be, there are still some aspects of the story that I know I’d chafe under as a writer. The fact that many diehard fans disliked The Last Jedi because of its radical changes only makes me feel more justified in claiming I’d ruin Star Wars pretty good. They thought The Last Jedi was heretical? Wait til they get a load of me.

Star Wars both lives by and suffers from what I call a the Rowling World-building Conundrum: namely, it sports a super detailed setting that’s incredibly interesting and appealing, but is also deeply flawed and limited by the simplistic nature of the story it was made to tell. The galaxy far, far away is filled with all sorts of weird aliens, robots, planets, and futuristic technology, all of which were crafted with so much personality built into them that you can get a sense of their history just by looking at them. Every background extra and piece of set dressing is practically dripping with story potential, and part of the reason Star Wars has held onto imaginations as long as it has is because it makes you want to hear those stories.

At the same time, though, actually exploring this setting beyond the Good Rebels vs. Evil Empire conflict at the heart of the films tends to be disastrous, as the main story of Star Wars crumbles once it’s held to the lightest scrutiny. Perhaps the most glaring example are the droids. Have you ever thought about the fact that all the droids in Star Wars, including and especially series mascots C-3PO and R2-D2, are literally slaves? They’re sapient beings. They think, feel, have their own desires and motivations, fears and prejudices, and basically everything that makes a person a person. But they’re slaves. Luke Skywalker’s uncle literally buys them, and throughout the whole series they’re treated as property. C-3PO is routinely forced into dangerous situations he’s terrified to take part in, and everyone’s basically cool with it because, y’know, he’s a slave. Luke’s fine with that. Han’s fine with that. Leia’s fine with that. The Good Rebels are A-OK with slavery, so long as those slaves are robots. Hell, if we take the prequels into account, being a robot might not even be necessary – the Jedi seem pretty chill about humans being slaves in The Phantom Menace, only really caring about liberating a slave when said slave has supernatural powers. That’s, uh, pretty fucked up there.

We don’t think about this stuff when we watch Star Wars because Star Wars is generally far too simplistic and focused to let us. C-3PO gets bought at a slave auction and we don’t bat an eye because the movie quickly moves to the Empire doing cartoonishly evil things or Luke watching a double sunset. Star Wars wasn’t meant to be complex or to make you think, it was meant to show you a really weird world full of aliens, monsters, robots, and lasers, and then have a simplistic battle between cartoonish good and cartoonish evil take place on that set. The setting and characters of Star Wars are fleshed out enough to be interesting, but the plot must always, always, ALWAYS be simple, because if it makes you think, everything crumbles.

(There are tons of other aspects we could look at to show how Star Wars crumbles when made complex – like the way Stormtroopers are treated as universally disposable despite it being established that many were brainwashed from childhood, or how non-humans rarely have positions of power in either the Rebellion or the Empire, or the myriad ways Jedi training is disturbing in the prequels, but let’s keep this article a bit focused.)

Playing into the need for a simplistic Good vs. Evil conflict in Star Wars is the series’ most iconic bit of world-building: the Force. The Force is at the heart of nearly every Star Wars film so far, and even the one film that doesn’t focus on the conflict between its Light and Dark sides, Rogue One, still features it prominently as a quasi-religious entity that inspires the heroes to victory. The Force not only plays up the Good vs. Evil conflict inherent to Star Wars, but is also connected to lightsabers, jedi knights, and evil sith lords, the most popular elements of the Star Wars world. When people do Star Wars mashups, it’s almost always “imagine character from X as either a Jedi or a Sith.” It’s almost unthinkable to have a Star Wars story where the Force isn’t played up in some way, where Jedi and Sith aren’t important, where no one wields a lightsaber even once.

So how am I going to ruin this? Well, I’m going to take a page out of someone else’s book. A couple someone elses, actually. I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Star Wars fanatics before me, with more than a little inspiration being drawn from the old Expanded Universe. I’m also going to look to the films of a director whose work inspired George Lucas when this all began: Akira Kurosawa.

I’m one of those assholes whose favorite characters are the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, the ones who have about ten seconds of screen time together, and spend all of it just standing around taking orders. Yes, even the now infamous “he’s popular so he sucks” Boba Fett. If years of articles and, like, just being on the internet have taught me anything, liking the bounty hunters has become uncool by way of once being cool but then being overexposed. Especially Boba Fett. If the bounty hunters are your favorite characters, then you got shit taste or whatever. Especially Boba Fett.

Back when they were still cool, though, there was a whole book just about them: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, an anthology giving backstories for each of those weird looking thugs who tried to track down Han Solo. We learned how Zuckus, the cockroach looking dude, was philosophical and sympathetic despite his job, and was trying to teach morality to his bug-headed robot buddy 4-LOM. We learned how IG-88 was actually four identical murder robots masquerading as one, who used funds from bounty hunting to build a robot army and was planning to eventually lead a droid uprising that would wipe out all organic life. We learned that Bossk, the lizard guy, was a racist, and how Dengar, the toilet paper mummy man, was the Newman to Han Solo’s Jerry Seinfeld. We learned that Boba Fett was a pretty complicated dude who had reasons for being the badass he was, while at the same time keeping a great deal of his nature obscured to keep up the air of mystery. It was good shit if, y’know, you saw those characters in The Empire Strikes Back and thought, “Wow I wonder what that guy’s story is!”

And again, to me that’s the greatest strength of Star Wars. Star Wars makes you want to know the history of every background extra, because every background extra looks like they have a great story behind them. One of the reasons I like Boba Fett so much is that we get a lot of information about him from very few scenes – the original trilogy has some spotty dialogue, but it’s VERY good at showing instead of telling. I could go into a point by point analysis of Boba Fett’s scenes but I can feel you rolling your eyes every time I mention his name so I’ll move on instead.

As a kid, the bounty hunters fascinated me because they inhabited a much less predictable world than heroes like Luke and Leia, or Imperial baddies like Darth Vader and the Emperor. A rebels vs. Empire story basically always plays out the same: Empire does bad things, rebels come up with sneaky plan to stop them, dramatic blaster/spaceship battle, rebels pull off a successful ploy, Empire curses and plans next evil scheme, repeat. The bounty hunters were on the fringes of that conflict, operating on planets like Tatooine where neither the Empire nor the Rebellion had much of a foothold. People who were allies one day could be enemies the next, and there was a far greater range of conflicts. You had heists, interpersonal disputes, gang wars, all sorts of great stuff.

I mean, at play time I generally had the bounty hunters work on Boba Fett’s dewback ranch, where they routinely chased off the nefarious cattle rustler Jar Jar Binks, because I was a weird kid and thought it made sense for them to all retire to raise giant lizards – not for meat or anything, but just to have giant lizards – but still, when trying to get into normal Star Wars territory, the bounty hunter stories were way more intriguing. I feel that even more now that the prequels have thoroughly killed any interest I ever had in the Jedi or the Force in general, though The Last Jedi may eventually change that.

Now, the other side of this coin of ruination is Akira Kurosawa. A New Hope was partially based on his film The Hidden Fortress, particularly when it comes to the characters of Princess Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2, who have direct counterparts in Kurosawa’s film. Unlike Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress, and indeed all of Kurosawa’s work, is far more complicated when it comes to morality. Kurosawa’s protagonists are never purely good – some of them are heroic, yes, but they all have flaws and failings. His antagonists likewise tend not to be purely evil, though there are some exceptions.

Two of Kurosawa’s other films have been imitated/homaged/ripped off FAR more than The Hidden Fortress, and they also happen to be my two favorites of his: Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Seven Samurai tells the tale of a ragtag group of samurai who come together to defend a small town from a marauding horde of bandits. Yojimbo is similar, following a wandering samurai who finds a small town that is being torn apart by a turf war between two rival bandit gangs, and ends up playing both gangs against each other to save the villagers. If you haven’t seen either of these great films, stop reading my fanfic pitch and track them down, they’re literally masterpieces.

In fact, they’re so good that they’ve both been used as inspiration for countless other stories. The Magnificent Seven was based on Seven Samurai, and inspired numerous imitators as well as a parody, Three Amigos!, which in turn inspired imitators like A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest. Yojimbo has served as the basis for works as dark as A Fistful of Dollars and as light as that one episode of Pokemon where competing gyms tried to force Ash to work for them. These films are stock plot-lines at this point, and you can find dozens of examples of stories out there that have been built on Kurosawa’s framework. It should also be noted that both are incredibly complicated when it comes to their morality. The villagers in Seven Samurai are revealed to have killed and robbed a samurai who visited their village prior to the film during a particularly desperate time, for example, while the nameless protagonist of Yojimbo is a surly drunk who acts like a genuine scoundrel for most of the movie until a particularly desperate situation forces him to reveal his hidden virtuous side. You root for the heroes of these two stories, but Kurosawa didn’t want you to feel the conflict was as simple as “good samurai defend innocent people from evil bandits” – life is more complex than that.

So here’s my proposal: I would ruin Star Wars by making a bounty hunter-centric story that takes a great deal from Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, where the heroes are far from pure good, the bad guys aren’t wholly evil, and absolutely no one gives a shit about the Force. Oh, and not a single Jedi, Sith, or lightsaber appears. Not once.

Our protagonists are seven bounty hunters, most of which would fill the now-archetypal roles of the seven samurai. Those would be:

The Wise Mentor: The heart of Seven Samurai lies with an old samurai and his apprentice, the pair of which are the first to find out about the villagers’ plight and decide to put a group of samurai together to defend them. Taking a page out of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, our mentor would be Zuckus, the compassionate, philosophical cockroach who genuinely tries to do good as a lawman in the outer rim.

The Apprentice: The mentor has to have his young apprentice, and 4-LOM, Zuckuss’s partner and student in ethics and morality, fits the bill.

The Ace Swordsman: The samurai who is by far the most skilled at fighting. Obviously this is going to be Boba Fett, but we’re not going to leave it there. The Ace Swordsman tends to be defined on his skill alone, having few personality traits outside of just, like, being the best. So we’re going to throw in a bit of the nameless samurai from Yojimbo here too, portraying Boba Fett as a curt, surly, and decidedly cynical warrior who hides his virtue till the film’s third act.

The Boisterous Samurai: There’s one samurai who’s not necessarily the most skilled, but he’s good natured and just kind of fun to have around. I’m going to give that role to Bossk, because I don’t like how hateful he was in the Expanded Universe, and because having a freaky lizard man be the life of the party appeals to me.

Kikuchiyo: While the Mentor and the Apprentice get the bulk of the character development in Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo provides the biggest emotional gutpunch of the film. While included among the titular seven, Kikuchiyo is technically not a Samurai – he isn’t of noble birth, having been born a farmer, and all his skill in battle is self taught rather than a result of strict training. Kikuchiyo is played as comic relief when he’s first introduced, but he also provides the most gut wrenching moments in the story, as unlike the other samurai, he understands exactly what the villagers are suffering, and even calls out his brothers in arms for daring to judge the villagers for their past sins when rich warriors like them couldn’t possibly understand the desperation of poverty. I’m giving this role to the one bounty hunter in the original trilogy who didn’t make it to The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right – Greedo. Greedo is our Kikuchiyo.

Four the final two bounty hunters/samurai, I’m gonna go off of Kurosawa’s script and fully into the expanded Universe’s.

