Godzilla Countdown: Day 1

A week from now, Hollywood is going to kill the king of the monsters. And this time he's not coming back. With gino 2 or "Godzilla" which is literally the laziest possible title (I suppose theoretically they could have just called it "Movie") for a movie ostensibly about or related to Godzilla in some way, being a AAA tentpole blockbuster style flick that caters specifically to the "nerd culture" "true gamer" and whatever the fuck else you want to call them synthetic demographic, which is just marketing speak for "18-24 year old men but under a label we invented to make them easier to control." While it may barely be possible that the movie itself ends up being no more offensive than the Hannah-Barbera cartoon or Peter Jackson's King Kong, this commandeering of what Godzilla is and the creation of an entirely new demographic that has absolutely no interest in anything that has to do with the real Godzilla is going to spell disaster regardless.

The problem is that money speaks, and Hollywood wants a product, not a character. By buying editorial space in sites like io9 or Kotaku or IGN they guarantee that mouth-breathing idiots with disposable incomes that need to be told what to consume will turn whatever they shit out into a franchise. This is business as a dictator, holding a vertical monopoly over both their engineered audience and media, as opposed to the middle man that is supposed to sell art to the audience that wants it. Not a mutually beneficial relationship, but rather a perpetual feedback machine where a few people in power pull the strings to maintain that power continuously with no other goal in mind, and at the expense of the resources they use to do it.

And you know what really kills me is that if they had just made a normal god damned Godzilla movie I wouldn't even care. I'll take off the They Live! glasses and consume if you just did what you were supposed to do and put forth the minimum effort to at least pretend like you care. If you don't think modern audiences want the very core of what makes a Godzilla movie a Godzilla movie well then why the fuck did you buy the license? Buy the license to something you know for a fact modern audiences DO want. Why is that so difficult for the suits to understand?

Things are also coming to a conclusion for me. In the past few days my mood has been swinging around more wildly as the last little bits of life I have left in me are going out. Godzilla has been a huge part of my life since before my earliest memories, the age of two to be precise, and much of who I am can be tracked using Godzilla as a measurement, so much so that having my life flash before my eyes basically looks like Godzilla clip show. I don't mean to sound shallow, there's more going on here and more to me than just that, but I think by the time I get up to Godzilla vs. Biollante what I'm talking about should be pretty clear.

If you haven't picked it up, what I'm talking about, and what this post is going to be the first part of, is a series where I watch every Godzilla movie, the one episode of Zone Fighter I have, the cartoon, hopefully Always 2, and assorted other bits over the course of a week leading up to May 16th. It's going to be as much of a retrospective of what was once the greatest monster that ever lived in the imagination of man as it will be an extremely personal journey for me. If that sounds like a bummer to you, then you don't have to read it. I don't really have an audience with this blog and I've only ever used it in the past for... well, things I just wanted to say at the time. This isn't going to be any different.

One last thing that I'll say before I get on with it is that I'm going to write these in real time. This intro is being written before I've started and each entry will be written after each I've watched the film in question. I don't really have a plan on what I'm going to get through today, but as we move along I'll have more of an intended structure.

So let's get on with it and start the final countdown of a Mal and her Monster:

1. Godzilla • ゴジラ (1954)

It's impossible to overstate the importance of this film, the people who made it, or the events that influenced it. Whole books could be written - and many have - on any one piece of story of Ishiro Honda's Godzilla. I am hard pressed to think of any film quite as significant, with quite as much of an influence on international culture as this. But I'm not here to just gush about the film, anyone can do that, I want to tell you why it's so important to me, not the entire rest of the world.

Nuclear weapons are the real doomsday weapon. You can't exaggerate this sort of thing. No other weapon in history continues to utterly terrify political leaders around the world almost 70 years after it's one and only use. This is the weapon to end all wars, a prospect so powerful that we don't even use it to that purpose, because the consequences are so damn high they threaten the entire planet. While the immediate fears over actual usage of such a weapon have dissipated with time as we've realized no one in a position to use a weapon like this is actually stupid enough to do it, the threat that is could pose has never been forgotten. Godzilla, the personification, not simply a metaphor, for this power, has likewise always been the be-all-end-all monster.

