Your Godzilla guide

Posted: May 15, 2014

GODZILLA WAS born of a national psyche freshly wounded by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He debuted in 1954 in director Ishiro Honda's "Gojira." Toho Studios thought so little of the project, it refused to pay for the puppets and stop-action photography that had made "King Kong" scary. Honda was forced to use a guy in a rubber monster suit.

More than two dozen movies later, the special effects have blossomed in tandem with the monster's success. The latest effort, costing $160 million, is "Godzilla," which opens Friday.

Here are capsule reviews of the major productions in the series and our ratings:

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).*** The first and the darkest, this is the Americanized version of "Gojira." The monster, a metaphor for atomic destruction, flattens and burns Tokyo. American producers added scenes with Raymond Burr and toned down the atomic link. Watch for: Godzilla treating a crowded commuter train like a Kit Kat bar; native islanders dancing in what appear to be Richard Nixon masks to ward off evil spirits. Chilling: the kettle drums that created the monster's footfalls. His roar was made by drawing an oiled glove across the strings of a bass violin.

Godzilla Raids Again (1959).** The second in the series. Originally released as "Gigantis the Fire Monster" because the American producer had trouble securing rights to the Godzilla name. Big G battles another prehistoric monster with major collateral damage to Osaka. Not bad, but Honda, the series' first and best director, was absent.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963).** Because the public demanded it. Kong reportedly refused to do the movie without top billing. First color offering in the series. The biggest box-office hit, but the effects are fairly lame. Honda directed and, appropriately, the epic battle ends in a draw.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). **** If you love a giant moth controlled by 6-inch-tall singing twins known as the Peanut Sisters, then this is your movie. Godzilla kills Mothra, but finds himself in a bind when silk-spurting larval offspring get revenge.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1965).*** Another fine Honda effort, most notable for Godzilla playing a good guy. He joins forces with Rodan, the famous pterodactyl, and the baby Mothras to do battle with evil Ghidorah.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966).* The enemy here is Ebirah, a lobsterlike creature with regenerative limbs. Drawn butter and lemon are a must.

Destroy All Monsters (1968).**** Alien women on the moon (always trouble) take control of the minds of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Ebirah and lesser monsters, who terrorize the globe until their wills are restored to them. They then team up against Ghidorah. Godzilla doesn't get much screen time, but applies the coup de grace. Honda directs and also wrote the screenplay.

Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1972). No stars. Arguably the worst in the series, although "Godzilla on Monster Island" (1978) is a close second. Despite the ecology theme, the plot is mindless, the dubbing poor. Pic could've been saved had the Japanese hippies singing "Save the Earth" been killed. Needless to say, Honda had nothing to do with this turkey.

Godzilla 1985 (1985). * Raymond Burr returns in his role as reporter Steve Martin, a name choice that was fine in 1956 but doesn't work so well three decades later. Burr is good, but the rest of the acting isn't, and the film misses Honda's touch. The value lies in its restoration of Godzilla to his original unfriendly self.

Godzilla (1998). * Critics and fans alike panned this one, partly because the monster's look was changed and his fiery atomic breath removed, and partly because it was devoid of a plot. Worth watching, however, for the obliteration of the hideous architectural monstrosity known as Madison Square Garden.

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002). *** The 26th in the series, this was Toho Studio's attempt to capitalize on the "Transformers" craze. The monster battles a human-powered cyborg duplicate of itself. Imaginative plot, excellent special effects. Tokyo again takes a beating.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). *** The monster's 50th-anniversary movie is a world tour featuring appearances by Mothra, Rodan and Ebirah, among others. Premiered on the day Godzilla got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The movie equivalent of a "best of" CD.

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