In 1954, the original Godzilla made Toho Studios a fat ton of money and reinvented the "giant monster on a rampage" genre. Knowing a money tree when they saw one, Toho decided to branch out from their burgeoning Godzilla series into other, though highly similar monster movie series. The first, and arguably the best, of these was 1956's Rodan.
Toho assigned to the picture most of the production staff of the early Godzilla series, including director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, composer Akira Ifukube, and many of the same actors, including Kenji Sahara and Akihiko Hirata. Despite these common voices, this movie has a different feel than the Godzilla movies and is very capable of standing alone in the genre.
The screenplay was written by Takeshi Kimura, who based his script on the Warner Brothers giant bug movie Them! from 1954, even recreating some scenes verbatim. Rodan was the also first Japanese monster movie to be filmed in color, which greatly emphasized the wonderful special effects and miniature work by the master Eiji Tsuburaya. His effects in this movie were so good, in fact, that they would reappear as stock footage in various Toho monster movies for decades to come. Rodan himself would go on to become a much-loved regular opponent in the Godzilla series, even into the 1990s.
With the original title of The Sky's Giant Monster Radon, the movie opened in Japan on December 26, 1956, and was well-received and profitable. The fledgling American film studio King Brothers (who would also give to the world Gorgo a few years later) picked up the movie and released it to American theatres beginning in August of 1957. They changed the name to Rodan, which was more in line with the one-word titles that were popular in the era. As was also fashionable in the 1950s, King Brothers edited the story somewhat to fit American tastes. These cuts and additions were not as intrusive as in other imported movies, however, a testament to the excellent script and production values of the original. This movie would become one of the biggest money-makers for the King Brothers, and for many years their other movies came with the tagline, "From the company that brought you Rodan". One advantage that the King Brothers had was access to some footage originally shot for the movie that didn't make the Japanese print that they added into the American version.
The English dubbing for the entire film was apparently the work of just four (!!!!) men. All the male voices were done by Keye Luke, Paul Frees and George Takei (yes, Mister Sulu). The dubbing is ok, but you can tell that several of the voices are the same person. At least they mostly have "Japanese accents", instead of the Australian and British accents that characterized the dubbing of many 1960s and 70s Japanese monster movies.
For this review I will be using the Sony Classic DVD edition released in 2002. This Americanized print comes in at a slim 72 minutes and the film and sound quality are excellent. Strangely, there are no subtitles on the DVD, but that was not hard to overcome.
And now on to our show...
We open with a stock footage slide-show of American nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, scored with blandly patriotic library music. A narrator drones on about how these nuclear tests are bringing horrible consequences to the world, yada yada. I would describe it in detail, but it's the same old overly-dramatic and tired "nukes are bad for you" stuff that we've all seen a million times. It adds nothing to our story and frankly annoys me.
B-29 about to drop.
Not surprisingly, this entire four-minute prologue was added in for the American version only. Since the Japanese version made only the most oblique references to nuclear testing, it was felt that American audiences would miss the connection. Nearly every monster movie of the 1950s had to be based on the dangers of nuclear testing and Rodan had to be altered to fit this template. [Editor Pam: So nuclear testing creates giant monsters. Odd that there arenít any wandering around near Alamogordo and the Nevada Test Site. Maybe thatís whatís really in Area 51.]
Now we get to our actual story as the camera fades into the lush green hills of modern day Japan. Most of our movie is set in the shabby coal mining town of "Kitamatsu" on the southern island of Kyushu. This town has defied my attempts to locate it in real life. With what Google can tell me, plus everything seen in the movie, I am reasonably certain that Kitamatsu is located in the central Kyushu prefecture of Kumamoto, somewhere northwest of Mount Aso in the "Osaki coal mining district". If anyone can do better, please let me know.
We get a nice rolling collage of images of the mining town and the people who live there. This is pure West Virginia coal mining town here, only the faces are different. We get a voice-over narration to set the scene for us. It's the voice of Shigeru, who will be our main protagonist. Shigeru tells us that he has lived here all his life, except when he went away to school. He then begins to tell us about a day that started out like any other in the mines, with people coming and going just like normal.
We see a roll-call, a shift change and a group of miners going down into the shafts in a tram, which looks like one of those tour trains that you can take around the zoo. The tracks for the tram run all the way down into the mines. The same rails also carry the coal carts, as will become important later in the film. The miners going down are clean and neat, the shift coming up are almost black with coal dust. The life expectancy of these men must have been incredibly short.
But this day was not so normal after all, the voice-over intones, as we see a fist fight break out between two men in a group of miners. It's quickly broken up by a foreman, but the two men continue to glower at each other. One of the men is named Yoshi, the other is named Goro, whose sister our hero Shigeru is soon to be married to. Goro is a big hulking man with a stern face and broad shoulders, but don't worry about him, he never speaks a word in this movie.
The miners are all on edge, the voice-over goes on, because they are afraid. Afraid because the "Number 8" mine is going too far down, down further than any mine they have ever worked. He says that it's getting dangerous down there, and the floor has recently been "creeping". A creeping floor is caused when support (in this case a coal vein) between strata is removed, it can cause flooding or even a sudden collapse.
This problem worries the managers of the mine, including Shigeru, who we shall see is the "Safety Engineer" for the mine. Shigeru is played by 24-year old Kenji Sahara, one of the most recognizable faces in the Toho stable of young actors. Sahara has become a legend amongst monster movie fans and deservedly so. He has acted in some 57 movies up to 2002, including a record twelve Godzilla series installments. Because of the large number of Japanese names to remember, and because he's the "Safety Engineer", I will refer to him as "Homer Simpson" for the rest of this review, an homage to the Simpsons.
