Note: This post is the conclusion to previously published 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but during the 1990s Godzilla was everywhere. Although it’s difficult to quantify this assertion, I can vividly remember being able to walk into any corporately or independently owned bookstore or gift shop and picking from a virtual cornucopia of Godzilla merchandise. These magnets, t-shirts, coffee mugs and assorted knickknacks mostly brandished the image of the original movie poster from Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956). Additionally, I will cover in depth, the myriad Godzilla toys, video games and pop-culture parodies, which were simply ubiquitous during the fin de siècle. Yet, the question remains…. Why?
As I mentioned previously, in the collective mind of Generation X, Godzilla held a unique status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic and currently active. In post 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, I described the legacy of the Godzilla franchise beginning in 1954. If we go by the accepted definition of retro as a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, from the overall post-modern past, then the giant green guy is certainly retro. Similarly, if we go by the accepted definition of nostalgia as a wistful desire to return to a former time in one’s life, then the feelings of Gen X-ers towards Godzilla were also nostalgic. The difference being that one cannot feel nostalgia for something one did not directly experience. While many of us loved Elvis Presley, for instance, he wasn’t part of our childhood as he was part of the Baby Boomers’ childhood and early adolescence. Moreover, an affinity toward Elvis was nostalgia to the boomers, but retro to Generation X. However, due to toys, cartoons, and syndicated UHF stations, Godzilla was part of our childhoods. Additionally, Toho studios continued to produce Godzilla films well into the 1990s. Although they weren’t widely available in the United States, there was a cursory awareness of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).
By 1994 one could walk into a national chain toy store such as Toys R’ Us and select from a plethora of Godzilla action figures. Trendmasters’ Godzilla: King of the Monsters series released a full line of Godzilla toys falling into several subcategories.
- Micro Playsets – The playsets came in a Godzilla head that opened to reveal a battleground city where two 1” daikaiju could throw down (Example: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah in San Francisco).
- Bendables – Rubber coated bendable, pose-able action figures ranging from 4.5” to 6”.
- Hatching Monsters – These 2” figures came with an egg and a trading card
- Battle Packs – A set of two 4” figures (Godzilla vs Rodan, Godzilla vs Mothra, etc.) and the respective trading cards
- Battle Action Playset – These 6” figures often came packaged with tiny tanks and tinier green army guys
- Giant Action Figure – These 10” figures featured each monster’s unique and terrifying roar, and came packaged with their own comic book
Trendmasters dug deep into the Godzilla mythos to produce a wide variety of daikaiju toys including Godzilla (regular and “Supercharged”), Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Mecha-King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, Gigan, Biollante and Battra. Perhaps the best value buy was the 40th anniversary collector’s edition that contained four-inch figures of each of the aforementioned gargantuan B-movie monsters. Obviously, Godzilla: King of the Monsters action figures commandeered a substantial amount of a toy retailer’s available shelf space. In 1995, Trendmasters released their Godzilla Wars line, adding Anguirus, Baragon, Megalon, M.O.G.U.E.R.A , Varan, and the almighty SpaceGodzilla to the mix, which often left retro-minded consumers paralyzed by an overwhelming number of ridiculously awesome choices. (For more information on the specifics of these toy lines, I highly recommend checking out Club Tokyo, as they’ve done all the research and dirty work already.)
Since children in the target demographic for these toys would have, at best, just been born at the time the last Godzilla film was released in the United States (Godzilla 1985), it made one wonder for whom were these toys manufactured? This was one of the more bizarre micro-trends of the 1990s; action figures primarily designed for serious collectors and adults, rather than children who actually take the damned things out of the box and play with them. Trendmasters wasn’t the only company to cash in on this market. McFarlane Toys and their uber-detailed Spawn action figures contributed to this fad beginning in 1994, and they’ve since vastly expanded their scope and remain in business to this day. While we’re at it, Sideshow Collectibles (also founded in 1994) pushed the envelope even further with their tour de force of classic Universal Monsters. Between Trendmasters and Sideshow, toward the end of the 1990s, one could walk into virtually any toy store in America and pick up a full set of Gamera Guardian Of The Universe action figures, The Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954), Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931), Lugosi’s Dracula(1931), as well as the robots from Forbidden Planet (1956) and Lost In Space. Granted, I loved all things retro as much as anyone, but whom other than the most obsessive compulsive MST3K fan would even think about buying a Gamera action figure? I jest, but this only serves to further underscore my blog’s premise that the 1990s were conspicuously retro.
In addition to action figures there was an utter renaissance of Godzilla themed video games across a multitude of platforms. The popularity of fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Combat in the early 1990s may have helped to spur this trend, as giant kaiju beating the hell out of each other quite naturally lent itself to this format. Never the less, here’s the rundown.
- Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1990) – What started out as an unmade Rodan game for the Nintento Entertainment System (NES) became a Game Boy puzzle title where Godzilla rescues his son, Minya.
- Super Godzilla (Super NES, 1993) – This was more of a fighting/action game in which Godzilla battles invading aliens and bosses at the end of each level.
- Godzilla (Arcade, 1993) – This arcaded game was developed by Banpresto, and featured a story mode where Godzilla grappled with King Ghidorah, Mothra, Gigan, MechaGodzilla, Biollante, Mecha-King Ghidorah and Battra, as well as an all-against-all battle mode.
