In the wake of Cloverfield, Saturday Reviews have been examining Kaiju past. The Americans had The Beast from 20000 Fathoms, and the Japanese had Godzilla, Gamera, Gappa, Mothra, and a clash of others. Britain’s entry was 1961’s Gorgo.
Cast and Crew
Full credits available at the imdb.
Available at Amazon.com
An enterprising salvage crew capture a prehistoric monster off the coast of Ireland and bring him to London’s Battersea Park for the pleasure of the crowds. This turns out to be a really bad idea.
We know that when humans drag a captive Kaiju back to a major center, it will break loose and wreak havoc. Gorgo follows this convention, but the film has a twist which turns it into an environmental movie. The outsized dinosaur-sized creature held at Battersea Park is a baby. The real threat will occur when his plus-sized mother comes to take him back.
The early encounters with Gorgo, at night on the sea, work reasonably well, likely because the darkness and filters show the costume to best advantage.
The film begins with a pointless, implausible, and poorly-rendered volcanic eruption off the coast of Ireland. Presumably, this has something to do with releasing Gorgo from wherever undersea Kaiju normally dwell, but it’s unnecessary, and a simple storm could as easily have blown the ship off-course. The effects of the ship in peril, at least, look convincing.
It’s a convention of these films to cut to a verbose reporter, but this one proves annoying beyond belief, and I really felt myself wanting him to become the next Gorgo-victim.
Originality: 3/5 The monster resembles Godzilla and the plot is default Kaiju with elements of King Kong. The twist is original for this genre, however.
Effects: 4/6. Gorgo is a guy in a rubber suit. The head has some impressive-looking teeth, but little expressiveness. It’s not bad, as Kaiju costumes go, but it’s hardly the epitome of special effects. The model work is pretty good, and we get to see the destruction of several British landmarks. Other effects vary, as I’ve already noted under “Low Points.”
Story 4/6. Of course, Kaiju by 1961 was marketed increasingly at ten-year-old boys, and this film must be viewed with that fact in mind. It ignores the imposed romance of earlier such films and instead gives us a wise orphan boy, passably well acted, seeking a parental figure. At the same time, he has wisdom beyond his years, and warns the adults that they should just set Gorgo free. From the wee bairn Sean, it’s not far to Gamera‘s various boy sidekicks and Otaku Ishiro from Godzilla’s Revenge.
Acting: 4/6. The acting may not have earned the film any Oscars, but it’s better than many movies of this genre.
Production 4/6. The model cities have been expertly made. They don’t crumble and collapse quite the way real buildings would, but they at least approach Toho standards. The planes, however, change as they move from stock footage to models.
Emotional Response: 4/6. If you like old Kaiju movies, you will watch Gorgo with the necessary forgiving eye and enjoy it on its own terms. The film also exists as a MST3K episode:
Pacifist or not, Ghandi’s got to be smiling about now.
Overall 4/6 This marks the first time a Kaiju films ends happily for the monsters. I suppose some might note a comparable ending to Mothra, released the same year.
In total, Gorgo receives 27 out of 42.
1. Eugène Lourié also directed The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. Both films feature key scenes in amusement parks.
2. Gorgo inspired a comic, published by Charlton between 1961 and 1965.
3. Just how large is Mama Gorgo? The dialogue claims she’s 200 feet tall, about the size of Gojira, but the movie shows a creature perhaps twice that size. This makes her roughly the size American promotional material erroneously claimed for Godzilla. Many Kaiju fans have wanted a battle royal between the Japanese and British monsters, and reportedly, John Carpenter, while still a student, made an unlicensed “Godzilla vs Gorgo” short which has never been released commercially. But consider: who is Baby Gorgo’s father? And who birthed Godzilla’s son, given that the films identify the Big G as a he?
Perhaps the two great beasts already know each other.
4. M.M. Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination argues that genres become ossified and clichéd over time, and ripe for parody. Parody then gives way to a new, vital version of the genre. Something like this process transformed heroic epic into the novel. We can see it in cinema and television with the Western and the Cop Show. Kaiju follows an interesting variation of this path. Early offerings, such as Gojira, were serious films. The genre quickly grew less serious and more cliché-ridden. Cloverfied represents a revived version of the genre, but I can think of no obvious parodies in-between. Perhaps the Kaiju offerings of the late 60s and early 70s were close enough to parody already.
(I suppose one might consider Bambi meets Godzilla as a parody of the genre)