We cut now to Homer's office, as he and his team brainstorm the creeping floor problem. We see that Homer's hair is very poofy, like a California surfer dude. Suddenly the phone rings. A man tells Homer that Mine 8 now has two meters of water in it, where there was none just yesterday. Homer orders them to stop working the shaft and wait for him to get there to inspect it. So he grabs his helmet and light and runs for the mine shaft.
Running past a group of miners worrying about their friends in the mine, he goes down in the tram to the bottom. A miner tells him that they were working when a crack in the wall opened and water came pouring in. He also tells him that two men, Yoshi and Goro, were "running the point" and were not able to get out before the wall broke through. Remember that Yoshi and Goro were the two who were fighting topside just that morning.
Homer then tells three men to come with him, they are going down into the shaft to get a look. The four of them, with Homer in the lead, go into the flooded tunnel, which is chest-level deep with dark, brackish water.
Homer wades into the water.
It's here that they find Yoshi's body floating in the water. He has been "almost hacked to pieces", though he doesn't look all that "hacked" to me. We next see that the body has been brought to the town hospital where it's being examined. The ever-present voice-over tells us that Yoshi had been "slaughtered like an animal", but we clearly see the man's nearly-nude body on a gurney and, while dirty, not a scratch is visible on him. I guess that for 1956, this was as close to graphic bloodshed you could show.
Doctor Kashiwagi tells Homer that he doesn't know what type of awful weapon could cause such wounds, but he's sure that it wasn't an accident. Duh, I could have told you that. Since I'm going for a whole Simpsons theme here, I'll call him "Doctor Ned" for the rest of the review.
Just then there is a commotion, as Otami (Yoshi's widow) tries to force her way into the room to see her dead husband. She's wisely kept out and is left to sob in the arms of several other women in the corridor. This is an effective scene and the actress playing Otami really sells the grieving widow act well.
Homer and some other miners now discuss what they think happened. Most think that Goro, who is still missing, was to blame, while the more level-headed urge caution before judging. Homer is told that he's biased because he's in love with Goro's sister, and Homer has to agree.
The men file out of the hospital. Waiting outside is Goro's sister, the lovely Kiyo. Several of the other miners cast disgusted looks at the girl as they pass by her, obviously blaming her for the supposed actions of her brother. A few women also sneer at her and turn their backs. The look of pain and uncertainty on Kiyo's face is genuine and we can't help but feel sorry for her. She asks Homer what he thinks, he tells her that he believes that Goro is no killer. This is all a very effective and emotional scene as we can truly feel the suspicion and misplaced anger directed at this young girl, who obviously is as upset as anyone about what has happened.
Kiyo is played by the lovely 20-year old Yumi Shirakawa. She's a thin girl, with a pretty face and simple taste in clothes, though the constraints of the role do not allow her to wear much more than simple peasant smocks. Despite this, and after seeing all the other six-tooth women in the mining town, it's easy to see why Homer is in love with her. Director Ishiro Honda took a liking to Shirakawa early on and cast her in several of his subsequent movies, including the role of Etsuko Shiraishi in 1957's The Mysterians and of Chikako Arai in 1959's The H-Man. Since her lover is "Homer", it seems only natural to call her "Marge" in this review.
Homer and Marge part here, Homer having to go back to work. Down at Mine 8, we see that the "Sergeant of Police" is now in the shaft looking for Goro. We go now into the shaft with the Sergeant and two miners. They tie themselves together with a rope and wade through the chest-deep water, searching for Goro, the Sergeant with his revolver drawn. They see nothing yet, but think that they hear splashing water and other noises. Man, I'd be bringing some brighter flashlights...and a bazooka.
Suddenly, the lead miner screams and is pulled under the water!!!! Then the Sergeant fires two shots from his gun before he goes under, flailing and wailing. The last man, whose named Peek, thinks quick and cuts the rope. He sloshes back towards the drier part of the mine. He picks up a telephone mounted on a wall, kinda like an emergency call-box on the freeway, and calls for help. He's cut short as something big and monstrous munches on him.
That pistol isn't going to cut it.
We cut now back to the hospital, where the three dead men are being brought in on stretchers. Someone had to go get their bodies, and we wonder if anyone was dumb enough to volunteer or they forced them to. I sure wouldn't go down into a shaft where five people in one day had been killed.
The events of the day have spawned a media circus around the hospital, and we see a bevy of reporters awaiting the coroner's report on what killed the men. Out comes the coroner, Doctor Tanaka, who tells them that the bodies had suffered a "maniac's mutilation". Well... He also says that two of the men also suffered from "shock", implying that they were "frightened to death" before they were hacked. What? A town official, in an effort to reduce panic in the town, orders more men deputized.
Now might be a good place to note the economic class of our film's main characters. In most Japanese monster movies, the main characters are all professionals in their fields, such as scientists, doctors, journalists, military men, politicians and the like. In Rodan, conversely, by and large our protagonists are coal miners, working class people who, in class obsessed Japan, are near the bottom of the ladder. There have been other examples in the genre, including the fishermen heroes of 1955's Gigantis, but mostly the movies have been seen through the eyes of upper class people.
Ok, we now cut back to our love birds. We see Marge in her house, dressed in a traditional white kimono with a single red flower embroidered into it. She's alone and doing housework when she hears a commotion outside. It's Otami, Yoshi's widow, distraught and looking to kill Marge for Goro killing Yoshi. A group of women restrain her and carry her off sobbing. Marge breaks down as well and seems on the verge of an emotional collapse.
Marge hiding from the widow.
Homer comes in, they embrace and Marge tells him that she doesn't feel safe here anymore and wants to leave. What with the whole town blaming her brother, and her by extension, for the murders, she feels it better if she leaves town. I'm not sure why everyone is so riled up against Marge, she didn't kill anyone. Different cultures have different views on that sort of thing, I guess.
Suddenly they hear a horrible noise!!!! From the side door a monster rushes at Homer and Marge as they hug in the living room!!! It's a big bug-looking thing that twitters like a cicada. It moves steadily towards them.