The Vengeful Thug: Dengar’s whole schtick in the old Tales of the Bounty Hunters canon centered on how he personally wanted to kill Han Solo. The crux of his story was that he was an otherwise decent guy whose quest for vengeance against one smuggler led him to do very wicked things, and that’s a good setup for character development. My idea for this story is that it’s about some morally-murky characters being pulled into doing something heroic despite their abundant non-heroic traits, and keeping Dengar’s old backstory works really well with that.

The Actually Evil One: IG-88 is a machine whose sole purpose is to destroy, and having one genuinely devious bastard on the team can make for some fun interactions and drama. IG-88 is the one bounty hunter who will begin and end as a completely amoral murderer in this story, and, knowing how this tends to go in fiction, will probably be the fan favorite.

Our story would begin with Zuckuss and 4-LOM being approached in a hive of scum and villainy (maybe the Cantina, maybe somewhere else) by a pair of poor farmers from an outer rim planet. Their homeworld is, well, I’m thinking something like Namek from Dragon Ball Z – peaceful, out of the way, rustic and naturalistic, and sporting one very rare resource that no one knew about until very recently. Two rival crime families have landed on the planet to try and get said resource, and are terrorizing the populace with their frequent fighting. The villagers want Zuckus and 4-LOM to stop the gangs, but it’s too big a job for just them. So Zuckuss and 4-LOM assemble a team, recruiting Bossk, Dengar, and IG-88. No one dares to approach Boba Fett, while the group pointedly refuses to recruit Greedo because of his reputation as one of the worst bounty hunters in the guild (but Greedo finds out and follows them anyway).

The Bounty Hunters split into teams to scout out the two gangs, and discover that Boba Fett is already working with one, which puts a significant monkey wrench into their plan. IG-88 ends up joining up with the gang Boba Fett hasn’t joined, because IG-88 is an asshole, and the remaining bounty hunters set up ambushes for some of the gangs’ henchmen. It goes very well, with Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Dengar, Bossk, and even Greedo all getting moments where they show off their personality and skills as mercenaries while taking down two vicious squads of intergalactic criminals.

However, while cleaning up the battle, the bounty hunters discover something in a ruined town on the planet: the corpse and half-disassembled spaceship of Boussh, a bounty hunter who has been missing for a while. Yeah motherfuckers, we’re going full Seven Samurai here, complete with Greedo chastising the others for not understanding how hard life can be for the little people on the outer rim.

The gangs launch a counterattack, and Boba Fett is ordered to take down the bounty hunters. Instead he turns on his squad as soon as the battle commences, joining forces with our heroes and turning the tide – only for IG-88 and a squad from the opposing gang to show up. Boba Fett and IG-88 have a pretty epic fight, and after disarming (literally) the assassin droid the “good” bounty hunters convince it to join up with them so it can get the bounty on all these criminals. Realizing that living and getting the slightly smaller payday is logical when the other choice is deactivation, IG-88 agrees, and a final attack is planned – this time with the help of the villagers, who the bounty hunters train to defend themselves.

An utterly vicious battle ensues, and our seven heroes barely scrape their way to victory. Unlike the source film, none of the seven die – they can’t, canon won’t let them do that yet – but we get some close calls. Their job done, they take in their morbid haul of several hundred dead criminals, and leave the planet to go on their wicked ways – some unrepentantly, and some with doubts.

The conflict? Violent. The heroes? Morally murky, and also only one of them has a human face, while the rest wear helmets, are expressionless robots, or have animal heads. The Force? Not involved in any way. It’s a story in the Star Wars world, but tonally and thematically it ain’t the kind of story Star Wars gives us. There’s no crap about family or good vs. evil or grand destinies, just a bunch of scoundrels killing a bunch of thugs for money. That’s how I’d ruin Star Wars.

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Between Logic and Enchantment: Strange Magic


There was a time, before the age of logic and reason, when George Lucas’s name held a certain creative clout. “A George Lucas film you say? Like the Star Wars? I want to see what that many cooked up this time!” Such words can no longer be uttered with a straight face in this day and age, for, like mighty Icarus, George flew too close to the sun, and is remembered more for his disastrous failures than for how high he flew. Indeed, there is much to be learned from the failures of George Lucas, and the internet has poured over them with a fine toothed comb in laborious detail. Yet what of his triumphs? What of the heights he achieved? We all know the man’s weaknesses by heart in this day and age, but in doing so have we forgotten his strengths?

Like, I assume, most of you reading this, I did not see Strange Magic when Disney unceremoniously dumped it into theaters using their Touchstone imprint and hastily swept it under the rug with little fanfare. I heard of it, because there was a brief yet strident ad campaign for it, and said campaign did not make a good impression. From its trailers, you would learn two things about Strange Magic: first, it was from the mind of George Lucas, long after his name had become mud; and second, if the trailer was to be believed, every line of dialogue was crafted by some sort of algorithm designed to find only the most trite and overused cliches in children’s films and assemble a script from them. It looked like box office poison, and that is what it became.

deaths kiss.png

A name that says “Box Office Poison”

But what if I told you the trailers lied? What if I told you this was not the Lucas who crashed into the sea, his flesh scalded by melting wax, his face contorted in pain as the waves overtook him? What if I told you this was Lucas playing to his strengths? What if, most importantly of all, I told you this was only produced by Lucas and actually directed by someone who knows how to make Lucas’s good ideas come to life, like almost every GOOD film that bears the man’s name?

It is all those things, my friends. Strange Magic isn’t the last of Lucas’s many failures – it’s his last success, at least from a story telling perspective. Don’t believe me? Good – let me show you then.

One of the reasons I like Strange Magic as much as I do is that it does a very good job of summarizing the differences and relationship between Seelie and Unseelie faeries, even if it never uses those terms explicitly. Our movie begins with exposition explaining that it is the story of two kingdoms, “side by side but worlds apart.” One is a kingdom of light, and the other a kingdom of shadow, and between them bloom primroses, which are used to make love potions.

seelie unseelie.png

Two households, both alike in bizarre animal people…

We see the light kingdom first, and it is populated by brightly colored flowers, lush trees, and pretty, humanoid fairies with large, beautiful butterfly wings. One fairy – our protagonist, Marianne – is picking flower petals when she accidentally crosses the border between kingdoms, and is confronted by a variety of scary looking goblins. She runs away, dropping one of her petals – a primrose petal, specifically – in the process. Two small goblins take note of this and run off to inform their king. We get a good look at the dark kingdom during their journey, seeing its gnarly trees, shaggy flora, and menacing residents. The king of the dark kingdom, while technically a humanoid fairy with insect wings like those of the light kingdom, is given details that make him more menacing, from his armored skin to his dragonfly-esque wings. Seething with anger, the king of the dark forest commands that every primrose must be cut down to prevent the creation of love potions, for in his eyes love only creates chaos.

lovely goblins

Between Logic and Enchantment knows how much you crave sweet, wonderful goblin designs, and we aim to satisfy your needs.

A brief aside: one of George Lucas’s greatest skills as a creator of films has been the ability to find great character and set designers, and I feel he flexes that skill very well here. The character design in particular is wonderful in this movie. Every creature oozes with charm, from the lovably scuzzy and varied goblins of the dark forest to even the traditionally beautiful fairies of the light kingdom. Each design has a mix of cute and creepy elements – even the light fairies, whose mostly human features have a touch of the strange to them in a manner not dissimilar from, say, the gelflings in The Dark Crystal. The designs are also incredibly expressive, which is perfectly suited for the knowingly melodramatic nature of the story’s plot.

Marianne returns home and runs into her fiance, Roland, a blonde, chiseled male fairy clad in shining green armor. They sing a duet – did I mention this is a jukebox musical? It’s a jukebox musical. That may be a deal breaker for you, IDK – of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” while going in separate directions to prepare for their wedding day. At the end of the duet they cross paths again, only for Marianne to see Roland making out with a different fairy. On their wedding day.



This was when the movie first surprised me – there are hints from his first lines that Roland is a huge piece of shit, but normally our female protagonist wouldn’t discover his true nature until the climax of the film. Instead, Strange Magic has her learn that her hunky suitor is a garbage person within the first fifteen minutes of the film, and stranger still, she never waffles on it. From this point on, Roland is dirt in Marianne’s eyes. It’s… it’s kind of great? It’s really great, honestly. Good on you Marianne. You take out that trash.

Marianne calls off the wedding and announces her refusal to ever fall in love again, triumphantly singing “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” while giving herself a more gothy/punk rock makeover. Again this is just… rad. It’s rad an unexpected. She went from typical Disney Princess to Meg from Hercules in the span of five minutes, and she never goes back. From this point on, Marianne is bitter, jaded, and viciously skeptical of romance, and the movie treats this like a good thing.

no more fuckbois


There’s a brief time-skip/flash forward as we see Marianne’s sister, Dawn, scheming to pick up hot boys with the help of her best friend, an elf named Sunny – Keebler style elf, mind you, rather than Tolkien. Sunny very clearly has a crush on Dawn, and Dawn very clearly has no idea about it. Sunny borders on nice guy syndrome throughout the movie without ever fully falling into it, but we’ll get into that more later. A big ol’ lizard arrives and tries to eat both Sunny and Dawn, but Marianne arrives to rescue them. The chase takes them to the border of the two kingdom where, once again, primroses are growing.

The two fairy princesses return home to attend a ball, where Marianne’s father, the king, attempts to get her back with Roland because he thinks Marianne will be safer with a king at her side. Roland makes a big show of the occasion, singing “C’mon Marianne,” but our heroine interrupts him mid song to belt out the lyrics of “Stronger” while chasing his worthless ass out of her goddamn house. Again, this is something I’d expect to happen at, like, the climax of the movie, and it’s happening at the start. Marianne just doesn’t have time for this pretty boy’s bullshit.

(I suppose both Belle and Jasmine beat her to the punch in this regard but still, Marianne’s intolerance of fuckbois needs to be acknowledged).

destroy all fuckbois

This sequence is just… just VERY satisfying to watch.

Outside the ball, Roland notices Sunny pining after Dawn, and tries to manipulate the elf into making a love potion. Sunny points out that the only one who can make the potion is the Sugar Plum Fairy, who has been a captive of the Dark Forest for ages, and Roland convinces Sunny to find her and make the potion so that way both of them can marry the two princesses. The badgered elf finally agrees, and sets off with a primrose petal to find the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Talking mushrooms spot Sunny entering the Dark Forest and get word to their king, albeit with a bit of miscommunication caused by the king’s bumbling goblin henchmen, Stuff and Thang. The Bog King sends all of his minions out looking for Sunny, being dead set on keeping anyone from using the love potion ever again. Much like our heroine, the king of the Dark Forest is pretty cynical when it comes to romance.



Most assholes would pick a traditionally cute animal for the basis of their cute wacky animal mascot character.  This movie picked an oppossum, an animal traditionally regarded as ugly despite being absolutely adorable.  This is what BRAVERY and GOOD TASTE look like in character design.  Take some fuggin’ notes.

A short scene follows this where Sunny meets the Imp, an opposum-faced creature that helps him through the perils of the Dark Forest, before we cut to Marianne being badgered by her father to marry someone. “You’ll be a stronger ruler with a king by your side!” Marianne’s father implores, while Marianne argues that she’s just fine on her own and will only get married if she can find a guy who she doesn’t want to punch on sight. Hmm. She also notes, correctly, that Roland is a fuckboi who just wants the power of the throne rather than actual love.

