Well well folks, the time is finally nigh! That gargantuan fire-breathing behemoth known as GODZILLA is all poised to destroy your local multiplex this weekend, and we here at AITH couldn't be more stoked. Because let's be honest, there hasn't been GODZILLA flick in quite some time, certainly not a decent one. But no doubt, the tradition is beyond rich, with 2014 marking the 60th anniversary of the character being born onscreen via the original Japanese atomic-monster-mash, GOJIRA, released in 1954. Now that's one tough specimen to kill the f*ck off! But before Bryan Cranston and his star-studded supporting cast try to do just that this Friday - gouge Godzilla for good (or at least until the inevitable sequel) - how about we recount the varied attempts and iterations, successes and failures, highs and lows, and other ins and outs of the 60 year old mega-monster. You down? Good! Ladies and gents, get out the long-knife...we're fin to slice, dice and Dissect Godzilla!
Outmoded technology notwithstanding, Ishiro Honda's 1954 flick GOJIRA still reigns and rules the land as the supreme Godzilla effort. This is where it all started right...the absolute OG! And not only is it impressive for its poignant allegorical story regarding the horrors of atomic energy, the infamously arduous production for all involved, and the results yielded, are nothing short of legendary. Consider this: word is GOJIRA was the very first Japanese film to be entirely storyboarded, meaning every single shot was preplanned ahead of time, a la Hitchcock. Not only that, almost all of the effects were done practically, or in camera, in a time far preceding what we now see every day - needless CGI. Not the case with GOJIRA though, Honda and his crew did things the hard, old-fashioned way. I'm talking about the Godzilla suit weighing 200 pounds and being so hot inside that the actor playing the monster (Haruo Nakajima) would pass out during takes. Still not impressed? Well, the groundbreaking miniature work used for all the high-octane action sequences, including underwater scenes shot "dry for wet", have been cited by George Lucas as being influential to his own such FX in the STAR WARS series. Seriously, the technological influence of GODZILLA is immeasurable.
But how about the actual character of GODZILLA? The humongous 50-foot tall mutated-lizard-beast has not only endured over a 6-decade span, but over that time it's evolved and ultimately ascended to the ranks of all time memorable movie characters, irrespective of genre. Without uttering a word, at least initially, the giant fire-breathing monster and its metaphorical weight has stayed in the consciousness of the moviegoers everywhere. Pretty damn cool when you consider the producer of the 1954 movie, Tomoyuki Tanaka, only decided to make the picture after another project, a Japanese-Indonesia joint effort called BEYOND THE GLORY, fell by the wayside. Once that happened, Tanaka took inspiration from a real life nuclear accident in which a Japanese fishing boat traveled too close to an American nuclear plant and became contaminated as a result. Of course, in that regard, GODZILLA also happened to transcend a prevailing subgenre of science-fiction of the time: the atomic scare.
Leave it to the hack-tacular Roland Emmerich - master of the big, dumb, hollow blockbuster - to appropriate the Japanese legend of Godzilla for American audiences, and doing so in the most embarrassingly abysmal way possible. Good god! What a goofy, bloated, stupefying attempt in 1998 that pretty much endangered the mega-monster for damn near two decades. First off, the flick is overstuffed at two and a half hours long...made on a budget of $130 million (in 1998 dollars)...with special FX done at a transitional period between old-school practical and nascent CGI. And when these huge, loud action-set pieces (all at night in the rain mind you) take precedent over a silly screenplay that tries to update the themes in a way that does a disservice to the original, the result is beyond whack. Matthew Broderick? What the hell were you thinking? INSPECTOR GADGET wasn't enough to cash-in on the kids line? Jesus!
Moreover, GODZILLA '98 could be viewed as the gateway to what we now know as the modern day blockbuster - a profligate enterprise made for kids, completely vapid and devoid of artistic merit. If that's harsh, so be it...this movie, despite being profitable, marks everything that's wrong with not just big-budget summer movies, but remakes, and not just remakes, but international remakes specifically. What an all around waste!
Although the character of Godzilla has evolved quite a bit over its 60 year existence, many constants hold suit. First off, Godzilla's appearance hasn't altered greatly over the decades, despite the ever-growing size and stature of the untamed beast. Inspired by the great Ray Harryhausen's work on the sci-fi b-movie THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, Godzilla was consciously molded after an "amphibious reptilian monster based around the loose concept of a dinosaur." The upright, bipedal frame with short muscular arms, scaly skin, furrowed brow and anthropomorphic torso have largely remained intact from film to film. It's the beasts' height and weight that has altered over time, first from a 50-foot high monster in the original, growing into more than a 300-foot mega-saurus in later film versions. That said, it's not so much the appearance as it is the fire-spitting "atomic breath" that has remained Godzilla's signature...conjuring a nuclear blast from its gut and licking a hot red radioactive flame at its foes. Seriously, my man spits more heat than Rakim in his prime!