Just to fill you in, this bug, and it's fellow bugs we see later, is a "Meganuron", a name used only in the literature for the movie. These are basically giant grubs, one-ton heavy and about eight-meters long, with a hard bullet-proof carapace and wicked pincers on either side of the mouth. They are realized by the time-honored trick of having a man crawling around with this big contraption over him like one of those Chinese dragons you see during festivals in big cities. To me, their lumbering dragging movement reminded me of the Horta from Star Trek.
Rah! I'm a Meganuron!
Homer and Marge run out the front door and yell for help. Nearby, three uniformed policemen are talking with a large group of deputized miners (we can tell because they are wearing white overalls and helmets). At their shouts, all the men rush to the Goro house. The three policemen have revolvers on lanyards and some of the deputies have picks. They encounter the Meganuron in the house and panic as it rushes them. They fire at least six shots at the bug, seemingly to no effect. It appears that perhaps one of the deputies is killed by the bug as everyone else runs from the house.
By now the village is in a frenzy, with everyone running around screaming. We see Police Chief Nishimura, head of the police for the village, calling on the phone for the Army to send a unit "with machine guns and other pieces". A man rushes into the police station to say that the thing is now nearing the coal dumps. The Chief rushes out. Police Chief Nishimura, in keeping with our Simpsons theme, will be called "Chief Wiggum" from now on.
We see now that a group is being organized to meet the monster at the coal dumps. We see about 14 uniformed policemen and some 20 white-helmet deputies running in a group through the deserted streets of the village, led by Chief Wiggum, Homer and Doctor Ned. They find the Meganuron on top of the steep mountain of coal, silhouetted against the dark blue sky.
Chief Wiggum orders that his men spread out and surround the monster. He then orders them to open fire and we can count least 34 pistol shots. They seemingly have no effect and many visibly miss. Bad shots, even with pistols.
Running up the hill to get that bug.
The bug then lunges down the hill towards the nearest policeman, who strangely is not able to get out of the way. The bug's pincers latch onto his right arm and jerk him up. It then grabs another man and apparently kills him too, though the editing is confusing here and the scene is poorly lit. We see the bug dragging (!!!!!) a corpse behind it as it rushes off the mountain and back towards the town.
We see the police run up to two crumpled bodies lying side-by-side. Since we just saw the bug dragging a single body off the hill, I guess that it killed three men altogether here and only dragged off one. Doctor Ned's cursory examination confirms that the men have the same wounds that the bodies from the mine showed. We have our killer.
The men then run down to the entrance to Mine 8, where they find the policeman that was dragged off lying in front of the shaft. He appears to be still alive, though it's hard to tell. It's clear that the bug has gone back down into the mine.
Ok, let's stop and breathe. Can you explain how the bug crawled out of the mine undetected and worked its way though the village to enter Marge's house, which is clearly in the center of the town? How does a creature that big and loud go unseen by a thousand people as it moves through the streets? And don't you think that it's pretty suspicious of it to beeline directly for the house of the sister of the accused? And the physical appearance of the bug itself needs some work. It has big, bug-like multifaceted eyes, which seem useless in an underground creature. And what's it feeding on down there that it needs mandibles and pincers?
Just as Homer and the police are preparing to enter the mine again, the Japanese Army arrives. We see a motorized unit with three jeeps and four troop carrier trucks pull into the town. There is about a platoon of infantry led by a Major, with three tripod-mounted light machineguns. The machineguns are American-made belt-fed M1919A1 .30 caliber weapons with the distinctive air-cooled barrel baffle.
They seem to already know what is going on as they immediately fall out and run towards the mine entrance. Chief Wiggum, Homer and two miners lead the platoon into the mine shaft. "First Squad" deploys its machinegun halfway down, while the rest of the men continue into the water, which has gone down some since that morning.
Homer sees a body ahead and rushes to it. It's Goro (!!!), and he's well and truly dead. Suddenly, the Meganuron is upon them. The men fall back to the machinegun, which starts to fire. About five seconds of sustained fire does nothing to the monster and the men are forced to pull back further.
As even the machineguns are useless against it, Homer formulates a plan to use the coal cars. The coal cars run on the tracks down into the mine and are currently filled with heavy rock. Homer pulls the brake and hangs on, riding the car train down towards the bottom. He jumps off just as they smack into the Meganuron, killing it. Yeah!!!
They then run down to where Goro's body was. The corpse is right inside the crack in the wall where the water first came into the tunnel, remember? Homer enters the crack, which opens up into a good-sized cavern. Suddenly, another Meganuron appears, pinning Homer inside the cavern. The infantry stick a machinegun into the crack and fire a short burst at the monster. The noise and concussion of the gun causes a cave in (I assume, maybe it was the sudden movement of the Meganuron).
We see an external shot of the floor of a valley collapsing as part of the cavern, which apparently was a lot larger than we imagined, fills in. Falling rocks kill the second grub and seemingly do in Homer as well. The mine shaft itself is not collapsed and the men try in vain to dig through to where Homer was.
We cut now to the mine office, where the men are discussing the fact that both the "rescue squad" and the "army engineers" think it will be at least a day before they can dig to where Homer was last seen. Just then an earthquake shakes the village, causing more ground to collapse.
Doctor Ned, who apparently is more than just a medical doctor, calls the "Earthquake Institute" and talks with a scientist named Sugiwara to find out about the quake. Sugiwara tells him that it was a doozy and asks Doctor Ned to meet him at "Old Mount Toya Road at 1:30 to inspect the area of the volcano". So what is Doctor Ned going to do there?
"Mount Toya" totally defied my repeated attempts to locate it on a map, despite an hour of Googling. Then I discovered that in the original Japanese version, it was "Mount Aso". Mount Aso is a well-known volcano located in central Kyushu, which places it exactly where we want it. Because that's what the dialogue says, I will stay with "Mount Toya" for the rest of the review, but remember that it's really Mount Aso.
