For many, the first thing that comes to mind when one gives thought to Godzilla King of the Monsters is a man roaring inside a rubber suit, stomping on model buildings with a toy train hanging from the mouth. Made on a modest budget becoming an instant hit, Godzilla first appeared on screen in the 1954 Japanese film, Gojira. The rubber suit was taken seriously at the box office with various sequels spawned.
Six decades later, the angry beast is about to rise from the pacific ocean depths once again to wreak havoc on humanity. Thanks to some strategically exciting trailers and three years in the making, the latest film to feature this angry reptilian looks nothing short of a blockbuster. This time around, a serious edge looms, mistaken at first as a natural disaster and government cover up, the skyscraper sized lizard is on the rampage against a full on modern warfare attack.
Japan remains a location while a focus on human element is imperative to this new version with accomplished actors Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ken Watanabe (Inception), and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) in the cast. Soon to be seen in the next Avengers opus, Elizabeth Olson is also a worthy addition, her beaming eyes have an acting style all of their own. Origins of the creature vary in certain versions, a common theme remains that it is a result of nuclear weapon testing, a mistake of animal evolution or wrath of nature unleashing its fury.
Close-ups of the new Godzilla reveal scars indicating nuclear trauma, he’s also bigger than all incarnations that came before. You can’t keep a good reptile down. This continues in greater detail with more understanding why the behemoth is actually aggressive. It’s evident Godzilla dislikes humans but occasionally fights alongside us too. The last Hollywood effort to resurrect Godzilla became more about the top of the pops soundtrack than a quality film. The disastrous 1998 version with Matthew Broderick on the run through New York was unintentionally funny. It seemed like a great idea for Columbia Pictures to pour unlimited money to bring back the beast into cinemas in the wake of the successful Jurassic Park series. Different species but same cold blooded family. Highly anticipated then poorly reviewed, this was an embarrassingly boring, stupid, cumbersome event film gone wrong.
I was prepared to be dazzled five rows from the front, centre position, licorice sticks and choc-top in hand. Waiting for a midnight screening to begin inside a full house cinema, the audience around me began to constantly chant GOD-ZILL-A GOD-ZIL-A. I was obviously not the only one keen to be thrilled. Around an hour into this, I knew a flop was unveiling before my eyes, it got worse and considering the unbelievable hype surrounding it, this remains one of the biggest disappointments of my movie going life. The director of Independence Day ruined the fantasy while causing controversy for purists during a scene when it is discovered incubating eggs, Godzilla was a male. Even for a popcorn science fiction adventure, this was mind numbing.
Having not watched it since, I could view it now with an open mind giving it a second chance, or not. Multiple Japanese sequels three decades onwards from 1954 were abundant, a general flow keep getting made frequently. Video games and comic books are also on hand.
What has not changed for the Japanese productions is the campy premise usually involving crazy opponents or adversaries such as old foe Mothra (a giant fluttering moth) or Megalon (an undersea city dwelling being). There is Son of Godzilla, Godzilla’s Revenge and my favourite Godzilla vs King Kong.
The low brow theatrics plateaued when Space-Godzilla sailed down to take on his earthly doppelganger. Godzilla is lovingly adored and regarded as a god in the land of the rising sun, this colossal fiend even has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. For English speaking countries, the films were usually either dubbed into bad translations and inserted with extra scenes involving non Japanese actors. Legendary film-noir talent Raymond Burr made regular appearances in Godzilla films within scenes edited for western release. One such film was Godzilla 1985, an unexpected hit on the then booming VHS home entertainment market. Godzilla 1985, became one of the year’s highest selling video cassettes.
The fire breathing lizard was reinvented with moderately better special effects to an audience used to the cheesy Rambo style explosive gung-ho action epics of the time. This retro era burst got shoe company Nike so excited they used Godzilla in an ad campaign. Another success was a family orientated cartoon series lasting forty episodes actually derived by producers of the 1998 cinema clunker. Instead of inadvertently helping promote their big budget film, the cartoon gained dedicated fans, its own certified praise and eventually cult status.
Lovingly parodied by pop culture enthusiasts, Godzilla satire is easily defined as sarcastic considering the beast is a destructive individual or even seen as the anti-hero desperate to survive. A popular parody available online is a fan created short film Godzilla vs Bambi. Another I always remember was in the 1986 comedy One Crazy Summer, with a young Demi Moore and John Cusack. It happens towards the end of the film during a pool party scene full of distinguished executives and architects. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite is hiding amongst bushes wearing a rubber Godzilla outfit, a cigar is tossed by the late William Hickey landing into the mouth sending panic and smoke streaming from the ears. Stomping into the middle of the party howling in pain, people scatter as this bouncing latex thing bustles over a mini model of a new town development laid out next to the pool, thus recreating the amateur scenes of the early Godzilla movies. The only party guest to appreciate it is an applauding Japanese businessman. Hilarious.
It remains to be seen if this latest Godzilla is epic enough to be considered memorable to the mass audience or another hyped movie gone missing from cinemas after two weeks. 3D visuals can be magnificent when done correctly but not essential to propel pure action. If the film is good enough, no enhancements are needed. Considering one of the trailers signals dread to the haunting music of a classical piece also used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I like the fact little of the plot has been exposed except for pending mayhem. The filmmakers have certainly taken time to think beyond the normal monster movie such as the more recent creature features ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Super 8’ did. I’m quietly excited to see the unequalled power of the mighty Gojira in battle on the big screen again.
Shane A. Bassett