Sunday, February 6, 2011

Godzilla - The Greatest Of All Time!!!!

When It Comes To Giant Monsters And Tokusatsu Films Godzilla (Gojira) Is Called The King Of The Monsters For A Reason!
As many of you may or may not know by now I am a rabid fan of tokusatsu, which is the term for Japanese movies and television shows which feature special effects that center around men dressed as monster in rubber suits.  In particular I love the daikaiju sub genre, which daikaiju means "giant monster".  It probably began with the granddaddy them all, a 1933 American film by the name of King Kong.  I saw the original in 1976, around the same time that the first remake came out.  I was hooked by all the hype from the DEG surrounding the release of the film, and even though I saw it in the theaters more times than I ever saw any other movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan coming a close second, My ravenous fandom turned more towards Japan's answer to Kong and later Kong rival Godzilla.

Living in Central Florida I grew up on Dr. Paul Bearer's Creature Feature, which was broadcast from the time I was probably two until the death of host Dick "Dr. Paul Bearer" Bennick in the mid-1990's.  Up until the time I was in middle school they ran two "horrible old" movies a week, and sometime before I can remember they used to run four.  I credit Creature Feature for influencing Me to write a great deal.  I was exposed to every horror genre there was, and Creature Feature most often showed foreign horror and science fiction movies from Europe and Asia as well as American classics from the 50's and 60's.  It was sometime in the 70's that I saw My first tokusatsu films including: Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Mothra, Gamera Vs. Gaos, The Mysterians, Return of Daimajin, The "Starman" serials, and admittedly My favorite movie of all time Mothra.  As soon as I discovered them, until the time I moved to Missouri in 1994, I checked the listings every week hoping for a Japanese giant monster movie on Creature Feature.  When I first experimented with writing  I wrote updated versions of Godzilla and Mothra, trying to get the feel for characters outside of what came across on My television screen.

Late 1980's Station Identification Card For Dr. Paul Bearer's Creature Feature
I am not sure which Godzilla film I saw first.  I am quite sure was not the U.S. version of Gojira, Godzilla: King of The Monsters with Raymond Burr, because I remember being so excited when I knew it was coming up for the first time.  The one I remember looking forward to coming out was Godzilla Vs. Megalon.  That film, third to the last made in the Showa Godzilla Series, was advertised heavily on television and there were several ads and articles leading up to the U.S. release in Famous Monsters Of Filmland.  The U.S. poster of  course had the somewhat drab and yellow Japanese poster beat because some marketing genius came up with the idea of showing the film's titular monsters fighting each other on top of the World Trade Center.  I have to say that the bait  and switch idea of making the poster look more exciting than the special effects in the film is a very Japanese concept that actually dates back to at least the first Godzilla film in 1954.  The campaign obviously worked, because I just had to see the movie, and drew the poster over and over.  You can imagine My disappointment when I saw the movie and there was no battle on top of the Twin Towers.

U.S. Poster For Godzilla Vs. Megalon: Brilliant Marketing Leads To Huge Disappointment.
 Of course as a child I forgave the deceptive marketing, much to my parents chagrin.  Close on the heels of Godzilla Vs. Megalon come the re-release of Godzilla On Monster Island (Godzilla Vs. Gigan) and Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster (Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla), both of which I begged them to take Me to see at the various drive-ins that were still kind of vogue in the late 70's.  Plus there was My diligent waiting for Saturday to roll around and bring Me a new Japanese giant monster movie, or at least a repeat.  Then of course there was the merchandise, which you have to bare in mind the late 70's is also the time when Star Wars first hit the screen, another of My loves that came with a hefty merchandise toll.

Before I ever had any kind of Godzilla figure I had The Godzilla Game.  It remember it the most because I later came to realize that the concept for the game was loosely based on events from the movie Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero (Invasion Of Astro Monster).  There was a playing field that you had to move around according to the number of times on a spinner.  On that field were different colored space ships, each based of the Gemini capsule design influenced space ship from the movie.  If you were unlucky a Godzilla would roar and pop out of the moon to snatch up your ship in his jaws as you went around.

The Godzilla Game: Hours Of Entertainment

Then I had a slew of Godzilla figures, beginning with that so much coveted 14 inch figure from Matel's Shogun Warriors collection, which had a fire tongue and a launching fist.  Of course it was My favorite toy, and despite the fact that it only had small and triangular back spines, to this day I think it was the greatest Godzilla toy ever made.  Of course it was toys such as him and others of the Shogun Warrior line which caused the first panic over toys with spring loaded weapons, and believe Me it was those flying fist and not the rockets a child could possibly swallow and choke on that were the most dangerous.  It was thanks to that recall I never got a Colonial Viper or Cylon Raider when the Battlestar Galactica toys came out.

