Why Godzilla is Still Relevant Today
When Godzilla premiered in Japan in 1954, it opened to largely negative reviews. Critics felt the film was exploitative, playing off the country’s traumatic memories of the devastating nuclear attacks of 1945. Godzilla has come to be regarded as a classic, and the original film became the beginning of one of history’s longest running film franchises, encompassing 60 years, 30 movies and a slew of related works.
The origins of the giant monster movie can be traced to early kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”) films in Japan and the landmark 1933 RKO Pictures classic King Kong. When the Allied Forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the entire world changed, for none more so than the Japanese. A malevolent and staggeringly destructive force had appeared in our world, and Godzilla was the behemoth created to represent that force on film. The metaphor is made plain in the original film, when Godzilla is deduced by a scientist to be the result of nuclear testing.
The same origin story has accompanied Godzilla through his many film appearances, including the 1998 version directed by Independence Day‘s Roland Emmerich. Designed for the American blockbuster audience, Emmerich’s film has little in common with any of its predecessors. Godzilla looks more like an oversized T-rex than anything else, and indeed the film borrows heavily from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, right down to the velociraptor-like young that hatch from the eggs our antagonist lays in Madison Square Garden. Toho Ltd., production company for all the Japanese Godzilla films, does not include Emmerich’s film as part of the franchise’s continuity.
After the success of the 1954 Godzilla, Toho released a kaiju movie nearly every year thereafter, with increasing success in both Japanese and American markets. It wasn’t long before Godzilla could be seen on screen doing battle with all types of different monsters, including 1962’s wildly successful King Kong vs Godzilla. Afterwards, Toho began to collaborate regularly with American International Pictures for production and distribution. Their efforts grew the giant reptile into an international phenomenon, culminating in last year’s remake by director Gareth Edwards. Whatever one thinks of the film’s overall quality, the A-list cast, superb production values, and $528 million box office haul signify a new plateau in what is now a highly visible, heavily marketed blockbuster franchise. Today, many of films remain popular on streaming services and are regularly available on demand with Comcast and DirecTV offers.
The Godzilla brand is likely to grow exponentially in the near future, with Edwards set to direct a trilogy whose next installment arrives in 2018. Toho, the studio that started it all, will not only be releasing their first Godzilla feature in 12 years in 2016, but plans to open a Godzilla themed hotel and cinema this spring. A 39-foot tall bust of Godzilla will emerge from the theater’s roof, and hotel patrons next door will be able to stay in “Godzilla rooms” that contain movie memorabilia and a prominent view of the giant lizard’s head, in case you want him to watch you sleep.
Concepts like Godzilla do not lodge in the public consciousness so readily unless they tap into deep seated emotions. The idea that something so monstrous could emerge from the depths to destroy us all is a reflection of a common fear of something bigger than ourselves. For the Japanese in the 1950s, it was the atomic bomb. For modern audiences, it could be terrorism, hurricanes, the military industrial complex, even God. Whatever Godzilla represents, the response he provokes from audiences has led to a robust presence at the movie theater with undeniable staying power.
Guest Writer: Maria Ramos
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