Last week we took a look at the original Gojira. Now it’s time to see how the Americanized version compares. Unlike the Power Rangers franchise, it’s essentially the same story. However, some minor changes are prevalent between the versions beyond Raymond Burr’s presence. But do those changes change the story, too?
(Update:8/23/2010> Yes, I know the video no longer works, but I want to keep the space open in case someday someone takes over hosting it.)
Update 2: 7/21/2011> The video has a new home at Hulu. So I added the embed. Still no fullscreen so check out the Hulu posting for that.)
Vodpod videos no longer available.
According to the Godzilla Wiki, Producer Edmund Goldman, who doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, found the movie in a Chinatown theater, and saw a money maker. He obtained the international rights, only to sell them to Jewel Enterprises, Inc, who then made the movie. The Wiki also states that there is some debate as to who actually released the movie, and gave an answer to the question. That is under debate. Then again, if you’ve watched the film both weeks you may be able to pick out a few things they got wrong in the story synopsis. That’s a “Wiki” for you.
Whomever did whatever, the dubbers added an American character, reporter Steve Martin (not to be confused with the famous comedian, who wouldn’t come onto the scene for a couple decades yet), played by Raymond Burr, to help ease the American movie goers into the movie. Burr is probably better known as the title character of Perry Mason, one of the first law dramas on television. Unlike the original movie, which was told through four main characters (mostly Emiko, if you take a good look at it–most of what happens centers around her without the monster), the American dub looks at the same events through Martin’s eyes. I found Burr’s narration works well. As a reporter, he would deal mostly in facts (ah, for the days…) but wouldn’t bypass an emotional moment. The narration sounds like he’s reading from an audiobook, and some later media does mention that Martin wrote a book about the experience.
However, I’m not sure I always bought his reactions to Godzilla. Why wouldn’t he panic as much as everyone else, including military. Sure, later in the movie you do see reporters on the tower who report on Godzilla up to the time he destroys the tower with them on it (knowing they can’t get away), but I never really got the same sense of worry from Burr that the other characters got, even his “guide” and the Asian actors hired to play civilians in the US-produced footage, which rules out simply being the product of not being around the Japanese actors
Luckily, Burr did have other actors to play off of. Or really one, Frank Iwanaga, who plays the Security Officer, Tomo Iwanaga. That’s what IMDB says the character’s last name was. Tomo is mostly there to translate for Steve (and us by proxy). He doesn’t really do much other than give Burr someone else to work with besides body doubles who seem to be dubbed alongside their Japanese counterparts. Mikel Conrad cameos in a couple scenes as Martin’s boss at United World News, George Lawrence. Neither character has a page at the Godzilla Wiki, and Tomo isn’t even mentioned by name, which shows you what little impact they had in this film.
A few set pieces were designed to make it appear that Burr was actually in the original movie. Besides having an airport and the Security Officer’s office, they made sets to make it appear he was on the boat and helicopter that went to Ohto Island, as well as the island itself and news area of the debate room, or whatever it was supposed to be called. In the case of the reporter’s room (the one collapsed during Godzilla’s raid in Tokyo proper) and the office area, however, the set designers had to make them look exactly like the original film’s sets, which I think they did rather well.
The four main characters of the movies are the same ones from the original film, but in order to make Steve Martin part of events, body doubles were used as some point for the actors. There’s the scenes in the hospital where the injured reporter is talking to Emiko and later to Ogata as well. Martin was supposed to have met Emiko’s father via his friendship with Dr. Serizawa, so there’s a scene where Steve gets to talk to Dr. Yamane. While Steve is never shows with Serizawa, the writers decides to remind us of their friendship in one scene by having them have a conversation over the phone that just seems pointless. (Frankly, they would have been better off having Yamane be Steve’s Japanese friend. I’m sure Martin could have covered some big dinosaur dig or museum event and still met Yamane. It would have been more convenient.) With no scene of Serizawa on the phone, they used a body double and duplicate set for him as well.
Usually, only these four characters are dubbed. The rest are left in the original Japanese, with Tomo as translator. I think that works in the movie’s favor, although when the characters aren’t interacting with Steve, subtitles would have worked just as well. Plenty of war movies had gone this route. Besides, sometimes the Japanese soundtrack was actually left in, showing that the dub voices weren’t quite a match for the Japanese voice actors, and a lot less emotional in their line reading. The two hospital scenes actually play with the Japanese footage to really fool us into thinking that Momoko Kouchi and Akira Takarada (whose name I forgot to put an IMDB link to last week, and just fixed that oversight) are in the room with him.