Marvel Comics got into the act with a Godzilla King Of The Monsters comic book that was actually set in the Marvel Universe.  In the series he spent most of his time being chased by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.  But he also had some run ins with Devil Dinosaur, The Champions Of Los Angeles (though somehow Ghost Rider was absent from the battle), The Avengers and The Fantastic Four.  In hindsight I would have to say that I would have never taken in interest in the Marvel Universe had in not been for that brief Godzilla series coupled with its equally brief Shogun Warrior title.  Other epic events of Marvel Comics' Godzilla King Of The Monsters included Godzilla facing Doctor Demonicus, cowboys, a New York sewer rat (he had been shrunk by Mr. Fantastic), a giant Bigfoot monster, and a slew of space monsters that seemed more in step with creatures he would face in the Heisei and Millennium Era films, some of which became established events and characters of the Silver Age Marvel Universe.

I Still Want It Back: Marvel Comics' Godzilla King Of The Monsters #2 Featured The Big G Attacking Seattle
The cover art of Godzilla King Of The Monsters #1 also became a marketing tool, as it was reused to get kids like Me to ask My parents for stuff I really didn't need.  One item the cover was used on, and I still have it, was for a story album which featured a Godzilla audio story on each side: Godzilla Vs. The Flying Saucers and Godzilla Vs. Amphibian.  The stories seemed to go well with Marvel's concept of Godzilla stalking across the Untied States, however the audio does not tie in with the series, and they only have the cover art in common as well as the logo.

The Godzilla Story Album Actually Come In Second Out Of My Favorite Audio Stories Just Behind Disney's The Sounds Of Outer Space
Godzilla King Of The Monsters #1 also lent it cover are to a set of ViewMaster reels.  They were another must have, and went along nicely with My ViewMaster Reel Projector.  Of course the only place I could watch them with the projector was at My grandparent's house, as they had white walls and we did not.  So you can imagine My grandparents enjoyed hours on end of watching the Godzilla reels with My narration.

Godzilla's Rampage ViewMaster Reels Featuring A Cover Swipe Of Godzilla King Of The Monsters #1
Of course Godzilla would dominate My television watching in the late 70's.  Hanna-Barbara produced a Godzilla cartoon series.  I liked it well enough, despite the fact that it was dumbed down 1970's Saturday Morning Cartoon fodder which featured a token black character and a cousin mascot, Godzookie, who had more screen time than the big G Himself.  I also was disappointed even then that the series did not feature any of his established foes, a plasmatic earthworm creature the closest thing to a Mothra homage, nor did he have the signature Godzilla roar from the movies.

It was around that time I began to be exposed to some more of the classic Godzilla films from the 60's on Creature Feature.  In fact I became aware of Mothra through the film Godzilla Vs. The Thing (Mothra Vs. Godzilla).  Of course I never understood then why they did not call Mothra Mothra in the U.S. release at the time.  Later on I learned it was another of those brilliant marketing strategies.  In the pre-release hype Mothra's identity was totally disguised as it was something so horrible it could not be revealed.  Imagine the horror of the first group who went in to the theaters and realized they had been ripped off to discover that Godzilla was fighting a giant and kindly moth who's own film had been released in the U.S. a year or two before.

U.S. Poster For Mothra Vs. Godzilla, Another Example Of Bait And Switch Marketing
Of course as a kid I didn't know or mind that, since at the time I didn't realize it.  I also forgave some slick marketers for this teaser poster for King Kong Vs. Godzilla which I had first seen in a book The King Kong Story.  Of course had I been old enough to read the book instead of just looking at the pictures and the captions I would have known how reviled the film was among the hardcore King Kong fans who contributed to the book.  Again I liked the movie because I was not at all jaded by the CGI world of today as My son is, and was, when he gave his opinion on King Kong Vs. Godzilla after seeing it for the first time a few weeks ago.  Of course had I been 12 when I first saw it it probably would not have been as endearing to Me, however I did grow up on bad European and Asian horror films on Creature Feature, and as with all Godzilla films I would have still liked it to a certain degree.  The teaser poster in the book featured a picture of King Kong lifted from a 1930's still as it was far superior to the tokusatsu Kong used in the movie, standing behind the Japaneses Diet Building as Godzilla marches toward him (yet another scene that never actually plays out in film).  It is interesting to note that for the 35 Anniversary VHS and DVD release that both a Godzilla and King Kong image from the late 70's was used instead of the 60's versions that actually appeared in the film.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla Teaser Poster/Lobby Card That Appeared In The Book The King Kong Story

Now of course any G-Fan or tokusatsu lover is going to tell you that 99% of the time it does not matter how much the effects suck that it is usually the story and characters combined with some sort of inventive plot is what really drives a toku and garners it it's fans, and I hardly disagree.  I consider Godzilla to be not only the king, but also the greatest of all times, due to the fact that it is something that I never have, and now at nearly 40 am likely never to grow out of.  I was in middle school when My family bought their first VCR, and it was around that time that Godzilla came back.  And believe Me I waited with baited breath for the video release of Godzilla 1985 (The Return Of Godzilla).  And as usual with great hype comes great disappointment.  Don't get Me wrong, again I loved it because it was a Godzilla movie, but was surprised as he was solo for the first time since the original film.  Of course like the U.S. release of Gojira it featured inserted scenes of Raymond Burr.  To date I have yet to see the Japanese version of The Return Of Godzilla, but I have seen, after many years of waiting and hoping, the original and uncut version of Gojira,
sans Burr, and found it to be a far superior film in every possible sense.

