Friday, November 28, 2014

MR Gorgo

Since I couldn't find a giant turkey for you guys, to celebrate this Thanskgiving I give you this gargantuan kaiju instead!

Want more Kaiju-related reviews? Check these out!

Movie: Gorgo
Directed by Eugène Lourié
Release date 1961
Genre Science-fiction/giant monster film
Country UK/Ireland

Following the success of King Kong in 1933, an entire new cinematographic genre would be launched in the Cold War-era USA and post-nuclear Japan in the wake of the 1950s all the way through the 1970s.

This renewed interest in creature features might have been partially revived by the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, solidified by the success of the original Gojira and the re-release of Universal's King Kong all around the same time. Call it an effect of a world finally out of the second World War or the discovery of the Atomic Age. These kind of films would spawn the entire Kaiju genre, a sub-genre of creature features.

Gorgo is the third monster film directed by Eugène Lourié, and his fourth and last feature.

His third outing in the genre was produced about seven years after the original Godzilla. And it marked the first proper use of a suit to portray a creature in a giant monster film outside Japan. The film was clearly inspired by Ishiro Honda's Godzilla. And the film can be seen as his own homage to Godzilla, coming full circle with this homage to a film heavily influcended by his own work years before.

Gorgo was written by Lourié, Robert L. Richards & Daniel James. It features a pretty solid cast of veteran actors at the time, lead by Bill Travers and William Sylvester.

The film originally set to take place in Japan as direct nod to Godzilla, but Lourié finally wanted to set it in his native France. They finally ended up having the story take place in the UK, which proved much easier with the production. In a clear departure and original move from all these other giant monster films, they also wanted to use Australia at first, but they finally though the location didn't provide enough recognizable landmarks to destroy. The story begins in the fictive Nara Island both alluding to Japan and Godzilla and simply an anagram of the Irish Aran Islands where the story takes place.

Our story follows this giant sea creature/dinosaur woken up from deep beneath the Ocean off the coast of the United Kingdom. They find it and try to bring it back to London when people find out the monster was only just a cub... and its parent is coming to town, causing a rampage as it looks for its missing offspring...

The movie opens with Captain Joe Ryan. His salvage vessel is currently off the coast of Ireland. Due to a volcanic eruption, they decide to stop on Nara Island for ship repairs. Ryan goes on land to check out the locals with his first officer, Sam Slade. In the pure tradition if these "atomic age" giant monsters, they discover a ton of marine animal carcasses on the beach near the harbor. All the fish seems to have died from radiation poisoning... What is behind this incident?

As they try to learn more, they discover how several people have been disappearing on the island lately. One even died of fright! They set to learn the truth at night.. And they catch a look at this giant monster emerging from the water! The creature is real! And it lives! It attacks the fisherman.

It appears to be a gigantic 70-feet tall dinosaur! They establish a plan to capture it, and the next time the monster surfaces they're finally able to capture it! They decide to bring it back to London on their ship, instead of letting it go or killing it. A lot of scientists are interested to study this new discover, but instead they find a much better deal by simply offering the creature to this circus owner. They could make a huge show from this creature, it will attract millions of tourists! They put it on display (in a clear homage to the original King Kong) and name it "Gorgo" after the classic mythological creature.

As they start examining Gorgo, they soon learn the creature they captured is but only a child, not a full grown adult specimen. Does that mean there's an actual much bigger daunting towering adult "Gorgo" out there?

You thought Gorgo was huge, but he was only a kid. This other giant sea creature emerges, and he makes the previous one seem like an ant in comparison. They dub this second one "Ogra", in a direct reference to the old Irish folklore. Ogra attacks the entire island, sinks an entire fleet of ships. Nothing seems able to stop it! Not even warships or tanks! This mama Gorgo arrives ashore in London, destroys all these famous landmarks and goes on a rampage seeking its offspring! They try bombing the creature! They try stopping it with electricity, nothing works!

Will the mother finally be reunited with its son at the end? (spoiler alert: it does! And they finally return back to sea, Godzilla-style)

Another foolish attempt to control nature! When will mankind finally learn?

By this point, Eugène Lourié was no stranger to giant monsters. He basically created the genre with his "Rhedrosaur" in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and that "Giant Behemoth".

Gorgo was his way to recapture some of the magic from the original King Kong and the first Japanese Godzilla film. This also being his first color motion picture. The addition of color does take some of the old magic and mystery, it also makes some parts feel more dated than both previous films. It's easier to spot blue screens and edited day footage into night. And the rubber suit doesn't always look as convincing as the previous puppetry in most parts, particularly the bigger shots and the later creature in the second act

Despite coming pretty late in the early 60s, the film still feels like the last old school 19950's science-fiction films. And the rampage looks great and creative unlike some later generic creature features. 

After a pretty strong epic opening, the film takes a slower pace before the smashing finale. And the British landmarks takes a lot of damages, particularly Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

Sam Slade and Joe Ryan are perhaps the most "evil" human protagonists I've seen in a while in these old monster movies, and not because they're inherently evil or work for some kind of shady evil corporation, but just because how their greed makes them act. They basically cause the entire story. They decide to make some money off this mysterious creature found in a small peaceful Irish town in London. They ignore any good sense or the warnings from this kid that ends up following them all the way to the city and even want to blackmail the mayor in order to secure their cash. For once the lead characters are not scientists or the military or even a romantic pair, instead it's just these two men that found a way to make some quick cash from a huge discovery!