There are some changes throughout the movie, mostly minor dialog changes that still get the point across to the American audience. On the other hand we do see some scenes out of order. For example, the scene where Emiko comes home just after being shown the Oxygen Destroyer, and later tells Ogata that she wasn’t able to tell Serizawa about their relationship (and from the way the line is written, it sounds more like she didn’t have the heart to tell him rather than not getting the chance, which makes Ogata seem a lot more forgiving than he should be, even with a giant monster coming out of the sea) is split up in a way that it looks like half of it took place on a separate day. Why wait that long to tell Ogata they still have a secret love? For that matter, we don’t get the debate with Ogata and Dr. Yamane about whether or not to destroy Godzilla after the dock attack. That is the scene that made me decide Yamane was a jerk, putting science above the current threat.
Other scenes lose impact when you don’t know what they’re saying. For example, that moving moment from the Japanese version I mentioned, where the woman is holding her child while the city crashes around them? The moment is a bit lost when you don’t know what she’s saying. In fact, there are other scenes where that is lost. The hospital scene is another one that is split up. We first see it at the beginning of the movie, with the rest of the film told as a flashback from that point. Instead of emotion, the writers went for curiosity. We in the audience first see the impact of Godzilla’s assault on Tokyo, without really knowing what’s going on, then we flash back to Martin in the airplane while his narration tells us that a boat below them was getting destroyed by an unknown force. The US movie has a different way of building up suspense. I don’t think one’s necessarily better than the other, because both work in their own way. It’s really a matter of personal preference, I think, although I will say there’s more emotion in the Japanese one, while the US one is more event-driven. That actually makes sense as they’re going more from the point of view of a foreign news corespondent rather than the local citizens. Imagine what reporters from other countries thought about the tsunami that hit the Asian regions a few years ago, or Hurricane Katrina in America versus the people who actually live in these areas.
There are a few conceits that this movie took that I do find a bit off, however. In order to get Steve where he (and we) needed to be, he immediately strikes up a friendship with the Security Officer that is trying to see if anyone in the airplane saw something that might explain what happened to the boat. Thanks to his mighty United World News press card, he is able to get into areas where no local reporter or the families of the boat crew are able, like the Doctor’s psychic paper on Doctor Who. I don’t recall any reporters on either mission to Ohto Island, much less both. He’s in Japan to see Dr. Serizawa while passing through on the way to Cairo, and just happens to know Dr. Yamane through Serizawa. (I assume he got to know Emiko and Ogata during the second visit to the island.
For the sake of the narrative, I can begrudgingly accept all this, although like I said, having Steve be friends with Yamane would have been a better plan, since he and Serizawa never really meet up, at least on screen. However, putting Steve into the scene where Emiko tells Ogata about the Oxygen Destroyer (and this time within earshot of many other survivors and caretakers) is a bit over the top. Perhaps Steve could have said something that convinced Emiko that if she knew a way to defeat Godzilla she should tell someone, and then pulled Ogata off to the side to tell him (Steve could learn of this conversation later, since he wasn’t there when the couple confront the doctor) would have worked much better. After all, there is also a lot of personal involvement here. Emiko is engaged by pre-arranged marriage to Serizawa, but she’s romantically involved with Ogata. She also promised to never reveal what she knew (I still can’t understand why Serizawa showed her that outside of the narrative), but ends up doing so to her boyfriend because she feels its the only way to end the slaughter by a giant, irradiated dinosaur.
During my research, I came across another review of the two movies that makes the point that the American version “cleaned up” the movie to take out some of the “guilt trip” out of the movie, The Godzilla Wiki article makes the case that this was done because plenty of World War 2 veterans would be among the audience and they might not like the potential comparisons. (The movie was based in part on the atomic bombs being dropped, which was part of the reason for Yamane being a jerk.) So which one turns out to be the better movie? That really wasn’t my intent with these two posts. I really just wanted to compare the two. The US version works for me because this would be how an American reporter would treat the events versus the locals and especially a young woman who gets caught up in it because of what she knows. It is the same story, just told from different perspectives, and thus a different emotional response from the eyes of the main character(s). I still enjoy it either way.