If you could create a kaiju character to face off against Godzilla for realsies, what would you come up with? In 1973, some kid came up with Jet Jaguar. #14: Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Let me say it outright: Godzilla vs. Megalon is pretty terrible. It might be the way I saw it (on an ancient, English-dubbed VHS), but the film is hard to see, hard to understand, and plotted like the screenwriter (s) was/were dizzy on cold medicine. What’s more, Godzilla himself doesn’t show up until 66 minutes into the film. And the film is only 76 minutes long.
In the 1970s, kaiju films were a bit on the outs, having mutated into TV-ready fighting robot shows along the lines of Kamen Rider and its kin. In 1973, Toho hosted a write-in, create-your-own robot contest entreating its fans to create the next big robot star of their next big robot movie property. I can’t find the name of the winner anywhere online, but the young boy’s creation was a robot named Red Alone, eventually rechristened Jet Jaguar by Toho execs. Jet Jaguar was intended to be the star of Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon, but, at the last minute, Toho decided to include their star monster Godzilla just so the movie would have some brand recognition. Also, Gigan was thrown in for good measure.
And the film feels like a mess of writers passed it around. Nothing is very clear. The main bad monster is Megalon, a big bad beetleborg with drills for hands and some really nice slacks. Megalon is being controlled from an underground cave, or perhaps from another dimension, by a race of mysterious Moai Caucasians. They want revenge on humanity for pollution or something. They also have access to a computer lab where they can also summon Gigan from his flying crystalline space prison. Um… ‘kay. Meanwhile a little kid (Hiriyuke Kawase) and an adult that may or may not be related to him build Jet Jaguar, a fighting robot that can grow to kaiju size and shrink back to human size. Jet Jaguar spontaneously develops free will and goes after the rampaging Megalon.
Since I saw this on a degraded VHS tape, I can only react to the visuals negatively. Everything is blurred and unclear, and the sound is muffled. I can see why this was another Godzilla film that was picked up by the folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000. I think the committee thinking behind the filmmaking, however, had more to do with the film’s incomprehensibility than the bad photography and sound.
And what role does Godzilla play in all this? Not much. He just shows up at the end to do some fighting alongside Jet Jaguar. Then they shake hands. If you’re home sick, or perhaps hungover, and you can’t sleep because you took the DayQuil instead of the NyQuil by accident, then Godzilla vs. Megalon may make perfect sense to you. Otherwise it’s like the nightmare a Saturday morning cartoon had. It’s not as grating as, say, Son of Godzilla, but it’s still plenty bad.
Godzilla vs. Megalon may feel like a crossover event for Japanese kids of a certain age. The fighting robot shows that were so vogue in the 1970s had the same audience as – but were typically kept cognitively separate from – kaiju movies. They felt similar, but it was never implied that monsters and robots would ever interact on the big screen. When Jet Jaguar met Godzilla, something was torn down. It’s as if – to make a perhaps-inappropriate analogy – Peter Jackson decided to make his own original fantasy film set in the Hobbit universe, and began to incorporate characters from Game of Thrones.
The next film is one of my favorites.
Up next: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)