|I haven't made it to the theater to see the new GODZILLA film yet but I hope to do so soon. When I do, I'll post a review here. In the meantime, I'd like to share some of my memories of the Big G and some thoughts on the original film (which I watched again the other day).|
My first exposure to Godzilla came with the release of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA which was ballyhooed in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS. Although the film played here in Austin, I never saw it until last year (there's a post about the film here on my blog). I did however purchase and build the Godzilla Aurora plastic model kit (along with the King Kong model kit). Both kits were larger (and more expensive) than the regular Aurora monster models but they were definitely worth the price.
The idea of a giant monster threatening a city grabbed my young imagination and never really let go. I can recall sitting in the stands at House Park to watch my brother play football for Austin High and gazing southward to where the two story Pease Elementary School building stood on the hilltop horizon. In my mind, I'd see either Godzilla rear up behind the structure, dwarfing it in his fierce immensity. The people in the stands would flee in terror and total chaos would erupt. That fantasy was ten times better than anything actually taking place on the football field.
I remember writing a short story about Godzilla when I was in elementary school. I had him rising up from the depths of Austin's Town Lake at the intersection of Congress Avenue and First Street. His first victim was the old Tamale House restaurant that stood at that street corner for many years. From there, Godzilla made his way up Congress Avenue towards the Texas State Capital. He wreaked havoc up and down the avenue but I don't recall how I ended the story. I think it was just a catalog of total destruction.
The first comic book conventions to be held in Austin took place in the mid '70s at the old Gondolier Hotel at the intersection of Riverside Drive and IH 35. Jay Knowles was the mastermind behind the events and I volunteered to help out in any way that was needed in order to be able to attend every minute of these affairs. One year, someone brought a homemade Godzilla costume to the con. It was a huge foam rubber contraption that was extremely well built for an amateur effort. They needed someone to wear it and I was chosen. I stripped down to my tighty-whiteys and climbed in. The back was Velcroed shut along the fins and there was a tiny screen in the costume's neck that I could see out of . Someone had to lead me by the hand through the halls of the hotel as the costume was bulky, cumbersome and awkward. And did I mention hot? I posed at a dealer's table with my buddy Bob Parker for a gag photo. I'm handing him a dollar bill and he's handing me a comic book. The photo ran in The Daily Texan the next day. When I got back to my hotel room and got out of the costume I was drenched in sweat and the costume smelled like only sweat soaked foam rubber can. But for a few minutes that day, I was Godzilla.
I watched the original GOJIRA (1954) the other day. I have the Criterion Collection edition of the film and you know what a great job that company does with their DVD releases. I watched it in the original Japanese language version with English subtitles (which is the way I prefer to see all foreign films, I hate dubbed movies). Even though I've seen this film several times, I enjoyed it. What strikes me most about this movie is how unrelentingly dark, grim and scary it is. There's no comic relief, no humor, no laughs of any kind. This is serious, life-and-death stuff.
I was also struck by how much the laboratory where the Oxygen Destroyer is developed looks like something out of a Universal horror film. The equipment and stone walls look like they belong to Earth Universal rather than mid-century Japan. It's also interesting that a weapon of mass destruction is the only way to defeat another weapon of mass destruction. Here's a country that experienced the devastation of not one, but two, atomic attacks and less than then years later, they're exploring the morality of producing another super weapon of their own to defeat a larger threat.
The effects in GOJIRA are amazingly complex for the time and are extremely effective. Using a combination of miniatures, men in suits and matte paintings, the filmmakers make Godzilla a real, living-breathing threat. I love how when tanks fire upon the big G, you can see small fires momentarily erupt on the surface of the suit. There's a terrific, propulsive musical score and let's not forget that immortal, iconic roar which says "Godzilla" almost better than anything else.
GOJIRA is both a great monster movie and a great movie, period. It's a daring piece of film making that uses a radioactive, fire-breathing dinosaur to represent the very real terrors of the Atomic Age and it does so in a sober, straight-forward manner. I hope the new version does something similar but in the event that it doesn't, there's always the original to revisit and cherish time and again.