Godzilla always returns. You can’t keep a good monster down. A new Godzilla film is being produced by Legendary Pictures and is scheduled for release in 2014, which will be the 60th anniversary of Gojira, the first screen appearance of the perennially popular atomic mutation. (The image below is the only piece of the new teaser trailer which has been leaked to the internet, but it’s not very clear.) For those who are unfamiliar with the six decade history of the most popular monster of the Japanese film industry, here’s everything you need to know about the king of the monsters.
Godzilla–originally called “Gojira”–was inspired by (some might say stolen from) the classic film the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, an American hit from 1953, featuring special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The stories are very similar. A gigantic prehistoric beast is awoken under the sea and mutated by radiation, then comes to the surface to wreak havoc.
Godzilla was intended as a metaphor for the atomic bomb blasts in Japan during 1945 which were still a very recent thing in 1954 when the first Godzilla film debuted. Godzilla represented the horrors of atomic weapons. The Japanese, not surprisingly, saw the A-Bomb as an uncontrollable threat; a sort of monster that could level cities. Godzilla embodied their nuclear anxiety. The name” Gojira” came from a combination of the word Gorilla and the Japanese word for whale. His appearance was developed by artists who combined the appearance of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus. On screen, Godzilla was a rampaging 300-foot-tall reptile whose grey, scaly skin was virtually impervious to destruction. His heart was a living nuclear reactor and he could spit out an atomic heat ray from his mouth. Behind the scenes, Godzilla was nothing more than a man in a specially made monster costume. This technique was called “suitmation”. Even for its day, this was not sophisticated (America had been doing stop-motion special effects since the Lost World film in 1925) but that didn’t seem to bother anyone. In fact, the image of Godzilla trampling over a model of Tokyo is an iconic pop culture image today.
The original Godzilla film, Gojira, debuted in 1954 and became a colossal hit for Toho Studios in Japan. The studio had been struggling in recent years and the massive success of Gojira allowed it to regain financial stability. The following year, the film was released in America under the altered title Godzilla: King of the Monsters and although it was severely edited (Scenes with America Actor Raymond Burr were spliced into the film, and other scenes were cut for time) it was just as big a blockbuster in the US as it was in Japan.
No surprise, then, that a sequel for Gojira/Godzilla was quickly planned. The second film in the franchise Gojira’s Counter Attack debuted in 1955, less than a year after Gojira. Although it didn’t compare to the original in quality, it was still very profitable. It was released in America under the inexplicable title Gigantus the Fire Monster but subsequently re-released as Godzilla Raids Again. This film gives Godzilla his first giant monster opponent; a gimmick that would eventually become standard for the King of Monsters. Angilas, a very large Ankylosaurus fights it out with Godzilla, with Japan suffering the consequences of their savage duel.
The most popular and profitable of the Godzilla series came in 1962 when Godzilla met the prototype of giant monsters…King Kong. The film was a cross-company effort by Toho and Universal studios, who owned the rights to Kong. The idea came from special effect expert Willis O’Brien who’d created the original stop motion effects for the 1933 classic King Kong film. O’Brien’s career was in a rut and he very much wanted to do another Kong film to jump-start his slump. When Universal refused to buy his proposed script “King Kong meets Frankenstein”, O’Brien took the idea to Toho, knowing that they were very hot for ideas for new monster films. Although Toho didn’t like the Frankenstein plot either, they arranged with O’Brien to borrow the film rights to King Kong for use in a trilogy of movies. (O’Brien never got to do the effects, since Toho didn’t use stop-motion but they rewarded him with a substantial finder’s fee.) Toho had been struggling to come up with an idea for Godzilla’s third film and King Kong seemed to be a gift from above. The stage was set for the most popular monster fight ever. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was a phenomenal blockbuster and remained the highest grossing Japanese film for a very long time. The film was also a hit in America.
The Godzilla franchise continued full steam ahead for years to come. The sequels, in order, were, Mothra vs. Gojira (AKA Godzilla vs. the Thing); The Three Giant Monster’s Greatest Battle (AKA Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster); Invasion of the Astro Monster (AKA Monster Zero); Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (AKA Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster); Gojira’s Monster Island Battle (AKA The Son of Godzilla); March of the Monsters (AKA Destroy All Monsters); All Monsters Attack (AKA “Godzilla’s Revenge); “Gojira vs. Hedorah (AKA “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster”); Gojira vs. Gigan (AKA Godzilla on Monster Island); Gojira vs. Megaro (AKA “Godzilla vs. Megalon”); Gojira vs. the Bionic Monster (AKA Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla); Mecha-Gojira’s Counter Attack (AKA the Terror of Mecha-Godzilla);
The series went on a 10 year hiatus and returned in 1984 (the 30th anniversary of Gojira) with a bigger budget and better special effects. This new series didn’t acknowledge the events of the previous series, except for the 1954 original. It was a re-imagining of the Godzilla legend, starting with The Return of Gojira released the following year in America as Godzilla 1985. The six sequels were Godzilla vs. Biolante, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla and finally, Godzilla vs. Destroyah. The final film featured the on-screen death of Godzilla, who dissolved due to a nuclear melt-down in his own body. It was a rather sad moment for long-time fans.
Godzilla didn’t stay dead, and several more films were released in the 21st century, each of greatly varying quality. But they were all better than the American made Godzilla (1998) starring Matthew Broderick and directed by Dean Devlin. Devoted fans hated it. Let’s hope that this latest reboot of Godzilla avoids the errors made in the 1998 fiasco, which deviated so far from the source material that the creature from the film has gotten such nicknames as Freudzilla, Fakezilla and GINO (Godzilla In Name Only). Fans of Godzilla have expectations that the filmmakers need to meet, otherwise this movie could receive the same savage thrashing that fans and critics gave the 1998 version. The last ever Godzilla film, Godzilla: Final War, was a nostalgic treat for old fans because it brought back almost every other giant monster Toho ever created for a series of epic brawls with the king of the monsters.
Now Godzilla comes smashing his way back to the big screen again. The new film will be directed by Gareth Edwards who promises a new and “very serious” take on the big guy. The studio is taking a chance by hiring a novice director with no major films to his credit as the man to revamp an iconic movie monster. Edwards says that this version of Godzilla is “not going to be a science fiction film” but rather a realistic attempt to portrayal what would actually happen in the modern world if such a creature really appeared. From the sound of it, this new Godzilla may be treading into Cloverfield territory but it’s too early to say yet, since they’re still working on the script. The original draft of the screenplay was penned by David Goyer but a rewrite by Max Borenstein is in the works. Hopefully, the 60th anniversary reboot will be worthy of the king of monsters.