Godzilla Roars Again!
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
The scourge of Barbie and Ken comes to haunt us again...
Back in the fifties, a new horror phenomenon hit theatres to thrill audiences: Giant Monsters. In America, most of these creatures were created out of some horrible scientific disaster, and were usually used as a metaphor for communism. The “us-against-them” mentality brought on by McCarthyism and the “red scare” made for a great template for horror movies, which have always used monsters as metaphors for social issues of the time. The message was, for the most part, lost on the young people that frequented these movies, but they are still entertaining.
In Japan, however, these movies carried more of a moral lesson. These kaiju (Japanese for “strange beast”) films were about giant monsters who were created by radiation or some form of pollution. Many of these kaiju were very popular, like Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and others, but none more so than Godzilla. Godzilla, or Gojira, first hit theatres in 1954, and the world has never been the same. His appearance was similar to a dinosaur, a horrible monster brought to life by atomic radiation. It was a relevant idea, as it hadn’t even been a decade since the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With those tragedies still fresh in the minds of the Japanese public, it seemed only natural to use that as a basis for a horror movie. In fact, in many of the Godzilla films, there is at some point a speech given on the dangers of nuclear weapons, scientific advancements, and how the real monsters in the world aren’t those grotesque creations of nature gone wrong, but humankind.
The film’s premise became the standard formula for the majority of the films to follow: Godzilla attacks, an elaborate plan is formulated to destroy him, and in the last few moments, the creature is destroyed (or in the case of many other films, he is simply trapped or he heads out to sea), leaving us with a moment of introspection. Do we deserve the devastation brought upon our society when we were to blame in the first place?
Toho Studios soon released a sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, which was rushed out to cash in on the popularity of the first film. While not as well done as the first film, it was the last of the serious horror film in the original Godzilla series. It also set the stage for the many monster battles that would come to epitomize the series, introducing Anguirus, a dinosaur that looks like a cross between a anklyosaur and an aardvark. The third film, King Kong vs. Godzilla, was in a more comedic tone. Producers decided that the inevitable fight should be won by King Kong due to his popularity, and it led to one of the greatest monster fights of all time.
In 1956, Godzilla hit American shores with the re-edited Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, which removed and rearranged scenes, and added new ones filmed in America with Raymond Burr playing an American journalist in Japan when the attack happens. All of his scenes were filmed on a sound stage, and doubles and careful editing were used to create the illusion he was interacting with the original cast. The original dialogue was also dubbed for American audiences. With this was the trimming down of dialogue that showed that there was still much outrage toward America for the bombings, so as to not detract American audiences. Toho went on to make fifteen movies in the Showa series (those filmed during Emperor Hirohito’s reign), ending in 1975 with Terror of Mechagodzilla. These films were cult favorites in America, and were known for their more lighthearted tone, occasionally utilizing Godzilla as the hero, protecting Earth from other kaiju.
After several years of trying to find a way to reinvigorate the series, in 1984 Toho finally released The Return of Godzilla. The film was the first in the Heisei Series (the kaiju films from 1984 – 1999), and was a return to the more serious films. It essentially ignored everything that had happened after the original Godzilla, and established itself as a direct sequel to the original. While utilizing newer special effects of the time, it still relied on its tried-and-true suit actors to make the creature come to life. It was released to the American market as Godzilla 1985, and once again employed Raymond Burr as journalist Steve Martin (however, in this picture he’s only ever referred to as Steve or Mr. Martin, to avoid confusion with the actor who had become popular), and the film was re-edited into a completely new picture. To this day, the original Japanese version has never been released on video in America (thankfully, my friend ordered an import on DVD, so I was able to enjoy it). The films of this series maintained the structure of the originals, with the monster attacking and everyone trying to figure out how to stop him. And as with the originals, they were usually re-edited and dubbed for our audiences, so do yourself a favor and try to find the import DVDs to experience them in their proper forms.
Toho continued making the films until 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, leaving Godzilla’s fate in the air. His popularity waned until 1998, when Sony Pictures released Godzilla, a remake in name only. Roland Emmerich co-wrote and directed this film, in which nuclear testing performed by the French government (after all, we can’t implicate ourselves, right?) causes iguanas to mutate. One of the irradiated eggs hatches, and suddenly, a giant iguana is attacking Japanese fishing boats and attacking New York City. The film was big on state-of-the-art CGI effects and explosions, but many Godzilla purists were put off by the redesigned iguana monster, and that the film seemed to lack the spirit of the original films. The film is what it was meant to be, a popcorn movie. But for the diehard fans, that wasn’t enough.
But on the bright side, it reinvigorated interest for our favorite nuclear-powered monster. And in 1999 Toho released Godzilla 2000, starting the Millennium series. Once again, the film ignored all but the original movie, only occasionally referencing other appearances of the monster. The Millennium series only had six movies, but in those six films, nearly every monster in the Godzilla pantheon was utilized. The last film in the series, Godzilla: Final Wars, was released in 2004 for the Fiftieth Anniversary, and plays like a mix of The Matrix, The Puppet Masters, superhero films, with a healthy dose of monster fights. A group of aliens wants to take over Earth, and release a cadre of monsters on the planet. Little do they know that we have an ace up our sleeves: Godzilla. Big G fights through the monsters while a group of freedom fighters battle the aliens. One of the highlights is a battle between Godzilla and the American Godzilla (referred here only as “Zilla”), which has the record as the shortest monster battle ever in the series at 18 seconds (the head of the alien threat even makes a crack afterward about how worthless Zilla was, giving Toho a one-up).
Godzilla has become more than a cult favorite. He has become part of pop culture. There have been comic books, toys and models, costumes, and has been referenced in songs, movies and television programs. The word has even become part of popular vernacular, utilized whenever someone is describing something terrible, as with the reality show Bridezillas. And just within the last few months, it has been announced that Legendary Pictures will be working with Toho to bring us Godzilla 2012. The details have been limited, but leaked artwork for the design of the creature has had fanboys all over drooling over their keyboards like there was a new Kim Kardashian video. I think the time is right for a new entry in the Godzilla saga, and especially with the special effects at hand, and with decent writing, a new film could truly bring more people around to seeing Godzilla films as more than B-movie cult works.
And now I’ll leave you with one of the best Godzilla references ever...