Sunny finds the Sugar Plum Fairy, whose performance is incredibly energetic and eccentric even by the standards of this film – in an entertaining way, mind you. She makes the love potion on the condition that Sunny free her when it’s done, all to the tune of “Love is Strange.” At the same time, and to the same tune no less, we see the Bog King’s mother trying to hook him up with various suitors, only for him to shoot down the whole concept while seething with irritation. Hmmmmmmmmm. Sunny and Sugar Plum escape, though the Sugar Plum Fairy is almost immediately recaptured by the Bog King because she wastes a lot of time loudly celebrating her freedom. The Imp tries to steal the love potion, but Sunny knocks the little creature away, while back at the castle the Bog King tells his troops to invade the light kingdom in order to reclaim the love potion.

All of our characters arrive at an elf festival. Sunny leads a band while trying to uncork the love potion to use on Dawn, who in turn is dancing with every boy she sees. Marianne watches over her sister, while Roland tries to get the potion to use on her. The imp arrives and fights Sunny for the potion, causing him to spray it on Dawn just as goblins arrive and cram her into a burlap sack. The Bog King arrives mere seconds after the Imp absconds with the potion, and everything by this point has thoroughly gone to shit. Notably, the song the Bog King sings during this moment, “Mistreated”, emphasizes why this scene doesn’t get MORE violent than it is – though the Bog King may be “evil,” the light kingdom is the one that broke the rules by invading his land first. You know how fairies are about rules.

bog king rules

I got nothing, this scene’s just cool as hell.

The Bog King issues an ultimatum: he will keep Princess Dawn hostage, and if the fairies don’t return the love potion by moondown (i.e. sunrise), then things will escalate. Marianne, Sunny, and Roland all embark on separate missions to the Dark Forest: Marianne to rescue Dawn, Sunny to reclaim the love potion, and Roland to just, like, start shit with a foreign power. That’s not a joke, by the way, Roland is a war hawk who explictly wants to go to war with the Dark Forest kingdom. He’s a piece of shit.

Back in the Dark Forest, the Bog King orders Dawn to be brought before him. Now, the rules of the love potion state that those affected by it will fall in love with the first creature they see, and after spending all that time in a burlap sack, the first creature Dawn sees is the Bog King. She falls in love immediately, and begins singing “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” which drives the Bog King and all of his subjects absolutely up the wall. A song this perky is anathema to their carefully crafted goth aesthetic, you see, and soon all the unseelies are literally screaming in pain at this overly peppy love song. Only the Bog King’s mother is delighted, believing the Bog King has finally found someone, though the Bog King angrily notes that he hates love songs and princesses.

bog kings nightmare

Don’t you hate it when you’re outside and some flying insect won’t leave you alone and also it wants to have sex with you?

Meanwhile, the Imp has been busy peppering every creature he sees with the love potion, creating all sorts of odd, mismatched couples all throughout both kingdoms. Sunny and a big muscular elf try to stop him, only for the Imp to make the big lizard from earlier fall in love with them. It’s a little bit like a Looney Tunes cartoon, but in a delightful way. It comes back to bite the Imp on the butt, too, because eventually our two elves tame the lizard and use her help to capture the Imp and reclaim the potion.

Dawn’s singing continues to drive the Bog King and his servants nuts, and the Sugar Plum Fairy refuses to make them an antidote. Desperate, the Bog King tries to shut Dawn up himself, only to find himself at a loss for words when she gives him a boutineer as a gift. Overwhelmed at the affection, he nonetheless notes that her love isn’t genuine, and that it’s the potion making her feel this way – which inadvertently makes him seem a bit more moral than our other prominent male characters. Hmm. He finally convinces Dawn to take a nap, just in time for a henchmen to tell him that MORE creatures have been dusted with the love potion. The Bog King demands that they all be taken to his castle to await the creation of an antidote, and it’s at this point in the film you realize that he’s not the obviously evil antagonist you probably thought he was.

This is why I think this movie is a good way to summarize what Seelie and Unseelie fairies are. Most people oversimplify the two categories, with Seelies being “good” fairies and Unseelies being “evil.” While the two do form a dichotomy, “good” and “evil” aren’t wholly applicable. Seelies may be prettier and more “civilized,” but they can be assholes, and Unseelies may be fearsome and ugly, but they can still be decent. Seelies are light, Unseelies are dark, but neither is necessarily good or evil. Like people, Fairies are complex.

Marianne finally makes it to the Bog King’s castle, and immediately engages the monarch in a sword fight while the pair sing “Straight On” in a scene that was so good that it made me go out and buy a copy of this movie after watching it on youtube. Seriously, dig that clip up if you’re still skeptical after reading this review – it showcases the wonderful character and set designs, some endearing character moments (the one henchman goblin – voiced by Peter Stormare of all people – repeatedly asking his boss if he needs help, Marianne lampshading the occasionally nonsensical-in-context lyrics of a Jukebox musical, etc.), and best of all, the ultimate romantic fantasy: a man being attacked by an angry woman with a sword. By the end of the fight, both the Bog King and Marianne are panting and out of breath, and also more than a bit cheerful since they both enjoy fighting a worthy opponent. Hmm!

true love

This is a universal thing, yes?  Everyone fantasizes about discovering their one true love via a passionate life or death sword fight with them?  It’s… it’s not JUST me, right?

The two travel through the Bog King’s dungeon, which is filled with mismatched couples, and the Bog King notes that this is one of the reasons he doesn’t want the love potion loose on the world. It ends with Marianne seeing her sister has fallen for the Bog King, and despite herself Marianne has to agree that he’s right to both hate the love potion AND desire an antidote. The pair ask the Sugar Plum Fairy for the antidote, but her list of ingredients is incredibly long, so the two wait upstairs at the Bog King’s mother’s request.

Of course, the Bog King’s mother has turned the whole situation into a romantic date, having noticed what you might have thanks to my many “Hmm”s: the Bog King and Marianne are kind of… compatible. Both quickly catch onto what’s going on and, after a shared moment of awkward realization, proceed to have fun tearing the room’s romantic decorations apart, all while joyfully agreeing with each other about how much love sucks. In fact, they get downright chummy in talking about how much they hate romance! Hmm!

It turns out the Sugar Plum Fairy’s list of ingredients was actually just her shopping list, since, “In prison it’s hard to shop!”, and that the actual antidote is a riddle: “The only thing more powerful than the potion itself.” She eventually gives them the answer in the form of the Bog King’s backstory: it turns out the Bog King fell in love once, and was impatient enough to ask for the love potion. He used it on the object of his affection, only for him to reject him. The Bog King believed it was because he was too hideous for anyoen to love him, even with a potion. However, the Sugar Plum Fairy corrects him: the potion failed because the goblin was already in love with someone else, as the only thing stronger than the love potion is True Love itself. Marianne notes that this “antidote” can’t help Dawn, since Dawn has never been in love with anyone, and the Bog King reflects on how evil it was to use the love potion in the past. The pair commiserate over the pain of falling in love with someone who didn’t love them back, with Marianne getting particularly vocal over how bad Roland is. Both accidentally let slip how they like aspects of each other, and Marianne suggests that they go stretch their wings while they try to find a solution to the problem.

the duet

Time for an eye candy filled falling in love montage!  Except, y’know, in a creepy ass forest.

The two have a sweet montage where they fly through the Dark Forest, in which the movie takes several details about it that were played for fear earlier in the film and reveals them to be beautiful. Spiderwebs, venus flytraps, millipedes, ferns, and even the gnarled branches of the trees all become beautiful before our eyes, all while Marianne and the Bog King sing “Strange Magic” as a duet. It’s the sort of enchanting love montage animated fantasy films often have, but it’s here for more reasons than just formula. This scene is, in many ways, the point of this movie – everything can be beautiful, and, as both the opening narration and the film’s tagline claim, “everyone deserves to be loved.” It’s also the moment where the movie finally fully admits that the Bog King and Marianne are our two leads, and you know what? I ship it.

Sadly, Roland’s army arrives at the end of the montage, and the Bog King is furious at the apparent betrayal, believing that Marianne was distracting him while reinforcements arrived. Roland can’t go five seconds without discussing how ugly and unpleasant he finds everything in the Dark Forest, making it clear that his grudge against it is purely on aesthetics. The Bog King and Marianne both confront him, and Roland quickly realizes something is going on between the two, much to his disgust.

Meanwhile, Sunny engineers a jailbreak of all the Bog King’s prisoners, which is fortuitous given that Roland has sent three henchment to destroy the castle holding them all. Roland tries to dust Marianne with the love potion, but the Bog King jumps to her aid, and soon enough both our lovers are kicking Roland’s pretty boy butt. The castle starts to collapse, and our heroes struggle to get everyone to safety, with the poor Bog King barely managing to get Dawn out before being struck with falling debris.

Just kidding, he survives.

The citizens of both kingdom gather together. Sunny hugs Dawn, and she realizes she’s loved him this whole time, breaking the effects of the potion. The Bog King rises out of the rubble and is celebrated by all present, dark and light citizens alike. Roland tries to dust Marianne one last time and she kicks his ass off a cliff. Then, after a bit of prodding by their respective friends and family, Marianne and the Bog King admit their love for each other by singing “Wild Thing,” and everything comes to a happy end.

the kiss

It’s very sweet.

the end

And a little trippy.

Also in a stinger Roland falls in love with a bug.

bug kiss

She deserves better.

Strange Magic is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s corny and unapologetically sentimental. Its plot is concerned with romantic love, which is well trodden territory in the history of, like, all art ever. If you go into this movie looking for a reason to hate it, you’ll find it. Many people did – after all, George Lucas was involved, so what could there be to like? It’s very satisfying to find a reason to hate and criticize a story – it makes you feel bigger when you do.

If you don’t got into this movie looking for an object of ridicule, however, you’ll find it has beautifully designed characters, lush environments, and stunning visuals. You’ll find it has lovable characters who don’t quite fit the molds you expect them to, and a plot that actually has some detailed and nuanced thoughts on the subject of love – far more so than is typical for a film of this type. It’s got wonderful performances by talented actors, a great deal of heart, and an honest message about how beauty can be found everywhere. Everything deserves a chance to be loved – and Strange Magic is no exception. Perhaps you’ll find a place in your heart for it too.

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Between Logic and Enchantment: Dragonslayer


Funny story: I remember seeing this film several times at my local Blockbuster and refusing to buy it simply on the title alone. I loved dragons as a little kid but absolutely hated seeing them killed, and I figured a movie called Dragonslayer must have a LOT of dead dragons in it. Now that I’ve grown older and seen it a couple times, I can confirm it’s not the kind of movie I would have liked as a little kid, but it’s nowhere near as bad on the cruelty to dragons front as I would have thought. Dragonslayer is, however, a fairly cynical story. Contrary to the general perception of 1980’s fantasy films, Dragonslayer is a dark, grim, and, dare I say it, edgy story, deconstructing its perception of Dragon-slaying myths as well as other fairy tale cliches about knights in armor rescuing damsels. Unlike most edgy deconstructions of medieval legends, Dragonslayer actually does its research, though I wonder whether that’s to its benefit or detriment, since I imagine most of its audience didn’t follow suit. Is it a good movie? I think so. Do I like it? To this day I’m still not sure, but let’s dive into the details and see where I stand.