We cut now to what I assume is Old Mount Toya Road, as two jeeps loaded with our main cast drive towards the volcano. They stop to see a landslide area that has sunken into the ground. Sugiwara can't explain it, but says that there have been some "strange rumblings" in this area recently. This is never explicitly explained, but we are to assume that these rumblings are the result of monsters moving about underground.
Suddenly, they spy a lone man stumbling along the floor of the collapsed valley. It's Homer!!!!! He's alive! How the hell did he end up here? I guess that he found a way out of the cavern, perhaps the collapse opened a crawlspace to the surface? Stranger things have happened.
They take him back to the hospital, where they tend his wounds and discover that he's suffering from shock and total memory loss. In this state of amnesia, Homer can't even recognize Marge, who comes to see him. Marge is wearing a nice, if plain, pink dress with blue flowers in this scene. We will see them try everything possible to get his memory back, but all to no avail.
Homer in a daze.
While they work on Homer, the rest of the village's smart folk talk about the big grubs. Doctor Ned, now apparently an expert on invertebrate paleontology as well as earthquakes and medicine, says that they are actually "a species of prehistoric insect that once roamed the earth." The doctor wants to retrieve the two dead bugs for scientific research, sure that their secret to surviving for so long will benefit mankind. Great idea, shame this is never, ever mentioned again in the entire movie.
We cut now to a Japanese Air Force airbase. On the tarmac are a group of about 34 jet fighters, in all their stock footage glory. They are all (at least the two dozen or so in the foreground) American-built F-86F Saber jet fighters, and strangely they are all carrying two drop tanks under their wings.
Identifying this airbase took some time. This movie was filmed in the fall of 1956, and the very first wing of F-86Fs in Japanese service was activated only in October of that same year. The wing was based at Hamamatsu Airbase on the southern coast of Honshu, south of Nagoya. We later hear that they are flying over the Inland Sea, which helps my case. As well, in the coming air battles we only see Sabers taking off from this one airbase, so it almost has to be Hamamatsu.
We then get a shot of two of the Sabers taking off. This is apparently "Able Flight", and we hear it calling to "Big Fence Tower", which is the airbase control tower. The flight tells them that they are over the Inland Sea at 20,000 feet and an "unidentified object" just crossed his path flying at supersonic speed!!!
We now get some lovely stock footage shots of Sabers flying around in the air, I'm sure making North American Aviation Incorporated and the Japanese Air Force beam with pride. We see that the "object" is doing vertical climbs at supersonic speeds up to 40,000 feet (!!!) and barrel rolls and flips in the sky and leaving a jet contrail behind (!!!). We'll examine that later.
The lead pilot, whose name is Kitahara, tries to chase the object but is unable to keep up with its wild maneuvering. The Saber can't break the sound barrier, especially in a climb, so it's a hopeless chase. He then gets a little too close to the object and gets smashed out of the sky for his carelessness.
This scene closes with certainly the worst flub in the entire movie. We cut back to the control tower for a three-second shot of the men asking Able Flight what is happening. Apparently the actual footage ran only two seconds but the dialogue when dubbed ran three seconds. So the American editing crew, instead of just shortening the dialogue to two seconds, ran the film backwards for a second to fill the gap. This is most painfully obvious as a jet is being wheeled along in the background one way, and then suddenly reverses its direction for the last second of the scene. This is so obvious that a four-year old can catch it on the first viewing. It speaks volumes for the ethics of the American editing crew that they left this in the final print of the movie. We shall see later that the King Brothers' crew has more nasty tricks to play on us.
We then get a great, yet a little disturbing shot that opens with the pilot's dented and bloodied flight helmet in the center of a table in the Wing Commander's office. The other pilots talk about what might have caused this. All they have to go on is the pilot's last radio messages. Where is his wingman? They gave us this shot of two jets taking off, and on the radio he said "Able Flight", so shouldn't there be at least one other jet to confirm what happened? I guess not.
Pilot's helmet on table.
a reporter by the name of Izeki in a civilian suit, carrying a camera. The phone rings on the Wing Commander's desk and it's for Izeki. The caller tells him that a British cargo plane was just destroyed by an unknown object over the Yellow Sea. Why didn't someone tell the military first?
And now for the next several minutes we get a travelogue of sorts, a collage of shots taken on location around the Pacific Rim while Les Tremayne's voice-over tells us that the strange supersonic object is being seen all over the region. The gist is that because the sightings are so spread out, it's determined that there are actually two of the objects out there. Both of them are seemingly targeting aircraft, but are also hitting things on the ground, all the attacks apparently at random. This has understandably paralyzed air traffic in the region and everyone is on the lookout.
Random dude looking up at sky for Rodan.
Much, much effort is made here to make it clear that, while many have seen the objects, they have always been at such high altitudes and at such incredible speeds that no one has been able to get an accurate description. This seems implausible to say the least, but it's crucial for the film to build the mystery of the unknown. It will make the final realization of what the objects are a more powerful scene.
The places seen in the travelogue are many and varied and speak to the vast range of these two mysterious objects. A small village north of Peking (not Beijing, mind you) [Editor Pam: The Godless Commies were the ones that wanted it transliterated as Beijing. We red-blooded Americans show our patriotism by ignoring their request.] was "destroyed by a sonic wave with the power of a subatomic blast." Off Mindanao in the Philippines, a government patrol boat was capsized and sunk by an object that "dove into the sea next to it". Other targeted cities include Rangoon, Burma and Singapore.
Even far away Wake Island has seen the object. In fact, USAF pilot Captain John Hughes was killed when his supersonic fighter was destroyed by one of the objects. Even this, however, will not get the Americans involved in the coming battles with the monsters. You'd think that such a threat over the vital Pacific Rim would get the USA involved, even without losing one of our pilots.
