The 2014 Summer Classics series at the Kentucky Theatre kicks off today with an event in several ways.
The series opener is a digital restoration of the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla. It comes as the film’s 60th anniversary is being celebrated around the world and as a new American version is in multiplexes across the country.
Listening to a variety of reviews of both offerings, it seems that the Kentucky Theatre audiences at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. today are getting the better movie. While the new Godzilla with Bryan Cranston is being rung up for falling to the excesses of modern CGI spectacles, the original is one of those films that surprises you with its quality when your frame of reference is countless lame and cheesy sequels. Remember, the Rocky, Poltergeist, Exorcist, Hangover and 1980s Batman franchises all started with really good movies.
More than just a monster mash, the original Godzilla (Gojira) was a response to the then-recent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, the radioactive title monster unleashing devastation on par with a nuclear attack.
“Watching it again, I was struck that it might be the best single film about the terrors of the nuclear age,” critic John Powers said in his review for NPR’s Fresh Air. “Godzilla‘s real strength lies not in its effects — impressive for the time — but in its underlying emotional and cultural seriousness. It’s not simply that the music is often doleful rather than exciting or that we see doomed children set off Geiger counters. The movie has a gravity that comes from being created in a Japan that knew what it was to have children die from radiation poisoning and to see its capital city in flames. Both drawn to and terrified of the monster’s power, the movie is steeped in Japan’s traumatic historical experience. It has weight. It means something.”
That is a lot more than you can say for a lot of subsequent monster movies, and it is something well worth seeing in its original form, which you can do tonight with this anniversary restoration boasting new subtitles. That, and the Kentucky’s newly restored look and feel, should get Summer Classics off to a smashing start.