Giant monsters are a draw. A staple of B-movies in the Fifties and Sixties, giant monsters allow for the visceral feel of seeing civilization destroyed. They’re more a force of nature than a living being, an unnatural disaster that takes more than just human ingenuity to stop, let alone destroy. But the giant monster had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is 1933’s King Kong.
Kong features the giant ape, hinted at in legend. Starring Fay Wray as aspiring actress Ann Darrow, Robert Armstrong as infamous director Carl Denham, Bruce Cabot as love interest Jack Driscoll, and Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn, Kong tells the story of one man’s obsession to be the most successful and famous director and one ape’s tragic encounter with beauty. Denham has learned of a mythical being on an uncharted island discovered by a Norwegian freighter and is determined to go and film this creature. When agencies refuse to allow their actresses to talk to him, Denham heads out to do his own talent scouting. He discovers Ann Darrow, a starving actress on a streak of bad luck. He gives her a proposition, which has to reword – she can star in his next blockbuster if she can leave the next morning.
Ann’s appearance onboard the Venture causes some stir. The first mate, Driscoll, doesn’t take immediately for having a woman on board, a superstitious holdover. Denham and his money speak louder for the Captain of the Venture, though. The ship sets off with Ann aboard. Denham has a specific course to be followed, going away from even small chartered islands to the middle of the sea, where a lone island sits. According to what Denham discovered from the Norwegian freighter, the island has a small village on a peninsula, blocked off from the rest of the island by a large wall. Beyond the wall is a god that the villagers worship. Denham believes that whatever this god is will be worth capturing on film for audiences across the world to see.
During the trip, Ann and Jack grow closer to each other. Jack is kept busy on his shifts, but Ann has nothing else to do once Denham is done with his test shots of her. Jack’s beliefs about women on a ship being bad luck lessens.
On the island, Denham takes a small contingent with him to watch the island natives. They arrive in time to see a ritual, where a young woman is being set up to be sacrificed to the island’s god. However, the chieftain (Noble Johnson) sees Denham trying to film. Denham, through Englehorn, tries to parlay with the tribe. The chieftain wants to trade for Ann and is denied. Denham and the crew are forced to leave and go back to the Venture.
The chieftain is not one to be rebuffed. He takes a small group with him to the Venture and kidnaps Ann. When her disappearance is discovered, Denham and Jack take several armed men back to the island, arriving in time to see the island god appear. Kong is smitten by Ann and takes her before Jack can do anything to free her. Jack and Denham give chase, but beyond the wall is an island filled with prehistoric wonders and dangers. Even Kong must fight through these dangerous creatures.
Jack manages to rescue Ann, though only he and Denham survived being beyond the wall. Jack and Ann return to the village with Kong on their heels. The massive doors in the wall aren’t enough to keep the enrage giant ape out. King breaks through and wreaks havoc on the village. With effort, Denham uses large gas grenades to knock out Kong so that he can be secured for the trip back to New York City. Denham isn’t just seeing film revenues; he’s looking at being big on Broadway with the new star attraction, King Kong.
Opening night becomes closing night. Photos by papparazzi anger Kong and the steel restraints he’s in aren’t enough. He grabs Ann again and climbs up various buildings until he finds the tallest around, the Empire State Building. Too far for anyone on the ground to deal with, the US Army Air Corps is called in to send a flight of biplanes to deal with Kong.
Kong is a masterwork of stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien, who would later mentor Ray Harryhausen. Edits between the stop-motion Ann and the real Fay Wray are seamless. Kong has a presence on screen, as real as the actors around him. King Kong would become the top grossing film of 1933 and Fay Wray became known for her role as Ann Darrow.
Hollywood dominated giant monster movies until the early Sixties, then Japan, on the strength of Godzilla took over. The original Godzilla was a morality play about the dangers of atomic energy and weaponry, with Godzilla destroying Tokyo on a rampage and only stopped through drastic means. Later entries in the films had Godzilla seen as a threat and menance or as the defender of Earth, though not necessarily humanity. Naturally, when there’s two heavyweight kings, people want to see what happens when the clash, thus the 1962 King Kong vs Godzilla.
The film begins with a newscast with a story about an earthquake in the Arctic, breaking apart icebergs. The changes in the currents result in a nuclear submarine being sent to investigate. Meanwhile, the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), is upset that Tokyo TV’s ratings are abysmal. He learns of the newly discovered Faro Island and its monster and sends Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Fujita (Kenji Sahara) to bring the monster back, whatever it is.
The submarine finds an unusual iceberg, one emitting radiation. It crashes in the the berg, causing it to crack open, revealing Godzilla, frozen since the 1955 movie. Now free, Godzilla destroys the sub with his atomic breath and begins his march towards Japan. On the island, Sakurai and Fujita arrive in time to see a ritual by the native islanders get interrupted by a giant octopus crawling out of the ocean. The village appears to be doomed but the island god, King Kong, arrives to battle the creature. The octopus is sent back to the ocean. After the battle, the villagers set out clay pots filled with the juice of a local red berry, a non-addictive narcotic. Kong drinks from the pots and falls asleep.
Sakurai and Fujita get Kong tied to a raft to be dragged back to Japan by ship. Mr. Tako arrives to check up on his people, and has to be told not to rest on the plunger detonator for the explosives set up on the raft in case Kong wakes up and tries to escape. The ship, though, is stopped by a Japanese Self-Defense Force ship and is ordered to take Kong back to Faro Island. One daikaiju is more than enough, thank you very much.
Godzilla reaches the shores of Hokkaido and lays waste to the country side. The JSDF sends out everything it has – tanks and artillery – but is repulsed with casualties. To try to stop Godzilla, the JSDF sets up a large pit, Kong, though, wakes up and despite the explosives, escapes to reach mainland Japan. He finds Godzilla.