I think I'll cheat a bit here and tell you some secrets. The two objects are actually two flying monsters and they are based out of Mount Toya in Kyushu. We get some glimpses of the creatures in the previous shots, and this movie is called Rodan, so I'm not giving much away.
We leave this stuff to go back to our immediate area of concern. A voice-over tells us that Mount Toya, after a long period of inactivity, is now growling and smoking again. With the danger of it erupting, the police close off the roads leading to it. They admit, however, that people will now flock to the mountain just to see it explode. This admission of the "ambulance chaser syndrome" in the Japanese culture is surprising to hear, even if true in all populations. If a big volcano was smoking here in Indiana where I live, instead of running away, we'd all be driving down to get a look-see at the big fire pit.
And sure enough, we now cut to two newlyweds leaving for an excursion to Mount Toya. They climb all the way up to the smoking crater and the woman poses in front of the lava flows for a picture. Man, my wife would have killed me if I tried that on our honeymoon. The groom is a dorky-looking dude, but his bride is quite attractive, perhaps the cutest woman in this entire movie.
The blushing bride.
They are now attacked from the sky by our flying monster. Both are taken away, leaving behind only a single woman's shoe and the man's camera. The police later find these and conclude that they were "lifted up" by something big and fierce.
We wonder how they managed to find the shoe and the camera on the mountainside, seemingly a needle and a haystack. We also wonder about the monster's shift from attacking flying jets to individual people on the ground. Sure, this makes the danger more "personal" but does it really make sense? I guess you could say that the monster was just protecting its roost at Mount Toya. Maybe it was hungry?
At the Kitamatsu police station are Chief Wiggum and Izeki the reporter. They develop the film, and in the last negative they see part of a wing! They then print out the negative and now it shows the wing and a claw!!!! Where did the claw come from? It clearly wasn't on the negative. Arg.
They take the print to Doctor Ned, now fully versed in prehistoric avian biology, who gets with some other lab coat-wearing scientists and determines solely from the photo that the monsters are in fact Pteranodons, those nifty flying reptiles from the Age of Dinosaurs.
I might as well tell you here that our monsters here are indeed a mated pair of enormous Pterosauria that can fly at supersonic speeds. Their dimensions are listed as 100 tons, standing 50 meters tall and a 500 foot wingspan. They can fly at Mach 1.5 (!!!) and have weird curved spikes on their chests (!!!). You might have seen the Pteranodons in Jurassic Park 3, and our beasts here can be thought of as really big examples of that species, mutated by some unknown process into monsters.
Ok, back to Homer. He still has amnesia, but has pretty much healed his wounds. We rejoin them at home where Marge is maintaining a great positive attitude despite Homer not remembering her. She looks radiant here, the best in the whole movie, despite an unflattering polka dot dress and pulled-back hair. She has a pet bird that has two eggs that are about to hatch. She shows them to Homer, and the sight of the eggs hatching suddenly unlocks all the memories that his psyche had been repressing.
In a flashback scene, we see Homer in the cavern just after the collapse trapped him in there. Coming to, he stumbles across the broken floor of the cavern. There must be a massive hole in the ceiling following the cave in, because the cavern is well-lit despite Homer not having a flashlight. He sees a bunch of the Meganurons and fears for his life.
The giant egg!
Then he sees a giant egg!!!! The egg begins to crack before his very eyes. From it springs a monster Pteranodon!!!! The beast starts to eat the Meganuron in big pecking bites, which he later describes as a "most sickening sight". This blows Homer's mind and he stumbles out into the open air with nary a memory in his head.
But now it's all back. Marge's bird eggs hatching have restored Homer to full mental health. Yea!!! He goes to see Doctor Ned, who shows him some pictures of a Pteranodon, which he identifies as the monster he saw. Homer volunteers to lead an expedition back into the cavern to search for the monster and destroy any eggs that havenít yet hatched.
And so a group is gathered for the mission. We see that it includes Homer, Doctor Ned, Chief Wiggum and nine other miners. They are armed only with picks and the Chief's pistol, seemingly poor weaponry for destroying giant monster eggs. The enter the mine and work their way into the cavern where Homer saw his egg.
Homer must be a fast healer. In the previous scenes with him following his loss of memory, he had a large bandage on his left hand and forearm and a bandage around his forehead. From here on, however, he seems to have healed completely, lacking any scars or obvious signs of the injuries on either his head or his arm. They could have at least kept a little gauze on his arm, don't you think?
Homer's voice-over plays over these shots, effectively setting the mood of fear and anticipation felt by the men as they ventured into the unknown, to face a danger that they probably might not survive. He also poses the question, "How could prehistoric monsters stir from their long death to move about upon the earth again? The only answer to that could be that they never really died, only slept. We had dug too deeply for our coal, and awakened it to destroy us all." This is another in a long line of movie plots where man, in his endless quest for more power and energy, has brought Mother Nature's wrath upon him.
They find where the egg was, but it's now covered by a rockslide. Homer, not about to give up now, digs in the rocks and finds a piece of pale white egg shell. The shell is about two feet square and maybe six inches thick. Ah ha, so Homer wasn't dreaming it all! A rockslide chases them out, and as we next see them outside the cave, we can assume that they didn't find any more eggs or monsters.
We cut now back to Doctor Ned's labs, where the shell is being examined by a number of scientists. Strangely, the shell sitting on his table is clearly twice as big as the one that Homer found in the cavern. Perhaps they found this larger fragment off-camera? Otherwise it's just bad prop management.
Examining the shell fragment.
Here we see that Doctor Ned has a square bandage over his right eye. Where did this come from? Perhaps he was injured in the cave expedition? Was this shown in the Japanese version, but later excised by the American editing crew, leaving only this clue? It just seems like something that needs explaining, as it's on the face of one of our main characters.
