If you don’t know by now that I’m a fan of Godzilla, you really aren’t paying attention…on purpose. Well take the fingers out of your ears because this is text and that won’t help anyway. Also, it’s important for this article. The thought’s been in my head for a while but it was a recent comment in BW comrade Matt Burkett, as part of his Monstrosities series on YouTube, that made me decide to make an article of it. The video I’m about to show you is his early thoughts on the in-production second attempt at a US Godzilla. Pay attention to the last argument he makes because that’s where this rant gained life. It’s about how love for the classic Godzilla (or Gojira if your that person) has obscured just what made the King of the Monsters a cultural icon worldwide, and it has to do with those other movies some people want to write off.
First, the video.
And now the commentary.
First, here’s a possibility Matt didn’t think of: what if the allegory is ecological in tone? They did it to The Day The Earth Stood Still and you have the guy who made Godzilla Vs. Hedorah, an ecological movie that made not making sense an artform, as the producer. It’s quite likely. As for Darabont, I want to post the quote from the IO9 article here as well.
Godzilla has its origins as an allegory for the atom bomb, but today it’s more of a straightforward monster movie. Do you want to restore some of that allegorical significance to the franchise?
Frank Darabont: What I found very interesting about Godzilla is that he started off definitely as a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And some of the atom bomb testing we were doing in the South Pacific in the subsequent years. [Specifically the accidental exposure to the crew of Lucky Dragon #5-SWT] The giant terrifying force of nature that comes and stomps the #$%$ out of your city, that was Godzilla. Filtered through the very fanciful imaginations of the Japanese perception. And then he became Clifford the Big Red Dog in the subsequent films. He became the mascot of Japan, he became the protector of Japan. Another big ugly monster would show up and he would fight that monster to protect Japan. Which I never really quite understood, the shift.
As Matt explained, if there wasn’t a shift there wouldn’t have been a franchise. Since I’ve started blogging I’ve written two articles about the original and US altered Godzilla movies, and when the Criterion Collection release came out I immediately ordered it and reviewed it. It’s a great movie not just for its time but one that has aged rather well. I love the original movie.
That said, it is not the franchise. It would not have sustained AS a franchise if not for the “Big Red Dog”. And the change did happen naturally as the universe of Godzilla was being formed. It took (including the original) five movies for Godzilla to decide to fight evil monsters. King Kong wasn’t evil. Mothra was a good monster. Anguirus was…there. Ghidorah was the first truly evil monster to enter the series and the first time Godzilla fought on the side of humanity, if that was even what he was thinking.
The franchise was built on a monster that kids could root for and watch him take down other monsters, plus getting to watch buildings be destroyed. And in time Godzilla had made allies of Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, as new monsters like King Ceasar and (if you want to count him as a “monster”) Jet Jaguar. This is what led Godzilla to be more than a one-shot movie monster like so many of his kin, both US and Japan, or even the UK (Gorgo). Watching Godzilla fighting other monsters made a one-shot movie into a franchise and made Godzilla into an international cultural icon, not the anti-nuke allegory. Now before I continue let’s put in the rest of what he said because I’ll be adding that to the mix.
What we’re trying to do with the new movie is not have it camp, not have it be campy. We’re kind of taking a cool new look at it. But with a lot of tradition in the first film. We want this to be a terrifying force of nature. And what was really cool, for me, is there was a very compelling human drama that I got to weave into it. It’s not that cliched, thinly disguised romance or bromance, or whatever. It’s different, it’s a different set of circumstances than you’re used to seeing. And that’s tremendously exciting as a writer when you’re asked to do something else.
Can somebody point out the “bromance” in the early Godzilla movies? Did I miss something? And the only romance were between human characters and even that’s debatable.
Now let’s talk about “camp”. Today’s filmmakers seem to hate campy and campy productions. I don’t know why although if I had more time I could come up with a few ideas. That said, my favorite of the three series of Godzilla films is the original, more “campy” version, but I fully admit that’s pure nostalgia talking. Which do I think was the best? The second series. The Heisei movies, for all the heck I gave Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah in my first video review, is the better written. It made Godzilla a threat again, but one you usually root for (except for Godzilla & Mothra: The Battle For Earth) because the other monster is a bigger threat, or because Godzilla Junior is so lovable. In fact had that era continue I would think Junior would have become the same protector because he was raised and protected by humans like Miki and would have a stronger affection for them and I wish I could have seen that.
You know what the worst was? The third series, or “Millennium” era. Every movie ignored every other movie not only ever, but in the Millennium series (except for the two Mechagodzilla stories) entirely. Every movie was a sequel to the original movie, but while the Heisei era did the same (it starts with Godzilla 1985) it tried to form a new continuity and the original monsters were some of the franchise’s best. Yes, even the monster plant. The Millennium stories were all allegories for one thing or another, or kind of pretentious, or kind of boring. Then came Final Wars, which is just everything thrown into your face. I like it because it actually tried to have fun, something I really don’t remember seeing since Godzilla 2000, and even that movie had its bad moments. I’ll still take Destroy All Monsters over Final Wars because there was an actual story to it.
The original Godzilla movie was great and I’m proud to have such a great edition in my collection, the Criterion version, that I learned so much about the series from. Still, you can’t build a franchise off of this one movie and the anti-nuke message, as much as Hollywood loves to tell it, can’t make a series of movies. Eventually it has to fall from it and be its own story or it wouldn’t have lasted as long as the Toho monsters have. Even King Kong hasn’t made as big a splash because lessons weren’t learned from this series. All we have are remakes (one an animated musical and while I haven’t seen it I’m totally not kidding), two would-be sequels, two questionable animated spin-offs (although there is a bit of charm to the first series, but you can have the Fox-aired disaster burned for all I care) and not much else. Godzilla was the only giant monster story that was allowed to grow beyond the original movie and it soon dragged other monsters in, including Kong, who Japan at least tried to do something with (you decide how well). And it’s not just Hollywood that’s obsessed with the original movie as, through the reviewing community, I’ve seen more and more people who think the first movie is the only one that matters.
Look, I love the first movie, but I also love what came out of it…a series of movies that I enjoyed as a kid and still enjoy today. Yes, I also like the Hanna-Barbera cartoon for the same reason: Godzilla kicking monster butt while the humans get something to at least stay occupied. If they had stuck with the original tone, Mothra and Rodan would be one-shots, Ghidorah wouldn’t have existed, although thankfully neither would have Hedorah, but I’m not sure that’s worth the loss.
Feel free to enjoy the original movie, but there’s a reason the franchise exists…all the other movies and the kids who loved them.