The first meeting in the film is a draw. Kong hurls boulders at Godzilla but is repulsed by his opponent’s atomic breath. Godzilla then goes on to fall into the JSDF’s trap but escapes it unarmed. Tokyo, being in the path of Godzilla’s destruction, is evacuated. Power lines with a million volts are set up in the way to stop Godzilla, but the electricity instead powers Kong. The JSDF manage to stop Kong using a gas made from the same red berries found on Faro Island.
Realizing that the only way to stop a giant monster is with another giant monster, the JSDF flies the sleeping Kong to Mount Fuji, where Godzilla was last seen. In the final battle between the two, Godzilla gets an early edge with his atomic breath. It’s not until Kong is struck by lightning that he has the strength to fight back. The battle results in both falling through a village and landing in the Pacific Ocean. Kong is last seen swimming away, while there is no trace of Godzilla. At best, the battle is a draw, but Japan is safe, for now.
/King Kong vs Godzilla/ exists solely to have the two giants battle each other. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, though some were created just for this movie. Kong’s background is very close to the 1933 movie, with a small island with giant creatures and a small village of humans treating Kong as a god. Godzilla is a threat to Japan, leaving a trail of destruction and is unstoppable by conventional means. The first fight is a technical win for Godzilla; Kong escaped when he realized that he wasn’t able to get past Godzilla’s atomic breath. The film even tosses in a “beauty and the beast” motif for Kong, with the giant ape falling for Sakurai’s sister, Fumiko (Mie Hama). Even with the changes for setting, the film keeps close to the mythology set by King Kong; the giant ape is recognizable.
The biggest change for Kong is that he’s now played by Shoich Hirose instead of being stop-motion animation. Godzilla has always been portrayed by a man in the suit, this time by the original Godzilla actor, Haruo Nakajima. The change means that Kong’s motions are more fluid than stop-motion animation allows. Kong, though, is still recognizable as Kong.
For a movie that is about a battle between the most famous giant monsters, King Kong vs Godzilla takes effort to present Kong’s background faithfully. The change in the nature of the character’s portrayal allows for Kong to throw rocks, leading to a brains versus brawn battle. The end result removes the slow discovery of Kong, but the movie’s purpose wasn’t to re-introduce the character but to get him to Japan for the big fight. In the end, Kong remains king, with the film staying close to his origins, only giving him a boost to deal with Godzilla at the end.
Lost in Translation has covered Godzilla before, with the 1998 and 2014 American adaptations and even the Hanna-Barbera animated series. What started as a warning about radiation and weapons of mass destruction has grown into a popular franchise, with Godzilla fighting more monsters while destroying Japanese and American cities.
While the original Gojira was born from the fears of nuclear war, as the franchise grew, later films presented Godzilla as the defender of Earth from threats against it, either other monsters or, since there’s more to the planet than just the dominant species, humanity itself. The draw is still Godzilla; the audience is there to see the daikaiju in all his glory. What Godzilla represents now is the nature rising up and wreaking havoc on humanity in retribution for environmental damage. That brings us to Toho Animation’s three-part series of movies – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and Godzilla: The Planet Eater. The three movies tell the story of how humanity was driven off-world thanks to the rise of giant monsters, the return to Earth, and the fight to reclaim the planet from Godzilla. However, not everything is as it seems.
The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, giant monsters appeared from the depth of the Earth and started destroying cities. Humanity tried to fight back, but Godzilla appeared. Nothing the nations of Earth threw at the monster worked, not even nuclear weapons. During the war against the monsters, two visitors arrived. The first were the Exif, who also had lost their world to a monster uprising. They offered their assistance towards the salvation of humanity. The other were the Bilasaludo, another people who lost their homeworld to monsters. The Bilasaludo offered their technology to try to rid the Earth of Godzilla, including building MechaGodzilla using nanometal.
Godzilla destroyed the installation where MechaGodzilla was being assembled. Humanity was left with no choice except to flee Earth, with the survivors gathering into a colony ship to search for a new home. After spending twenty years searching and finding nothing habitable and after a disaster that sees a landing ship explode during re-entry, the decision is made to make a warp-jump back to Earth to at least resupply. Thanks to relativity and the effect of time dilation at near light speed, the ship returns twenty thousand years later. Haruo Sakaki has spent time analysing fights against Godzilla and has a plan of attack that could kill the daikaiju.
Despite the loss of time, the surviving humans put together the team needed to destroy Godzilla. The assembled forces with gear, including high speed hover bikes, power suits, and mobile artillery, launch. Earth, though, has changed. Life has evolved to survive with Godzilla around. Leaves have become sharper and wildlife has grown heavy scales. One landing site suffers heavy casualties when flying lizards attack. The plan is revised, but is still a go. The goal is to drop Godzilla’s shield, generated by his dorsal fin, then inject him with EMP devices to force an overload.
There is heavy casualties, but the plan works. Godzilla explodes. The survivors of the assault celebrate. The celebration is cut short, though. Godzilla is still the defender of the Earth. Destruction is just a temporary set back. Godzilla returns, even larger and more powerful. He devestates the assault’s survivors.
/City on the Edge of Battle/ starts with the ship’s command staff arguing about staying to hear from survivors or going into a lunar orbit to get out of range of Godzilla’s heat ray. The compromise is forty-eight hours to hear from survivors, then leaving. On Earth, Haruo regains consciousness and discovers that there were survivors from the people left behind on Earth when it was evacuated. A young woman has treated his wounds. Haruo follows her to her home, an underground settlement, picking up other survivors from the assault along the way. The survivors, the Houtua, have a flourishing society despite a lack of technology. Other survivors have been taken in by the Houtua already, giving Haruo a small force to lead. Among the other survivors are the Exif Metphies, Haruo’s friend from on board the ship, and the Bilasaludo, Gala-Gu and Belu-Be.
