King Ghidorah, or simply Ghidrah, was the first monster created to specifically be a foe for other monsters rather than starting off as a monster to menace humanity.
And it wasn’t just one monster Ghidorah was meant to fight, but three.
Probably why the monster was granted three heads to even things out.
Otherwise, Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster sort of plays like a 60s version of Marvel’s The Avengers, with a group of disparate, clashing personalities brought together to face a massive threat.
And Ghidorah really is a massive threat.
That three-headed thing is something rather different among Kaiju at that time, but is not totally unprecedented in the animal world. This is called Polycephaly and is generally caused by a failed split of twin embryos. Each ‘head’ may have other parts that are ‘there’s, such as the snake called “We” had both male and female genitals as well as two heads.
Because they are their own twins and have separate minds, it is not uncommon for the heads to disagree and even fight amongst themselves. This and other complications lead to most dying early on. King Ghidorah displays none of this, and no film has had the heads argue amongst themselves despite how frenzied the battles get.
This suggest that the creature’s alien physiology has the brain located somewhere other than the heads, like at the base of all three necks, with large nerve clusters in the ‘heads’ to process sensory information, but do its real thinking in a more secure part of the body.
Speaking of surviving in space, Ghidorah originally was shown to only do that in meteor form, but later was shown to have him fly in space via some unexplained method which had the continued flapping of his wings.
Silly, I know, but it does bring to mind an animal which is capable of surviving in space.
The Tardigrade, or water bear, is an extremely durable, tiny organism which can be found in many places on earth. To survive extreme conditions, they can suspend their metabolism in something akin to hibernation in bears, but much more complex and powerful. Aside from being able to survive extreme heat, dehydration, radiation, toxic chemicals and so on, they can also survive in the vacuum of space.
For 10 days.
Ghidorah is a little more extreme, but he’s a dragon.
And Dragons can get away with that.
This is the meat of Ghidorah. This creature embodies absolute destruction and the threat of nuclear annihilation by foreign powers with extreme explicitness.
When King Ghidorah first appeared, it was already a ravager of planets. In the American Dub, he rendered Mars an uninhabitable planet. In the Japanese original, it was Venus. If you know how different they are (cold ball of rust vs. stormy ball of acid, heat and extreme pressure), you know that the Japanese dub made the monster even harsher.
Its call cackles across the sky, almost as if it is revealing in the destruction it causes.
Most of Ghidorah’s later appearances have him be the tool of some oppressive power, a super weapon. In Monster Zero, it was Xilians; in Destroy All Monsters, it was the Kilaks; in Godzilla vs. Gigan it was space roaches. Even in later reboots, he mostly serves that role, serving the Xilians again in Godzilla: Final Wars and serving future Americans in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Yeah, there’s nothing subtle about that. Ghidorah is a nuclear threat from a foreign power.
I should also note David Kalat, author of the author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series, made some overzealous analysis which he recanted in the DVD commentary of Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster. He commented in his book that Ghidorah could represent China – a golden dragon speaking with multiple voices. But it was too far an analysis and he eloquently explains why in that commentary. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already, especially in his defense of the dubbing as the films.
It is a beast of apocalypse beyond even Godzilla.
His design cackling and horned head brings to mind for me the Dragon of the Apocalypse from The Book of the Revelation of Saint John (erroneously referred to as simply “Revelations” by many).
We will probably never see that beast brought to film and smashing a city, but with Ghidorah, we have an excellent substitute.
Or we can go with the Lego version. That one’s pretty good too.