Anyone who knows me will attest that, among my many and varied interests, Godzilla and other Japanese sci-fi icons (sci-ficons? Did I just invent a geek-culture term, ala Forry Ackerman?) occupy a lofty space. I’ve been a fan of the The Big G, as we “Otaku” (nerds) affectionately call him, since I was around five, and that interest has never left. It was because of Godzilla, I would say, that I came to be obsessed with Asian culture/martial arts (a Godzilla/Green Hornet double feature introduced me to Bruce Lee), weird cinema (doesn’t get much weirder than Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster) cryptozoology, and hell, probably heavy metal, if one were to make the connection between that Blue Oyster Cult song and the musical genre that grew up around BOC, Sabbath, etc.
If you haven’t heard, Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, with some help from Roy Lee, who has brokered deals leading to remakes of several Japanese properties, including The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge, etcetera, have secured the rights to create a big budget Hollywood film featuring Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards of the indie hit Monsters, to star Bryan Cranston (you’ll always be Malcolm’s dad Hal to me, Bry), Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche and even Akira Takarada–star of the very first Godzilla film, way back in 1954.
We’ve been down this road before of course; former tent pole movie flavors-of-the-month Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich produced their own take on the famous monster for Tri-star back in 1997, and while it can be considered a financial success, most Godzilla fans, casual and fanatical alike, were severely disappointed. as there was no real sense of it being anything other than a generic giant monster movie. Certainly, it was not a Godzilla movie. The beast himself was represented as an awkward lizard mutation with an expressionless, blocky head sitting atop a lithe and raptor-like iguana body; pretty much the opposite of the Godzilla we’d all come to know. Worse, it (no gender can be assigned, as the monster was said to be asexual, in yet another deviation from the mythology) ran from the military, whereas the Japanese Godzilla, the real Godzilla, would never run from a fight–that’s part of who he is after all, and why we love him.
Last week, the annual big-ass nerd orgy known as Comic-Con came to San Diego, and while it’s doubtful that any virginities were endangered, there was much to be seen from Legendary regarding their stab at the franchise. An exhibit called Godzilla Encounter treated attendees to the experience of evacuating an elaborate noodle shop-turned-attack site, including a dramatization of G walking past an office set–then turning back, having detected the hapless evacuees.
At a panel presentation promoting the upcoming film (which finished shooting a mere day prior), a teaser was shown, giving con-goers a glimpse of our hero’s feet and body–but not the head. Several early design concepts were on display, including maquettes, a bust and some drawings; accompanied by the disclaimer that none of these represented the final product.
Footage of the encounter has found its way to the internet of course, and been subsequently removed, thanks to legal action from Legendary. It’s not too hard to find grainy stills, and artist Bob Eggleton, who has created countless comic book covers and posters of Godzilla, even penciled a sketch based on the footage.
Still, Legendary/Warner remain coy with the final design of the iconic monster; a move whose reasons can only be conjectured, in light of the massive wave of disappointment that erupted from fans when Tri-star finally revealed their misbegotten makeover. They admittedly want to avoid the mistakes of the past–yet here we the fans are, scanning poor res, clandestinely shot phone footage for the barest glimpse of the new design.Throughout his near-sixty year film career under the auspices of Toho
Studios, Godzilla’s appearance changed often and at times significantly, from terrifying, to friendly to downright goofy. Still, Godzilla’s fans accepted him, as long as he maintained a handful of basic recognizable attributes.
Thick, trunk-like legs to support his massive weight, a rough, scaly, dark grey (only rarely green!) hide, short but powerful arms held forward like a wrestler, a thick neck, a reptilian head with hints of ape-like expressiveness, and of course, three rows of roughly-leaf shaped dorsal fins along his spine were the physical attributes. But Godzilla has a certain personality as well, a steadfastness, a savage destructive drive that raises goosebumps when set in motion. Yet there is something melancholy about his isolation, his status as, more or less, the only one of his kind. Godzilla is Frankenstein writ large, a thing made by men as a mere side effect of a greater experiment, that has grown out of control and become the target of man’s own destructive instincts.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that if Legendary nails this, fans will accept virtually any reasonable variation of the basic design. No skinny iguanas, no bold new interpretations for the digital age–give us a monster king that looks like a guy could wear that suit, if need be, and make sure there’s some other beast, the ass of which Godzilla is pre-ordained to kick, and I think we’ll all see eye to menacing eye.