The Bilasaludo discover that the weapons the Houtua use are made from a form of the nanometal used to create MechaGodzilla. Not being far from the installation, they lead the survivors to where it was. In its place, a large complex has formed completely from nanometal, dubbed MechaGodzilla City. Inside the complex, the survivors are able to contact the ship in orbit. A new plan is formed to try to destroy Godzilla. Using the nanometal, three power suits are upgraded, turning them into Vultures, capable of flight and withstanding a blow from Godzilla. Using the same assault plan as before, Godzilla is lured into a trap and is caught in place using more nanometal.
The problems start when the Bilasaludo allow the nanometal to fuse with them. They believe that they need to become more and less than human to defeat Godzilla. Obviously, they didn’t have a Friedrich Nietzsche in their history – “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird,” or, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” MechaGodzilla City starts absorbing anyone in it. The humans flee, but Haruo and power suit pilot Yuki Kaji aren’t so lucky. The nanometal in their Vultures starts to fuse with them. Haruo is able to fight it off but Yuki cannot. Torn between destroying Godzilla or potentially saving Yuki by destroying the core of MechaGodzilla City, he chooses Yuki.
Godzilla is able to free himself, heating the nanometal to beyond its melting point. He destroys the complex, something he had been searching for, then rests. The last hope for destroying Godzilla is in ruins.
The Planet Eater begins soon after the events of the previous movie. The Bilasaludo on board the ship in orbit take over the engineering section and threaten to cut off life support if they don’t hear from their brethren on Earth, unaware of what has happened. Meanwhile, the Exif on both the ship and Earth are beginning to convert the remains of humanity into followers of their religion. There is a problem there, though. The Balisaludo’s lack of a Nietzsche is nothing compared to the Exif’s lack of a HP Lovecraft. The Exif’s god is a monster from another dimension, King Ghidorah. He’s not coming to save humanity but to destroy it. The remaining Exif were spared when their homeworld was destroyed so that they may deliver other worlds to Ghidorah.
Ghidorah emerges from three singularities, none of which appear on the ship’s sensors. Thanks to the monster’s gravity bending and the different laws of physics in its home universe, time warps. with events happening after they became impossible. Ghidorah destroys the ship in orbit, then turns his attention to the biggest threat on the ground, Godzilla. The fight is one-sided; Ghidorah can bite Godzilla but the defender of Earth cannot even grab the invader.
In the spiritual realm, Haruo fights against Ghidorah and his priest, Metphies. He is shown scenes from earlier in the film, but from Metphies’ point of view. With the betrayal laid bare, Haruo sees how he was used. The fight is tough, but the young Houtua twin sisters, Maina and Miana, aide by calling to their goddess, who briefly appears in Haruo’s vision as a moth. Defeating the priest subjects Ghidorah to the local universe’s physics. Godzilla is now able to not just grab the invader’s heads but to also use his heat ray. The planet is saved.
The trilogy has some issues, mainly with the pacing in the second film. The story may have been better off as a seven- or eight-part limited series, but the goal was to have the movies shown in theatres first, then moved to Netflix. However, the series of films was made by Toho Animation. If anyone understands what the draw to a Godzilla film is, it’s Toho.
The story through the three films is Haruo’s. He provides the drive throughout the film. Godzilla, though, is the reason for that drive. Haruo is chasing his white whale. To finish Nietzsche’s quote, “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein,” or, “And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” When Haruo realized the abyss was staring back, he blinked and put his need for revenge aside for the greater good of the survivors of humanity.
Godzilla is Haruo’s white whale and his abyss. The daikaiju is a force of nature unto himself, a destructive force that cannot be destroyed permanently. Godzilla is the defender of the Earth, but that still doesn’t mean humanity is included. Threats, such as environmental disaster and nuclear weapons testing, created Godzilla. Ongoing threats, like the nanometal from the remains of MechaGodzilla, kept Godzilla around over twenty thousand years. At three hundred metres tall, Godzilla is the dominant lifeform on Earth.
With the film trilogy being animated, the drawbacks of live action, such as budget and special effects, are avoided. Godzilla is the biggest thing on screen when he appears. His appearance resembles his other film appearances. The films give him a few new powers, but those are based on his size; a mighty destructive roar and a tail slash that both destroy human forces at a distance. The main new power is a shield, generated from his dorsal fins. When charging, the actinic light plays along his fins much like previous films. This shield is how Godzilla survives having nuclear weapons dropped on him.
King Ghidora has a huge change. He’s now an extra-dimensional threat and brings his own physics with him. At the same time, Ghidorah is still a threat to the Earth, still a danger to even Godzilla. Instead of being under the influence of aliens, the aliens – the Exif – are under his. Animation allowed Toho to show Ghidora as the King of Monsters.
Instead of a city, the stakes are humanity itself. Tokyo is in ruins for most of the series, long gone and forgotten on Earth. The monsters rose up as if nature went on the offensive to throw off humanity. If humans can’t protect the environment, the environment will develop an immune system, one with an atomic breath. Godzilla 2000 ends with the question, “Why does [Godzilla] always save us?” while Godzilla is taking a victory lap on top of Tokyo. With the animated trilogy, the Earth is saved, but humanity had to learn to live with nature, not compete against it.
The theme of the Godzilla franchise has always been about the dangers of destroying the planet, either through nuclear war or through environmental damage. The three animated movies are no different. This time around, thanks to the animated format, the utter devestation can be shown. Pacing may be an issue, but the three movies are still Godzilla.
