Movie of the Week: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Written by Jun Fukuda
Story by Takeshi Kimura, Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Directed byJun Fukuda
Starring Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, Robert Dunham
Released March 17, 1973 (Japan)
RT 81 min.
Home Video Media Blasters (Blu-ray); Prime Video
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)

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Exactly 40 minutes into Godzilla vs. Megalon, I stopped screaming about how bad it was, acknowledged that I was watching a Showa-era Godzilla movie, and sat back to relax. Guess what? I truly enjoyed it! That isn’t how I felt when I first saw it at the Trail Drive-In sometime after its initial United States release. For years, I have despised the movie without ever giving it a second chance. Surprisingly, it appeals to the child in me now, perhaps the child that never really existed when I was growing up.

What happens at 40 minutes into Godzilla vs. Megalon is that the father and son heroes of the movie are held captive in a metal storage box on the back of a truck. Driven by one of the villains and backed up to a dam, the truck bed is tilted up to dump the box into the water below. But then Megalon rises over a hill, approaches the truck and bats the box into the air. The box crashes over another hill, the doors pop open and out roll the heroes with barely a scratch. Ridiculous, yes; but how much fun would that be? The scene melted my cold, critical heart.

It’s a tough sell up until then, though. The father has invented a robot named Jet Jaguar that is the object of desire for the leaders of Seatopia, an underground city partially (1/3) destroyed by nuclear testing. The Emperor of Seatopia (Robert Dunham), a hairy-backed American wearing a toga, instructs his lackeys up top to steal Jet Jaguar and reprogram him so he can lead their monster, Megalon, to Tokyo to wage a war they have no choice to start. The Emperor also contacts his friends out in “the universe” to send monster Gigan to assist.

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I’d love to see Godzilla vs. Megalon subtitled rather than dubbed. I don’t know that it’s fair to critique it based on voices that have been added after the fact. But they’re really bad and it’s difficult for them to not distract from the highly scientific and important story the movie is trying to tell. Add to that scenes that are a mix of live action, miniatures and stock footage, as well as monster costumes and effects that are primitive, even for the 70s, and it’s not real easy to enjoy what you’re watching.

But when I cut it some slack, I remembered something I tell people who complain about CGI. When I read comic books, sometimes the art is good, sometimes the art is bad. But it’s the stories I appreciate and I try to accept an artist’s style, even though I may not particularly enjoy it. It’s the same thing with a movie like Godzilla vs. Megalon that looks so cheesy. If I don’t resist and simply accept its style, I can usually appreciate the story. (Here, the story isn’t really anything to appreciate, either, but it is creative and fun.)

After Jet Jaguar breaks the villains’ hold on him and becomes autonomous (“he’ll operate as himself now with no orders”), he goes to Monster Island to summon Godzilla, who at this point in the franchise is now mankind’s savior. When he finally arrives late in the movie, bopping into the arena like a prize fighter, it’s nothing but orchestrated chaos between Megalon, Gigan, Godzilla and Jet Jaguar, who has now grown in size to equal the giant monsters. Is there correlation between fans of Godzilla and professional wrestling? The two types of entertainment seem very similar.

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Here are some interesting things that happen during the battle:

  • Megalon and Gigan play catch with Jet Jaguar
  • Megalon shoots bombs out of his “mouth”
  • Gigan cuts Godzilla’s shoulder, sending a surprising amount of blood spurting from the wound
  • Godzilla temporarily stops fighting to help Jet Jaguar, who later flies Godzilla to safety from a circle of fire
  • Jet Jaguar breaks one of Gigan’s “arms,” then tosses him in the air so Godzilla can spray him with his radioactive breath
  • Jet Jaguar holds Megalon while Godzilla slides toward him on his tail and kicks him into the air… twice
  • When the battle ends, Jet Jaguar (before returning to normal size) and Godzilla actually shake “hands”

The best movies end when the main character learns a lesson. After witnessing the mayhem, Inventor Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) concludes, “We’ll warn the scientists to be more careful in the future and leave Seatopia in peace.” Wow, that’s provocative. At what point did he come to that brilliant conclusion? After watching Godzilla vs. Megalon, I think I’d conclude, ‘Bomb the hell out of Seatopia! And fire a nuclear missile into space while you’re at it! How else are we going to get a rematch among these great monsters?”

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