Friday, May 16, 2014

Why I Love a Giant Dinosaur

One of my joys as a kid as Godzilla movies. The first Godzilla movie I ever saw was Godzilla 1985. It was a more serious film than the others I would later see, which had elements of slapstick in it. But the horror and wonder of such a magnificent beast never left me. Godzilla remains one of my favorite movie monsters. The joy I find is from what the giant beastie can and often does represent.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens before I saw the original, black-and-white Gojira. Having seen some documentaries on World War II Japan, especially after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the parallels jumped out at me immediately. This wasn’t the kid-friendly Godzilla who had a son and fought to protect the Earth from monsters and badly-dressed aliens. This was a monster, a force of nature, a god-like being born of human arrogance and capable of mass destruction. If you go back and watch Gojira and then watch documentaries of the aftermath of Hiroshima, they could stand side by side. The horror of Gojira is as much rooted in the destruction and carnage Godzilla creates as it is in the knowledge that we created it.
Gojira stands as a warning, much like films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original, not the remake), about mankind letting its scientific gains outdistance its moral gains. The remake that is being released today has some of the same flavor as the original. Ken Watanabe says something in one of the trailers about humans thinking they can control the natural world only to discover that they cannot. Gojira doesn’t stand up well nowadays as anything other than a cultural landmark and a great film.
But I grew up with the more family-friendly Godzilla, the one who danced with triumph after defeating Ghidorah in Monster Zero. The juxtaposition between the two versions can be quite jarring. My take on the change is that Japanese audiences grew up. The generation that had survived World War II was aging and their children and grandchildren were looking for a new monster, one that would protect the world from the other monsters out there. In this way, Godzilla became a sign of our arrogance giving way to our understanding that there are far greater dangers in the world. The monster became lovable, even though he would still cause quite a bit of mayhem.
My teenage years and early 20’s saw a different type of Godzilla film being made. I do not speak of the abomination Roland Emmerich created in 1998. I’m referring instead to the Japanese productions that updated the CGI and the rubber suit. In these films, like Godzilla: Final Wars, the monster has regained some of its harsh past. It still protects Earth from other monsters but it does so in a territorial fashion. The Earth’s inhabitants and cities are of little consequence to Godzilla in these films. Instead we have an uncaring god of destruction, a being who only wishes to protect what it sees as its turf. The benign, lovable Godzilla was gone and the force of nature returned.

I’m looking forward to seeing a new Godzilla film. The remake looks to harken back to the original in many ways. Hopefully there will be plenty of destruction and mayhem, and perhaps, just perhaps, a message beneath it that this new generation can see. 

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