The scientific results of the testing show that it's indeed a reptilian egg shell, and a Carbon-14 test gives a date of 20 million years old. This would be a case of bad research on the part of Toho's scriptwriters. 20 million is about 50 million years too young for it to be a Pteranodon egg. However, this can be justified by saying that this particular egg was "laid" just 20 million years ago, because we can't be sure just how long the creatures have been in their "hibernation". Not able to be justified is the scientists claiming that they can tell that the shell is from the "Late Cretaceous Period" due to the primitive cellular structure of the egg. I went to school for a while to study paleontology, I can assure you that you can't make that sort of assertion with the evidence they present. Anyway, by measuring the parabolic curve of the egg shell fragment, they extrapolate out the size of an intact egg, which is about 100,000 cubic feet. They, however, can only guess how big the reptile grew once it hatched.
We cut now to a large press conference with the media and representatives of the military and scientific communities. Doctor Ned is running the proceedings and he outlines his theory of the monsters. He tells them that it's a giant Pteranodon, weighing about 100 tons and with a wingspan of perhaps 500 feet. He then explains that because of its size and "supersonic flying ability", it generates a shock wave with all the force of a typhoon.
Ok, a note here. All the literature on Rodan gives his weight as 15,000 tons. The dialogue here clearly says 100, so I assume that he was bulked up in later movie appearances when he was to fight other monsters. Even at 100 tons, it's hard to see how this creature could even walk, let alone fly, as its body mass would collapse its internal organs and bone structure. But, hey, it's just a movie.
Doctor Ned continues, saying that while it's related to a Pteranodon, it's carnivorous and belongs to a species called "Rodan". This is where the name Rodan comes from, though we are never given any hint as to what the species Rodan is like. By the way, the monster's name was originally "Radon", a shortening of "Pteranodon", but a British toy manufacturer already had a doll on the market by that name. When the movie was sold to the King Brothers, to avoid confusion they simply switched the vowels around to make it "Rodan".
When queried as to how this supposedly extinct animal is still alive, Doctor Ned can only postulate his own personal theory. He thinks that maybe the creatures stayed in hibernation in the cold dry cave for millions of years, until recent atomic testing caused the cavern to crack. Air and warm water were thus introduced into the cave and caused the egg to hatch. This fleeting mention of atomic testing is the only tenuous link to the "A-Bomb causes monsters" plotline that most people associate with Rodan. As noted earlier, the opening prologue was added by the King Brothers to beef up this idea of nuclear testing gone awry, but it was never more than a speculation in the original Japanese version.
The Air Force commander then asks where they can find the monster. Doctor Ned is sure that it can be found in Mount Toya, which is connected to the cavern where it hatched by "an underground tunnel". How does he know this?
We cut now to a horribly bad plastic model of a helicopter suspended in front of a bluescreen by a fishing line. The chopper is a Sikorsky S-51 with Japanese roundels and an olive drab paint scheme, clearly a Japanese military craft. The chopper is searching Mount Toya's crater for the monster, inside are Doctor Ned and Homer. They spot some "human bones, and a pink slipper"! This is clearly meant to be the newlywed couple from before, though we wonder how much of a snack a 100-pound human can be for a 100-ton bird? We also wonder how a 50-meter tall bird would be able to pick the flesh off while leaving the bones behind.
S-51 hovers over volcano.
Just then they spot the snout of Rodan peeking out of a fissure in the north rim of the crater wall. They radio the "Big Fence" tower and call in the Air Force. We wonder why, when they knew that the chance of finding Rodan here was very high, the Air Force didn't send in more reconnaissance units than one helicopter with two guys in it.
At the airbase, a speaker announces, "Scramble Dog Flight!" We then get a quick shot of some pilots running out of a building towards the flight line where a few F-86F fighters are parked. Thanks to the pause button on my DVD player, you can plainly see that the jet fighters all have US Air Force markings. What does this mean? Did the Japanese film some of their footage at an American airbase in Japan, or was this footage inserted in by the American editing team using stock footage from an American airbase?
We then get a bunch of jets-taking-off-shots. We note that the Sabers all have under-wing drop tanks but no other visible stores, which contradicts what we are about to see in the air battle where many of them have rockets. The frames are blurry, but it also seems like these planes have USAF markings, so maybe all this was stock footage added by the King Brothers.
In all we have maybe a dozen F-86Fs in this raid. As they near the crater and begin their attack runs, we cut to a close-up of one of the fighters, which is clearly a plastic model. This one has Japanese roundels and "JASDF" painted on the side, and also has six under-wing unguided rockets instead of the drop tanks. All the close-up shots to come are off this Japanese aircraft, while all the interspaced long-shots are of stock footage American fighters flying in formation. Anyone paying attention can see the difference. The bombing begins and we count at least nine rocket strikes on the rim of the crater, all gushing rock and dirt into the air.
The Sabers attack the Rodans.
Meanwhile, our heroes have arrived in the area, driving along the mountain road in three hardtop jeeps. They get out and watch the air attacks. Suddenly, a Rodan lifts out of the crater in front of them and takes off. Then another Rodan follows, both of them racing away at great speed, the sonic booms tossing the men to the ground. A check of the counter tells us that we are now nearly 50 minutes into this movie, which is only 72 minutes long, and are just now getting our first full look at the titular monster. Obviously, we will not have a lot of time for character development with these creatures.
Great matte shot as a Rodan emerges in the background.
Here in the American version, Rodan and its "mate" appear out of the same crater. In the original Japanese version, the second Rodan doesn't appear until the first is trashing Sasebo later in the film. By introducing both Rodans here, they probably saved time and allowed them to use less of the Japanese footage. But it makes the coming air battle awkward as they had to insert a bunch of reused shots to make it seem that there are now two monsters.
