Tag Archives: Godzilla films

007(B). All Things Godzilla

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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  If we go by the accepted definition of retro as a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, from the overall post-modern past, then the giant green guy is certainly retro.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).

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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.  TrendmastersGodzilla: 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.

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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 RugratsSouth 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.

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007(A). Remedial Godzilla Studies

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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;

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.

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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;

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.

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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

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