Lost in Translation has analyzed the two American-made Godzilla movies, both the 1998 version and the 2014. The history of Godzilla and Gojira are expanded in those, but the short version is that title kaiju began as a message about the horrors of the atomic age, espeically the atomic bomb. As the franchise progressed, Godzilla became the defender of the Earth, though not necessarily of humanity has he rampages through Tokyo leaving massive collateral damage in his wake. The 2014 Hollywood version changed the message, from the dangers of the atomic era to the dangers of climate change.
However, the 1998 and 2014 versions were not the first American adaptations. Prior to them, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera licensed the character in 1978 from Toho to create the Godzilla cartoon. What better way to entertain young children on a Saturday morning than watching a giant monster rampaging through the cities of the world? Considering that local stations, particularly in the UHF band, had more control over their time slots than today and had more hours to fill with local programming, both weekend afternoons and late-night and overnight hours, the very same young children watching the Godzilla cartoon would be able to watch an older Godzilla movie later the same weekend.
The series followed the crew of the Calico, a research vessel travelling the world’s oceans. While Captain Carl Majors was in charge of the ship, Dr. Quinn Darien was the head of the unspecified research project. Quinn had two members of her team, Brock, her research assistant, and Pete Darien, her nephew. Rounding out the team is Godzooky, Godzilla’s young nephew. When the crew of the Calico is in a tight spot, they summon Godzilla himself.
A typical episode would have the Calico in a location by the ocean making a new discovery, usually related to the giant monster of the week. The crew investigates, with Pete and Godzooky often told to remain behind because of the danger. If they were told, eventually they disobey and follow. The giant monster is found and Godzilla is summoned. The first fight between titans is a draw as the newcomer’s abilities either force Godzilla to back down or allows it to run away. The team tracks the giant monster and summons Godzilla one more time for the final fight. The draw of the show, though, is the battle between giant monsters, and the cartoon does deliver.
While the crew of the Calico was created for the cartoon, Godzooky is based on an existing character in the Godzilla mythos – Minilla. First appearing in Son of Godzilla, Minilla, known as Minya in some dubs, is the son of Godzilla. Both Minilla and Godzooky share some traits, including blowing smoke rings instead of fire and being young giant monsters. Godzooky was in the cartoon to appeal to the kids; he is very much a lovable pet who gets into trouble but is too cute to be angry with for too long. He is also very much child-like in that he wants to help even if he isn’t able to be effective.
The animation of the rest of the cast is along the lines of Hanna-Barbera’s own Jonny Quest. Techniques developed with the various Scooby-Doo series can be seen, particularly as the crew runs as a group. Godzilla is very much in line with his cinematic appearances. However, one of the draws of the movies, the casual destruction of cities as Godzilla stomps through, was reduced or completely removed, thanks to Broadcast Standards and Practices.. BS&P had strict guidelines on what could and could not be shown, and things like breathing fire on people and crushing buildings and cars underfoot were against the guidelines. As a result, Godzilla tended to use laser beams from his eyes more this is atomic breath, which was turned into a flame breath.
While Toho licensed the character, they didn’t license Godzilla’s roar. The studio worked around that limitation by hiring Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch on The Addams Family and Ruk on the Star Trek episode, “What Little Girls Are Made Of”, to give voice to Godzilla. Cassidy’s work, combined with the animation of the title character, gave weight to the monster, keeping the fierceness associated with Godzilla.
Given that the cartoon was meant for a younger Saturday morning audience, Hanna-Barbera succeeded in what they set out to do. Godzilla lasted two season, and ran until 1981 on NBC. While not the best adaptation it could have been, the studio’s limitations, imposed from within by format and target audience and from outside by Broadcast Standards and Practices, meant that the production was going to hit diminishing returns. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but the Godzilla cartoon did remember the key elements to the kaiju‘s fame.
A few tidbits for the month. The big news involves the Doctor Strange movie.
Jem and the Holograms comic due in March.
The new design for the characters has been released. The art is updated while still keeping to the original looks of the dolls and TV series. The hair is outrageous, as to be expected, but either hair spray or holographic display can explain it.
Benedict Cumberbatch to start as Doctor Strange.
Marvel has confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the title role in Doctor Strange, the first of the Phase 3 movies. All Marvel needs to do now is get Loki in the movie.
JK Rowling releasing new Harry Potter.
The releases started on December 12. Among the works are stories about the Malfoy family, Prof. McGonigle before Hogwarts, and how Floo Powder is made.
TOHO announces first Godzilla movie since hiatus.
TOHO will be ending the fallowing of Godzilla movies in 2016. The success of the 2014 American Godzilla has encouraged TOHO in bringing back the iconic kaiju.
Archie Comics restarting at #1.
Mark Waid and Fiona Stevens will helm the title after the reboot. Archie Comics, the publisher, has been on a rejuvenation spree of late, adding darker elements while still being family friendly.
SyFy picks up Krypton.
Air date is still unknown, but SyFy will air the Superman prequel series, Krypton, which will follow Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman. As with the other DC properties airing on television, there is no connection to the cinematic releases.
Titans pilot to shoot in 2015.
Geoff Johns confirmed that Titans, the live-action version of the follow-up to /Teen Titans/, will have a pilot filmed in 2015. Nightwing, aka Dick Greyson, has been confirmed as one of the characters and rumours have added Starfire and Raven. The show will draw influence from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s New Teen Titans.
Over the course of writing Lost in Translation, I’ve seen movies that caught the core of works perfectly and I’ve seen movies that missed the target to the degree of not even being in the same ballpark. It’s easy enough in the latter case to point out just what went so horribly wrong. Is it possible to redeem those movies, to take what went wrong and put it right? With some movies, it is, and the Fix-It Shop will explore those possibilities. With this inaugural entry, I will go back to the 1998 Godzilla.
