My article this week for Black Gate is praise for the 1956 giant monster classic, Rodan, the first of Japan’s giant monster (kaiju) films photographed in color, and only the second kaiju to have its own headlining movie, following the first two Godzilla films. The flying monster Rodan (Radon in Japanese, a contraction of Pteranadon) has a special place in the Japanese giant monster pantheon thanks not only to its auspicious debut, but also its many guest spots in the Godzilla films since: Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Invasion of Astro-Monster/Monster Zero (1965), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and now as one of the upcoming quartet of beasts for next year’s big-budget Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The newest trailer shows Rodan in aerial action with destructive power to match the magnificence of the visual effects in the ’56 original.
Yet during the build-up to the next film in Legendary Pictures’ Monster-verse, which includes Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), it has come to my attention some viewers don’t think Rodan is cool. Evan Saathoff at Birth.Movies.Death, an entertainment writer I otherwise enjoy reading, has never missed an opportunity to make cheap swipes at Rodan in a Godzilla-related article. It’s disappointing, and considering Saathoff refuses to explain his dislike of Rodan (maybe he’s trying to live up to his online persona of comedic snark?), I must assume he’s never watched the 1956 Rodan. Because who could think Rodan was anything but an astonishing badass after watching it?
Saathoff isn’t alone in his dismissal of one of Toho’s foundational monsters. I’ve seen too many comments about the trailers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters along the lines of “Amazing, they managed to make Rodan cool!” This is odd, because the Rodan seen in the trailers is almost exactly like the Rodan of the 1956 film. Look at the promotional poster above, and now look at the screen capture of the original Rodan design (known as the ShodaiRodan):
That is the same design with a few upgrades for CGI. It’s a frightening, aggressive look, with a similar reptilian beauty to the classic Godzilla design. What the two trailers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters have shown us so far of Rodan in action is a creature behaving in the same fashion as the classic monster: emerging from a volcano, using sonic booms to devastate wide swaths of cities, and engaging in aerial maneuvers with hopelessly outmatched fighter jets.
Rodan, or more accurately the two Rodans, delivered an unprecedented scale of mayhem in 1956; it was bigger than Godzilla’s two rampages, and the special effects team executed it with stunning kineticism that upped the ante for giant monsters to come. How in the universe can somebody not think Rodan is the height of cool?
Well, I have some idea: Rodan’s later appearances in the Showa Era Godzilla movies. The costume was redesigned to make it less frightening, and by the time of Destroy All Monsters, its beak was puny and curved down, and its eyes were enlarged and yellow, giving its face a goofy visage. Rodan looks pretty sad in this movie—but Godzilla has had a few terrible kid-friendly costumes as well. If the Rodan’s costume in Destroy All Monsters makes it uncool, than Godzilla is uncool as well because of the horrid costume used in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).
The comical persona Rodan took on in the later movies may have also turned fans against it. But I enjoy its antics in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, when the costume still looks good and Rodan pulls off a few killer moves in combat with Godzilla and during the team-up against Ghidorah.
If you’ve wandered in here with the belief Rodan is some lesser part of the Toho-verse based on babble you bumped into online, I hope I’ve gotten you thinking that you’ve missed out. Take a look at the original Rodan (the US cut is available to stream on multiple platforms) and you’ll be on Team “The Flying One” in a hurry.