Note: This post was designed as a companion piece or primer for 007(B). All Things Godzilla.
As the sole proprietor of a retro-themed blog, it’s not very often that I get the opportunity to write about something currently relevant. Thus, I can hardly contain my excitement over the prospect of the soon to be released Godzilla (2014) movie. Seriously, I couldn’t be more stoked to see this. The trailer looks awesome, and the word around the campfire is… they got it right this time.
While normally, I like to jump right into a topic, it would be difficult for most readers to truly appreciate the ubiquity of all things Godzilla in the 1990s without first providing some background on this very long and distinguished franchise.
By all accounts, the first Godzilla film, Gojira (1954), was produced by Toho Studios and released in Japan. Although there were earlier American giant monster movies such as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gojira (1954) was the one that truly launched the Japanese daikaiju (giant strange creature) genre. More importantly, the film spawned an entire mythology and franchise, introducing the world to the likes of Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidora. Regardless, the story of Gojira (1954), the sheer scale of the creature, and the cutting edge (for the 1950s) special effects were so impressive that TransWorld Releasing Corp. shot additional scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr, spliced them with the original Japanese footage, tastefully added some overdubs and rereleased the picture in the United States under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956). In the film, a 400-foot tall prehistoric reptilian sea monster, made even more powerful by atomic radiation, laid waste to Tokyo, while the Japanese government, military and their finest scientists tried to stop him. The monster, Godzilla, was seen by film critics and moviegoers alike as a metaphor for nuclear war (specifically, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the United States of America, and even the wrath of nature. After becoming a box office success and grossing $2 million (unadjusted for inflation), the rights were sold to television and Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) became a late night staple well into the cable era.
Toho Company, LTD went on to create twenty-seven more Godzilla films. Before listing these, it is important to note that although several of these films were released theatrically in the United States, many had a limited release, some went straight to television, and others straight to video. Nevertheless, Godzilla films maintained a strong presence in theatres, drive-ins, network television, UHF channels, cable TV, and video stores from 1954 to the end of the 1990s. In chronological order, the subsequent Godzilla films were;
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955), released by Warner Brothers as Gigantis, the Fire Monster
- King Kong vs. Godzilla(1962), released by Universal International in 1963
- Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), released by American International Pictures as Godzilla vs. The Thing
- Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), released by Continental Distributing as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), released in 1970 by Maron Films as Monster Zero
- Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), released straight to television by the Walter Reade Organization as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster
- Son of Godzilla (1967), released straight to television by the Walter Reade organization in 1969
- Destroy All Monsters (1968), released by American International Pictures in 1969
- All Monsters Attack (1969), released in 1971 by Maron Films as Godzilla’s Revenge
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), released by American International Pictures as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster in 1972)
- Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), released by Cinema Shares as Godzilla on Monster Island in 1978
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), released by Cinema Shares in 1976, prime time television debut on NBC in 1977 (hosted by John Belushi)
- Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), released by Cinema Shares as Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster in 1977
- Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), released by Bob Conn Enterprises as The Terror of Godzilla in 1978
- The Return of Godzilla (1984), released by New World Pictures (with additional footage of Raymond Burr) as Godzilla 1985, and the last Toho film to receive a theatrical release until Godzilla 2000
- Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), released direct to video by HBO Video in 1992
- Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), released direct to video by Tristar Home Video in 1998
- Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), released direct to video by Tristar Home Video as Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth in 1998
- Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), released to pay-per-view by Sony Pictures Television in 1998
- Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), released direct to video by Columbia Tristar Home Video in 1999
- Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), released direct to video by Columbia Tristar Home Video in 1999
I must stop here to mention Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot/reimagining/regurgitation simply titled Godzilla (1998). This travesty was an American-made boondoggle with absolutely no input from Toho Studios, thus negating its qualification for entry into the Godzilla mythos. The plot centered on an ugly, hostile, gargantuan, asexual (ersatz female), mutated reptile with bad skin and a shrill roar, who malevolently attacked a once-great civilization. This beast will henceforth be referred to as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only). While the parties responsible for the 1998 version failed to adequately represent Godzilla as a horrifying metaphor for nuclear Armageddon, they couldn’t have found a more appropriate horrifying metaphor for late twentieth century feminism. If I had the tolerance, fortitude and wherewithal to suffer multiple viewings of Godzilla (1998), I could easily churn out myriad deconstructionist academic papers with titles like “GINO: The Ultimate Riot Grrrl”, “Oh No, There Goes Tokyo! You Go Girl! Godzilla”, and “Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and Sex In The City’s Samantha: Maneaters or Role-Models for Strong Independent Womyn?” However, I’d prefer to hit myself in the head with a goddamned tire iron.