This is the first Godzilla movie and, I believe, first movie period I ever saw. I was too young at the time (two) to keep any memories from this, though. Early on this movie didn't come up much, and I remember a specific age when I actually called the monster "Rat-Godzilla" which was based on how I called Gamera "Turtle-Godzilla," and I didn't really recognize him as actually being Godzilla. That didn't last long, though, and while I was certainly aware of and very familiar with the American version featuring Raymond Burr as a child, it was never a "pick" for me. The Raymond Burr version is noticeably far less soul-crushingly miserable, but as a kid the combination of there not being an opponent, it being an origin story, the documentary style pacing, and the devotion of much of the film to letting you know just how sad everything was made it very much the antithesis of what I wanted to see when I sat down to watch Godzilla. I didn't dislike it by any means, I actually loved it, but it was a sometimes thing.

In high school some interesting things started to happen. For one, my love of dinosaurs turned into an actual curiosity about animals and history, especially once I realized that the outros of various documentaries I'd seen as a kid about the "possibility" that birds were dinosaurs meant that dinosaurs weren't extinct but were actually all around me I really started paying attention to birds and phylogeny. Because the present is made up solely of the sum total of the past, this new track as a history buff got me thinking about the world in an entirely different way, and what humanity's place in it was. What I knew about the current mass extinction we're causing at the time scared the living shit out of me.

What's more, that wonderful little invention we have that destroys everything utterly marks pretty clearly beginning of the end for us and, and I still believe this, is probably going to be the direct cause of our ultimate extinction. So I became one of those guys who actively wanted humans to go extinct, real fast. I wrote stack of short stories revolving entirely around this concept and one screenplay which featured it as a theme, but not a plot point. Now this is a thing I ended up growing out of since I realized the biosphere is probably gonna do fine since it survived the great dying, but there was a time when I was enraged at my own species and wished we would do all the other Earthlings a favor and just wipe ourselves out. This is the point at which I first see the original, uncut version of Godzilla and things start to come full circle.

For a while there in high school I also gave into the whole Heisei Gamera fad that was so popular back then. I still think the first two movies are fine, actually. The whole mythology of that series really resonated with teenage Trace, and so when I realized exactly how much more potent Godzilla was, I dropped that nonsense altogether. With Godzilla you have, well, Godzilla so it's automatically better, a personification of the actual thing that's going to kill us all eventually, and a movie that treats the subject with respect and gravity instead of snarky hippie nonsense. I had always appreciated the original Godzilla movie in my own way, but being reintroduced to it in a time where I'm still "finding myself" and in this particular time made me realize just how amazing and perfect this thing was.

My reintroduction to Godzilla, then, played perhaps not an insignificant part in me dropping the teenage exploration phase and realizing I'm really just an older version of the same five year old kid you loves Godzilla. The thing that, at that point, was going to help point me in the direction of where I had always wanted to go since I could remember, making monster movies. I decided after graduating that regardless of my interest in music or comedy or anything else deep down in my heart all I wanted to do was make Godzilla vs. Biollante. Don't worry, we'll get there.

My attitude towards the movie now have also essentially come full circle. Godzilla is a masterpiece, but it's also unrelentingly depressing. It's extremely hard for me to watch because I can't help but get sucked into all of its miserable glory. It's way heavy, as it should be for something of its subject matter, but Godzilla is a character with a long storied history and basically all of it is actually fun to watch other than this one exception. I don't mean to knock the movie by saying that I choose not to watch it most of the time, but when I want to see a Godzilla movie "we'll be joining your father soon" isn't really the first thing I think of.

As for the movie itself, one thing I'd like to get into for a bit, since this is the origin story, is Godzilla's origin. But I'll defer to Dr. Yamane on the matter:

Okay, so let me stop and explain what's going on here. I don't remember the specifics of where each came from, but one story had Godzilla be a type of animal from the Jurassic period, and another put his origin around 2mya because they wanted to tie it to the origin of man, which in 1954 was the time of the oldest hominins, I think. These got mix up and smudged together in the final filming script by guys who don't know why this sounds ridiculous, and as a result Dr. Yamane looks kinda like a tool. Not a problem, though, we'll just take both dates as important. The story of Godzilla's ancestry starts 200 million years ago, and ends 2 million years ago. That's sensible. In addition, the age of Gojirasaurus quayi is 210 million years ago, so this all checks out fine. Let's check back in with the professor now:

"During the following geological period, the Cretaceous, a creature somewhere between the marine reptiles and the evolving terrestrial animals was born. I am convinced there was such an intermediate creature. This creature, according to Odo Island folklore is called Godzilla. As we look at this photo of Godzilla's head from a hill on Odo Island, we can estimate that this creature stands approximately 50 meters tall. So, how can we explain the presence of such a creature during the present day? It probably survived by eating deep sea organisms occupying a specific niche."