The movie begins with a mob of villagers asking Ulric, a wizard, to save them from a dragon. The king of their country has been dealing with the problem by sacrificing young maidens chosen at random to the beast, and the villagers hope the wizard can solve it for good so the fatal lottery can end. The sorcerer reveal’s the dragon’s name – Vermithrax Perjorative – and sets out to slay the beast, leaving his apprentice, Galen, in charge.

Snake Hat.png

More wizards need to wear hats that have plush snakes wrapped around them.

Unfortunately, a man named Tyrian (sadly not a sarcastic dwarf) stops the wizard on the way out the door, demanding a test to prove the wizard is truly magical. The wizard tells his apprentice to fetch a specific knife, which the apprentice does by finding the knife and throwing it out the window. Suddenly the doors close, locking the apprentice in the study while the wizard tells Tyrion to stab him with the knife, claiming he cannot be hurt by it. Tyrian does so, and the wizard dies, which seems pretty ill concieved – but then, we the audience know the wizard used magic to close the doors of the workshop, so it seems clear that something is up with this. SPOILERS: dude pulled a Dumbledore.

The apprentice cremates the wizard, and the flames of his pyre glow green. Despite this obviously magical occurrence, everyone assumes the wizard is dead, and the apprentice sets about the task of claiming his former master’s workshop. Galen realizes he can do some magic when holding the amulet that Ulric gave him, and tracks down the villagers with a bold declaration that he can do everything Ulric could, taking on the quest of slaying Vermithrax.

The movie then shows us the most recent young woman to be sacrificed to the dragon, who desperately tries to escape her horrible fate. She bangs up her wrists in an attempt to escape her manacles, only to find her efforts are too late, as the dragon is already upon her. Even though the parts of the dragon we see are very obviously puppets (and not terribly convincing ones at that), it’s still a very tense and nerve wracking scene, in no small part thanks to the girl’s very convincing acting.

dragon tail

Yeah not a great situation all things considered.

It turns out this nightmarish sequence was a dream of one of the younger villagers, Valerian. The nervous villager goes for a swim in a nearby stream, only to be discovered by Galen, who realizes that Valerian has actually been a young woman masquerading as a man the whole time, since otherwise she would be eligible for the lottery. Valerian says her father has made her hide her true identity since birth for her own safety, an act she views as no more decietful than the open fact that the King keeps his own daughter from being put in the lottery.

Sadly, the pair learn (via a conveniently timed vision on Galen’s part) that Hodge has been shot by Tyrian, because Tyrian is an asshole. Hodge tells Galen that he has to put Ulric’s ashes in “burning water” for some reason, and Galen, being kind of a self important rube, promptly forgets about this weird instruction from his older co-worker and continues on his quest to kill the dragon all by himself.

Our heroes end up near the dragon’s lair, and Galen decides to investigate, even though Valerian chastises him for being reckless. After finding some dragon scales inside the mouth of the lair, Galen casts a spell that summons a great rockslide to seal up the mouth of the cave. Of course, this imperils the villagers too, but thankfully everyone manages to find cover and escape basically unscathed. With the threat apparently ended, our movie seems set to end at the half hour mark.

Which is how you know Galen done fucked up.

The village celebrates of course, treating Galen like a hero while Valerian contemplates revealing the truth about her gender. Her father tells her not to, but the young woman puts on a beautiful blue dress anyway and reveals herself to the town. Everyone is shocked at first, but Galen takes her hand and dances with her, which leads to the rest of the town finally accepting her for what she is. It’s honestly a very sweet moment, especially when the other townspeople join in the dance. There’s also a brief moment where two random villagers are shown discussing the “Christian God,” because it’s not a gritty deconstruction of medieval myth and fantasy without some heavy handed scenes where people gossip about the spread of this newfangled Christianity like the strawmen in a Jack Chick comic.

coming out

I don’t have a joke, this is just a sweet moment.

Unfortunately, Tyrian breaks up the party and arrests Galen for practicing wizardry. Galen then has to prove he has magic to the King of Urland, and, being a self important rube, Galen makes a big show of it, stroking the amulet his master gave him all the while. The King notices this before chewing out Galen for the rockslide. According to the King, the last time someone tried and failed to kill Vermithrax, her wrath was terrible beyond measure, while the lottery system the King created made the drgaon’s carnage far more tolerable. Galen argues that killing the dragon is better than making a truce with it, while the King continues to have doubts, which in turn means Galen could be in big trouble if Vermithrax survived.

Anyway, it turns out Vermithrax survived.

Galen is thrown into jail, where the King’s daughter reaches out to him, telling the young wizard that her father is a wise and just man. The princess believes the King must protect his people in this way, but Galen retorts that she benefits from a system rigged in her favor. Though Galen thinks the Princess was aware of this, it’s clear to the audience that she very much wasn’t, and the poor young girl runs off to confront her father, who is trying to figure out how the amulet granted Galen magic powers. Sure enough, the King admits that he did rig it so she was never imperiled by the lottery, and the princess is outraged to learn she benefits from privilege.

Vermithrax reawakens, shaking the earth so horribly that Galen is able to escape the dungeon. A group of Christian villagers, led by a priest with a big cross-shaped walking stick, approach the dragon’s lair under the belief that the power of God can kill the dragon. The ground splits beneath their feet, glowing with a hellish red light as Vermithrax’s head slowly rises from the center of the earth like the devil himself. The priest tries to send her packing by preaching the authority of God, but Vermithrax simply immolates him before proceeding to raze the town with dragonfire. Like the previous dragon scene in the movie, it’s all very tense and dramatic.

devil dragon

“Thank God I’m in a proper Christian dragonslaying myth and not, say, a cynical 1980’s deconstruction of said myths!”

The King announces a new lottery to placate Vermithrax, and Valerian accepts that her name is now on the list. All the elligible girls are rounded up to see who becomes dragon chow. You’d think Valerian would be chosen, but instead it turns out to be the Princess! Yes, the King’s daughter purposely rigged the lottery so she would be chosen, believing this to be the only way to make up for her unfair advantage. Princess Elspeth is by far the most selfless person in this story, and more people in real life could learn from her example. Horrified that his daughter is on the chopping block, the King gives Galen the amulet so he can slay the dragon and save the princess, and is as shamelessly hypocritical about his sudden change of heart as possible. Galen embues a spear with magic so it may work better as a dragonslaying weapon, and then sets out to save the princess and slay the dragon.

Valerian gives Galen a shield made from Vermithrax’s shed scales and tells him that the dragon has babies, which Galen says must die too. She then gets all Helga Patacki on him by talking about how dumb he is and how he must love the Princess because she’s pretty, before talking about how she’ll be eligible for the lottery after Galen dies because she’s a virgin. This being a pretty obvious hint, Galen tells Valerian that he loves her, and the camera cuts away before they hump.

Galen teleports to the dragon’s lair to save the princess, only to find Tyrian waiting for him. Tyrian says the kingdom needs the sacrifice, and steps up to kill Galen himself for the sake of the kingdom, or simply to be a dick, because let’s be real, that’s the reason Tyrian exists in this movie. The Princess agrees that the sacrifice is necessary, and runs into the dragon’s lair while the two men are fighting, because Princess Elspeth isn’t a false ally. Eventually Galen kills Tyrian and runs off to save the girl.


Good job, Galen!

However, when he enters the nest he finds the Princess has already died, as a clutch of dog-sized baby dragons are currently chewing on her body parts. Furious that the young reptiles made him look like a chump, Galen slaughters the babies one by one before heading off to deal with Vermithrax. He finds the dragon on a river that happens to be partially on fire, but, being a self absorbed rube, doesn’t think to remember the ominous words said by his former co-worker in the magician’s workshop. Vermithrax emerges behind the young wizard, and though Valerian’s shield is adept at protecting him from her flames, Galen is incapable of doing much damage to her since he’s, y’know, a magician’s apprentice and not a knight. Eventually he runs away like a coward, and Vermithrax follows, only to find the scene of her children’s slaughter. The dragon nudges her dead offpspring tenderly before crying out in grief and furiously resuming her search for the tiny mammal that killed her children.

mommy very angry

“My armor is like tenfold shields, you can’t handle this!”

Using some cunning, Galen literally gets a drop on the dragon and stabs her in the neck with his magic spear, though the blow is not a mortal one. He stabs her a few more times, but while Vermithrax is wounded by the blows, none of them manage to kill her, and the spear eventually snaps in half with the dragon very much un-slain. The sheild alone saves Galen’s life, and all hope seems to be lost. Valerian rescues him and suggests they should elope, since it’s basically the only way they could have a life together at this point.

The two head out, but a convenient vision in the lake reminds Galen of the whole “dump the ashes in the burning water, idiot” thing. He and Valerian enter the dragon’s lair once more, and Galen finally fulfills his promise by scattering his master’s ashes in the burning lake of the dragon’s lair. The fires go out, and Ulric the wizard returns in a vortex of glowing green flames. It turns out he used his death as a way to travel to the dragon’s lair more safely than he could by road, sorta like taking an uber but with a slightly higher chance of getting stabbed. The old wizard gives Galen one last order: when the time is right, Galen must break the amulet.

see you space cowboy

Flight of dragons, heavenly argosies, catch the wind, rise out of sight…

Ulric then battles the dragon with magic, and Galen smashes the amulet when the two are locked in combat. This makes Ulric explode, which in turn blows up poor Vermithrax. The dragon’s carcass falls to the town below, and the villagers believe that God killed the beast, reinforcing the spread of Christianity. The King, meanwhile, stabs the dragon’s carcass and declares himself a dragonslayer. Galen and Valerian, for their part, proceed with their plan to leave town, starting a new life as the age of magic, wizards, and dragons comes to an end.

Dragonslayer REALLY gets off on the concept of tearing apart Medieval ideas of morality, as every figure that would be morally just in a Medieval myth – the King, his knights, even the trickster-y sorcerer’s apprentice – is presented as corrupt, incompetent, or both. It presents a Monty Python-esque “everyone’s covered in shit” view of what life in the Middle Ages was like, and almost delights in lacking hope or meaning behind its conflict. It’s definitely not an uplifiting Fantasy film with a kind message, and while I like that its morally grey worldview extended far enough to give the fire breathing monster a moment of pathos, the end result is still a movie that’s a bit too cynical for me to fully enjoy. Still though, it has one hell of a dragon in it.


This is the moment that made me watch this movie more than once.

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There Goes Tokyo: Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster


I have been so excited for this particular entry in There Goes Tokyo, as this may well be my favorite Godzilla movie of all time. It may not necessarily be the objective best film of the series, though it’s certainly high on that list. It’s definitely one of the most important movies in the series, and given this column’s focus on how kaiju movies went from using stock monster movie formulas to developing their own unique style and approach to monster story-telling, specifically when it comes to treating the monsters as characters, Ghidorah the 3-Headed Monster is a game changer in a lot of ways.

Our film opens with a montage of brief shots from later in the movie, with each clip playing for a few seconds before holding still as credits appear. All of the shots in question showcase the three stars of the film: Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. It gives the audience a taste of things to come, and establishes an important aspect of this kaiju film: more than any film that came before, the monsters are main characters here.