The 1998 Godzilla had many problems, but only really went off the rails when Zilla reached New York City. Prior to that point, the movie played out as the original Gojira had, with the monster being hinted at instead of shown. When Zilla appears, then problems start. The obvious fixes were done in the 2014 Godzilla, keeping the focus on Godzilla. Even with the human element being front and centre, Godzilla’s battle with the MUTOs were still the central conflict. With that fixed, what can be done with the rest of the 1998 film?
The core problem with the latter half of the ’98 Godzilla was the shift in tone and genre. The first half was a kaiju movie. The second half added action and comedy, taking focus away from Zilla. Yet, that element could work in its own movie, away from Godzilla. Having the most famous kaiju off the poster frees up expectations. The entire subplot involving the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure* is now available on its own. Jean Reno is too good to waste.
In Godzilla, the French Directorate had a division set up for the research and containment of kaiju and was more prepared for Zilla than either the Japanese or the Americans. The agent in charge, Philippe Roaché, played by Reno, managed to protray himself as an insurance investigator and as an American soldier**. Let’s take him and his team and change their approach just a little. After the events in New York, the existance of giant monsters is no longer a secret. When a major American metropolis with several media headquarters, from television to print, gets trashed and evacuated, it’s news. Even in 1998, the twenty-four hour news cycle existed, with CNN being the major outlet. Roaché needs a new way to research while keeping his connections to the Directorate hidden. Anyone who sees him or his team may remember him from New York.
The solution? A front company, funded by the Directorate, that investigates kaiju sightings. The company can’t be Fortune 500; monster hunting has never been portrayed as profitable in TV or movies. Sam and Dean of Supernatural make money through credit card scams. The Ghostbusters put all their earnings into maintenance and paying fines. Roaché’s company, thus, is a small one, using grants for the most part as it develops anti-kaiju weaponry and hunts giant monsters. Having no official government status means the team must get into sites under attack through subterfuge, allowing Roaché to be an insurance investigator, a military officer, a university researcher, and anything else needed.
Tone will be key. As mentioned above, the latter half of Godzilla changed genre without a clutch, becoming an action comedy. The change was dissonant in the ’98 film, but if the new movie – let’s give it the working title Kaiju Hunters – starts as such, with the team in action against a lawyer-friendly version of a known giant monster, then the audience won’t have a problem with the approach. Ideally, the tone of Kaiju Hunters should be along the lines of Ghostbusters, Arachnophobia, and Tremors; a bit of horror, a bit of comedy, a bit of action, and monsters.
Casting will be important. Matthew Broderick was an odd choice and looked out of place in the 1998 film. Broderick is better known for comedies, not action. Given the change in tone above, he might fit in better, the field researcher brought into the company at the end thanks to the events during Kaiju Hunters. This will give the audience the outsider viewpoint to follow to learn about the company and its secrets. The rest of the cast are company employees, either hired on as staff or assigned by the Directorate.
Will Kaiju Hunters be successful? The ultimate question, with no easy answer. There’s no real built-in draw, unlike Godzilla of any year. Reno and Broderick aren’t household names. It may come down to budget. Is Kaiju Hunters blockbuster material? No. A lower budget may make the movie profitable, though. It will be a balancing act, finding a way to draw in audiences without needing an Avengers-sized number of people watching. What do you think? What would you do to fix the 98 Godzilla?
Next week, the December news round up.
* The French intelligence service, literally, the General Directorate for External Security
** Albeit, based on Elvis Presley.
Four weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at the 1998 adaptation of Godzilla. To summarize the previous review, the 1998 adaptation had a good start, mirroring the original Gojira but fell apart with the monster reached Manhattan. The other issue the adaptation had was that the titular monster didn’t look like the iconic Godzilla. The planned reboot/remake trilogy turned into a short-lived animated series. GINO* wasn’t disavowed, but Toho renamed the monster to “Zilla”.
Time passes, as it is wont to do. Godzilla is too iconic to leave fallow. Toho released a Godzilla movie a year from 1999 until 2004, then left the franchise to fallow for a decade. A second wholly American production was started, becoming the 2014 adaptation, Godzilla. To demonstrate that lessons were learned with the 1998 adaptation, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. released a theatrical poster with their Godzilla, looking like an update on the classic instead of a rebuild.
The adaptations starts with a montage of classified files, a mix of actual historical footage from the atomic tests and film from the fictional group, Monarch, implying that the testing at Bikini Atoll was to destroy a giant monster, code named “Godzilla”. The film then picks up in the Philippines in 1999 as scientists converge on a pit mine collapse. The bottom of the mine fell into a cavern. Exploring the cave, the scientists, led by Ishiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe, find fossils and two large spore-like objects. One is dormant, possibly dead. The other, though, has broken open. A trail from the cavern, burrowing to the surface, leads to the ocean.
In Japan, at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, seismic sensors start going off, each event larger than the previous. The plant prepares for a massive earthquake, but Joe Brody thinks the seismic readings are something else. By the time the order to shut down the reactor is given, it’s too late. The reactor enters meltdown. In the depths of the reactor, Joe’s wife, Sandra was leading a team of technicians to try to shut the reactor down gracefully when the reactor core is breached. Sandra’s team is unable to escape and is trapped when access to the core has to be shut to prevent a new Chernobyl.