 This paints an interesting picture, but the Engrish-like combination of transiliteration and script editors who don't really understand anything make the point a little muddy. When Dr. Yamane first sees Godzilla he immediately identifies him as being Jurassic in origin. Dr. Yamane realizes that Godzilla is 1. a type of Theropod dinosaur that's supposed to be extinct, 2. a primarily marine predator that has been affecting the fishing of Odo Island for generations, and 3. that said marine predator is walking around on land and, since Odo isn't crawling with infested with Godzilla eggs, presumably has some sort of island-hopping lifestyle. The origin of the large top predator Theropods lies in the Jurassic, and during the Cretaceous there was a boom in new types of marine amniotes. Godzilla is a transitionary form that's somehow connected to those two data points. The way it's phrased here, Dr. Yamane seems to suggest that a late surviving coelophysoid adapted to a marine lifestyle in order to survive under pressure from more advanced Theropods, and began to transition back into a terrestrial lifestyle during the Cretaceous. An amphibious animal certainly seems more likely to survive the aftermath of a mass extinction, such as crocodiles, ducks, and other assorted water/shore birds which made up whatever kinds of neoaves were around at the time.

Yamane goes further to suggest the reason these surviving Godzillasaurs have slipped past the radar is that they are deep sea predators, probably trench deep. This kind of specializing clashes a bit with the transitionary amphibious idea, though.

"However recent experimental nuclear detonations have drastically altered its natural habitat. I would even speculate that a hydrogen bomb explosion may have removed it from its surroundings. I have strong evidence to support my theory. First, the organism we found embedded in Godzilla's footprint, a trilobite."

"This creature has been extinct for two million years [ignore this], yet here it is in perfect physical condition. Next is the sediment that we found in the trilobite's shell. That sediment is sand. There is no doubt that this sand matches the deposits found from the Jurassic period. The sand is similar to the red clay found in the stratum of that particular period."

I'll be honest, I don't get it. First of all, trilobites when extinct in the Permian extinction, and didn't exist in the Jurassic, so unless in the Tohoverse they've already found Jurassic trilobites we're talking about a 252 million year long ghost lineage here. And what's this about sand? If the sediment dates back to that time then that's great, but all that tells us is that there's some Jurassic rocks wherever it is underwater where this trilobite lived. If I get Cretaceous chalk in my hair, it doesn't mean I lived in the Cretaceous period. What does this have to do with anything? Also, the revelation that LIVING TRILOBITES exist in the Tohoverse is never mentioned again by anyone anywhere ever. This is an enormous deal. If the trilobite was found in Godzilla's footprint, doesn't that imply that it's some sort of parasite like the Shokilas? Is it an unmutated Shokilas? Is Shokilas a fucking trilobite? But no, Shokilas is clearly supposed to be an isopod, right? What's going on here? This whole trilobite angle is never brought up again, and I've never been clear on what this is supposed to mean.

So anwyas, the origin story of Godzilla here is interesting because it doesn't give us something lazy like "suspended animation" (although Toho does eventually go there) but shows us a paleontologist faced with an extremely conspicuous ghost lineage and an even more conspicuous animal that we have legends about yet no one's seen because... because? So what we get is a best shot at a real explanation, an evolutionary history of an entirely unknown branch of Theropod unrecorded in the fossil record. What's wholly unique about this, even compared to things like World of Kong, is that we're actually given hypothetical animals that AREN'T Godzilla or his ancestor, there's a link in the chain between Gojirasaurus and Godzillasaurus we aren't being shown but that Dr. Yamane tells us he's convinced that there was such an intermediary creature. It's just one line, but what it suggests is unique in monster movie history.

2. Godzilla Raids Again • ゴジラ の 逆襲  (1955)

The quickie sequel of the series, Godzilla Raids Again is a first in many ways. First fight with another monster, first time a monster is dealt with via a convoluted scheme involving natural forces, first appearance of golden age regulars like Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchia, and Jun Tazaki, and a few other things I want to talk about in a bit more detail.

My initial experience with GRA was probably in 1992. At the time I had a specific group of Godzilla movies I was aware existed due to my having owned copies of them, since in those days there wasn't an internet or anything and also I was a really small kid. I can pinpoint it on that year because I remember I lived in Houston at the time, it was before I moved to Grapevine in 1993, and it was the last "new" Godzilla movie I remember before the move. The Godzilla canon at the time as far as I knew consisted of only 9 entries, one of which I only knew about but hadn't seen (Biollante).