As the second Rodan leaves the crater, Chief Wiggum turns to "Oto" and orders him to take a jeep and notify headquarters immediately of the second Rodan. All right, a few notes. Here they all seem so surprised that there are two Rodans, when earlier during the collage of shots of foreign locations that were buzzed it was clearly established that everyone knew there were more than one because of the distances involved. Also, is Chief Wiggum sending Oto to notify his police HQ by jeep? Doesn't he have a radio?
Poor Oto doesn't get very far. We see the second Rodan as it takes off, flying low over the road that Oto's jeep is on. The blast wave flips the toy jeep around and smashes it into a rock. On slow-mo, you can see the legs of the doll they stuck in the jeep before they threw it against that rock, a very grisly death scene. Apparently, Chief Wiggum feels no guilt because this incident is never mentioned again.
Ok, so now our two Rodans are in flight, pissed at being bombed and looking for some action. The Japanese fighters are still in the area and a furious dogfight ensues. In this air battle sequence and in later fight scenes as well, the King Brothers chose to expand what were originally shorter action sequences by simply reusing footage over and over. To make it look less obvious, they often "flipped" the image and sped or slowed down the film. This is a horribly cheap and dirty way to boost a film's running time and all the blame should be heaped on the American editing crew.
So we have two giant Pteranodons versus the dozen or so jets of Dog Flight, this is going to get ugly. Some of the fighters have drop tanks still, at least three still carry their six rockets, and others are carrying no stores at all. All have their six .50 caliber machineguns, however. The Rodans have that whole sonic blast thing going for them which, when paired with their high speed and mobility, makes them formidable opponents.
A pilot's view of a Rodan.
The air battle is confusing and full of stock footage and repeated clips. A lot of bullets fly, at least two rockets are fired, and a lot of Japanese men in flight helmets shout "Aaaieee!!!!!". In the end, two of the Sabers are destroyed and the monsters escape untouched. The Rodans fly off and Dog Flight returns to base.
"Kilo Flight" now enters the fray, charging its five Sabers after the fleeing Rodans. They can't catch up but they do report that the monsters are headed for Sasebo. Sasebo is a port city on the western coast of Kyushu. Now, despite the fact that the dialogue says Sasebo, in the original Japanese version the Rodans are about smash up the much larger city of Fukuoka, and the miniatures and live action shots match that city. When the King Brothers started to dub the film into English, it was felt that the name "Fukuoka" might sound like "Fuck-oka" to American audiences. To avoid the censors, they changed the site of the attack to the much safer-to-pronounce Sasebo. For this review, because this is what the dialogue says, I will use Sasebo.
And now we are over Sasebo. The Sabers of Kilo Flight have caught up to the Rodans and we have another air battle over the city. This one is much like the first one, with a lot of zooming stock footage jets and swooping stock footage Rodans. The jets get off a lot of bullets and at least three rockets, but nothing touches the supersonic birds. Two more of the Sabers are knocked out of the sky by the Rodans.
For some reason, one of the Rodans now dives for the mouth of a river, towards a large suspension bridge. It slashes into the water and dives under the waves, the surge sweeping over some buildings on the shore. What the hell? The three remaining Sabers make two strafing passes on the swimming beast, firing two more rockets as well. The Rodan then leaps out of the water and flies off again. What was that all about? Was the Rodan running away? Was it looking for some fish?
As it takes off, the Rodan's sonic wave topples the bridge into the water in a great model effect. It then flies over Sasebo proper, where the staff in the military HQ rush to the windows to see. The sonic wave smashes buildings and tumbles busses into the streets. The beast then lands and begins to flap its wings furiously, the winds created crushing structures and killing hundreds.
We see that "Asashi Beer" is prominently painted on the side of a building in this sequence, and we wonder if they paid a promotional fee for that right. A quick eye (and the pause button on your DVD player) will also catch an in-joke. One of the buildings being destroyed sports a sign that reads "The Tsuburaya Company", referring to special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya.
This method of destroying a city, with the flapping wings, is unique in a genre that seems to rely on fancy energy beams and fire breath. It's a welcome change to see just the fragile structures blown away while the large concrete buildings remain standing. Perhaps it was unintentional, but the shots of houses and buildings blowing over are eerily reminiscent of footage of atomic bomb testing on abandoned towns in the Nevada desert.
A Rodan over the city.
In the burning city, we see that chaos is now reigning supreme. People run and scream, they point at the sky and duck their heads. It's all dramatic and tells you that in the coming destruction of the city, many, many thousands must be killed. No attempt is made to evacuate the city, and indeed, no warning was able to be given anyway. In later movies, before every city smashing by a monster, they toss in the obligatory scene of the city being evacuated well before the attack. It's ok to have monsters trashing an empty evacuated city, after all.
The "tank platoons" are ordered into action now. As the total time between the Rodans emerging from Mount Toya and arriving in Sasebo has got to be just a few hours at most, we have to assume that all the military hardware we are about to see was already on station and ready to go.
We see a radioman calling, "Attention Third Corps. B.E. tanks by Sports Tower, converge on Union Square North." What? Third Corps apparently consists of a total of three M-24 Chaffee light tanks and two six-wheeled rocket launcher trucks. These are live action stock footage tanks initially, but they will mostly be plastic models for the coming action. The models are the cheapest quality imaginable, looking like something you buy in a "bucket of soldiers" at Wal-Mart for five bucks.
The tanks open fire, and in the coming battle we will count nearly forty shots of 75mm in total. None of the shells seem to hit home and strangely several of them even explode in midair (!!!!). Perhaps they had bad fuses, signs of the deterioration of Japan's military preparedness since WWII. The rocket trucks contribute at least ten salvoes of rockets as well, though they are also ineffective.
