Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Godzilla

 Travis asks...
"Barring the original, what's your favorite version of Godzilla: the child-friendly superhero from the '70s, or the more anti-hero-like version from the '80s and '90s?"
Godzilla is somewhat like Batman to me in that I can enjoy both the more purely monster-like Godzilla of the 1950s-mid 1960s as well as the more anthropomorphic, kid-friendly, pro-wrestler persona of the late 1960s-1970s, just as I have no problem enjoying the Adam West Batman, the Michael Keaton Batman or the Christian Bale Batman. 
Having said that, I don't find any of the Godzilla movies made between 1984 and 1995 particularly enjoyable. In fact I find them downright dull. The movies mainly consist of uninteresting human characters, plot elements stolen from high profile Hollywood movies such as Terminator 2 and Aliens, combined with scenes of giant monsters standing still and firing beams at each other until one of them falls over like a lead statue. All of this is watched on big tv screens by the military in a safe location so there isn't even any sense of danger from the allegedly rampaging monsters.

Things improve a great deal with Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs Megaguirus including a nicely redesigned Godzilla with massive pointy dorsal spines (as shown above) and some interesting adversaries. 
My favorite version of Godzilla came with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah - Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) which was meant to be the first of a series of one-off Godzilla movies that were sequels to the original Godzilla (1954) only, ignoring all of the movies that happened in between, and allowing for a variety of interpretations of the character and the series. In this movie, former Godzilla adversaries Mothra, king Ghidorah, and Baragon are all mystical, mythological guardian monsters who return to protect Japan from the attack of the evil Godzilla. And no mistake about it, this Godzilla is evil on a staggering scale. Redesigned with blank white eyeballs set in a fearsome face and a bulky powerful body, Godzilla is the unstoppable, brutal, embodiment of destruction (also of all the restless spirits of those killed in World War II) with powerful radioctive beams of energy which cause mushroom cloud explosions when they strike. What really makes this movie work, is that it doesn't flinch at showing the impact on human lives as Godzilla smashes the buildings they reside in, or blasts the soldiers trying to stop him. This is about as scary as a giant monster movie can get and is a powerful reworking of the original film including a journalist following Godzilla's wake of destruction as her soldier father tries to find a way to stop Godzilla. The humans are engaging, and their story feels like an integral part of the movie at large, but Godzilla is simply amazing. 


Andrew Wickliffe said...

I'm with you on most of the 85-95 ones, but I think SPACE GODZILLA is a crazy, absurdist delight.

Travis said...

I still usually manage to find something to enjoy about the '80s-'90s Godzilla movies, but I do agree that they're generally the weakest period for the series.

But yeah, GMK is one of my favorite installments, topped off with a fantastic Godzilla design.

Have you seen the '90s Gamera trilogy, from the same director? If you haven't, they're pretty cool, and a lot of what he was doing in GMK comes from ideas he was sort of poking at in Gamera 3.

John Rozum said...

I'm a big fan of the 90s Gamera trilogy. Again, I really liked that humans were ant-like collateral damage in the battle between the monsters, something that no one had really bothered to do before that. The general impact that these fearsome creatures had on human lives was pretty much absent from the kaiju movies since Godzilla Raids Again (1955). It was nice to have that element reintroduced.

Ben Z said...

I think of the original monster, the googly-eyed cookie monster version, and the fangy, pointy, white-eyed wrath avatar in these terms:

Jehovah (the gnarly old one), Jesus (the nice one that lets kids sit on him), and the Holy Spirit (the "End Times" one). They're all aspects of the same infinite entity.

I'll send you all the literature once my tax-exempt paperwork clears.