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Godzilla gets his gold star at 50
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
It was fifty years ago that Godzilla rose from the ashes of a nuclear test to wreak destruction and terror upon the world.
A 400-foot tall fire breathing dinosaur probably wasn’t the most subtle metaphor for Mother Nature’s wrath at the hubris of mankind, but the impression Godzilla made on moviedom was as deep and indelible as the impression he left on Tokyo’s cityscape. Never a massive box office success outside Japan, Godzilla is probably one of the most recognizable and widely referenced characters in film.
Last month, Godzilla finally got his star on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the premier of Godzilla: Final Wars, the 28th film in the Godzilla franchise and, according to Toho studios, the last.
“I keep telling people, this is just the latest last one,” says Ed Godziszewski, editor of Japanese Giants magazine.
Godziszewski says Godzilla has met several demises over the course of his 28 movies. “Toho studios took a break in 1975, then came back in 1984, then stopped again in 1995 with Godzilla vs. Destroyah, where they announced that Godzilla would die. He does die, but of course in the very last scene, he’s reborn.”
If you really wanted to be picky, Godzilla has actually appeared in 29 films, but most fans try to forget about the 1998 American version. Godziszewski says there aren’t terms strong enough to describe how much Godzilla fans dislike the movie. “They (the movie’s creators) didn’t show any respect for what the character really was. Instead of making him a creature of destruction, they basically made him somebody who runs away whenever he’s threatened. One of the basic elements people look for is that Godzilla will destroy things, and he didn’t destroy anything.”
Toho studios fixed that in 2000 when they brought Godzilla back yet again, and really hit their stride a year later with 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-out Attack, which dispensed with all Godzilla history except for the first movie, and featured Godzilla as a destructive, malevolent threat to humanity once again.
Like Frankenstein or Superman, Godzilla is perpetually reinvented, his origins re-explained, his history built upon with variations or scrapped altogether. And like the James Bond universe, there’s a few constant characters, but trying to establish a definite timeline for the character is impossible (how many Felix Leiters can you count? And how many Bond women have recurring roles?). To add to the confusion, there are several Godzilla films with similar names (like Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla), though they are different films made sometimes decades apart.
But unlike the James Bond movies, or some incarnations of Superman or Frankenstein’s monster, no Godzilla film has ever been a major blockbuster in the U.S., despite the character’s almost universal recognition factor. “These kind of films were good for the era of the 50s and 60s, when you had double features and lower budget films, and the movie business wasn’t geared toward everything being a blockbuster and everything costing several million dollars to make and promote,” says Godziszewski. “You could get those kind of films released and do a small but decent box office. Now, everything has to be saturation marketing and simultaneous release.”
Godzilla’s look has changed a little over the years, but in general, the movies aren’t made much differently than when the first one came out in 1954. The special effects have improved to the point where Godzilla no longer looks quite like a man in a rubber suit stomping on a toy city — he now looks like a 300-foot man in a rubber suit. But that’s part of the films’ charm for a lot of people. That, and seeing things get smashed up. “What I appreciate about these films is that they do have that (Japan’s major cities getting trampled), but they don’t have a lot of personal violence,” says Godziszewski. “You can’t point to too many scenes where you actually have a lot of blood being spilled. It’s something that the creators were always very careful about. You can keep it on a level where all ages can relate to it without being put off by it.”
As for Godzilla’s retirement, Godziszewski believes that it will be short lived. “I think that creatively, they just wanted to give it a rest for a while. I’m guessing that within three to five years they’ll resume production.”
Even if Rodan or the three-headed King Ghidora or that giant moth finally put him down in Godzilla: Final Wars?
“Ultimately, Godzilla cannot die,” Godziszewski says. “You can beat him, you can kill him, but he’s never really dead. In science fiction, nobody is ever really dead.”
For info on Japanese Giants magazine, you can e-mail Ed Godzisewski at firstname.lastname@example.org