And the little kid wasn't even as annoying as they usual are in the genre.

Lourié loved the Godzilla film that followed his own Beast. And what better tribute than using it as a huge influence on his own take on a "guy-in-a-suit" film. Japan's most iconic atomic age-creature was inspired by Eugène Lourié's own first film, in turn his last picture took direct inspiration from it. The entire film was actually launched from an original idea to work on a Japanese co-production titled at first "Kuru Island".

The movie takes a lot of elements from Godzilla, most which would become tropes of the genre, but it also adds a lot to the lore. From the old legends of these giant monsters roaming the Earth to using high-voltage to stop the monster, which always fails. The military feeling helpless. It also brought back some direct influences from King Kong which hadn't been used again really, the movie that started it all! They capture this seemingly intelligent creature to display for the world (and also dub Gorgo "the Eighth Wonder of the World" in that scene).

What is great is that this movie doesn't try hiding its monster, unlike most of these B-movie features. We get a clear look at monster from the start, the audience see these monster movies for the monsters and Eugène Lourié clearly knew that and gives a look at the titular creature right from the start. Gorgo appears to also be another prehistoric dinosaur waken up. At least he's not radioactive as well for a change (although he does seem to contaminate the water).

Lourié didn't want the military killing his monster this time, unlike The Beast. Apparently his own daughter cried at the end of the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Making that change probably makes Gorgo one of if not the first giant monster film designed to appeal to children as well. But that wasn't a reason to shy away from a scare either. And for the same reason it also makes Gorgo the first "kaiju" film having a child as one of the main characters.

Gorgo would end up becoming another influential Western monster film for Japanese kaiju films, several elements leaving just as much impact as Beast did. Both Godzilla and Gamera would also start featuring children as part of their narrative, and Godzilla would even take the idea of a secondary younger monster to humanize its main monster in a way (like Minira in the showa-era Godzilla films or the Godzilla Jr. the heisei series). There's even a quasi-remake in the form of the 1967 Gappa (aka "Monster From a Prehistoric Planet"). Lots of tropes would become a staple of the kaiju genre, such as the greedy entrepreneurs.

The film makes uses of some actual shots of a live Gorgo replica, the creature captured driven through the street of London, which served as a real life-promotion for the film. Great early attempt at viral marketing right there!

The film features some great special effect achieved through the use of a rubber suit and miniatures, a technique mostly developed around the Godzilla films. They also constructed difference scales of miniature settings for both the larger and the younger Gorgo. The film only uses a couple of old pricey stop-motion work, which they couldn't afford much. There's also some more complex effects for the time, screen incorporation , etc. All sorts of various methods used through a single film!

The ending was a great surprise, it was very innovative for the time. The first time the monster was seen leaving off at the end, alive. It gives Gorgo kind of an environmentalist vibe. For once the monster is seen much more sympathetic and almost innocent, it was only seeking survival for itself and its offspring.

Finally Gorgo features a fairly good score composed by Italian composer Angelo Francesco, a great composer. It perfectly matches and follows the film. It's exciting and almost seems to enhance some of the visibly lower budget-moments. Making Gorgo feel big and ambitious.

Overall, Gorgo has a pretty good story for these sort of films, ending with an actually different closer, a decent change from the formula.

It's a cult classic in my eyes, and Highly Recommended!

Gorgo is a pretty good movie all things considered. Creative and different. A unique and fun monster film.

The film has a great finale twist for these kind of films. The huge impressive mommy monster is almost scary as invincible as it appears.

It closes perfectly and fittingly Eugène Lourié's "giant monster trilogy that began with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953.

Not only would it be last "dinosaur" film, but also his last filmed production. Despite all of his films being quite profitable at the time, Lourié didn't want to end up typecast as the guy that make all these science-fiction films. He would stop directing shortly after and focus on another film production aspect he was much more interested in, visual effects. In fact, he would be nominated for an Academy Award about 8 years later for his work on Krakatoa, East of Java.

The film itself would define elements the kaiju genre would incorporate. I'm Japanese director Ishiro Honda saw Gorgo as well, as you can see some of the later staples from the Godzilla series.

Despite the film never getting a proper sequel, the story of Gorgo would continue through comic books from 1961 to 1965 through Charlton Comics. Those were even drawn by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Gorgo's second life in comics would begin with "The Return of Gorgo", where Gorgo would be seen fighting all kinds of other different giant monsters in pure Godzilla fashion, until the series changed direction as was renamed "Fantastic Giants" beginning with issue #24. Those have been recently reprinted by IDW Publishing in 2013, in a deluxe hardcover trade.

Gorgo itself has made it into pop culture, thanks to the film's famous appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Which boosted and renewed Gorgo's popularity, and it's not a surprise to see his appearance on a lot of material nowadays from The Simpsons to clips shown in other movies.

I give it:
3 / 3 Gojiras!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks dude!

      I love these old school monster movies^^