Themes of Godzilla

Each summer I have written a long, special theme post about a topic. These have varied from Kimi ga Nozomu Eien to the history Original Video Animation. This year I present you Themes of Godzilla in celebration of the theatrical release of Shin Godzilla.

Godzilla is not one monster or theme. Throughout its 62 years run in the movies Godzilla has represented many things from atomic weapons to heroes and Japan itself. The monster is a character that has been fitted into many themes and motifs across the ages. It could be even argued that the original film, despite being the originator, was disregarded at one point in favour of something else, something that fit that particular time. As such, if one argues what Godzilla, either as a character or theme, is based on a selection of media, you can argue otherwise using different selection. After all, we are talking about a franchise that has been running for more than a half a century with almost everything but porn being in the official line up.

Before we dwell into the movies and what they represent, let’s dwell a bit into where Godzilla originates. I will also use the official English name for the character, Godzilla, all the way through the post.

While Godzilla is usually traced to the Second World War, many make the distinction of King Kong and The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms being the film inspirations. King Kong is often seen as the start of the giant-monster genre, thou The Lost World predates it almost by a decade. Nevertheless, it’s the effects and the story that people remember from King Kong, and those two were exactly the things that drove Eiji Tsuburaya into the film industry. The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms comes into play as the movie that inspired Tomoyuki Tanaka to produce a similar movie. The story is that Tanaka was to make a movie in Indonesia that would ease the relations between the countries, but his crew was turned back, denying their visas. While returning to Japan, he was reminded about The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms, and with the S.S. Lucky Dragon #5 incident still fresh in his mind, Tanaka pitched an idea based on these two elements to the producer Iwao Mori. Tanaka grabbed the director Ishiro Honda to direct the film. Despite few pre-existing scripts, one being submitted by Tsuburuya, Honda and a writer named Takeo Murata wrote the final script in three weeks.

A final person between Tanaka, Honda, Tsuburaya and Murata was Akira Ifukube, a classical composer who gave Godzilla its sound and music. Without Ifukube’s compositions, the movie would’ve lacked in sound, as each theme emphasizes doubly whatever was happening on the screen. This is to the extent that both the film and music should always be one and the same and never be seen or listened in Ifukube’s mind.

The S.S. Lucky Dragon #5 incident is what births Godzilla in the original 1954 film. The incident was USA detonating their first hydrogen bomb named Castle Bravo. It was estimated to be about four to eight megatons in yield, but proved to be fifteen megatons due to lithium-5 becoming active in the explosion.  This spread the fallout far beyond what the estimates safe zone was, and caused the crew of Lucky Dragon #5, effectively giving them lethal doses of radiation.

The final element Godzilla had is tied to the nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and probably is the most known aspect about the monster, only second to it fighting another.

Let’s start with the themes in the movies. I want to keep comment on each entry in the franchise short and to the point whenever needed. Each movie would deserve a full-fledged post to dwelve deeper into them, but currently I’m not intending to start multi-year “series” that nobody wants. We’ll leave TV-shows, games and such out from the picture for now, they’re a massive undertaking on their own as is. There is so much history in Godzilla that I can’t touch upon in this one, but maybe in future I will elaborate on certain aspects if there is interest.

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Creativity needs to be cut

During the last decade the way we watch television and films has been changed. We went from VHS tapes to DVDs, and we’re gradually changing to Blu-Ray (BD) until the next format war comes. I can’t but admit that BD format does allow better image quality and better sound, the only things that matter when talking AV quality.

Above: You can barely make it out in the DVD version, but there’s a tomahawk and a baseball bat on Gunbuster’s shoulder. The image is from, unsurprisingly, from Gunbuster the Movie BD release. Remember to click the image for larger scale

BD goes hand in hand with HD display sets. They’re sharper, more vibrant and all that. They still can’t beat nature’s wonders thou. On top of that we’ve been almost literally forced to see more 3D films than ever before. Outside those three people in Iowa and Zimbabwe, normal films experience is almost always preferred over 3D. The only film I’d like to see in proper 3D would be Avatar, but then again that film is dull as a butter knife and that money can be saved for better films, like Redline.