That’s not to say we don’t have human characters, though. The first proper scene focuses on a group of scientists talking to the press about space exploration and the possibility of encountering alien life. As if on cue, one of the scientists notices a meteor shower, breifly mistaking it for a flying saucer in reaction to all the speculative talk. The film cuts to a pair of policemen watching the same meteor shower. One of them, Detective Shindo, is assigned by his boss to serve as a bodyguard for Princess Salno, who is visiting Japan on behalf of her kingdom, of the fictitious country of Selgina. A bodyguard is required because her life has been threatened with assassination, and Shindo, being smitten with her photograph, agrees to take the job.

Unfortunately the first assassination attempt is already under way, as Princes Salno’s would-be killers have rigged the plane taking her to Japan with explosives. Yet hope is not lost, as the Princess sees a meteor from the window of the plane and is told by a strange voice to jump out of the plane as soon as possible. The Princess escapes seconds before the plane explodes.

Meanwhile, some of the scientists from the first scene are hiking to the crash site of the meteor shower. While traveling through the mountainous countryside, one of them notices their compass isn’t pointing in the right direction. Shortly afterwards they find an immense meteor, and begin to set up camp when their pickaxes and other tools are strangely drawn to it. They quickly realize the meteor is magnetic.

Down at the police station, Shindo is heartbroken at the apparent death of Princess Salno, and is frustrated that they can’t find out who blew up her plane. At the same time, as a mysterious prophet has appeared in Japan and is causing quite a local stir. Onlookers make fun of the prophet, who warns them that the world is on the brink of destruction. The prophet claims to come from Venus (or Mars in the dub), and claims that the destruction to come will start at Mt. Aso – which, for those who remember their Toho kaiju films, may seem a bit familiar to you, as it’s the resting place of the two Rodans.

One of the reporters who interviewed the prophet, Naoko, happens to be Shindo’s sister, and the two are having a nice dinner with their mother at home. Their mother wants to watch a specific TV show, which wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that the show’s guest stars of the night are the Shobijin from Infant Island, who have returned to Japan on friendly terms. When asked about the twin mothra larva from the last film, they note with sadness that one of the twins died, but the other is doing quite well, and proceed to sing a beautiful song about Mothra and their home for the audience. Naoko teases Shindo during the performance, and her brother storms off to read a newspaper, only to recognize the prophet as none other than Princess Salno! In Selgina, the assassins also recognize the prophet as the Princess, and one of them, Malmess, is sent to Japan to finish her off.

The next day, Naoko and her fellow reporters talk about how they want to handle the Prophet, especially now that they know she is also the missing princess. Shindo and his superiors also discuss the case, and both groups decide they must find Princess Salno and protect her from harm as soon as possible, with Shindo and Naoko pooling the collective resources of their employers to reach that goal.

The princess turned prophet appears again at the crater of Mt. Aso, where she warns everyone that (a) Rodan will emerge soon. The onlookers ignore her warnings, making fun of the prophet, and one dumb bastard even descends into the crater to rescue another onlooker’s hat after it fell in. Of course, Rodan emerges as he does this, and the other onlookers proceed to run away as fast as their legs and tour buses can take them. The flying monster quickly takes flight and sets off to terrorize the countryside once more, all while Princess Salno watches on.

Later, the Shobijin are about to depart from Japan via boat when the princess appears to warn them and all the other passengers that the ship will be sunk by Godzilla. The crowd turns on the prophet almost immediately, but Naoko intercepts the princess and whisks her away to safety. Around the same time, Shindo meets with a fisherman who traded some of his clothes to the princess in exchange for her royal bracelet, which is a necessary item for any ruler of Selgina to have.

Naoko checks the prophet into a hotel, only for her to be recognized by none other than Malmess and his three thugs, who happen to be in the same hotel. That’s not the only coincidental meeting, either, as waiting in their hotel room are none other than the Shobijin! The twin fairies explain that they heeded the princess’s warning, recognizing the truth of her prophecies. Sure enough, at that very moment the boat the Shobijin would have boarded is attacked by Godzilla himself, who then proceeds to make his way towards Japan once more.

When Naoko briefly leaves the hotel room, the four assassins strike. Malmess tries to get the princess to admit her true identity and give him the royal bracelet, but since Salno can’t do either, he and his goons prepare to kill her while the Shobijin look on. The fairies turn off the lights, freaking the assassins out just in time for Naoko and the newly arrived Shindo to come to the rescue. The assassins escape in the confusion, and our heroes decide to move the princess to a safer location just as Godzilla comes ashore. Rodan seconds later, and the two prehistoric monsters quickly develop an animosity for each other. Godzilla puts off his rampage to chase Rodan down, all while the citizens of Japan look on in horror.

Shindo, Naoko, and the Shobijin take the princess to a medical facility so she can get her head examined. However, despite using incredibly advanced technology, the psychiatrist can find nothing wrong with the princess’s mind, despite her claims of being from Venus. The princess tells them all that they are insane to doubt her, as King Ghidorah has arrived on Earth. When pressed to explain what that means, Salno explains that Ghidorah is the monster who wiped out all life on Venus, and will now do the same to Earth. While the humans are doubtful, the Shobijin heed her warnings.

Godzilla and Rodan finally come to blows in the nearby countryside, with both monsters doing their best to beat the hell out of each other. Elsewhere, the meteor glows violently before exploding, and in doing so unleashes the mighty King Ghidorah upon the world! The titular three-headed monster is unlike any Toho put to screen before it, clad in beautiful glittering gold scales (instead of the muted earth tones of Rodan, Godzilla, and even Mothra’s imago form) and, y’know, having three long-necked dragon heads. Ghidorah immediately sets out on his business of destroying the world, his three heads writhing with manic glee as buildings crumble in his wake. It’s not just the dragon’s appearance that sets him apart, for while the Earth kaiju like Godzilla and Rodan seem to rampage in fury, Ghidorah’s destructive assault is carried out with an air of demented pleasure, right down to his cackling roar.

We then see some government official discussing whether to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Thankfully, Shindo, Naoko, and the Shobijin interrupt, with Shindo saying Mothra may be able to stop the monsters. The Shobijin disagree, but provide an alternate solution: Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra could fight together to destroy king Ghidorah. An official asks how Godzilla and Rodan could be persuaded, and the Shobijin say that Mothra is willing to ask them. It’s a crazy plan, but as King Ghidorah lays waste to Tokyo with manic glee, it becomes clear there aren’t any other options.

If there was any doubt before that these movies treat monsters like characters, this movie has annihilated it. The crux of this film comes down to humanity needing Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra to settle their differences and agree to face a common enemy. For the first time, the kaiju threat will be dealt with using diplomacy, and you can’t use diplomacy on a creature that is ONLY conflict. While I’d argue all the Toho kaiju movies before Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster have treated their monsters as characters, this film is truly the one where it can’t be debated, as it even has human characters debating whether the monster’s personalities will allow their motivations to be changed. You know, like characters.

Back at the hospital, Princess Salno is hypnotized and asked about how, y’know, the whole “I’m a Venusian” thing works. She responds that while the Venusians were wiped out by Ghidorah, some escaped to Earth and interbred with humanity, and as a result some humans, the princess included, have trace elements of Venusian ancestry. Malmess and his goons break into the hospital at the same time, and attempt to tamper with the machinery of the hospital to fry the princess’s brain. Thankfully, Godzilla and Rodan’s fight nearby knocks out the hospital’s power, forcing Malmess to try and shoot the princess instead. Shindo comes to the rescue, chasing off the assassins while the doctors get Salno to safety. Naoko arrives shortly afterwards to inform them that Mothra is coming.

Sure enough, Mothra arrives to interrupt Godzilla and Rodan’s protracted and increasingly vicious duel. She tries to get their attention with chirps, but both monsters are two busy kicking rocks at each other like school children. After watching the spectacle in confusion for a moment, the insect sprays Godzilla with silk, which finally gets attention. Rodan laughs at this, only to get shot with silk himself, with some even getting in his mouth. The two reptiles stop their fighting as Mothra takes center stage, and the Shobijin translate their conversation for humanity. Mothra tries to convince Godzilla and Rodan to stop their fighting, but both monsters believe the other should apologize, which makes Shindo scowl and say, “Mankind aren’t the only stubborn creatures then.” The pair also have no love for humanity, viewing humans as bullies who try to destroy them all the time. Mothra claims the earth isn’t just for mankind but for everyone, and that it is their duty to protect it. Godzilla and Rodan disagree, noting that they can easily escape King Ghidorah, which pisses Mothra off so much that she calls the pair bull-headed and sets off to fight King Ghidorah herself.

It should be noted that the dubbed version of this scene is unquestionably superior to the subbed version, as the dub has the Shobijin say, “My, Godzilla, what horrible language!” If some equivalent of that line wasn’t in the original Japanese script, then the dubbers have done us all a profound service by establishing that, at least in English speaking countries, Godzilla swears.

King Ghidorah proceeds to beat the shit out of Mothra, only for Godzilla to rush to her aid. The Shobijin note that Godzilla and Rodan are both inspired and humbled by Mothra’s bravery, and have joined the fight to save face, since it would be shameful to run when they could fight. What follows is one of the most elaborate monster fights ever put to film, with all four combatants – Godzilla, Rodan, the larval Mothra, and King Ghidorah – showing off as many of their unique strengths and weaknesses as possible. Godzilla lets Mothra bite his tail so he can carry her into the battle, Rodan fights Ghidorah in the skies, Mothra rides on Rodan’s back to encase Ghidorah in webbing, seriously it’s great. If you only watch these movies for the monster battles, then this film is STILL essential viewing.

Malmess tries to kill Princess Salno in the mountainside after his henchmen are killed in a car crash caused by a stray gravity bolt from Ghidorah’s mouth, but Shindo rushes to protect her. The policeman and the assassin have a deadly shootout. The princess regains her memories during the shootout, and things look bleak for her and Shindo until an avalanche caused by the kaiju battle crushes Malmess mid-shot. Naoko, the Shobijin, and the doctors then arrive to rescue Shindo and Salno.

The monster brawl continues, with earth’s three protective kaiju attacking Ghidorah from all directions, which makes it hard for the three headed monster to concentrate. There are more than a few moments of levity, as Ghidorah shoots Godzilla in both the crotch and ass with his gravity bolts, while Mothra continues her proud tradition of annoying monsters by biting down hard on their tails. Eventually Godzilla keeps Ghidorah pinned long enough for Mothra to cocoon the dragon in webbing, with Rodan lifting the larva up high enough to web Ghidorah’s three heads together. Godzilla tosses Ghidorah’s constrained form like a ragdoll and pelts the monster with boulders until he finally retreats, returning once more to the depths of space. With their common enemy defeated, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra roar in triumph.

The next day, Princess Salno is back to her senses, and is taken aback to learn she was claiming to be from Venus. She does, however, recognize Shindo, and voices her appreciation for how he saved her life three times, as his heroism is the only thing she can remember from her time as a Venusian prophet. The moment is bittersweet, as Salno must return to her country and obviously cannot be with Shindo since, y’know, she’s a princess and all, but it’s still very touching. Shindo watches as her plane leaves, while our movie ends with the Shobijin and Mothra bidding Godzilla and Rodan goodbye.

