Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Beautiful metropolis ... or fiery hell?
Long before monsters invaded our world from the deep pacific, back further in our past then found footage of a strange giant creature attacking New York, there was one creature that struck fear into the hearts of man on a gigantic scale: Godzilla. The titled King of Monsters, Godzilla graced the world with the idea of giant monsters, and made such an impact it's even referenced in a song by the Blue Oyster Cult. Godzilla is also probably the single reason why I love the man-in-a-suit monster genre as much as I do. This particular entry, admittedly, is a bit in the "Millennium Branch" of Godzilla, but although the long-running series of movies has an over-arching plot between them, each can be thoroughly enjoyed as a stand alone title.
Our plot kicks off where the others of the millennium series left off: Mecha-G (Mecha Godzilla) is being repaired after a intense battle with Godzilla. While Mecha-G is being repaired, the fairy twins appear before Dr. Shin'ichi (a long time friend of the fairies) to let him know that the Mecha-G project must be stopped, and the old Godzilla's bones returned to the ocean where they belong. In return for this noble act, Mothra will protect Tokyo from Godzilla upon his return. As it turns out, that return isn't very long off at all. The real question is, will Mothra be able to hold off Godzilla, and if not will Mecha-G be ready in time to finish the good fight and save Tokyo?
The fun thing about Godzilla is not so much that the main plot is super complex - it usually boils down to a simple Godzilla is angry, and the city is in some deep trouble because of it or multiple monsters are involved and it's poor Tokyo in the middle - but rather that the thoughts and questions posed are much deeper. Godzilla flicks, if one wants to think about it, bring up all sorts of prodding questions about the folly of man and how we go about responding to it (sometimes by making even more mistakes). It brings up fears of the population at the time (such as nuclear weapons, or world pollution) by using the giant monsters most of the time as surrogates, allowing Godzilla to be both dangerous opponent and savior hero.
The actors do a good job, although the experience takes on a different twist if you use English dubbing over the native tongues - that is to say it takes on a bit of a comical spin when you have the dub-overs. It's not entirely bad, but one should keep that in mind when going about watching it, since it can change it into a more campy feel. Of course, the real stars are the monsters who appear in this one (Mothra, Godzilla, Mecha-G, and two baby Mothra creatures), who appear as a mix of suits, puppets, and animatronics.
The monsters all look wonderful. Godzilla's millennium suit particularly looks nice, making him look almost like a armored ferret in my mind, but he still strikes you as distinctly lizard like with the trademark spikes going down the spines and tail. Mecha-G is a combination of sexy metal plates over skin-like wiring, all built over the bones of the original Godzilla. One would imagine that he looks like Godzilla, just made of metal, but the new Godzilla suit help differentiate the two even more with differences such as posture and length of face. Mothra looks much like she always has, and the babies (dare I say it) look so cute you may want to own one yourself.
Effects here are essentially entirely practical - from buildings and vehicles built to scale all the way over to air pressure and dust for high winds. I honestly prefer this to the over-use of CG, albeit it is entirely a personal preference, but it helps blend the live-action actors with the scale sets or vehicles. This does lead to points where someone can notice the two look slightly different, but it's no different than someone being able to tell the difference between the CG and live action. Part of the magic with the practical aspects is that how good they look also comes in part from how the shots are framed - technical stuff like angles, positions, and lighting - that are all pulled of in a manner that makes it incredibly enjoyable to watch the action scenes in the final product.
In the long run, it's good to be King of the Monsters. If you want to be able to more thoroughly follow what's going on in this movie, you may want to start further back with Godzilla 2000 (or the original Godzilla if you really want to invest some time), although it's perfectly enjoyable even with out it. I would recommend that everyone at least try watching a Godzilla movie once, and if you had to pick only one my vote would actually go to Godzilla: Final Wars (which is the most over the top of any Godzilla flick I have ever seen). For fans however, one shouldn't just overlook S.O.S. , as it does follow through on some ideas as a continuation.