The many faces of BARAGON!
Say it with me: Baragon, Baragon, Baragon. Sure, it's not as fun to say as Matango, but it's almost there. Let's start this thing off on the right foot. You all know about Godzilla. Chances are, a fair number of you know about Mothra, Rodan, Ultra Man, Unicron, the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man, and any number of "sort-of famous" Giant Monsters out there. This week we're going to give the spotlight over to one of the "bit players" of the Godzilla/Kaiju/Giant Monster universe. You know the type. That one monster that you might have seen on the late-late show that you most likely couldn't name. This week's hero? Let me introduce you to the joy that is Baragon, a giant fire-breathing dog lizard that's been in 4 different films on and off over the last 40 years. How am I going to do this? By giving you a quick look at those 4 films. While these films aren't quite goofy enough to get completely reviewed, they are "off" enough to need to be shared with you. So prepare yourself for the BARAGON QUADRUPLE FEATURE!
Frankenstein Versus Baragon (1965)
Made by Toho Studios (and directed by the same guy who directed Matango: The Fungus of Terror), this film is what I would call an experiment in the realm of guys in rubber suits. What's the film's gimmick? The title monster (Frankenstein) is NOT a guy in a rubber suit. That's the flaw and the strength of this little Japan-bred nightmare. Think about all the Godzilla films you might have seen...all of them featured guys in masks/suits lumbering around fake but fairly realistic toy cities crushing those sort-of realistic looking buildings. When you see a scrawny retarded teenager with buck teeth running around doing the same thing you realized just how crappy those sets are. I'm not saying Kaiju (Giant Monster) films are shooting for realism, but they usually take pretty strong steps to make the Giant Monsters look giant. Bah. What's the plot? The Nazis steal Frankenstein's heart, which is shipped to Japan just in time for it to be hit by an atomic bomb. The heart still lives, sprouts arms, legs and a rather ugly looking head....long story short, there's a feral 20-meter-tall Frankenstein running around in the backwoods of Japan. By sheer coincidence, another 20-meter-tall monster shows up in time to frame the "good" monster (Frankenstein) by destroying a few towns in that same area of Japan. The monster in question? Baragon.
Keep in mind that this film is really about Frankenstein and his ugly teeth and not about our boy Baragon, who only gets to be in the final half hour or so of the film. Scientists explain that Baragon must have been a burrowing dinosaur that tunneled into the earth during the Ice Age and is now surfacing because the world's warmed up again. (Toho loves making monsters based off Dinosaurs and just giving them new names. Angilas is just an anklyosaur, and Rodan is just a pteradactyl for example.) Baragon breaths fire, has a glowing horn, and loves to frame a giant homely-looking Japanese teenager. Basically, he pops up out of the ground for a couple of fights before Frankenstein breaks his neck. You have no idea how much of a stretch this is. No, I'm not going to slip into total geek fanboy mode with "Oh my god, Baragon should've totally kicked Frank's ass!" or anything like that. But look at the combatants.
A giant teenager versus a giant fire-breathing sharp-fanged dog lizard. Let me break this down a step for the point of argument. Since they're both "giant" we can ignore that part of it. Imagine a teenager (unarmed) fighting a fire-breathing bear. Hell, if a random teen was going to fight a normal bear I think the smart money would be on the bear, no questions asked.
There's one more interesting thing to point out here. Now Baragon and Frankenstein are NOT "Godzilla-sized" monsters. Godzilla-sized monsters are so big that people don't fit into their universe. You don't see too many giant lizards picking up people. You see just that in Frank versus Baragon. Let me rephrase that. We get to see Frankenstein play with what are obviously Ken dolls and Baragon eat a toy horse that someone off-screen is shaking in an pitiful attempt to make the horse not look like a My Little Pony being devoured by a guy in a rubber suit. :sigh: And to think you might have missed seeing this film. So remember, if you want to make a giant monster movie, make your monsters big enough that they don't have to play with Barbie dolls.
The next film on our Baragon countdown is almost controversial. I give you:
Gamera Versus Baragon (1966)
This film was made by Daiei productions and is the second Gamera film. It does not feature the same Baragon, only the name. Yeah, right. Daiei earned a quick reputation for making Godzilla-knock offs pretty quickly. So when Frankenstein versus Baragon came out, another film company decided immediately to cash in on the name (which wasn't copyrighted) and made a completely different monster. By completely different I mean almost the same. Let me put it this way:
Original Baragon: "Giant Dog-Lizard. Spines on back and large horn on the front of the face. Breathes fire."