Unlike Mothra, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla, Emmerich succeeded in absolutely destroying the legendary giant monster we all knew and loved. When it comes to describing what Emmerich did to Godzilla movies, the terms “scorched earth” and “prison rape” immediately spring to mind.
Fortunately, for Godzilla fans, the Japanese are a very resilient people who take pride in their traditions and know how to rebuild after catastrophic cataclysm. Thus, Toho recovered from the very worst that the Hollywood-Industrial-Complex had to offer in terms of nuking the bejeezus out of their mightiest creation. They climbed from the rubble, brushed the dust off their collective shoulders, and went on to produce and release the following;
- Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), limited theatrical release by Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Tristar divison in 1999, and released on DVD by Sony Pictures in 2000
- Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), released by Sony on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003, and released on DVD in 2004
- Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), released by Sony on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003, and released on DVD in 2004
- Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), released on DVD by Sony Pictures/Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment in 2004
- Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.(2003), released on DVD by Sony Pictures/Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment in 2004
- Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2005
If you, dear reader, are interested in learning more about any of the aforementioned Godzilla films, I very strongly recommend Cinemassacre’s movie reviews, as they combine excellent footage from the actual films with witty and insightful commentary. James clearly knows his stuff, he is unbelievably passionate about monster movies, and he often exhibits obsessive-compulsive tendencies that make me look like an apathetic slacker in comparison. Of course, I mean that as the highest and most sincere compliment.
Other than UHF reruns in the 1960s and 1970s, and cable reruns 1980s, members of Generation X had other significant forms of exposure to Godzilla. In 1976, Mattel Inc. manufactured a line of toys known as Shogun Warriors, which were based on robots made popular by Japanese anime and tokusatsu series. Unlike the puny 3.5-inch Star Wars action figures of the late 70s, Shogun Warriors stood two feet tall, and deployed an array of spring-loaded ordnance, consisting of missiles, shuriken, battle axes and in some cases their own fists. It’s not often that I lend such descriptors to children’s toys as “badass”, but these guys were stone cold badasses, capable of leveling an entire building-block metropolis in a matter of seconds. In 1978, Mattel Inc. added Godzilla to the Shogun Warriors line, complete with atomic fire breath, a shooting fist, and a bulky green tail that struck fear into the hearts of lesser toys. I started kindergarten in 1978, and I can assure you, Shogun Godzilla was a very big deal amongst elementary school aged boys. (The Yesterville Toy Room blog has some outstanding photos of Godzilla, Mazinga, Dragun and Gaiking.)
In 1978, Hanna-Barbara and Toho co-produced a Godzilla animated series that ran for two seasons on NBC. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to imprint a character into the psyches of children in the late 1970s than to have made him into a Saturday morning cartoon. To round out the 1980s, Godzilla 1985 (1985) hit the screens at multiplexes nationwide, thus further cementing his legacy in the minds of Generation X. As the 1990s dawned, Godzilla held an unparalleled status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic, and still active. In conclusion, one could make a convincing argument that Godzilla was bigger than Elvis.
I will expound on this point in an upcoming post titled 007(B). All Things Godzilla.