Toho Studios’ The Return of Godzilla had been a return to the franchise’s roots, a follow-up to the original 1954 Godzilla film that once again made the titular monster a villainous presence and ignored all the sequels that had gradually turned him into a hero.
Given that Return was so directly tied to the original film, it’s somewhat fitting that its North American release was handled in much the same way as the ’54 movie’s had been. In 1956, Jewell Enterprises, Transworld, Inc., and Embassy Pictures released in the United States a version of Gojira that they titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! The film had been dubbed in English, re-edited, greatly shortened, and there were new scenes added in that put an American news reporter named Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) in Tokyo to witness Godzilla’s rampage firsthand.
In 1985, New World Pictures got the North American distribution rights to The Return of Godzilla and proceeded to make a substantially different version of the movie for American audiences, giving it the King of the Monsters treatment. New World’s Godzilla 1985, which reached theatres in the United States eight months after The Return of Godzilla’s release in Japan, is even a direct follow-up to the King of the Monsters version of Gojira.
While The Return of Godzilla referred to the events of Gojira happening in 1954, in Godzilla 1985 the events occurred in the release year of King of the Monsters, 1956. Raymond Burr was brought back to reprise the role of Steve Martin in new footage that was written by Tony Randel and Lisa Tomei, directed by R.J. Kizer, and interspersed throughout the original footage. Martin doesn’t have nearly as much to do in this film as he did in King of the Monsters, however. He is not right there on the ground as Godzilla tears Tokyo apart. This time around, he’s just brought in by the U.S. military to share his knowledge of Godzilla, and he doesn’t really tell them all that much, just that Godzilla is a force of nature that can’t be stopped by conventional weapons. Martin mostly just spends his screen time hanging out in the Pentagon, watching the events unfolding in Tokyo on television monitors with a very serious look on his face.
Martin also mentions that Godzilla’s corpse was not found after what happened in 1956, forgetting the shot of Godzilla’s skeleton that audiences were given in the original movie.
Despite the addition of the Martin scenes and other scenes with U.S. military men discussing the situation, Godzilla 1985 still manages to run 17 minutes shorter than The Return of Godzilla.
Most of the cuts made were simply trims to scenes; shots of people walking through locations were cut, we don’t see characters driving to a destination, the movie just cuts to them walking into the place they were headed to, and there were instances of characters reiterating plot points that were removed, moments of repetition that didn’t hurt to lose.
Some scenes from Return take place in a different order in Godzilla 1985, merely shuffled around.
Dialogue was also altered so that 1985 wouldn’t have as strong of an anti-nuke message as Return did.
The biggest change in the editing is in how the launching of a Russian nuclear missile on Tokyo is handled. In The Return of Godzilla, this launch was an accident caused by a computer malfunction, equipment going haywire from damage inflicted by Godzilla. For the U.S. release, a Russian character purposely launches the missile, because the Russians were the bad guys of that time.
Godzilla made his first full appearance on screen in The Return of Godzilla at the 33 minute point. That reveal comes 26 minutes into Godzilla 1985. It makes sense to get the movie’s true star on screen sooner, and you’d think that no matter what changes were made, New World would be sure to include as much Godzilla as possible in their version of the movie, because that’s what everyone who went to watch it would be there to see. Godzilla. Surely they wouldn’t touch a frame of Godzilla footage, would they?
They did. Shots of Godzilla are indeed among the moments that were trimmed in the New World edit. Nothing major at all, but still… some Godzilla hit the cutting room floor, which seems very counter-intuitive.
The footage from The Return of Godzilla doesn’t really suffer from the editing that was done, but the additional footage that was shot is some very cheeseball stuff. The military men that Martin is put with are lame, goofy characters with bad dialogue.
The new footage also includes some of the most blatant product placement I have ever seen. Product placement usually doesn’t bother me at all, in fact I rarely notice it. People complain about the product placement in James Bond movies, but it has never once bothered me. The product placement in Godzilla 1985 is on a whole other level.
When characters are walking down a hallway in the Pentagon with a large Dr. Pepper soda machine glowing brightly in the background or when a character takes a sip from a Dr. Pepper in the middle of a very tense moment, it’s pretty obvious who New World Pictures had a deal with.
Godzilla 1985 doesn’t ruin Godzilla’s return, but it is a step down from the film in its Japanese form. I grew up watching 1985, but when I was finally able to watch The Return of Godzilla, I saw that it was a better movie before the American retooling. The Return of Godzilla is hard to get a hold of in the United States, so Godzilla 1985 fills the gap, but it’s best used a placeholder until you can import the real thing, then maybe as an odd alternate version to revisit when you’re in the mood for some extra cheese.