My Secret Shame: Godzilla Ignorance
The news that Godzilla Unleashed has now been officially announced for a May 2014 release date no doubt comes as good news for the ‘Zilla Faithful, the fans who can’t get enough of the irradiated lizard-turned-modern-day-dinosaur of destruction who terrorizes cities and leaves only tears in his wake. As for me? I’m still standing on the sidelines, shamefully admitting that I just don’t get Godzilla.
I mean, I get the whole “He’s a monster born of radiation and therefore man’s creation, and so he’s a cautionary tale of science gone wrong coming out of the use of the atomic bomb after World War II” thing, and I understand that he’s a giant monster who has fire breath and likes to stand on things and cause destruction. All of that makes perfect sense to me. What I really mean is, I don’t understand why that’s enough to get a fandom surrounding it. I guess. I mean, isn’t he just like any other generic monster from the 1950s? Why Godzilla? He doesn’t even look that special.
Perhaps it’s that I wasn’t exposed to the character in the right way at the right age. I’m pretty sure that the first actual Godzilla movie I saw was the ill-fated American remake from 1998, and even then, I saw it dubbed into German and so had little idea what was actually going on (Don’t ask). The reason I’d never really searched out any Godzilla before that was because my first exposure to the character was this:
Godzookie, everyone. Godzookie.
(Watching that video again now, for the first time in years, I had this moment of “Oh, that’s right, the theme music completely reveals that Godzookie is going to ruin everything, doesn’t it?” The drama and over-the-top importance of “Godzilla! Godzilla! Godzilla!” gets you all pumped up, and then “Godzookie” comes along, all harmonies and woozyness and you’re left thinking, what is this, even as a kid.)
The purists can – and maybe should? – argue that that’s the worst way to get introduced to Godzilla, even ignoring Godzookie, because it puts the giant monster in service to humanity, at the beck and call of a bearded hero with a big red button and therefore nowhere near the primal scary fury and force of the character’s original incarnation. It’s like discovering Superman when he’s getting popsicles for the Wonder Twins or something. And yet, this is the Godzilla that plugged itself into my brain as a child, and the one that comes up in my head whenever I hear the character’s name. Let’s face it, he never really had a chance after that.
And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that he didn’t really deserve much more of a chance. I’ve tried to get into Godzilla since then; I’ve watched some of the older movies, read the comics and the whole thing, and I can’t find anything beyond destruction and melodrama for its own sake, a kind of generic B-movie done over and over again. Sometimes it’s done well, other times less so, but what I’m constantly left with is that I enjoy (or not) the various Zillas dependent on who made them and their own individual charms, and not because there is some core Godzilla nugget of greatness that automatically elevates the material.
I’m sure that I’m missing some core piece of the character’s appeal, but I have no idea what it is. Is there a metaphor I’m not getting? Should I be looking deeper for details and stories under the surface, or is it just the opposite? Am I over thinking things? What makes Godzilla tick, dear readers – and what would be the one thing you’d recommend to convince those of us who just don’t understand, to make things a lot clearer?