Premise: After a meteorite unleashes a three-headed beast upon Tokyo, Mothra tries to unite with Godzilla and Rodan to battle the extraterrestrial threat.
 

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster sets an intriguing pace from the start and carries the human side of the plot through the majority of its runtime. Despite holding back on introducing the titular monster until nearly the end of the film, Ghidorah still manages to be engaging by focusing on the human story without devolving into melodrama like films before it. This melodrama-free focus on the human story is a breath of fresh air. The film sets a mysterious tone with an opening scene in which characters speak vaguely about UFOs and strange weather patterns in January. This is effective in setting the pace for the story that’s to unfold. As meteors crash down on Earth, the humans are as in the dark as the audience is and this leads to intriguing world-building that’s, strangely, almost devoid of monsters.

The most significant piece of the human side of the plot is the mystery surrounding the princess of a nation in political turmoil. After surviving an assassination attempt thanks to a telepathic warning, she emerges as a prophet proclaiming to be from Venus and warning of Earth’s imminent end of days. It’s a strange and unexpected shift in the plot but a welcome one at that, if only due to the absurdity of it being so deftly overshadowed by a script that grounds it in reality. The mystery is played straight and the effect is a surprising amount of immersion in the story.

When the monsters do show up, however, they bring a certain level of petulance to their presence. In particular, the fight between Godzilla and Rodan feels as though we’re watching two kids in the midst of temper tantrums. It gives Godzilla and Rodan a more emotive presence in the film and only veers into silly over the top territory once or twice. In one memorably silly moment, the two monsters stand a reasonable distance apart, kicking rocks at each other, and moving in a way that gives the (presumably unintentional) impression that they’re simply dancing to some phantom music and not engaging in combat.

The uniquely bizarre tone of Ghidorah‘s monster fighting has its highs and lows but speaks to the greater narrative of the monsters coming to the aid of humanity in a moment when humanity is facing a frightful new opponent. When King Ghidorah is finally introduced in the movie, Mothra is summoned to attempt to unite Godzilla and Rodan against this new threat. Setting aside the bizarreness of witnessing a summit of monsters discussing the merits of assisting humans, there’s a bleakness underlying within the film and some surprising subtext to be mined about the debate over whether humanity is worth saving.

It’s surely comical that Mothra attempts to persuade her colleagues by highlighting the threat to humanity and that the point falls on deaf monster ears. It’s not until the monsters are reminded that this is their planet too that the team-up discussion makes headway. While that does speak to the monsters’ petulant childlike behavior in the film, it also asserts the idea that humans are no longer the dominant species on the planet. The notion that monsters must defend human life from more dangerous monsters is replaced by the idea of monsters fighting monsters for self-preservation. The fact that humanity must rely on monsters who behave like rival school children fighting on the playground at recess adds a tongue in cheek credence to that nihilistic “humans are no longer dominant” read of the film.

As rich and unique as the ideas presented in the film are, a big shortcoming of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is the absence of King Ghidorah himself throughout the majority of the runtime. Once he’s introduced, he is a highly formidable and terrifying monster. Seeing him wreak havoc by attacking in different directions simultaneously goes a long way toward demonstrating just how powerful he is. The problem is simply that the film leaves you wanting more of that mayhem and wishing it started earlier in the movie.

Its “less is more” monster action approach aside, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster has a lot of things working for it. The human stories are genuinely interesting and do not overshadow the overall film. The monster action, albeit kind of brief, is thrilling on its own despite (or maybe because of) a unique emotive choice regarding the monsters. It’s something different, but worthy of appreciation nonetheless.

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About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive ViewerAnthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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