- Kaijū-ō Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1993) – Created by Bandai and released exclusively in Japan.
- Godzilla: Battle Legends (Turbo Duo, 1993) – Even the obscure Turbo Duo platform got in on the action with a Street Fighter-esque fighting game involving daikaiju.
- Godzilla: Monster War (Super Famicom, 1994) – The Super Famicom was the version of the Super Nintendo platform made for the Japanese market. This game had both a story mode and versus mode.
- Godzilla: Rettoushinkan (Sega Saturn, 1995) – Also known as Godzilla: Archipelago Shock, this game ran on the Sega Saturn platform, and allowed the gamer to fight as the Japanese military against Godzilla and other giant kaiju.
- Godzilla: Giant Monster March (Sega Game Gear, 1995) – The Godzilla Team, G-Force Team and Enemies battle it out through five levels based on Godzilla movies.
- Godzilla Movie Studio Tour (PC or Mac, 1998) – Developed by Premier Systems and published by Toho, this computer based game came with a database of information on the Godzilla franchise and allowed players to take clips from different Godzilla films and cut them together to make their own.
- Godzilla Pinball (Sega Pinball Inc., 1998) – Appearing in January of 1998, this game was part of the marketing push for the American “Godzilla In Name Only (GINO)” debacle.
- Godzilla Trading Battle (Sony PlayStation, 1998) – Published by Toho Company Ltd. And released only in Japan, this game featured every version of every Toho monster and six new ones.
- Godzilla Generations (Sega Dreamcast, 1998) – Select a kaiju and destroy everything.
- Godzilla Generations: Maximum Impact (Sega Dreamcast, 1999) – The thrilling sequel to Godzilla Generations with more giant monsters wreaking havoc.
Popular culture also seemed to be strangely obsessed with Godzilla. Throughout the decade, comedy and cartoon staples such as Rugrats, South Park, The Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain, and even The Wayans Bros all had Godzilla themed episodes. Mystery Science Theater 3000 skewered Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) in the early part of 1991. In 1992 Nike aired a hilarious commercial featuring Godzilla playing one-on-one basketball against Charles Barkley in the burned out streets of Tokyo. This ad was so popular that it inspired a line of t-shirts and a comic book printed by Dark Horse. Barkley vs. Godzilla was a very important piece of 1990s Godzilla ephemera as it was the first to break the implicitly juvenile and nerdy confines of toys and video games and show Godzilla in a hip, athletic and urban manner. Not only was Godzilla everywhere, he was also cool.
As bizarre as it sounds, even metal bands, those in the most conspicuously anti-retro and non-ironic of all 1990s musical genres, contributed to the ubiquity of all things Godzilla. Sepultura released Chaos A.D. toward the end of 1993, and the album eventually went gold. The sixth track was titled “Biotech is Godzilla”, and it quickly became a staple of their live shows. The lyrics were penned by former Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra and dealt with the potential horrors of biotechnology gone awry. A relatively obscure surf rock band like Man or Astro-man? writing songs about giant monsters was one thing, but a Brazilian metal band with a gold record and a video in heavy rotation on MTV was quite another. Apparently, no subculture was immune to the wily charms of Japan’s favorite irradiated Godzillasaurus.
However, the epitome of the “Godzilla is cool” meme occurred during the 1996 MTV Movie Awards, when Godzilla was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Bear in mind, this was during a time when music videos still comprised roughly 80% of MTV’s programming, well before they descended into “reality” shows about whiny college kids and even whinier pregnant teenagers. In the mid-90s, MTV still mattered and was still considered a very influential tastemaker. Thus, by the end of 1996 Godzilla was officially deemed cool, hip and relevant to all facets of youth culture, mainstream and underground.
By the beginning of 1998, the stage was perfectly set for Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot simply titled Godzilla (1998). In fact, it would not have been possible to manipulate the zeitgeist into a more receptive environment for a big budget American made Godzilla film. Nor would it have been possible to generate more buzz, as the pre-release marketing hype was relentless. For example, in April of 1998, Taco Bell rolled out a 60 million dollar marketing campaign to unveil their delicious new gordita in tandem with a merchandizing tie-in for Godzilla (1998), presumably because “gordita” and “Godzilla” sound kind of alike. But as fate would have it, the movie that was supposed to be the icing on the cake of the entire Godzilla franchise wound up being a kaiju-sized turd in the punch bowl. The film was terrible, disappointing critics, hardcore Godzilla fans and the bastard public alike. As I mentioned earlier in 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, the only descriptors that adequately articulated its’ awfulness were “scorched earth” and “prison rape”. While the saga of all things retro in the 1990s is largely a tale of victory, pleasant surprise and the unmitigated joy of discovery, Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was a crushing defeat. Of all the 1990s retro touchpoints I plan on covering via this blog, Godzilla (1998) is by far the bitterest disappointment. Not only did the film murder its own sequels in utero, but it dealt Trendmasters a deathblow from which it never recovered, and effectively banished the franchise from American shores for sixteen years.
Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla (2014) opens nationwide at 7:00 PM tonight, and I hope, with the heart of a child, the heart of a post-adolescent slacker, and the heart of a grown-ass man, that he got it right. Whether you say prayers to Jesus or sacrifice butterflies to Mothra, I implore you to appeal to your deity of choice for a rebirth worthy of Godzilla.