Fifteen years later, US Navy Lieutenant Ford Brody, son of Joe and Sandra, returns from the Middle East to his family in San Francisco. After the joyous reunion, Ford receives a call from the American consulate in Japan, informing him that his father has been arrested for violating the Janjira quarantine zone. Ford flies to Tokyo to bail his father out. Since Sandra’s death, Joe has been convinced that the cause of the reactor breech and meltdown was something other than an earthquake. His proof, in the form of disks and papers, lies in his old home inside the quarentine zone. Joe convinces Ford to go with him into the zone.
Inside the quarantine zone, nature is well on its way to retaking the abandoned city. Plants overgrow cars and houses. Two dogs run past Joe and Ford. Joe checks his Geiger counter; there’s no appreciable radiation, contrary to official reports. Joe removes his breathing mask and promptly fails to die an agonizing death. At their old home, Joe recovers his proof, in time for him and his son to be arrested again. Instead of going to jail, the Brodies are taken to the power plant. Monarch scientists, including Serizawa, are on site. Serizawa compares the seismic readings he’s getting from the plant with the results Joe has, confirming one of the scientist’s suspicions. With the increased seismic activity, the secret kept within the Janjira facility emerges from the reactor core. A giant monster, a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism or MUTO, crawls out, destroying its containment and causing havoc as it releases an electromagnetic pulse. The MUTO escapes, leaving Ford injured and Joe dying.
In the aftermath, Ford is brought up to speed, including the Monarch information shown at the start of the movie and the existence of a monster, Gojira, codenamed Godzilla, that the atomic bomb testing was meant to destroy. The MUTO had caused the mine collapse in 1999 and had burrowed its way to the Janjira plant, where it chrysalized and fed off the radiation from the reactor core. Serizawa postulates that both Gojira and the MUTO were from a previous age where the radiation levels were much higher. With the use of atomic energy since the middle of the Twentieth Century, the MUTO was awakened and attracted by the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant. Ford explains his father’s findings, that Joe believed that the odd seismic readings were a form of echolocation, sending a ping of sorts, and receiving an answer.
The US Navy, taking over from Monarch, tracks the MUTO to Hawaii. The problem the Navy is having stems from the EMP disruption the MUTO puts out. Too close, and all electronic circuits get fried. It makes locating the MUTO difficult. What does help is the loss of a Russian submarine whose beacon is picked up off Hawaii. Ford is sent off the aircraft carrier to go home when the carrier is fifty kilometres off-shore from Honolulu. A special forces team is sent to recover the Russian beacon on one of the islands. The team, instead, finds the sub in the middle of the island’s jungle, along with the MUTO chewing on the sub’s nuclear reactor.
A new object appears on the carrier’s sonar. Its arrival in Hawaii is preceded by a tsunami, flooding the streets of Honolulu. The Navy engages the MUTO, but it sends out an EMP burst that not only disables fighter jets but shuts down Hololulu. The second contact swims into visual range and under of the US fleet. The alpha predator himself has arrived – Godzilla. American troops try shooting Godzilla after he makes landfall, doing less damage than a mosquito does to a human.
The fight in Honolulu between Godzilla and the MUTO is short and indecisive, with the MUTO flying away. The destruction in their wake, though, is on the scale of major earthquakes. Ford finds an US Army unit to hook up with. Godzilla returns to swimming after the MUTO, now with the US fleet as escorts. A third contact is detected in the western US. A question comes up, why would the MUTO call Godzilla if the latter is a predator. The answer is, the MUTO wasn’t. A check of the American nuclear waste storage in the deserts of Nevada discovers that what was once an underground vault is now open to the sky. A second MUTO, wingless but similar to the first, walks through Las Vegas, leaving more destruction. The difference in appearance leads Serizawa to hypothesize that the two MUTOs are the same species, just different sexes. The seismic activity was the mating call and return of the monsters. Tracking of both MUTOs and Godzilla shows a convergence in San Francisco.
The movie builds up to the battle royale, Godzilla against the two MUTOs. At the same time, the movie remembers the human element. Godzilla and the MUTOs are treated as acts of nature, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and destructive. Through Serizawa, the idea of Godzilla as the defender of the Earth is brought up. While Godzilla is the defender, humanity isn’t necessarily considered to be part of the balance. It is human acts that awaken the MUTOs, the use of nuclear energy and the disposal of atomic waste attract the MUTOs. It is only when Godzilla steps in as a force of nature on his own are the MUTOs defeated.
Viewers who want to see a monster versus monster battle will be disappointed in the movie. The conflict is built over time, giving the audience glimpses of what the fight will be like at the end. The filmmakers focus on the human element, the people affected by the destruction wrought. While Godzilla in the adaptation isn’t a symbol of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he is symbolic of the damage being done to the planet, of the extreme weather causing powerful storms that leave coastal cities and even some inland cities powerless.
As an adaptation, the 2014 Godzilla calls back to the themes of the original Gojira, with the changes mentioned above. The filmmakers add touches throughout the movie, harkening to other Godzilla movies. The monster is referred to by Serizawa as Gojira, a TV news broadcast has the label “King of Monsters” below Godzilla as he swims back into the Pacific Ocean. Godzilla looked like Godzilla, and several scenes had him standing in iconic poses, including when he used his atomic breath. Just as important, Godzilla sounded like Godzilla; the improvement of sound effects augmented the monster’s voice. The MUTOs, created for the adaptation, still fit within the Godzilla mythos.
Helping the adaptation is the avoidance of having the story set solely in the US. The movie acknowledges the Japanese heritage of Godzilla, setting the first portion of the film in Japan. Both Hawaii and San Francisco have large Japanese populations. Care was taken to keep Godzilla in a heroic mold, even with the swath of destruction he left behind. The biggest drawback, if it can be called such, is how long it takes to get a good view of the star attraction. The movie acts as an origin story, introducing the audience to the director’s vision of Godzilla.