The coming of My own personal video age of course helped Me catch up and sometimes see for the second time movies that had never made it to Creature Feature such as Terror Of MechaGodzilla (Terror Of Godzilla) and Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (Ebriah: Horror Of The Deep).  Creature Feature at last presented a movie I had read about when I was in seventh grade, Destroy All Monsters, when I was a sophomore in high school, and which became My favorite Godzilla movie of all time.  It also gave Me a chance to build My first video collection which would include Ghidora: The Three Headed Monster and Gigantis The Fire Monster (Godzilla's Counter Attack).  Much later on I would add nearly all the films of the Heisei Series to My video collection.

Not Only The Greatest Godzilla Movie Ever Made, But The Greatest Tokusatsu Movie Ever Made Destroy All Monsters!
When I moved to Missouri I went into a Godzilla dry spell for a long time.  I did catch the rare movie marathon on TBS.  I was also continually teased by the TV Guide from which I learned there was a movie by the name of Godzilla Vs. Biolante, the follow up to The Return Of Godzilla, but I could never see it because it was always shown on a premium channel.  Then at last came what everyone had always dreamed of, a CGI remake of Godzilla from the minds that brought us Stargate and Independence Day.  I was jacked, and like all those big monster films at the end of the 70's it came highly hyped.  Surprisingly I was not as disappointed as many people were with Devlin and Emmeric's vision of Godzilla, although the last 30 minutes were absolute crap and tripe they were entertaining crap and tripe.  In fact My main problem with the film was that it seemed to be mainly created as a way to poke fun at Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for thumbs downing their previous blockbusters, and that to Me was what really devalued it as a film, gave Siskel and Ebert a justified reason to trash the film, and kept its sequel Godzilla 2 from making it out of the development phase.

Japanese Teaser Poster For Godzilla The Only Godzilla Film Officially Named Godzilla.  (Note Godzilla Does Not Step Near The Statue Of Liberty...Marketing Misdirection Again!)
Of course the film generated enough interest that I was able to have My own personal Godzilla Renaissance while living in Missouri.  I got a copy of The Complete Godzilla Compendium which I was able to use as a guide to know what films had never been released in the U.S.  Then slowly thereafter I began to build My collection of Heisei Era films on VHS as they were finally released, as well as My first copies of Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero on VHS, among others.  It was then I familiarized Myself with the Japanese "Reset To Zero" concept and understood the The Return Of Godzilla was the start of a film series set in a different Universe from the classic movies of the past.  A majority of the Heisei films were remakes and re-imaginings, and out of all of them My favorite was Godzilla And Mothra: The Battle For Earth (Godzilla Vs. Mothra).

Godzilla Vs. Mothra Is My Favorite Heisei Era Film
I moved back to Florida shortly before the release of Godzilla 2000 (Godzilla 2000 Millennium) which was the first film of the Millennium Era.  Like most of the Millennium itself this film series tends to be confusing, as only the final three films follow a consistent story line and the first three all have their own starting points.  Of course I have things I love and dislike about all of them.  Again with the reset comes several re-imaginings of what Godzilla is and how he relates to the world.  Godzilla: Final Wars is a monster and effects driven pseudo-remake of Destroy All Monsters, though alas the movie should have been another hour or two longer to really showcase the monster battle scenes in My opinion.  My favorite film from this era is GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah (GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), which features the most radical re-imagination of all, not only of Godzilla but of King Ghidora as well.

GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack Is The Best Godzilla Film Of The Millennium Era
Like the rest of the world I am on a Godzilla dry spell.  The Big G is officially on hiatus from Toho Films, and is scheduled to remain there for several more years.  Of course there are still rumors of projects in the works.  The possibility of Columbia-TriStar green lighting Godzilla 2 is dangled out there every few years.  Then there are the continued rumors of the U.S. produced Godzilla 3-D, but those seem as almost true as the rumors of the Chinese made Star-Godzilla to Me the more time goes on and the less is said about any production actually taking place on the project.  Toho itself is being rumored to be in production of a true remake of Gojira despite their claim that the franchise is on hiatus.  Really what it boils down to is that the fans are really wanting a new movie and we're really wanting it now.

The Greatest Of All Time
What is it really that makes Godzilla the greatest of all time?  Certainly staying power.  The Big G is over 50, has been in over 30 feature films, 2 animated series, guest starred on several tokusatsu series either as himself or redressed as another monster, and has more merchandise that any other tokusatsu daikaiju creature or mecha.  If you have never seen the Japanese version of Gojira, the one that started it all, it is on My list of highly recommended films, because if you've only seen Godzilla: King Of The Monsters with Raymond Burr then you've never seen the real story.  Godzilla made Me not only a G-Fan for life but also turned Me on to tokusatsu.  So whenever I sit and watch a poorly plotted episode of a Super Sentai or Kamen Rider series I know I owe it all the Godzilla, who made Me a lifelong fan of the genre (something not likely to ever stop).

Master Vyle

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