While the way we watch films and play games have been getting better in quality the content has not. As mentioned the Avatar film is dull. It’s nothing more than few hours of beautiful scenery with stupid plot. Games have become more “streamlined” and are about making the player a computer. Computing the gameplay should be the developers job, not the players. Modern games and modern films have one thing in common that prevents them being anything more than shade of the past; creativity. As the displays have grown the demand of use of those displays have grown within the industry. Games have more refined graphics and effects than the gameplay, and films have more and more advanced CGI and special effects than ever before. Only few people in film industry actually notice how people are laughing their assess out when coming out of movie theatres after seeing a bad CGI wolf. Even the most successful blockbusters have the same problem. Pretty much nothing looks real or assuring.
Let’s take an example of that wolf. In American Werewolf in London the whole transformation scene us made with practical effects. It nearly lasts three minutes and looks real enough to convince the audience that it’s painful and real. On the other side of the coin the transformation scene in Twilight: New Moon, which is made completely with CGI. It looks fake, as does the wolf that comes afterwards. It doesn’t even warrant laughs. The change is almost offscreen in one scene and basically happens in a puff of smoke. It’s like Magica De Spell had thrown one of those puff grenades at Scroode. Even the original The Wolfman transformation from 1941 looks superior to this in every aspect. I recommend watching this film anyway, so go watch it after you’ve read this. While the new Wolfman looks pretty nifty, it still looks fake because of CGI used.

Star Wars is perhaps the best example of all. I’m not going to go how he changed the original trilogy because we’d be sitting here for the next few days as I scream my lungs out.

What I’m going to into is the 3D. Lucas has similar fatal 3D fever as Nintendo. The prequel trilogy suffers because Lucas went all creative with it. Most of the scenes look empty, lifeless and fake. Ships are far too shiny and designs look more evolved than what came afterwards. They tried to explain this my that the ships were crafted by hands before the war but we all know that just a load of bantha shit. The spirit isn’t in there any more. The creativity of George Lucas wrecked the series. When he was in a tight schedule, had very little money and under surveillance he could do a masterpiece.
The same happened with Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto. When Shigsy was under pressure to make a good game, little resources and only six people with him he made the Legend of Zelda. Now, with 3D, pretty much all of Nintendo’s games have a become something completely different. Sadly, this time the change wasn’t for the good. I dare anyone of you to say to me that Mario Galaxy is still the same game as Super Mario Bros., or that the Skyward Sword (or any other 3D Zelda) is the same as original gold cart Zelda.

But Aalto, the Starfox 64 3DS is still the same game! tells a squinty reader. They just added 3D effect and better graphics! And that’s what’s wrong with both film and game industry; the 3D.
Just like Lucas, Nintendo feels that they have to keep adding stupid stuff that nobody cares about. At least Lucas hasn’t remade the original Star Wars with new actors and plot, unlike what Nintendo did with Lylat Wars. Why won’t Nintendo admit that the original Star Fox exists? At least Lucas admits that original Star Wars exists, but like Nintendo he refuses to release it.
I find it laughable that either bunch of people never realized that the older products have always sold better. The rather limited run of Star Wars DVDs with LaserDisc edition of the original trilogy sold out pretty much everywhere and are sought after. Super Mario Collection on the Wii outsold itself twice.

People who put creativity over their job need somebody to bring them back to ground level. Sadly, very few companies are going to have proper censors and editors telling them what works and doesn’t. Artists, directors, designers and all who need to use imagination and creativity in their job are like rough diamonds; they need somebody to cut them, grind them and polish them. Ideas need to picked up and selected, just like stories and ideas. Without somebody doing this the results become something that the audience might reject completely. Examples of rejection would be the re-edited Star Wars trilogy and the 3DS.

In June 2008 the Universal Studios had a fire which burned down their King Kong ride that had basically inspired Jurassic Park. The new ride uses Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong in 3D with some practical effects.
What I’ve read the new ride is thrilling for a second, until the the realize that it’s just a screen. After that it becomes a novelty that can be seen at home in Jackson’s own film. You could never see and feel the “real” Kong outside the original ride.
People who preferred the new Kong were people who never had experienced the older ride. A friend of mine told that it had become a shadow of what it used to be.

What 3D effects in films should be used it just that; as an effect, not as the main dish. Star Wars shone when practical effects were at large, and then it suffered suffocation when CGI was introduced. Super Mario Bros. shone when it was 2D platformer, and when it was turned into Super Mario 64 it became completely different game.

What games do not have to do is to convince the player that something they see is real. Games do not aim for realism, or at least they shouldn’t. Films on the other hand need to look real in order not to break the illusion. Unlike films, games are born from imagined things, stuff that are beyond anything physical. Films on the other hand are there, everything that exist on the screen has to make the viewer believe that it could exist in real life.
I’m saddened to see that there hasn’t been a film that has done that any better than Jurassic Park.

I’m going to do a post filled with screenshots from Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs. Not from the film, but from the Making of.