Gamera Universe Baragon: "Giant Dog-Lizard. Spines on back and large horn on the front of face. Breath fire...I mean cold. It has Icy cold breath and...um...shoot rainbows out of it's ass...I mean back. It's a completely different monster....I swear!"
:sigh: The plot of this one revolves around how a magic diamond was really the egg of Baragon. Besides shooting rainbows out of his back and using his GIANT PHALLIC TONGUE to spray liquid nitrogen all over everything (phallically), Baragon is pretty much a giant lizard running amok. Gamera (who is NOT the friend to all children yet) shows up and eventually beats up this Baragon. I will say this for "imitation" Baragon...he gets a hell of a lot of screen time. It's safe to say that THIS Baragon has more time spent in front of the camera that all the other Baragon's put together. Considering the next film I'm about to review, that's not saying much, but oh well.
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Wow. This film is what some would consider the ultimate Godzilla film. I remember holding the box for this when I was only 8 years old, thinking, "Holy Smokes! All these monsters are in this film?" The box cover has art of Godzilla and little symbols with monsters' names telling you what Giant Monsters were in the film. How many were there? Eleven, Eleven Giant Monsters. Ah-Ah-Ahhh. (Godzilla, Minilla (baby Godzilla) Spiega (giant spider), Mothra (the catepillar), Rodan, Angilas, Manda (a giant snake), Gorosaurus (T-rex...sort of), Varran (obscure flying lizard), King Ghidorah (infamous Toho 3-headed dragon), and our boy, Baragon.) Almost every giant monster that Toho had ever used was put in this movie.
The Plot: All the monsters of the world are kept on a particular island called "Monster Land." It sounds more like an amusement park than a research lab/prison but hey, that's just me. The Kilaaks, an alien race made up entirely of petite Japanese women wearing more tin foil than a baked potato, take control of the monsters and send them on missions of destruction to conquer the Earth for them. (This plot was retooled for the most recent Godzilla Final Wars flick.) The Earthlings eventually free the monsters. The Kilaaks send their monster King Ghidorah to fight EVERY OTHER GIANT MONSTER ON THE PLANET AT THE SAME TIME and are surprised to find that it loses. The Kilaaks are destroyed and all the monsters of the earth march single file to their prison home in Monster Land.
As an 8-year-old: This movie rocked. Now that I watch it again...hmm. Maybe I've become jaded. Let's see what this film teaches us.
Lesson #1: If you're going to be a Giant Monster, make sure you have a good agent.
Eleven giant monsters are in this film. Baragon is painted on the cover...which is weird because Baragon is not in this film. I mean, he sort of is, but well, you have to pity the poor bastard. He's techincally got three scenes in this movie. The first is a short scene in Paris where the radio announcer tells us that France is under attack by a burrowing monster known as Baragon. What's the problem with this?
It isn't Baragon at all. That's Gorosaurus, another very obscure Godzilla monster from King Kong Escapes. When they made the film Destroy All Monsters they apparently didn't pay attention to which obscure monster was which and well, Baragon's big scene was stolen by an equally obscure giant monster. Oddly enough Gorosaurus was in this film a hell of a lot, but I consider that to be part of the whole affirmative action quality of the film. The final battle ends up starring all of the "Big Name" monsters, with Gorosaurus being the only no-name beast that does anything. The others (Baragon, Manda, and Varran) sit on the side-lines and don't really do anything except show up. Baragon shows up:
The best we get is only his ear in the corner of a single shot. Very,very sad.
We do get to see a shot of him at the end of the film, happily posing for the camera as the filmmakers show us all the monsters back in prison again. So in the final 12 seconds of the film, 2 of them are dedicated to Baragon.
Lesson #2: Keep watching the skies....I mean coconuts.
You'll noticed when I mentioned that the aliens were controlling the monsters, I didn't state exactly how they were doing it. Apparently they control the monsters by planting random "controlling devices" all over the earth, disguised as objects that no one would check. There's even a press conference about the devices in the movie.
The Aliens are hiding their devices in coconuts. The devices are hidden in other things too...but you really have to wonder what kind of retarded plan revolves around creating synthetic coconuts. What the hell?
Lesson #3: Alien invaders are always very, very stupid/cocky somehow.