While success of a movie isn’t indicative of the success of adapting**, the age of the character, sixty years old as of 2014, is key in whether the audience accepts or disdains an adaptation. In the case of the 2014 Godzilla, audiences accepted the character in the movie and, indeed, the movie itself, making the adaptation popular enough to justify a sequel. The movie wasn’t written with a sequel hook, but Legendary Pictures has licensed several more characters from Toho, including King Ghidorah and Rodan.
Next week, Jack the Giant Slayer.
* GINO – Godzilla In Name Only.
** See also, Scott Pilgrim vs the World.
The atomic bomb has been used just twice in war, both times on Japan. The destruction the bomb wrought led to nuclear escalation between the US and the USSR, and a permanent change in the Japanese psyche. Post-war atomic testing on uninhabited islands still had fallout. Even now, nuclear energy isn’t trusted fully. In science fiction, atomic radiation leads to mutations. Marvel Comics’ X-Men are specifically called the Children of the Atom. Spider-Man gained his powers from a irradiated arachnid. Going back further, though, leads to the grandfather of atomic changes.
Gojira first hit Japanese movie theatres in 1954 and featured a monster that had been reawakened by nuclear weapons testing. The monster symbolized the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, something Japan had experienced first hand. Although not the first kaiju*, Gojira became the example of what giant monsters, daikaiju are. The movie starts with ships being attacked at sea near Odo Island by an unknown vessel, one that disappears as quick as it appears. The investigators discover that the islanders used to sacrifice girls to a monster called Gojira to appease it. During a storm that wracks the island, more destruction occurs, far worse than accountable by the storm. This time, there is a witness who can identify the cause – Gojira!
An archaeologist discovers large radioactive footprints and a trilobite that is normally found in the depths of the sea. An alarm sounds, and the archaeologist, along with the villagers, run to the hills, only to meet Gojira himself, towering over the island. A short, desperate skirmish breaks out long enough for the villagers to get to safety. Gojira returns to the ocean.
In Tokyo, the findings are given over to a commission. Nuclear explosions are responsible for reawakening and freeing the daikaiju. A discussion about whether to reveal the monster’s existance or not later, the public is informed. The Japanese Self-Defense Force sends ships to drop depth charges. Instead of killing Gojira as planned, the charges merely attract his attention to the ships and Japan. Gojira attacks Tokyo, emerging from Tokyo Bay, leaving a trail of destruction not seen since the Allied bombing of the city. Emergency measures are put in place, including a fence of electrical towers that will give off a 50 000 volt shock when walked through and the evacuation of Tokyo. Gojira returns. The electric fence does little to slow the monster down; Gojira destroys the wires with his atomic breath. Tanks fire but can’t penetrate Gojira’s hide. Once again, Tokyo suffers under the rage of the daikaiju until he leaves in the morning.
However, Tokyo may have a chance at surviving. Daisuke Serizawa has developed the Oxygen Destroyer, a side effect of his research into cleaner energy. The Oxygen Destroyer does exactly what it says on the tin – it destroys oxygen atoms. Anything needing to breathe oxygen is left asphyxiating. Serizawa is well aware of the potential misuse of his invention, though, and is hesitant to use it. Once he sees the extent of Gojira’s destruction, he changes his mind. To be safe, he burns his notes on the Oxygen Destroyer so that they can’t be used to create more. Serizawa is taken by ship to the last known location of Gojira. Finding the monster, Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destroyer, then cuts his own oxygen cable. Both he and Gojira perish.
The implications of Gojira, that the monster is more an unstoppable act of nature caused by nuclear radiation, is woven through the movie. The military is helpless as Gojira rampages through Tokyo. The destruction is immense. Nuclear weapons testing led to Gojira’s reawakening, which in turn led to Tokyo’s destruction.
In 1956, the movie was retitled Godzilla: King of Monsters and brought over to North America. New scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr were added to reduce the amount of dubbing needed. Burr played an American reporter who was on the scene when Godzilla first attacked Tokyo, telling the story as a flashback. This Godzilla was then released in Japan in 1957 and was popular like the original.
Despite being an actor in a rubber suit, Godzilla moved like the giant monster he was supposed to be. Part of this came from the sheer mass of the original suit. The added verisimulitude helped win popularity, which led to Toho producing /Godzilla/ movies through to 2004. Along the way, other daikaiju either fought or teamed up with Godzilla, inluding King Kong, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla. Godzilla also served as inspiration for other giant monsters, including Gorgo and Gamera. As mentioned, Godzilla wasn’t the first giant monster, but he was the most influential. Few other daikaiju had songs written about them. Over the years, Godzilla became less a danger and more the protector of Earth, defending the planet against would-be destroyers and conquerors, including humans.
In 1992, Tri-Star picked up the rights to Godzilla with an eye on making a trilogy. The first, Godzilla, was released in 1998. It starts much the same as the original, a fish canning ship is attacked by an unknown creature and is found washed ashore, this time in the Atlantic. The US sends the military to investigate, pulling in experts in biology and paleontology, including Nick Tatopoulos. Nick, played by Matthew Broderick, was pulled from his investigation of the effects of radiation on worms in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Meanwhile, Philippe Roaché, a French insurance investigator, is also looking into the attack on the canning ship, ostensibly for purposes of insurance payout. He tracks down a survivor of the attack, who is only able to say one word, “Gojira.”
Early appearances of Godzilla are brief; the most seen of the monster are the spikes along his back. It’s only when Godzilla arrives in New York City that the audience sees him fully. Instead of being an actor in a rubber suit, the new Godzilla is rendered with CGI. Jurassic Park, originally released in 1993, helped make great strides in rendering dinosaurs with CG, and the new Godzilla benefited. However, the new Godzilla was based on iguanas and lizards, creating a new look for the giant monster. Still, New York suffered the same fate Tokyo did in the original Gojira, with massive damage to streets and buildings. And, just like the original, the military was helpless to stop the monster.