It was a valentines day present from my mom, because I guess you get presents on valentines day? I'll be honest I've never understood that shitty pointless holiday. Something weird is that I was already totally enamored with Anguirus, still Angilas in 1992, even though my only real exposure to him at this point was in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and a breif bit in Godzilla vs. Megalon. I suppose this is related to introducing Anguirus as Godzilla's "friend" in GvsMG, but its affect was to make the knowledge that not only is there a Godzilla movie I've never heard of before, but his opponent is ANGUIRUS, who's supposed to be his best friend. That completely mystified at the time, and the movie itself which was so unlike any other Godzilla flick certainly didn't help explain any. Of course I now know no explanation was needed because this is Angy's first appearance, but back then it was like up was down and black was white.

The style of the movie immediately struck me as odd. Outside of the fast paced, feral-looking animalistic fight scenes, the movie is thick with unwanted vaguely racist narration and bad B-movie stock music. I hadn't seen Rodan yet either, so the narration took me out of the movie almost entirely, to the point where for years when I watched it I almost completely forgot about whole prison escape thing until I got to that part again, and then didn't know or care what it had to do with anything after it ended. When I did watch goofy American 50's B-movies around that age, I did enjoy them as much as the next guy, presuming of course there was a monster of some kind, but something about that atmosphere in a Godzilla movie really made this seem wrong or suspicious. And then there's that name, "Gigantis the Fire Monster." What the hell was that all about? It's clearly Godzilla, it even said so on the front cover! I won't say I hated or never watched the movie back then, because I didn't, but the weirdness and confusion that arose from it made me shy away from it, similar to how the wildly different tone also made me watch the first Godzilla movie less frequently.

My reintroduction to this movie in it's original form happened pretty late, with the release of the classic media DVD. Now that I'm more clued in I actually find this movie extremely interesting. It's not an outlier in the series because it takes a new direction or has a strange atmosphere or anything like that, I actually find this movie fascinating because it's so normal. After this, Godzilla becomes a genuine franchise and the movies are less sequels and more episodes in an ongoing saga where each tells a new and different story seen through a variety of different lenses. Here, we have something very familiar and humble, a quickie sequel to a hugely sucessful movie that apes the original trying to recapture the lightning and produces an inferior continuation of the story that purists generally ignore. It's not just A Godzilla sequel, it's THE Godzilla sequel, the only time in the 60 year history of the king where it's not "yet another Godzilla movie" but "the sequel to Godzilla."

It's fascinating to me because while watching this movie I keep trying to put myself in the mindset of someone in 1955 who's going to see this sequel expecting to see another Godzilla. It's just such a weird thing for me to wrap my head around, the world before Godzilla was the undisputed record holder for sequels, when a Godzilla sequel was something unique, and I try to judge the movie and see it from the perspective of if this is the only other Godzilla movie. I think a big part of what makes this mental exercise so strange is that the following movies all take shifts in tone and setting and characters that are (usually) totally different from the last. Expecting to see two Godzilla movies back to back that actually seem to connect with each other is a thing people have just kind of given up on, yet for Godzilla Raids Again, following the formula for what made Godzilla so great is the whole point.

With that out of the way, I want to talk about some of the weird ways this movie anticipates the rest of the Showa series, and get into some of the characterization and world building that I've noticed, some of it as recently as just now during this viewing, which I've extrapolated from various subtle aspects of the movie. So the last Godzilla, immediately after becoming Godzilla, starts attacking vessels at sea and makes what appears to be a beeline for Tokyo. I don't know exactly how long this stretch of time is exactly, but in short order he sinks 17 ships, comes ashore at Odo Island twice, and comes into Tokyo twice. When he's killed we find him in Tokyo bay. He really seems like he's out to get us. But where has this new Godzilla been? He had to have been around since as long as the first one, so why didn't two Godzillas in Tokyo in 1954? According to his behavior in this movie, the answer seems to be in asking the opposite question: why on Earth should you expect this animal that has gone undetected for so long to suddenly directly engage civilization for no reason? A large portion of the movie is devoted no to Godzilla vs. the military but rather a tense search for where the hell the monster is. They can't find him. The professor says that he might be hiding in underwater caves created by "diastrophism during the geologic periods" which, if true, supports the notion of Godzillasaurus going undetected because it occupies deep water. But as we'll see in a minute I have certain doubts to this person's credentials. An explanation that's not necessarilly mutually exclusive, and supported by what we see in the movie, is that his amphibious nature means he's an island-hopping animal, so as difficult as it to go looking for him in the entire Sea of Japan, you also have to cover jungles on the many uninhabited islands that out there too. Overall we get the impression that Godzilla is simply minding his own business, fighting for territory and chasing prey just as he did before his mutation. He's being tracked not because he's an immediate threat, but rather just to see if he's going to become one.