When their plans go to complete crap, the Kilaaks say that they'll destroy the earth using their space monster, King Ghidorah. (One monster to replace 10? Sure, why not?) The Earth replies that all 10 of the Earth's monsters will fight it and the Kilaaks declare that their monster will be victorious. :sigh: As cool as having a three-headed golden dragon that breathes lightning is, you have to wonder just how far you can expect it to go. It's kind of like Sadam Hussein..oh wait...Osama Bin Laden...oh wait...umm...whichever guy America wants to bomb today, saying that he's going to conquer the world with his amazing flying air tank with a laser on top. Sure, it kicks ass, but even if you have such a weapon, you're not going to be able to take on EVERYTHING the United States would throw at you (in the name of stopping "terrorism"). So, the aliens lose. Badly. How badly? I think the aliens figured out that they'd lost pretty badly when they saw Baby Godzilla dancing on top of the corpse of King Ghidorah. God knows there's very little in the world more embarrassing than that.
This marked the last appearance of Baragon for a good while. Sure he didn't have much of a role (he didn't have much of a cameo either) but hey, at least he was there, right?
Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Two things need to be pointed out immediatly. Look at the date. This movie was made recently. The 2nd important fact: Look at the film's title. What's missing there? Baragon. Baragon is indeed in this film marking his reappearance after 33 years of being a very forgotten fire-breathing dog-lizard. (He doesn't breathe fire in this film, but hey, what are you going to do?)
I'll summarize the plot of this one as best I can. "Zombie Godzilla (representing the ghosts of those that died in World War 2) fights the army and the forces of Earth, Water, and Air." Zombie Godzilla? The answer is yes. This film is part of the third Godzilla series. Oh wait. I'm talking like a geek. Basically Toho Studios decides to "start over" with the Godzilla franchise every few decades or so. They did it originally in 1985 and then started the series over again in 1999 with Godzilla 2000. We call this new "season" of Godzilla flicks the Millenium series (clever, right?). Instead of having all the films based off one another, Toho basically lets most of the directors reinvent the Godzilla franchise for each film. A few of them connect, but not most of them. In "Giant Monster All-Out Attack" the director states that only the first Godzilla film (1954) happened. Why is Godzilla a zombie? 1: He's representing a whole lot of vengeful Japanese souls. Why he's attacking Tokyo and not making a beeline to America to have revenge? Don't ask me. 2: He's a zombie because he has no pupils. The classic cosmetic touch to make your zombies spooky is to give them contacts that remove their pupil. They do the same thing with Godzilla in this film, which adds to his "scarier" look. 3: In the end Godzilla explodes, but the final shot of the film shows his disembodied heart at the bottom of Tokyo Bay, still beating. It's no "hand reaching out of the grave" but it's a pretty classic end to a zombie flick. "The monster is not quite dead." You know the zombie cliche.
As you might have guessed, Baragon shows up representing the forces of Earth. He's tiny compared to the original G (word up, Holmes!) and despite a few clever moments, he really gets his ass handed to him by Godzilla. Still, this had to be a good moment for him. I mean, he was actually getting touched by "THE" Giant Monster. It's kind of like how you can somehow be proud of being beaten up by Tom Cruise, or having Paris Hilton mace you in the face. Sure it sucks, but a celebrity touched your life. (I still have the bandages from my run-in with Tim "don't talk to me you freak" Burton.) Baragon, by being in this film, was now "officially" part of the Godzilla universe, even if it was an alternate reality Godzilla universe where the unhappy victims of the A-bomb incarnate themselves in the body of a giant mutant iguana.
Trivia Time: Did you know that there is one place where B-grade monsters are given their time in the spotlight? The answer: Nintendo games. Apparently when Toho Studios gets a company to make video games for Godzilla, there's a shortage of enemies. As such, monsters like Baragon get their time in the limelight. What's even more amusing is the fact that Baragon has been in more video games than movies. :shrug: At least the same is true with the Mario Brothers (may they NEVER star in another film).
In conclusion: No, Baragon has never really done anything particularly cool. He's NEVER won a fight (unless you count the phallic-tongued Gamera-Baragon). He's not even particularly memorable. So why the hell did I do this? I love the underdog (no, that's not a pun). Godzilla is Godzilla but over the years there's been a horde of B-grade monsters that so few people remember/care about. I like Baragon, even if he is a total loser of a fire-breathing dog.
On the plus side, now you can truly say that you know more about Baragon than you really should. Enjoy yourselves and remember: Trust no coconuts.
Copyright 2005 Jared Hindman, except for all the stuff that's stolen or used for critique purposes. This includes (but is not limited to) most of the images and that snazzy Tim Burton joke that tickles me so much.