I’ve talked about this a little before, but monster movies tend to have two main plotlines: the monster plot, which focuses on the whole “there’s at least one monster making a mess” thing, and the human plot, which focuses on human characters having human drama in the midst of the whole monster making a mess thing. Generally the monster plot is macroscopic – that is to say, it’s a larger than life conflict, the sort of thing that could affect the whole world. This necessitates the inclusion of the human plot, which is microscopic in comparison – while an audience can understand that a monster destroying the world is pretty bad, it’s a hard conflict to relate to, so putting characters who also have more normal, down to earth human drama in that story makes it easier to identify with the larger problem. American monster movies tend to be pretty formulaic in how they handle both: the monster plot will involve a monster destroying the world, and the human plot will involve some sort of romance that forms between people trying to deal with the whole monster ending the world thing.

Toho’s films initially played things much like their American competitors. The love triangle between Emiko, Ogata, and Dr. Serizawa is a good example, though I would argue it has a great deal more depth and relevance to its corresponding monster plot than most American monster films. Yet as Toho made more and more monster films, they began playing with this formula, with increasingly unique human plots, and monster plots that began to rebel from the traditional “There’s a monster on the loose, we have to find out how to destroy it.”

Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster completely subverts how these two plots usually work. I should probably mention here that I’m building off of an observation that David Kalat made in his book A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series, which is a book any lover of Godzilla movies should read. Kalat notes that the monster and human plotlines seem to have switched focus. While technically the kaiju are threatening the world as normal in this film, the bulk of the monster scenes are focused on their relationships rather than their threat: Rodan and Godzilla spend most of the film fighting each other instead of humanity, Mothra’s scenes are devoted to her trying to get those two to work together, and the climax of the film hinges on these three Earth monsters putting aside their differences to face a threat more important than their personal desires – that’s the kind of thing that would happen in a Human plot. The human plot, meanwhile, deals with an international problem, a Princess possessed by a Venusian, detectives fighting off foreign assassins, and people speculating about the possibility of life on other planets – the kind of heady, larger than life ideas and problems that would normally be in the Monster plot.

Of course, the two plotlines also have elements of their usual scope – King Ghidorah threatens the world, after all, and Shindo’s infatuation with Salno is fairly relatable. I think it’d be more accurate to say that Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster blurrs the expectations of the Human and Monster plots rather than fully inverting them. I think that actually makes it more meaningful in a way – not only does it show that there’s more you can do with a monsters and human story than the tired old formulas believed, but also makes a poignant point about how humanity and monsters (or the natural world that monsters like Godzilla and Rodan personify) aren’t as different as one thinks.  That, ultimately, is the greatest point Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster makes. Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra are no less complicated than Shino, Salno, and Naoko. They have motivations, they have quirks, they have grudges, and they can, ultimately, be reasoned with. Humanity and monsters – humanity and nature – aren’t opposites. They’re the same. Humans are part of the natural world, and the natural world doesn’t have to be our enemy. Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster tells us a truth: this world isn’t the domain of mankind alone, and you cannot threaten the natural world without threatening mankind and vice versa. Ten years earlier, Godzilla asked how humanity could survive the wrath of nature incurred by our own predisposition to destroy ourselves. In Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, we finally got our answer.

Not that said answer couldn’t use a bit of elaboration, and thankfully there are more Godzilla movies to come that play with this theme…

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There Goes Tokyo: Mothra vs. Godzilla


Of the 30+ films in the Godzilla franchise, this is one of my nostalgic favorites. I remember first seeing it during TNT’s Monster Madness Godzilla movie marathon as a kid, which my parents then recorded on a VHS tape so I could watch all the movies on it as often as I wanted (at least until it wore out). Of the five or so films in said marathon, Mothra vs. Godzilla was tied with one other as my favorite, and to this day it has some of the most iconic moments of the franchise as far as I’m concerned.

The film begins with a great sea storm, the kind that often wreaks havoc on Japan in real life. It should be noted that Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects artist of these early Godzilla movies, was originally renowned for how skilled he was at water effects in miniatures, and the dude does a stellar job making this sea storm look like a REAL sea storm. A cleanup operation goes into effect the following morning, and it is there that we meet our heroes: a reporter, Ichiro, and a photographer, Junko. They are initially accosted by a businessman who doesn’t want new of the wreckage to give him bad publicity, but Junko slips away to take photos of the wreckage. Ichiro briefly scolds her, but stops when they both spot a massive, irridescent object of unusual shape and qualities.

Meanwhile, our heroes’ boss hears that a massive egg has washed up on the Japanese shore. The film cuts to the beach in question, where all the locals debate on what to do with the egg. Believing it belongs to them, the local fishermen scramble (heh) to pull the egg out of the water. Once again, Junko and Ichiro arrive on the scene, and once again a corporate shill follows to muck things up. This particular shill, Kumayama, represents a company called Happy Enterprises (sounds legit) and buys the egg from the local fishermen (paying them specifically what it would cost to buy enough chicken eggs to equal the giant egg’s weight, which is a funny little detail). He then claims no one will study the egg, as instead he plans to turn it into a tourist trap. Just to be a dick, he blows smoke into Junko’s camera, because that’s how capitalism rolls.

Junko and Ichiro meet with a scientist named Professor Miura at a hotel, only to find Kumayama is there too. Realizing that Kumayama is there to meet his boss, they follow him with the intent of figuring out why Happy Enterprises won’t let people study the egg. The boss of Happy Enterprises, Jiro Torahata, explains this to Kumayama in private: the mystery will attract business. Unknown to both parties, two other visitors have arrived to try and change the corporation’s heart: the Shobijin, Mothra’s twin fairy priestesses! However, instead of listening to the tiny women, Kumayama and Torahata try to capture them, as the two would make a wonderful attraction (apparently neither man has heard what happened to the LAST capitalist who thought that was a good idea).

Thankfully the Shobijin escape and cross paths with Junko, Ichiro, and Prof. Miura. The twin fairies ask our heroic trio to return the egg, as it is Mothra’s eggs. The reporters ask how this can be the case, since Infant Island was used for atomic testing not too long ago. The Shobijin claim that though the tests have made life on Infant Island hard, Mothra survives, though in the devastation her egg was lost to a terrible typhoon. Now that mankind has recovered it, the least they could do is return it to Mothra. Besides, it’s in humanity’s interest as well, since the baby Mothra in the egg, while benevolent, will need food after hathcing before it can return to Infant Island, and thus will cause a great deal of havoc. Our heroes are sympathetic to the Shobijin’s pleas, but lack the power to accomplish this on their own. Like most people trying to make a better world, they are suffocated by the iron fist of corporate greed and callousness. The Shobijin are dismayed at this answer, and note that they didn’t exactly come alone, revealing that the adult Mothra has been waiting in the woods this ENTIRE TIME.

The next day Junko, Ichiro, and Professor Miura – try to convince Happy Enterprises to return Mothra’s egg, warning of the consequences if they don’t. Torahata demands proof, at which point the humans reveal the Shobijin are with them. Instead of listening, the businessmen try to buy the fairies from the reporters, who quickly whisk their friends to safety. The Shobijin then reluctantly return to their island with the adult Mothra, saying they are sorry they couldn’t spare humanity the destruction that will ensue, but thanking our heroes for their kindness. Mothra then flies off, leaving humanity to its fate.

The newspaper prints a story about how Happy Enterprises refused Mothra’s good will, but Happy Enterprises simply has a rival paper print a story about how that’s fake news, while also announcing the construction of the egg’s giant incubator. We then see that Kumayama hasn’t fully paid the fishermen for the egg, because, well, because that’s how businessmen do, and our poor fishermen are kicked out of his office without a fair deal. Kumayama then calls his boss to ask for the money to fix this situation, but Torahata claims he can’t spare it, all while being shown to be in the lap of luxury. Kumayama even points out that Torahata had a big stack of cash the last time they met, but Torahata remains stingy.

The critique of capitalism isn’t exactly subtle, yes, but like a good Twilight Zone episode, the bluntness of this social commentary is warranted by the horrible, wretched truth of the world we all live in.

We cut to a scene at the newsroom, where one of Ichiro and Junko’s coworkers is revealed to just be OBSESSED with eggs, rambling about how long it would take to boil Mothra’s egg. Junko and Ichiro get a call and learn they were irradiated by the object they discovered at the start of the film, and are cleaned at Professor Miura’s lab to keep from getting disease. It’s here that we learn the object is actually a reptillian scale, and a highly irradiated one at that.

Our heroes rush to the place where they discovered the scale, and a crowd soon forms there once a team arrives to scan the place for radiation. The wreckage of the typhoon has been completely cleared, and the owner of the land is angry that the investigation is being carried out, as he claims there was no nuclear testing on the land and fears the bad publicity will ruin his business venture. Junko, meanwhile, takes a candid shot of the cleared landscape, just in time for everyone to notice something moving beneath the ground. Professor Miura’s geiger counter spikes during this, and soon a massive, serpentine tail emerges from the dirt. The rest of Godzilla emerges shortly afterwards, covered in dirt.

This entrance is one of the most unique and memorable entrances Godzilla has had through the entire series, subverting our usual expectation of him coming from the sea while still being fully within his wheelhouse. I should also mention that this particular Godzilla suit design is, to this day, my favorite Godzilla suit, with its thick eyebrows, lizard-like head, curling lips, and persistent expression of irritation that ranges from “grumpy” to “furious” depending on the scene. When I think of Godzilla, this suit is the first face that pops into my head.

Having been tossed ashore by a typhoon caused by nuclear testing, buried under rubble, and left entombed for days, Godzilla is not happy when he awakens, and quickly goes on a rampage, destroying the city of Nagoya. Interestingly, a great deal of the destruction Godzilla causes in this scene is through clumsiness – his tail snags on a tower and it falls on him, he slips and falls into a castle, etc. While some of this was the result of an accident on the suit actor’s part, the end result is that Godzilla seems downright disoriented through this rampage, smashing things out of grumpy, half-awake confusion. It’s a wonderful bit of characterization for the big lug, even if it wasn’t wholly intentional on the filmmakers’ part.

Ichiro and Junko’s boss asks Professor Miura what to do about Godzilla, but the scientist claims that’s the government’s job. The boss, a credit to fictional newspaper editors everywhere, barks, “You talk like a rookie. Newspapers don’t just inform people about the government.” Despite being “just” the press, the boss is set on defending Japan from Godzilla. When egg guy mentions Mothra’s egg, the boss has his eureka moment: Junko and Ichiro could go ask Mothra to protect Japan from Godzilla, and even use the fact that Mothra’s egg is in Japan as leverage to convince the insect to help! Ichiro initially refuses, noting that humanity failed to help Mothra, and thus is in no position to demand her help. Professor Miura says they could make it a sincere appeal to end suffering, and our heroes reluctantly agree to make the expedition.

Infant Island is a far cry from how it looked in Mothra. The beach is covered in the skeletons of giant animals, including a turtle skeleton the size of a cow whose head slowly bobs with the breeze in a truly creepy detail. The natives of the island immediately capture our heroes when they arrive and forcibly escort them to the islanders’ sanctuary within a cave. Despite the harsh introduction, the islanders give our heroes drinks, which the chief commands them to consume. Then the chief asks them why they came, and when our heroes say they want Mothra’s help, he rails against them, telling them that Godzilla’s wrath is because the outside world played with “the devil’s fire” – i.e. nuclear weapons.