When they do find him, it looks like he's headed directly for Shikoku, and evacuation orders are given... but he never appears. Instead, he turns away and shows up at Osaka, and it's clear he's not planning any of this. Further, the plane Dr. Yamane comes up with, to initiate a blackout and fire flares in order to distract the monster actually works and Godzilla is totally fine with just leaving the way he came. He seriously does not care. This gives us a good look into Godzilla's motivations, not insignificant of which is the aforementioned territorial disputes with Anguirus. This is a guy who is used to scrapping with other animals, sort of a Pacific Ocean's King Kong, constantly fighting off other large animals in his own lost world which we'll meet more of as the series progresses. During the climax with the jets and the avalanche, Godzilla's attitude is completely different to the original's behavior of fidgeting, shrugging, or just ignoring the attack altogether. Godzilla HATES these jets, and he takes out a number of them in mid air, a skill we're going to see a lot more of.

So let's talk about Anguirus. Anguirus is thrown into this movie a bit like Bagan's role in the 1980 Resurrection of Godzilla draft. He comes in at the beginning looking for all the world like a foil and primary antagonist to Godzilla, then is beaten about halfway into the film and the rest of the plot has nothing to do with him. It bugs me here for the same reason, that it feels like two episodes instead of one movie. There are two distinct climaxes in the film and the story progression feels strange to me because of it. The benefit of this is of course getting the fight in sooner, and man I love this fight. The changes from speedy to ponderous and the raw, feral, animalistic attacks show us two kaiju that still are going through the motions of being regular animals. But what is Anguirus? I'll let the professor explain:

"He's a kind of dinosaur that lived on the Earth from 70 to 150 million years ago during geologic periods. Godzilla also lived at the same periods. This is a report of Dr. Preterry Hawdon of Poland. He is a well known zoologist specializing in this period. Let me read it. 'Anguirus is 150 to 200 feet tall, an atrocious carnivorous dinosaur and it moves quickly despite its size. The most remarkable difference of Anguirus and others, is their brain, was found at the breast and abdomen areas, which made them capable of reacting fast. Also, Anguirus are aggressive against other species.'"

What? If you look closely at the screenshots, you can see that Anguirus's concept art has just been pasted over where a Trachodon is supposed to be. This has devolved from the previous movies "we goofed a little but we do have an idea of what we're saying" to straight up B-movie sensationalism, and it's hard to make any kind of sense of out this. 150 to 70 is a very long range for a single genus, also, it isn't Ankylosaurus' range. In the dubbed version it's referred to as "Angilosaurus" which we kind of need because it's clear that however closely this animal is related to Ankylosaurus, it certainly isn't that. For one, Ankylosaurs are strict herbivores, and I'm inclined to believe that Angilosaurus probably was closer to omnivorous because that doesn't make my brain hurt. We can speculate that Angilosaurus is actually evolved from a basal Thyrephoran so early that is still had omnivorous habits. Armor weighs you down and makes being an active predator a little difficult, but a scavenger would find such a thing imposing to smaller creatures, and give it the ability to defend itself from apex predators coming to claim the kill. So we can imagine that Angilosaurus is a very Jurassic-style large animal with the ability to discourage a, for example, large carnivorous Theropod from a carcass. There's no way in hell it grew to 200 feet, but I'll give it that it was certainly pretty damn big.

This "second brain" bullshit comes into play as late as the 90's, but replacing the unfortunate wording with something closer to the truth doesn't really hurt the story, and the other observations about "Anguirus" (where the fuck did that name come from? Ankylosaurus is NOT also called Anguirus) aren't all that incredible. So Anguirus can make sense if you allow for these 1955 scientists to make some weird mistakes. A question I found myself asking during this segment was if anyone had found fossils of Godzilla or Anguirus' ancestors yet. Do we know anything more about their evolutionary history? Is that where we're getting these crazy B-movie statements from? Because to listen to these guys, it seems like we know exactly what Anguirus is from the geological record, and the only mistake is that they called it an Ankylosaurus.

So as I write this it's actually day two, I was too tired after watching GRA to bother finishing this post, and it looks like I'm gonna have to either cut back the amount of commentary or cut out some things I planned to watch. Either way, this will probably be the start of a trend where the previous day's entries will be posted the following day, while the current day is being written. On the 16th I'll probably have two posts, then.

At any rate, it's time for me to move on and take a look at the biggest crossover of all time.

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