The G spot: Reflecting on 60 years of Godzilla

| May 15, 2014

It's been 60 years since a kaiju named Gojira — to American audiences, a monster named Godzilla — first emerged from the sea and wrecked Tokyo. Since then, and over the course of 28 movies, he's battled three-headed dragons, psychedelic smog creatures and all manner of aliens and robots, usually in films by Japanese film company Toho. On May 16, a new Godzilla movie opens under the Warner Brothers aegis, rather than Toho. And Charlotte Godzilla fan Matthew Scanlon is jazzed.

ON THE HORIZON: A new Godzilla flick crashes theaters this weekend. (Photo: Warner Bros.)
  • ON THE HORIZON: A new Godzilla flick crashes theaters this weekend. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

"It's been 10 years since a Godzilla movie's been out," Scanlon says. "It's been too damn long."

That film, 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars, closed the six-film Millennium series — Toho's third distinct era featuring Godzilla films. The first — the Showa series — started with Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1954 and progressed from that film's horror leanings to the guilty-pleasure campiness of the '60s and '70s features. Then, in the '80s and '90s, the Heisei series returned a sense of gravity and danger, but introduced careful serialization: The seven-film series follows a consistent, satisfying arc. Several years later, Godzilla 2000 launched the Millennium series.

An American-made Godzilla is deliberately absent from any serious discussion on Gojira's many incarnations, though. The 1998 film, starring Matthew Broderick, was the last time an American company (or anyone other than Toho, for that matter) tried its hand with this particular kaiju.

"I will not own it, I will not watch it, I will change the channel," Scanlon says. He's a New York native, and he lived in the city at the time — doubling his disappointment in the much-maligned film. "I was like, 'Oh my God, this crap was filmed in my hometown!'" From the iguana-like, non-fire-breathing Godzilla to a Jurassic Park-esque battle at Madison Square Garden to the monster's relatively easy defeat by a few fighter jets, Scanlon couldn't get behind it. Yet he's not worried about the new Godzilla.

"It's about time for something different," he says, noting the usual suspects — Ghidorah, Mothra and Mechagodzilla — likely won't appear in the new film. "There's only been one more confirmed monster other than Godzilla. Its name is Muto, and it's an eight-legged alien creature. It's an ugly-looking thing."

In this respect, the 2014 movie is Toho-faithful: Consider, of the 28 Japanese Godzilla films, only two have featured Godzilla as the sole monster. In most of them, there are at least two kaiju — sometimes a whole ensemble — battling it out. What results is a three-way conflict between Godzilla, the enemy monsters and a human population desperate to simply survive. Having not seen the film yet, Scanlon is optimistically excited, knowing it features a promising new kaiju.

He's excited, too, to see how the humans fight back — and if they make familiar mistakes. In Godzilla 1985, the first Heisei film, a Russian atomic warhead re-energizes the title monster, rather than hurting him. Interestingly, in the Japanese version, it was the Americans who launched the nuke. With a scene in the new film closely echoing footage of the 2011 tsunami, symbolic treatment of world events seems alive and well.

"As long as they don't do another 1998 version of Godzilla, I think they'll be fine," Scanlon says. What he would like to see, considering sequel fever in the Marvel, Transformers and Terminator universes, is for the new Godzilla to do well enough to start its own series, complete with strange new monsters and fresh takes on familiar kaiju.

Scanlon's love of this monster started young, when he was 5 and a friend of his dad gave them a VHS tape of Godzilla 1985. "My dad's like, 'Hey, do you want to see a giant dinosaur destroy a city?'" Scanlon did, and he was instantly hooked. "I'm like, 'Dad, get more, get more!'"

Today, Scanlon owns most of the films. They're not all gold — not Son of Godzilla, for example, or the campy, kid-oriented clip show Godzilla's Revenge. Scanlon and his dad agree Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is one of the best. He also particularly enjoys some later Showa films like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla. (See CL contributor Adam Frazier's picks for the best and worst Godzilla flicks in the accompanying article.) He also likes the Heisei films' more modern special effects. Most of all, though, he just likes Godzilla — and he's ready to see where the reboot takes his favorite kaiju.

"He breathes fire, he's been a father, he's been an environmentalist — he killed Ghidorah to save the environment," notes Scanlon. "He's basically saved the Earth so many times, you've gotta love him."

He pauses.

"He does destroy Japan constantly, and I kind of feel bad for the people."

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