The Shobijin intervene, however, singing a truly mournful son to their goddess. Our heroes run to meet them, and the islanders allow them to go. The Shobijin, we discover, are in the sole oasis of life left on the island – a lush and green garden preserved from nuclear contamination, and the only reason the Islanders have survived. Our heroes finally ask the Shobijin for help, and though the fairies initially refuse, Junko makes an impassioned speech to both them and the natives for the sacredness of all human life. Ichiro backs her up, acknowledging that while some have harmed the Infant Islanders, this is not the ONLY way humanity knows how to act, and that there are civilized people who want to trust others. Mothra’s cries sound at the end of his speech, and all the humans and fairies rush to see her. While her people remained skeptical, Mothra has decided to fight for humanity’s sake, even though, as the Shobijin tell our heroes, she herself is nearing the end of her life.

If the Christian imagery in her debut film didn’t make it clear, Mothra is very much a messianic figure.

We cut to a scene of some army fellows discussing this sequels new plans to stop Godzilla that are absolutely futile. This time around they’re building what is essentially a giant pit trap, which is then surrounded by electrical wires and tanks in hopes of trapping Godzilla and barraging him with enough sheer firepower to put him down for good. While this is going on, Kumayama angrily confronts Torahata for screwing him over Donald Trump style, as Kumayama has lost all the money he invested in the incubator while Torahata ran off and left him to eat the losses. The two get into a violent fight over the money, with each beating the other blood before going for the stacks of cash. Torahata sees Godzilla coming their way through the window, shoots Kumayama, and then tries to run off, only to be caught in the monster’s wake. Torahata dies as the building collapses under Godzilla’s tail, crushed by rubble while holding his bags of ill gotten gains.

Godzilla then reaches the egg and its incubator, the later of which he smashes with his tail before closing in on the former. Thankfully for the egg, Mothra arrives just in time, and the two monsters have their first duel. Mothra buffets Godzilla with hurricane winds kicked up by the flapping of her wings, only for the monster king to retaliate with his nuclear fire. The egg is blown away in the process, and Godzilla goes to grab it, only for Mothra to pull him away by his tail. She then rakes the reptile’s head with her six clawed arms before dusting him with a poisonous yellow powder. This, the Shobijin remark, is Mothra’s final weapon, and though it keeps Godzilla down for a while, he eventually gets a good shot in on her wing, and Mothra, old, wounded, and frail, flies off to shield the egg with her body before finally dying.

Clearly frustrated by how hard it was for him to kill an already dying moth, Godzilla leaves the area to rampage elsewhere.  The situation looks grim, as nothing can stop the monster now, but the Shobijin give our heroes hope: Mothra may have died, but she is also eternal, and shall be reborn anew when the egg hatches. The army, meanwhile, mobilizes to put their old trap in place, adding planes and a massive burning field to the mix. Godzilla wanders right into the trap and, being Godzilla, no-sells every weapon, barely even reacting when they briefly set his head on fire. The electric towers shock him as he continues his rampage, but despite his supposed weakness to electricity, Godzilla simply punches them out and continues on.

Back at the egg, our heroes watch as the Shobijin sing to Mothra’s egg, while the natives on Infant Island simultaneously perform a ceremonial dance for the ancient goddess. Elsewhere, the next few traps laid for Godzilla go off, as he is repeatedly firebombed from above, tangled in a giant net dropped by helicopters, electrocuted by yet more towers, netted two more times, and then further electrocuted as the army insists the electricity be dialed past the breaking point (i.e. they turn the dial up to eleven). This causes the towers to short out, and, once freed, Godzilla goes on one of his most glorious and vicious revenge attacks in film, melting the towers and tanks around him into red hot slag. While scenes of Godzilla shrugging off the attacks of the military are rather predictable even at this point of the franchise, this particular battle is one that sticks out in my mind as particularly spectacular – the sight of those tanks turning red hot and melting into slag is one that always pops into my mind when thinking about the character’s destructive prowess.

With the army once again rendered useless, there is nothing anyone can do but run as Godzilla proceeds to ravage the countryside. Among the evacuees is a man screaming about a school-teacher and her students who are stuck on an island directly in Godzilla’s path. Sadly, it is too late to save them, as Godzilla is already looming in the distance, and the poor man can only watch as the monster king makes his way towards the island, and the innocent children on it.

Thankfully, Mothra’s egg finally hatches, and from it emerge two massive caterpillars – for some unknown reason, this iteration of Mothra was reborn as twins! The young Mothras immediately head to intercept Godzilla. On the island, the teacher tries to get her kids to high ground, because let it be known that educational professionals care about their charges and will do what it takes to keep them safe in a crisis. The larval Mothras catch up to Godzilla in time, and proceed to fight him in a manner befitting two immature kaiju: by playing hide and seek while covering him in silly string. Our human heroes, meanwhile, stealthily head to the island to rescue the children, because they aren’t going to lie down and let the monsters do all the work.

Despite his prodigious strength and boundless ferocity, the baby Mothras consistently give Godzilla the run around, with one even biting the tip of his tail and freaking him right the hell out in the process. Though that particular larva eventually gets a savage lashing from Godzilla’s tail in return, its twin quickly distracts Godzilla, and soon the two work together to thoroughly confuse the brute while slowly cocooning him with their silk. By the end of the battle, Godzilla is not only barely mobile, but also so confused and presumably embarrassed that he actually stumbles straight into the sea. It is a humbling moment for the monster king. With the threat ended for now, the Shobijin wish our heroes well as they and the two Mothra larva return to Infant Island.

After a decade of experimenting with the genre, Mothra vs. Godzilla is where Toho really refined their approach to monster movies.  All their signature stylistic and structural touches are present: we have a monster fight at the core of the plot, we have social commentary, we have spectacle, and we have moments of genuine terror where a great deal is at stake.  Few monster films have a better human cast: Junko is sassy, independent, and one of the most memorable female leads in kaiju history, and Ichiro is likewise an incredibly competent male lead to match.  The other staff at the newspaper provide great bits of comic relief as well as a genuinely awesome where they defend the purpose of journalism.  Kumayama and Torahata are excellent villains, smug and contemptible in unique ways that make their demise oh so satisfying.  And, of course, the Shobijin, Mothra, and Godzilla are all standout characters by this point.

One of the reasons I get a bit testy when people say Godzilla is just a metaphor for the atomic bomb is that his films actually tackle MORE issues than just the use of nuclear power. As this film shows, both the franchise and the character have qualms with capitalism as well. The callous greed of business tramples on just as many human lives in this film as Godzilla does, if not more so, and steadfastly stands in the way of both peace and the progress of human knowledge. As I said before, Mothra vs. Godzilla is heavy handed in how it delivers this message, but like a lot of 60’s science fiction stories, it NEEDED to tell this message with a heavy hand, because people clearly were not – and, as the present sadly shows, still do not – get it.

At this point in Toho’s monster making history, both Godzilla and Mothra personify two opposite ways the natural world reacts to humanity. With Godzilla, we see nature’s wrath, a blind force of destruction that, once unleashed, destroys all in its way, both the guilty and innocent alike. With Mothra, we see nature’s mercy, and how the natural world will provide for us even after we’ve savaged it. Godzilla emerges from a radioactive wasteland while Mothra provides an oasis for her people. They couldn’t be more different, and of course the two would fight in this film. Yet given the utter humiliation Mothra wrought on Godzilla not once but TWICE in this film, one has to wonder if it will remain that way.

As the next film in the series will show, it certainly does not.

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There Goes Tokyo: King Kong vs. Godzilla (American Cut)


The subject of this article, King Kong vs. Godzilla, has always been a frustrating one for me – not because of the faults of the film itself, but rather because I’ve only had access to a compromised version of it. Up until now I’ve been watching these movies in more or less their original theatrical versions, albeit with subtitles since I can’t speak Japanese. This is the first movie where I’ll be working off the dub, simply because it’s the only one I have – which is a shame, because I kind of hate the American dub/recut of this film. I mean, I don’t think subtitles are necessarily superior to dubs all the time – really the only way to get a “pure” experience with these films is to actually know Japanese, and both subs and dubs have their strengths and weaknesses. No, it’s not the dubbing that grates me about the version of this film I own, but rather the scenes the film’s distributer decided to add to it, and how the inclusion of those scenes muddies the plot and characters of the film itself while also killing the pacing of the movie. It’s a shame, too, because what I can see of the original film is pretty good, and King Kong vs. Godzilla plays an extremely important role in the development of the Godzilla film series. By all accounts I’ve read, the Japanese version of the film is practically a masterpiece. Sadly, we’re going to be talking about the American cut instead.

We begin with a Shakespeare quote – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – to make this better fit the formula of the American monster movies of the time, which often began with such self serious narration. Then we cut to an American reporter at the United Nations News Organization, who basically sets up the plot for us. This framing device was added for the American cut, and makes the movie more stilted and frustrating than it needs to be. I am not a fan. He continues to tell us how a Japanese pharmaceutical company has discovered a group of intoxicating berries that only grow on one underdeveloped island, but the natives of said island refuse to give up the berries because they need them to sacrifice to a giant beast god. Having this information told to us in a lecture is just… not great for the story telling pacing. It kind of feels like someone reading part of a film synopsis to you before showing the actual film – all the mystery and wonder is spoiled because you’ve basically been told beat for beat what to expect.

Not. A. Fan.

When we actually meet the people of this Pacific Pharmaceutical company, they’re pretty likable! The boss in particular is a hilarious caricature, demanding that his employees bring him back the monster of this island to serve as the company’s mascots. His employees are good straight men for him to bounce off of, looking at each other with expressions that say, “Can you believe this jackass?” It’s relatable.

We get a fraction of a scene sort of establishing who our main characters are before… ugh, the goddamn news guy is back ALREADY. He tells us how there’s a submarine encountering weird stuff, and we then see said submarine. It turns out that a nearby iceberg is glowing with a strange blue light. As they come closer to get a better look, their geiger counter reports that they’re encountering a great deal of radiation. Sure enough, the iceberg splits open to reveal that Godzilla has broken free of his icy tomb – the same one he was left in at the end of Godzilla Raids Again! He destroys the sub, as per his idiom, and soon makes his presence known to the world.

And we know the world knows it because… sigh… we get another goddamn clip of the news guy telling us about it. You know, say what you will about the awkwardness of how Raymond Burr was inserted into Godzilla King of the Monsters, but at least his scenes had a narrative arc that flowed instead of grinding the movie to a halt. It added something to the story without killing the pacing entirely. This is just annoying.

The military mobilizes to the coast, and Godzilla’s landfall is immediately greeted by a storm of tank fire. The monster king proceeds undaunted, raining his own thermonuclear breath upon them and crushing all resistance in his path. It’s a pretty great rampage scene – A+.

Then we cut back to the news room. They tell us the attack was devastating and people are being evacuated. Thank god this scene was added.

On the plus side, we also get a reaction shot of the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals having an absolutely hilarious freakout over how Godzilla is dominating the news cycle, and doubling down on his demand that his company gets its own mascot monster. I’ve heard the Japanese cut of this movie is FULL of intentionally comedic moments like this, and dear god do I want to be watching that version instead.

