Thursday, December 10, 2009

The once and future King.

Way back in the day, I was a pre-grade school kid driven with the rest of my family to the drive in theatre in my area this one night. Yes, one of those ancient and wonderful places where folks could park and watch a movie on a big-ass screen from the comfort of their car, while running back and forth to: 1) fetch snacks and stuff high in sugar and grease -- you know, stuff that tastes great -- or 2) go to the toilet or 3) both. You might have heard of them. You hardly see drive ins anymore these days because of things like 'progress' and 'home entertainment'.

Anyway, my most vivid memory from this night was that we were there to see a monster movie. I was a preschooler at the time. I wasn't aware enough to keep track of stuff like plot and character motivation in movies, or even the concept of a good story. I couldn't retent memory very well at the time either, like most kids. But I did know that it was a monster movie, and the word 'monster' lit up my interest in a way only a few other things can to a kid.

The movie in question was "Godzilla Vs. Megalon". It was part of a double-bill that night at the drive in; the second film was "The Giant Spider Invasion", and at least that stuck in my head, too. I remember feeling disappointed that dad and mom decided to leave the drive in just after the second film started. I wanted to stay to see if Godzilla would take on the giant spiders. I couldn't keep track of the plot of the first movie...I didn't give a shit about character motivation and things like that...I thought about how Megalon looked dumb instead of scary, and I forgot Gigan and Jet Jaguar.

What kept my attention directed to the film was GODZILLA...and like all kids who encounter him, I wanted to see him again and again. If you've seen Godzilla as a child, you know how amazing it was to see a green (originally gray), fire-breathing dinosaur taller than most buildings lay the smack down on the asses of less worthy monsters. As I'd come to realize in the time I had as a child before I grew up, the big guy wasn't just a monster, he was nothing more or less than the no-shit KING of the Monsters! For kids like me in America and across the world, Godzilla was as appealing as Santa Claus.

Godzilla took hold of me, and he hasn't let go since.

Growing up, I watched the King of the Monsters fight foes like Hedorah and Ghidrah. I watched him have a fight with an oversized lobster and lead a huge all-out brawl on Monster Island, and he teamed up with the likes of Rodan, Mothra and King Caesar. I saw the dumb Saturday morning toons with a Godzilla that wasn't nearly as cool as the 'real' one because not only did he look like crap and had that silly (yes, silly even for a kid) nephew Godzooky, he didn't have that roar. As I matured, I understood things I couldn't have before in that bittersweet way we all do as we mature. I became more aware of Godzilla's history and how he was the figurative creative fallout of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, which ended the Second World War. Godzilla was both the living embodiment of atomic destruction and nature's mutated fury woken up to punish humanity for unleashing the nuclear genie. I saw the very first black and white film in which Godzilla was anything but kid-friendly and truly horrifying as Raymond Burr could only watch and offer his testimony to the firestorm of destruction the monster wrought upon Japan. However. I won't even go into the bullshit that was the American iguana version of the King made by the guys who made "Independence Day".

I finally, after all these years (sigh, I'm old!), got the 1954/56 original on DVD today. :) I watched the version I remember best first, the American edit with Raymond Burr giving an American face (or better to say white face, and this isn't a trashing of's how things were in allegedly 'liberal' Hollywood back then) to the earth-shaking proceedings. Just like back in the day, it was freaking awesome. Godzilla was a scary monster in black and white, capable of terrible damage with even a simple flick of his tail. The undercurrent of his being an allegory to nuclear destruction was downplayed in favor of the spectacle, and any sympathy for the monster being awoken and mutated by H-bomb tests is given brief lip service and emphasis was purely on saving Japan and maybe the world. The English dubbing of the Japanese principal actors is scattershot, taking place now and then only to interact with Burr's character or translate a truly important scene. Yes, even with the mix of good and bad, it was great! I can't wait to have the spare time to see the original Japanese version subtitled, and see it in the way Godzilla's creators wanted people to see it.

I'm not too surprised there's still a part of me who doesn't want to grow up, the same inner child who will never leave us all, and still (I can't think of a better emotion to describe it) loved Godzilla. It didn't matter whether he was a primal force of destruction neither good nor evil, a sympathetic victim, or a kid-friendly hero defending the world against much nastier beasts. I honestly thought the inner child left me for quite some time, but nope, the kid's always been there. Proof of that is my renewed interest in the King of the Monsters. Maybe it's just nostalgia...maybe it's just the fact that seeing Godzilla beat the motherlovin' crap out of other monsters to reassert his dominance will always be damned cool! It was curiosity more than anything else that made me pick up a collector's set of the King's last three movies not long ago. All three were reimaginings of previous installments in the series, bringing improved special effects to the table and yet Godzilla and other monsters are still pleasantly in rubber suits.

All three films are great, and for a lot of reasons...nostalgia is one of the chief ones, I'll admit. "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla", for instance -- inspired by the classic "Godzilla Versus Mechagodzilla" -- was amazing in that it brought back the ORIGINAL King from 1954 and made him into a cybernetic Mechagodzilla to do battle with the Godzilla of the most recent generation! Try wrapping your imagination around that. Seriously. "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." was much more solemn in tone, but was also in part a remake of a fan favorite, "Godzilla Versus Mothra". But 'over-the-top' doesn't even start to describe "Godzilla: Final Wars", the last film in the franchise (so far!) that was a runaway roller coaster of a remake of the original monster mash, "Destroy All Monsters". This was a film that was clearly made by Godzilla fans for the fans, taking every film and generation of the series and bringing it all together into a brouhaha that has to be seen to be appreciated...and yet strangely, it feels like there isn't enough focus on the King himself. I don't know. Maybe the kid in me was a little disappointed not to see more of Godzilla in "Final Wars".

Damn, some things really haven't changed! :D

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