Then of course, there's the intent of allegiance. Early on, Godzilla was pitted against humanity. Cut and dry. And while the reptilian monster has never fully cottoned to human life, in later films, its allegiance shifts to unite with humanity against a common enemy. For instance, the new GODZILLA flick out this week will be a mixture of both: Godzilla allies with humans in order to fight off a race of entities created by, guess who...humans! Additionally, Godzilla has squared off with King Kong, Mothra, Mechagodzilla, King Ghidorah, Destotoyah, Astro-Monsters, Sea-Monsters, Three-Headed Monsters, Gigan, Hedorah, Megalon and many others. Final surmise trademark wise? No matter what side that big bad motherfucker is on, GODZILLA is out for self!
With 32 GODZILLA film productions dating back to 1954 - 28 Japanese and 4 American - you know there's bound to be an unearthed nugget of gold in there somewhere. And while I'd never claim to be the foremost authority on all things GODZILLA, I do feel pretty strongly about a pair of pictures worthy of checking out. The reason being is that they retain the vicious bite of the original GODZILLA, made prior to when the character became a much softer, almost self-parodic hero as opposed to the terrifying villain we all know and love. The first is the 1984 flick GODZILLA 1985: THE LEGEND IS REBORN, and the other is the 1989 obscure artsy mash-up GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. Let's take a closer peek!
By definition, when you are the only GODZILLA movie yet to be released on DVD in the U.S., you're certainly considered a hidden gem. Such is the case for the GODZILLA 1985: THE LEGEND IS REBORN, which was actually released in 1984. Now, what I dig so much about this joint, despite being nominated for Worst Picture at the Hastings Bad Cinema Society's 8th Stinkers Bad Movie Awards in 1985, is that it got back to basics. In fact, it was the first flick in the entire series since the original to not pit ZILLA versus another mega-monster. Instead, like the original, Cold War politics back-dropped a story that once again indicted humanity and found GODZILLA out for bloody revenge against its perpetrators. I much prefer that angle, as the gimmicky Godzilla vs. another monster template had not only wore out its welcome in this particular series, but has today evolved into silly SyFy fodder for D-level celebs. Nope, when GODZILLA is out for human blood, that's when the story is most compelling.
That is, unless ZILLA matches wits with a malefic rosebush! Wow. How many of you have seen the recondite 1989 flick GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE? Exactly! What a bizarre curio this one is. The plot is simple. When Godzilla rises like a phoenix from a smoldering volcanic eruption, the mega-beast is forced to face-off with Biollante...a gigantic rosebush that has been spliced with Godzilla's own genes. So in a sense, GODZILLA is fighting off the worst of itself...a cool little metaphor. But even more impressive than that is how dark, dreary and violent the flick is. Much like THE LEGEND IS REBORN, the FX in the 80s had come such a long way from the 50s, and after a wave of lighter, almost campy Godzilla fare, BIOLLANTE brought back the roots of horror. Word is the plot derived from a contest held among the public to come up with the next GODZILLA movie plot. Shinichirô Kobayashi, a dentist by day and screenwriter by night, won the contest and ultimately saw his weird ass story make it to the big screen. Of course, the flick bombed at the Japanese box-office, forcing producers to revert to the same old tried and true formula of pitting GODZILLA against other monsters.
No mystery here, we all know Gareth Edwards has put his own monstrous spin on the GODZILLA saga, which we'll get to see as early as this Friday (May 16th). I've been on record as being somewhat skeptical of Legendary Pictures entrusting Edwards with such a mega-tentpole after only helming one, so-so indie FX driven flick (MONSTERS). That said, never has there been a more apt opportunity to showcase cinema's newest technology than in a GODZILLA flick. And if the promo material we've seen the last few months is any indication, the flick will be nothing if not visually SPECTACULAR. That tsunami scene? Forget about it!
Here's the official synopsis:
The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence."
So, instead of closely following the original, it sounds like the story is taking more of a mashup angle, where ZILLA doesn't necessarily terrorize humans, but square-off with other manmade monsters. So it's kind of like PACIFIC RIM, only it's monster-on-monster crime, no robots. I guess that's cool, as long as the human element isn't lost in all of the FX laden thrills and chills. I have confidence that with a cast that includes Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Victor Rasuk and others - the film will be grounded by believable enough performances to warrant the big, bold, loud action FX. I mean, that's a Woody Allen cast right there! Hopefully they have more to do here than collect a paycheck.
As one of Japan's most infamous and long-standing pop-cultural imports, GODZILLA has endured the test of time in a way the legitimately cements its status as an all time horror icon. I'm talking Dracula, Mummy, Wolfman, Godzilla...that kind of staying power! Historically informative, technologically influential, culturally impactful - though 28 Japanese productions and 4 American ones - GODZILLA has stood as tall over the watching world as its own towering stature. Its lived up to itself, literally, enduring the test of time in way that very few characters - real or fantastic - ever has. Zilla has evolved over the years from being strictly a human foe, to being a quasi-ally, a campy folk-hero, an underdog, then ultimately back to the badass fire-spitting predator we all know and love. Let's hope Edwards doesn't pull a Roland Emmerich and end up banishing GODZILLA into exile for another 16 years!