Our Pharmaceutical agent “heroes” arrive on the island, where all the Japanese people are in, uh, obviously dark makeup and headdresses made of craft store feathers – look, it’s not a Kong movie if there isn’t at least a little racism, that’s a bitter pill we just have to accept and acknowledge – and our heroes wow them with modern inventions like recorded music and cigarettes. One of our “heroes” even gives a cigarette to a kid, because this movie is kind of shameless with the fact that all the protagonists are basically amoral coporate shills. A thunderstorm starts and the natives begin bowing and singing in reverance, all while one of our heroes mocks them for mistaking the storm for a monster god. Then a very not-thunder-ish roar fills the air, and our “heroes” realize that maybe the natives are onto something.

We cut to two female characters in distress over a recent shipwreck, but because their introduction scene was either cut or raced through so we could get to more scenes of that goddamn white reporter we have no idea why this is relevant. On the plus side, the movie rushes through this scene to get to more scenes with that goddamn white reporter – this time joined by a paleontologist who will give us all the sci-fi technobabble explaining how monsters could exist using misinterpreted scientific facts and blatant lies. He tells us that “reptils” are weak to Electric type attacks, and that Godzilla could survive millions of years because, like, frogs can hibernate a long time.

To be fair: this kind of technobabble is in all sorts of monster movies, including many Godzilla films. The Godzilla movies tend to spend less time on it than this cut does, but still, it’s not an alien element. It’s still hilariously dumb though.

Meanwhile, our heroes on Faro Island are doing some exploring when one of them becomes exhausted and needs bedrest because of his “corns,” which his companion scoffs at. The kid they gave a cigarette to goes sneaking off for some reason, and a colossal octopus slithers out from behind a nearby boulder to devour him (and the barrels of Soma berry juice in the hut the kid has just snuck into). His mother tries to save him, and the villagers rally to fend off the enormous cephalopod. Gunshots are, predictably, inefffective against the giant monster, and its tentacles toss villagers around like ragdolls as it continues its rampage. Thankfully, King Kong finally appears and beats up the octopus, sending it retreating from whence it came. Kong then gorges himself on several barrels of sacrificial berry juice the natives prepared for him, until finally he passes out in a drunken stupor. The natives even sing him to sleep, which is pretty sweet of them.

To get serious for a moment: the relationship between Kong and the natives, while having some comedic overtones, is an important key into how these Godzilla sequels begin to form an answer formed to the question the first film solved – namely, how can humanity survive the wrath of nature? The natives live in harmony with their monster. They provide it sustenance and share their island wirth it, making accomodations that allow its continued existence. The monster, in turn, protects them from harm. When we view monsters like Godzilla and Kong as personifications of the natural world, the message becomes clear: if we live in harmony with our environment, rather than try to dominate, subjugate, and exterminate it, the environment will sustain and protect us in turn. This will be further elaborated on in future sequels, and was of course articulated very well in the film Mothra, which came before this one. From here, our question is less “how can we live with nature?” and more “how can we live with nature we’ve harmed?”

We cut to a scene of those goddamn white people, wherein the paleontologist tells the stupid reporter how Godzilla has a brain the size of a marble (despite being over 150 feet tall) and Kong’s brain is, by contrast, the size of several gorilla skulls. The paleontologist further elaborates on how Kong is so much smarter and cooler than Godzilla because that’s how science works, and that the two will definitely fight each other when they meet. I dislike this scene for several reasons – the blatant “reptiles are a backwards mistake compared to mammals” bit being a major player, but also for the fact that it so shamelessly tries to play Godzilla as the lesser monster.

Our Pharmaceutical heroes have captured Kong while he’s sleeping off his hangover and are shipping him to Japan, just in time for their wacky boss to arrive with theatrical applom. Seriously, this guy is basically the Japanese version of Michael Scott. He even almost explodes King Kong by accidentally resting his hand on a lever that detonates the emergency dynamite on Kong’s raft – in case they need to keep him from rampaging. Unfortunately for all, the navy arrives and tells them that King Kong will not be allowed to enter Japan. Our pharmaceutical executive balks at this, almost fainting when he gets the news.

Meanwhile, in Japan, some of the characters whos introduction was truncated so I’m not sure who they are or why they’re relevant are, uh, doing things, and one of them is on a train that’s accidentally heading into Godzilla’s path! Thankfully, we cut to… those goddamn reporters, who explain what is happening before we cut to the army meeting about how Godzilla is, y’know, around. Godzilla finally appears and menaces the train, and even though the pacing of this attack was thrown off a bit by that interruption, it’s still a pretty tense moment when all the people evacuate the train at Godzilla’s approach. Thankfully, one of those characters whose introduction was truncated arrives to save a lady who, I think, is also one of the characters whos introduction was truncated, so you know thank heavens for that. It’s a really thrilling and emotional scene that would be even moreso if this cut of the movie had clearly establish who these characters are and why we care.

Back out at sea, King Kong wakes up and struggles in his bonds. There’s a funny bit where the water he’s kicking up sends a spray over the side of the ship and the boss opens an umbrella to shield himself – it’s a fun character moment, especially when one of his workers then calls him a dumbbell for not letting them blow up Kong. They get into a fight over it and the boss accidentally falls on the trigger, but, in a stroke of luck, it doesn’t work, forcing them to set off the dynamite with guns. It doesn’t make all the dynamite go off, however, and ultimately just ends up setting a very pissed King Kong loose on Japan. Whoops!

We then cut back to those goddamn reporters, who helpfully explain Kong is heading toward Tokyo.

Anyway, Kong and Godzilla finally meet up for their first fight. Both monsters dramatically emerge from opposite sides of a valley, roaring and sizing each other before the fight. Our Pharmaceutical heroes watch the spectacle, with the boss saying, “Put my money on Kong!” He even does a coin flip – “heads for King Kong!” – but, hilariously, it ends up in Godzilla’s favor. Sure enough, Godzilla proceeds to royally kick King Kong’s ass, lighting the ape on fire and laughing as Kong runs way in terror. Seems a brain the size of several monkey skulls can’t do much if you’re a chump!

Those goddamn reporters, of course, comment on this, saying Kong has retreated and that a new military defense is being organized. Hilariously, we even see scenes of the Japanese actors explaining these plans, but cut short and with the dialogue left out so we can hear the American reporter explain it in a truncated yet far more boring manner. Have I sold you on these added scenes yet?

The army lures Godzilla into an area that they then set on fire, unaware that, as a “reptil,” Godzilla is immune to fire type attacks. He does, however, fall into a pit trap they’ve laid and filled with explosives, which they then detonate. Unfortunately for the army, Godzilla survives the explosions, and lives to rampage another day.

Unfortunately for me, we cut to another news scene, where they tell us the army just failed to kill Godzilla, but now they’re going to use electricity, because, as we all know, “reptils” are weak to electricity. The paleontologist informs us that Kong, for some reason we don’t understand, draws strength for electricity (this was before 3rd generation revealed that Kong’s ability was “volt absorb,” which raises his attack stat with every electric attack he’s hit with).

Sure enough, Godzilla isn’t too fond of these electric wires, but the joy is shortlived, as Kong is now approaching Tokyo too! Kong attacks a different part of the electric blockade, and some guys talk about the possibility of using the Atom bomb. I’m particularly curious as to how accurate this bit was translated, because the Japanese characters seem far more open to using nuclear weapons than is normal for a Godzilla movie. Anyway, Kong runs rampant in Tokyo, picks up a train, and sees one of the ladies whose introduction was truncated. Since King Kong has to be kind of a creep to women, he picks up the woman in question and carries her around for a while. It turns out she’s the sister of one of the Pharmaceutical guys, and the Pharmaceutical group then talks about how they can safely resolve the situation by getting Kong drunk on Soma berry juice. Sure enough, it works, and Kong safely puts the girl down before drinking himself into a stupor. Once again, the day is saved by a giant monkey’s alcoholism!

Our heroes hit upon a plan, one so brilliant it would form the template for dozens of sequels to come: pit the monsters against each other! They airlift the unconscious King Kong to Mt. Fuji for his second round with Godzilla (one has to wonder how goddamn weird this movie’s events must be from King Kong’s perspective). This time things are a bit less one sided, as Godzilla and Kong wrestle for a good long time without Godzilla whipping out the “I can set you on fire” card too often. However, Godzilla proves to be a match for Kong in sheer strength and still has the fire breath to rely upon, and eventually Kong seems on the brink of defeat. Round two almost ends in Godzilla’s favor, especially when he tricks the “smarter” ape into rolling headfirst into some rocks like a stupid chump. Godzilla buries the ape alive and sets the woods near him ablaze, roasting the ape alive.

Thankfully for America’s ape, a thunderstorm conveniently appears, and Kong is miraculously struck with a thunderbolt. Reinvigorated and now sporting inexplicable taser fingers, Kong returns to the fight with new strength and proceeds to give Godzilla a good thrashing. One particular highlight has Kong try to stuff a tree down Godzilla’s throat, only for the king of the monsters to spit it out with a blast of nuclear fire. The two monsters wrestle anew as Mt. Fujir burns around them, before both end up tumbling over the side of the mountain and into the sea. Kong is the only monster to emerge, and is seen heading back home (as we are told by that goddamn reporter), while Godzilla supposedly disappeared without a trace.

Being one of the first cinematic crossovers as well as one of the best monster mashes of all time, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a huge piece of cinematic history, even for people who aren’t weirdly obsessed with monster movie minutiae. You can see its story structure being repeated in later monster mashes – both Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator had two boughts, the first of which was won by the least sympathetic monster, and the second of which was one by the more sympathetic one thanks to humanity throwing their lot in with it. It also cemented both monsters’ star quality – if King Kong and Godzilla weren’t big names before, this movie cemented them as being just as important as 30’s/40’s icons like Dracula and the Wolf Man. Of course, it also refined the monster vs. monster formula pioneered by Godzilla Raids Again, specifically by turning the monster battle into a climatic centerpiece of the film, rather than simply the end of the second act. The use of humor and further development of treating monsters as characters who personify mankind’s complex relationship with nature are also important to the film’s success, and would be built on even more in entries to come.

All of this is why I’m so frustrated by the American cut of this movie. All of this good stuff is there, but it’s held back by these pointless scenes of smug American actors commenting on the proceedings for no real reason. These scenes undercut the comedy, character development, plot, and worst of all, the pacing of the story, resulting in a story that is worse than its original version while also taking itself too seriously. For many Americans, this is the only version of this story they will ever see, and that to me is a shame – especially for a film that was so important not only to the Godzilla series, but to monster movies in general.

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Monster Spotlight: The Forgotten Stars of Marvel’s Monsterbus

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I’m not sure if this article will be a one off or a series, but it felt like it belonged here regardless, so welcome to the first and possibly last Monster Spotlight!  This article will shine a spotlight on the forgotten aliens and monsters from Jack Kirby’s pre-superhero work at the company that would eventually be called Marvel Comics, specifically those collected in the recently released Marvel Monsterbus volumes 1 and 2.  Though I expect this article to get rambly and humorous fairly quickly, the intent will  be to shine a spotlight on both the incredibly design work involved in these creatures, as well as the writing and expression that brings them to life on the page.  I won’t be going through EVERY monster, mind you, so if you want to see them all, you’re gonna have to track down this book!

(and please do, I feel monster comics are in dire need of a renaissance)

It’s also a 50+ long image gallery, so I’m gonna put a cut here for the sake of those scrolling through the website’s main page.

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