Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla Chronicles: The Beginning

With the release of the new American "Godzilla" film imminent, I figured it's as good a time as any to finally start blogging about the G-man in earnest. Obviously, for anyone who has followed Retro Revelations thus far, Godzilla's influence on me and my tastes is stamped all over this site, from the main banner image, to the tiny url icon, to the graphics on my Twitter and Tumblr pages. Godzilla is more or less the unofficial RR Mascot. And that's okay, because he is still to this day pretty much the biggest and most important hero/icon of my life.

That's an odd thing to say, I suppose. That a giant monster who sometimes tramples cities underfoot and goes on nigh-unstoppable rampages, would be a anyone's "hero". And yet he is, for so many, myself included. While I've mentioned "The Big G" many, many times in my articles, and have even written two on the NES games of his I played as a kid, as well as the "Godzilla-Thon" from the old TNT's MonsterVision days, I have noticeably held off on actually starting to write about his movies, for various reasons. The biggest among them probably being, that Godzilla and his films just mean so much to me, they're really special, and I want to do them justice. In the fullness of time, I will be covering many (if not eventually all) of the Godzilla films (the real, Japanese ones), under this new "Godzilla Chronicles" banner. For today, however, I'm not actually going to cover any one film. Instead, I'm going to sort of "go back to the beginning", and give a general overview of my own history with him, why I love the damn thing so much, and how he's influenced and shaped my life over time.

Ever wanted to bitch-slap a lobster? Godzilla has.

I'm certain that I must have probably been exposed to Godzilla at an even younger age than I can remember, but the first time I really remember seeing Godzilla, and consequently when my love affair with the big monster really started, was around age 8 or so, when I saw "Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster". The local Wal-Mart used to have a little VHS tape rack, with all sorts of cheap tapes for sale, with all kinds of stuff I was interested in, such as Looney Tunes and various other old cartoons (though the tapes usually had far too few actual cartoons on them). But, as Fate would have it, they also had, though not nearly as many or as frequent as I would have wanted, various old Godzilla movies. And "Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster" was the first one my grandmother ever bought me, one of the very first movies that I actually could say that I owned myself. And let me tell you, it's no overstatement to say that I absolutely fuckin' loved this movie. In my later, adult years, upon venturing into these wild internets, I discovered that to many fellow Godzilla fans, a general consensus seems to be that this was one of the "weaker" of the old "Showa Era" (50s-70s) Godzilla films. But to me, I couldn't care less, because I still love it, and to this day it is still probably my second favorite Godzilla film of all time. Plus, I just genuinely think it's a well-made, incredibly entertaining movie.

My personal favorite incarnation/suit of Godzilla.

But the most important thing to come from my exposure to "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster", was not my critical opinion of the film. Rather, it was the genesis for my unabashed "monster crush" on the G-man himself. How do you explain to people why a little boy would fall in love with a giant, man-in-a-rubber-suit monster? Well, it's actually fairly simple, really. He was Superman, times ten. He was this impossibly enormous, ferocious badass of a creature, super strong, impervious to almost all of mankind's puny weapons, who was afraid of nothing and always ready to tackle any obstacle, with thermonuclear breath that could destroy almost anything. It likely helped that by this point in his history (the mid-60s), Godzilla was in full-blown "hero" mode. In "Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster", while the human protagonists are certainly afraid of him, and there's always the chance that he just might step on you anyway, whether it was 100% intentional or not, Godzilla does fight on the side of the good guys, and winds up saving the day, more or less. But I think that is genuinely why I loved the big guy at first, because he was sort of like the ultimate superhero. He was certainly my superhero, regardless. And it's funny too, because as a little kid, I was actually rather incensed upon seeing his earlier films, where he was just a "monster on the loose", trashing towns and killing people because he's a giant juggernaut. Or worse yet, movies like "King Kong vs. Godzilla" or "Mothra vs. Godzilla", where he was outright portrayed as the defacto "Bad Guy". AND (spoilers) in both movies he loses to the "good guy" monsters (more or less) in the end. I don't mind telling you that that really bothered the hell out of me as a kid, because A. Godzilla should obviously never lose, and B. I just hated seeing him as the bad guy. In my later years of course, I cared far less and came to love and appreciate all of his roles. But early on, I loved me some "hero" Godzilla, for sure.

The ultimate showdown, on Planet X.