As New York is evacuated to New Jersey, Mayor Ebert tries to stay on top of matters, more to help get re-elected than anything else. During the chaos, the military loses sight of Godzilla. As blame gets thrown about, the civilian specialists work out what happened just as an Army recon squad reports that one building they checked had no more floor. Godzilla went underground. Nick comes up with an idea to get the monster back above ground to give the Army another go at him – fish. A large pile of fish is dumped near Times Square and manhole covers removed to let Godzilla smell the bait. The plan works; Godzilla breaks through the street from underneath and goes after the fish, giving time for the squadron of Apache helicopters to move in and attack. The helicopters’ missiles are useless, missing Godzilla and destroying the Chrysler Building instead. The reason – the missiles carried are heat seekers and have nothing to lock on. Being cold-blooded, Godzilla is the same temperature as his surroundings. Switching to miniguns, the Apaches pursue Godzilla through the ruins of mid-town Manhattan. The tall buildings become a maze, and the pilots lose the monster. The monster, however, did not lose the helicopters, and prey becomes predator again. Hemmed in by the towers, the helicopter pilots aren’t able to pull away* from Godzilla and are made a snack. Godzilla disappears again.
Nick makes a few calculations and realizes that the amount of fish from the canning ship, from three fishing ships that disappeared, and from the pile he had the Army make was far more food than needed. He grabs a sample of Godzilla’s blood, then finds an open pharmacy where he buys every pregnancy test available. While in the pharmacy, he runs into an old girlfriend, one who had rejected his marriage proposal. He takes her back to his tent, doubling as a lab, catching up on old times along the way. Nick finds out that his ex works at a TV station, then finds out that Godzilla may very well be pregnant, either about to lay eggs or has just laid them. The biologist runs off to warn the Army of his discovery and to perform proper tests to confirm his results.
With Nick gone, his ex, Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo, takes a tape showing the path Godzilla has taken, including footage of the survivor saying, “Gojira,” to her station. The tape is immediately placed on the air, right as Nick is trying to explain the pregnancy. Nick is kicked off the investigation. As he leaves, he meets Philippe. Nick explains the problem and gets Philippe, played by Jean Reno, on his side. Turns out, Philippe isn’t an insurance investigator; he works for the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure, or the French Secret Service. Philippe has been tracking the destruction from French Guyana to New York with an eye on stopping the monster. Nick, Philippe, and Philippe’s small team head into New York to look for the eggs.
Back in New Jersey, the collective armed forces of the US come up with a new plan to kill Godzilla. Once again luring him out, the Air Force directs Godzilla towards the ocean, where two submarines wait. Torpedoes are fired, but Godzilla is not only able to out-swim them, he lures them into one of the subs, destroying it. A second brace of torpedoes is fired and this time, Godzilla is hit. Mayor Ebert hears the news and starts insisting on having the evacuees returned to their homes in Manhattan. Colonel Hicks, played by Kevin Dunn, wants to confirm the death of Godzilla.
Back on the island, Nick and the French spies discover Godzilla’s nest. All of seats in the stands of Madison Square Garden have an egg, each one on the verge of hatching. As the Godzilla-lings emerge, hungry, they go after the fish and anything that smells like fish, including Nick and the French. The group makes the only rational decision possible – to run, blocking the doors to the arena. However, they’re still stuck inside the building. Fortunately, Audrey and her cameraman, Animal, were following him and know where the broadcast room is. Philippe, the sole French survivor of his team, assists in unlocking the door to the broadcast room. Audrey forces a break into the TV station’s live feed, letting the Army know where the offspring are. Nick joins her and explains the problem; Godzilla’s offspring are asexual, born pregnant, and are hungry; basically, they’re less fluffy tribbles.
Colonel Hicks calls for an air strike, giving the survivors inside Madison Square Garden six minutes to escape. It’s close, but they do get out. The baby Godzillas are derstroyed, but Godzilla returns. During the chase, where the heroes have borrowed a taxi to try to outrun a monster that can hit 80mph, Nick gets a message through to Colonel Hicks about Godzilla. A last ditch plan is made; draw out the monster to a bridge so that the Air Force can use missiles without buildings being locked on instead. The first missile strike staggers the monster; the second kills it.
The first half of the movie does a good job recreating the events of the original Gojira. The problem begins when the tone of the movie switches from “giant monster” to “action”. The original Godzilla took extreme efforts to stop; the subsequent films either have Godzilla as an act of nature, impossible to stop, or a protector, one who inflicts a lot of collateral damage. The design of the new Godzilla is closer to Repitilicus and The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, with a touch of The Giant Gila Monster. Toho, the company that created the Godzilla franchise, has renamed the monster in the movie “Zilla”, but hasn’t completely disavowed the film.
The scene involving Zilla chasing the Apache helicopters had an odd special effects failure. Nothing wrong with Zilla’s CG. New York just looked like it was a model, as did the helicopters. Given the nature of the movie, was it an error or was it deliberate, a callback to the use of a model Tokyo and model military vehicles in Gojira? Given that the rest of the movie didn’t show any problems, the choice seems deliberate.
Godzilla has issues as an adaptation, as pointed out above. The issues, though, do really start after Zilla reaches Manhattan. Until then, it does feel like a proper adaptation of Gojira.
* Apparently, the pilots forgot that they could go in three dimensions, specifically up. The Apache has a service ceiling of about 21 000 feet, much higher than even the tallest building in New York City.