The Rodan, and I say that singularly because there is clearly only one here right now, takes to the air again. It beats its wings furiously, the wave causing great damage and even knocking debris on top of one of the rocket trucks.
Another decent matte shot.
The monster is now next to the building housing the military HQ. Inside, the staff dives under desks as Rodan blows in the windows. We see that the creature is now breathing some sort of visible breath towards the building, which knocks everyone over. What was that???? Does Rodan have super-powerful bad breath? This power is never seen again in this movie.
Ok, now we get an explanation of where the other Rodan is. The Air Force reports that "the other Rodan is now over the city", so maybe it went somewhere else for a while and then decided to rejoin its mate? That would make it work. The Rodans now combine to trash the rest of Sasebo. Waves of wind smash everything in the area and blow people across the screen. One great shot of a soldier holding onto a tree as the wind picks him up and holds him horizontal is so good that it will turn up in countless other movies over the years.
Suddenly, two tank shells strike one of the Rodans in the belly, exploding with flames and smoke. The mood of destruction broken, the beast roars and takes to the sky. This is the end here, as the two monsters now fly off east. Behind them they have left Sasebo in flames. A military man says, "They escaped to Yawata, they've left two cities burning." By this I assume that the second Rodan was busy trashing Yawata while the first one was getting started in Sasebo? Yawata is a city between Kobe and Kyoto on Honshu, by the way, and hundreds of miles from Sasebo. I think a line got mistranslated here.
Sasebo burns after the attack.
We fade now back to some meeting room in Kitamatsu, where the Air Force commander is giving a briefing. He says that his reconnaissance planes have not spotted either Rodan "in over a week". Doctor Ned is here, and he theorizes that since the Rodans are reptiles like snakes then they are probably hibernating underground after "gorging on food, human or otherwise". Sounds good, but you'd think that a 100-ton animal would have to eat tons of food to be sated enough to hibernate. We really didn't see them eat anything during their attack on the cities, and that must have expended a lot of energy, so I assume that they found some cows on their way back to the volcano to snack on.
The military has a great new plan to kill off the sleeping Rodans. Tanks will shell the "volcanic exit", while ballistic missiles will bombard the volcanic crater where the Rodans flew out of before. Sounds like a plan. Sugiwara, the volcano expert, cautions that they could cause an eruption of the volcano, which would endanger the citizens of the region. The military understands the risks, but thinks that the Rodans are more of a menace than the volcano. The surrounding villages will be evacuated and the crater bombed. Sugiwara's warnings being ignored by the military are standard fare for these sorts of movies. We will see that his concerns will be vindicated, though no great loss of life will occur. It's clear that indeed the Rodans are the far greater danger to the people.
And so the village of Kitamatsu is evacuated, the people hurried onto busses and vans. The evacuation seems to be in great haste, and few personal possessions are able to be brought along. If this village is destroyed by the volcano, the government is going to have to write a lot of checks to these people. Back at HQ, we hear that the "First Tank Battalion" is now in position. The range for the ballistic missiles is set at 6 kilometers.
All right, we've been away from our lovebirds Homer and Marge for a while, let's revisit them. It seems that Marge is violating the evacuation order to stay with Homer, who is part of the planning group for the battle. When asked why, Marge says that she's staying with him because she loves him. He holds her and says he loves her too. Keep this exchange in mind for later as it will have an important parallel in the death of the Rodans.
Marge and Homer share a moment.
Now we get some shots of the Army forces moving into position around the volcano. These are all plastic models of dubious quality, but the sound effects and the lighting help to sell them here better than in the attack on Sasebo. There are three M-24 Chaffee light tanks, which are probably the same three models we had from the city attack sequence. We also see four ballistic missile launcher six-wheeled trucks, each towing a radar trailer. Each is followed by a crane truck towing a flatbed trailer carrying a single ballistic missile. There are also four six-wheeled trucks each carrying a 24-tube unguided multiple rocket launcher. A jeep carries the unit's command and signal staff.
M-24 Chaffee tanks on the move.
At a set time, the bombardment begins, starting with the attack on the crater where the Rodans emerged. In the coming minutes the vehicles will unleash a hellstorm of firepower at the volcanic crater. The effects of these models firing are a mixed bag. The tanks shooting is horribly fake, with little realism, but the MRL and ballistic missile launches are exceptionally well done, and would provide stock footage for many future movies. The actual bombardment runs a full three and a half minutes of screen time, but seems to last forever because of all the shots reused three and four times (or more) in that period. But if they didn't reuse footage then the entire attack scene would only last about thirty seconds!
The missiles fly!
The bombardment is a success, as "the cavern is sealed". As predicted, the volcano begins to erupt. Gouts of gas and flame shoot out of the crater and rivers of molten lava pour out. The two Rodans lift off from the eruption, but seem disorientated and lost. One of them falls back into the lava and dies screaming and writhing. The other refuses to leave its mate's side, instead diving down into the crater to presumably die with it.
This death scene of the monsters is very tense and dramatic, helped immeasurably by the voice-over which helps to explain what we are seeing. People begin to cry, Marge buries her head in Homer's shoulder as the Rodans die, themselves embracing in the lava. This movie, unlike most monster movies, demands our sympathy for the creature's death, even though they have killed and destroyed so much. It demands this emotion and it receives it, as it's indeed painful to watch the two monsters die showing so much devotion to each other.
The end of the Rodans?
Of course, the second Rodan didn't actually die here. Watching this movie's end a few times will show that its death is ambiguous, and indeed this second Rodan returns in 1964's Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, and later is found to be living on Monster Island with the rest of the world's monsters. The popularity of Rodan throughout the years has remained strong and for good reason. Watch this movie, you will like it a lot.
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you...
2: Number of nuclear explosions.
0: Number of cigarettes smoked by our cast.
0: Number of times that Tokyo is destroyed (amazing!).
Written in June 2004 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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