Now I'm not 100% certain which of his films, precisely, was the next one I saw, but just for the sake of this article, I'm going to assume it was the one that would become my all-time favorite, "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" (also known as "Invasion of the Astro Monster" in Japan). "Sea Monster" was good, but "Monster Zero" had it all. Cool, creepy aliens, a space adventure to Planet X, flying saucers, American actor Nick Adams teaming with the guy who is now my favorite Japanese actor of all time, Akira Takarada (who also happens to be the star in "Sea Monster"), and the flying monster Rodan. And of course, pretty much Godzilla's ultimate villain, the giant, golden-scaled, lightning spitting, three-headed space dragon King Ghidorah. If "Sea Monster" started my love affair with the big guy, "Monster Zero" cemented it for life. Cool plot, awesome monster battles, rampaging and alien invasions galore. Not to mention probably THE best work of often-time composer of Godzilla films, Akira Ifukube, whose unique style of music helped make Godzilla just as much as the work of special effects wizard (and general Godzilla creator) Eiji Tsuburaya. Those tunes from those old films have remained ingrained in my consciousness since childhood.

"Anyone up for some barbequed Kong?"

What was probably my third Godzilla film (all of which acquired from that same rack at Wal-Mart, over time), was "King Kong vs. Godzilla". Now, I had seen the original 1933 "King Kong" film early in my life as well, quite possibly before I had even seen Godzilla. So of course the idea of such a showdown film was awesome to me, even IF, as I mentioned before, they unfairly make poor Godzilla out to be the "bad guy". Also, of course, King Kong in reality (yes reality) was only like 20 feet tall, whereas Godzilla is hundreds of feet tall. But to make it a fair fight, and a more exciting film, they made him around the same size as Godzilla. But regardless, while I didn't like Godzilla technically looking like the "loser" at the end of the film, it was a fun, silly romp, with some great battles between the two titans. And if you ask me, Godzilla still "won" the fight.

Over the next few years, into the early 90s, I slowly managed to build up my catalogue, with more entries like "Rodan", "Godzilla Raids Again", "Godzilla vs. Megalon", "Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster" ("Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" in Japan), and the American version of the 50s original, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters". Then of course, as I've already documented in my MonsterVision article, I was exposed to even more G-films I'd never yet seen through the miracle of TNT's weekend-long "Godzilla Bash". There were still sadly a few "Showa Era" films that I didn't wind up getting to see until my late teen or adult years, but all in all, I did manage to see most of them as a kid, and I more or less loved them all, though of course some far more than others.

The less awesome, but still cool 70s Godzilla.

So with this new American take on "Godzilla" coming out, I must say I have some mixed feelings. For one thing, I still clearly remember how disappointed I was in the crap-fest that was the 1998 American so-called "Godzilla" movie. On it's own, it wasn't a BAD film. It had decent acting, the movie itself was okay, but hardly great. If it hadn't been called "Godzilla", I might've liked it better. But considering it WAS supposed to be Godzilla....and it wound up being a giant iguana that was nothing at all like the real deal, it was just an incredible letdown. And honestly, what do you expect from Hollywood? Which is why I still hold great reservations for this new film, even if it looks truer to the original material. If it winds up being decent, then great. But on the other hand, to me, CGI is simply not the way to go for Godzilla, or Kaiju films in general. It just doesn't do the genre, or the monsters, true justice. The concept of guys in giant rubber suits may seem silly or "cheesy" to the uninitiated, but trust me when I tell you, it is the film style that these kinds of movie monsters were born for. Or rather, these monsters are why "Suitmation" was created. They go hand in hand, and to me, even if this new American film is a raging success, this is not the direction I want Godzilla to go in over the long-term. What I want, and what I hope for the future, is for Toho, Godzilla's Japanese production company, to get off their asses and eventually make a new, genuine Godzilla film themselves someday.

But until that time comes, or even if it never comes, I'll always have the classics. And in that sense, I can honestly say, the only thing I could claim to have against the old Godzilla movies, is that there weren't even more of them. Maybe it would have been "too much of a good thing", especially when you consider the downturn some of them took in quality in the 1970s. But on the other hand, you can never REALLY have too many giant monster movies....not from that era. Even so, Godzilla earned his title as "King of the Monsters", not just of Japanese monsters, but King of ALL Movie Monsters, and no matter how old I ever get, he'll always be my ultimate hero.