1. King Kong vs. the T-Rex – I have to start with what I believe to the the very first giant monster battle in cinema. There had been a couple of stop-motion monster movies prior to King Kong, and the one in the 20s with the Brontosaurus rampaging in London was actually very good quality. But Kong really set the bar for stop-motion art, and this fight with the T-Rex with Faye Ray in the scene is still fascinating to watch seventy-plus years later. Peter Jackson’s version with three T-Rex’s is impressive, but I lose interest when action scenes defy laws of physics.
The video is at Youtube, but the embedding is disabled by request.
2. Destroy all Monsters – I have a couple of Godzilla movies in my list, because the franchise really evolved the art of movie monster battles. The Japanese didn’t adopt stop-motion, but instead took more of a kabuki approach with people in costumes. In fact, until the most recent movies, Toho Productions refused to use even CGI technology in any extensive manner. It sometimes means four-legged creatures walking on their hind knees, and awkward interactions between the monsters, but it’s about the art.
Destroy all Monsters was released in the 1960s and was originally intended to end the series. In the final scene, Godzilla teams up with half a dozen other monsters to defeat King Ghidora, an awesome three-headed lightening spitting dragon which had fought Godzilla teamed up with a couple of other monsters to a draw in a previous movie. This was a tricky monster to perfect in Japanese mode, and the incorporation of so many monsters simultaneously is impressive for the technology of the day – and the grandiosity of the scene is accentuated by Mt. Fuji in the background. The only clip I’ve found is narrated by a guy who is probably fluent in the entire Klingon language, having studied it hard in his parents’ basement. Maybe just turn the volume down.
3. Ymir vs. an elephant – Ymir in 20 Thousand Miles to Earth, who I think is named after a Norse mythos frost giant, came all the way from Venus as a tiny thing but grows very rapidly under Earth conditions. Very early in the movie he takes out a dog, and in this scene Earth is represented by an elephant. They alternate between a real elephant and a stop-motion elephant. Of course you’re going to root for the elephant, but that would be too easy, right?
You also have to wonder why there are people running so close to them so late in the fight.
Update: Alas the video is gone!
(More below the fold)
4. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’s Griffin vs. Centaur – From the 50s to the late 70s several Sinbad movies were made and they had a pretty set formula which included a late scene battle between a good monster and a bad monster (the good monster loses because the bad guys cheat and the heroes have to finish what the good monster began). The good monster was usually at least somewhat humanoid (for anthropomorphic identification) and the bad monster was some sort of reptile, except I think one movie involved a cuddly giant cave man fighting a sabertooth tiger. The theme plays into other movies as well, obviously beginning with King Kong (who also fought Godzilla at one time and that battle makes it onto my list), and even Godzilla tends to be more humanoid in mannerisms than his opponents.
But the Golden Voyage presented an exception. The bad monster, a centaur, is the more humanoid. The good monster is a griffin. Now, I’d be even more impressed if the good monster was reptilian instead of a cuddly mammal/avian combo. And maybe it had something to do with the timing of the movie at the height of the counter-culture (there are certainly some psychedelic moments in the film) . But it left the mold. The monster more alien in form was closer in spirit. That deserves a kudos. And don’t be too distracted by the heroine’ s sweaty cleavage.
Update: Sony shut the video down.
5. King Kong vs. Godzilla – Not much to say about this one that isn’t conveyed in the clip itself. Toho rented the rights to King Kong, multiplied his size by about 10 and made him look more like an orangutan. They also shrank Godzilla’s head to emphasize that while Kong didn’t have radioactive fire breath, he was the “thinking monster” and would employ strategy (such as throwing a big rock at Godzilla then running away to hide behind a mountain while Godzilla pursued, only to ambush the haplessly dense if powerful lizard). Oh, and that rumor about the Japanese having ended the movie with a Godzilla win, but changing it to a Kong win when it was sent to the US – urban legend.
6. Fantasia’s T-Rex vs. Stegosaurus – Okay, the last stegosaurus actually died about 80 million years before the first tyrannosaurus was hatched, but you can just pretend that the predator is an allosaurus – another Jurassic Period dinosaur like the stegosaurus. This was the first dinosaur battle in film, and the predator actually won. Usually the fight is between a T-Rex and a triceratops, and the latter usually wins. However, a professor of mine once told me that the tyrannosaur ate triceratops like candy, but predators of similar size and power had a much more difficult time with the stegosaurus (as the T-Rex did with the ankylosauris). In any case, some blogger somewhere wrote of this battle, “a little part of me dies with the stegosaurus.” As kids we always rooted for it. But it always lost. The battle plays to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and is probably the most memorable moment of the film – at least for kids.
7. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster – I’ve already written about this one. I can’t find the clip that I want though. This was easily the most artistic of the franchise (the poor guy was banned by Toho from making any subsequent Godzilla films). In the scene which sticks in my mind, you don’t actually see the monsters. The military and heroes are sitting at the base of Mt. Fuji and looking out at the sunset and all they see is Godzilla’s blue flame and Hedorah’s red lightening like stuff flaring up as they fight in the distance. If I remember correctly you hear the crickets in the foreground and you’re given a sense of contrast of the peaceful moment under the protection of the great mountain, trying to imagine the carnage in Tokyo in the distance.
8. Gamera vs. Giant Birds – From Gamera Guardian of the Universe, but unfortunately I can’t find a clip of the entire aerial portion of the battle which is just awesome. Gamera is a giant fire-breathing turtle. The monsters actually leave the atmosphere and fight way up as you’re looking down at the globe. Obviously they broke from the anti-CGI tradition for the scene, but it’s something else. You catch glimpses of it in the trailer.
9 Big Man Japan. is just awesome and the battle with the leaping monster is cool (but not on youtube). It’s on Netflix instant.
10. King Caesar vs. Mechagodzilla – There are a few qualities to like about this fight. It’s a fuzzy agile monster which looks kind of like the good gremlin version of the Donnie Darko rabbit thing. The fight represents the spiritual aspect vs. cold technology. It’s a mystical monster which can only be awakened by a song from female Japanese royalty, and the song is extensive. Very extensive. It is not the only monster fight to be preceded by a song. The tiny Mothra twins always wake the moth up the same way. Mechagodzilla proves too much for King Caesar however. Godzilla shows up and together they defeat the robot.