Godzilla has seen better Tokyos, and Tokyo has seen better Godzillas. Better, that is, than those to be found in "Godzilla 1985," the latest resuscitation of the venerable Japanese firebreather, now playing at area theaters. New World Pictures has been promoting the film not so much as a fright show but more as a campy romp (the comic trailer was more entertaining than the picture); unfortunately, it doesn't work very well on either level.
One can laugh at the bad dubbing of Japanese actors and the exclamations one doubts ever got exclaimed for just so long before the jokiness pales. And so far as sheer stark-raving terror is concerned, scarier things than Godzilla have been known to come hopping down the bunny trail.
Godzilla does make a spectacle of himself, but as spectacle, the film also comes up short. The miniature buildings and helicopters still look haplessly miniature. Godzilla is impersonated this time not by the traditional man-in-the-rubber-suit, but by a 1.2-ton, 16-foot "Cybot," its movements controlled by computers. While the Cybotic Godzilla does not look as silly as the rubbersuitic Godzilla, it is also considerably less mobile.
Godzilla clomps about so ponderously that the actors have trouble maintaining abject panic. Then, too, an audience accustomed to the wizardly special effects whipped up by George Lucas and his minions in San Francisco is bound to be disappointed when Godzilla eats a nuclear submarine and all you see on the screen is a bubble eruption. Sis and Junior could probably do as well with the family Betamax and a washing machine.
The original, black-and-white Godzilla movie, an oddly haunting pulp artifact that welled up from the first nation to suffer atomic destruction, reached the United States in 1956. At that point Raymond Burr was crudely edited into the exposition as reporter Steve Martin, who always seemed to be occupying a window with the best possible vantage point on the carnage, yet never met any of the other lead characters. It seems like a self-destructive joke for the producers of the new movie to have included Burr in the cast once more, and to have shot all his scenes as if they, too, had been edited in later. Or maybe they were.
At any rate, Burr sits and broods in a bunker with U.S. military men on the far periphery of the story. They plot courses of action that have nothing to do with anything and make wan jokes, while Burr is called upon to intone messages of warning to the human race regarding nuclear weapons and the follies of tampering with Mother (or Father) Nature.
After seeing this picture, it's hard to decide whom you would less want to have sit on your house: Godzilla or Raymond Burr. Burr is not operated by computers but seems just as enormous and unwieldy as the monster. The bags under his eyes are deeper than the volcano into which Godzilla finally is induced to jump.
The computerized monster does not lack for facial expressiveness -- what has Godzilla to express but anger and annoyance? -- but seems incapable of any truly menacing sorts of movements. Indeed, his arms are so short in proportion to his torso that he can't even put his claws together so as to grab, say, an elevated train and tear it asunder. His is a waddling kind of plunder, and "Godzilla 1985" a listless sort of thrill.
Godzilla 1985, now at area theaters, is rated PG.