Not long ago, fellow Sequart contributor Greg Carpenter tweeted his interest in Godzilla after viewing the trailer released towards the end of February. I attempted to let this learned man know that there is more to Godzilla than men in rubber suits stomping on balsa wood cityscapes. Sadly, Twitter’s character limit, even over two tweets, left me feeling that I had not conveyed myself as successfully as I had hoped. So in a sense, this article is as much for Greg and my peace of mind as it is for you dear reader.
Warner Brothers and Legendary’s Godzilla has, much like its giant radioactive namesake, produced faint yet devastating tremors on the periphery before unleashing itself fully upon a seemingly unsuspecting public.
Like protagonists in one of the previous thirty movies from the series’ sixty-year history, pre-existing Godzilla fans like myself seem privy to a certain world-shattering insight but are left helpless as they watch the catastrophe unfold.
This impending apocalypse began with the leaking online of a convention-exclusive trailer late last year, which was suppressed as quickly as it emerged. Again, this seemed to imitate the conspiratorial nature of the truth of things in many a Godzilla movie. Furthermore, with life imitating art, to some sense, as a concept, the movie we are being teased with has undergone a rapid mutation of its own.
Our initial introduction, as presented in this teaser, is very much in keeping with the established conventions of the Godzilla series. Scenes of utter unimaginable devastation are rendered now in high definition. Shattered cityscapes are littered with corpses and debris alike. What appears at first to be a smoldering ruin is in fact revealed to be the corpse of a kaiju. The shock is amplified audibly by score borrowed from Kubrick’s 2001 and Robert Oppenheimer’s “Shatterer of Worlds” monologue.
This reminds us or perhaps reintroduces us to our insignificance and the very human cost of a rampaging giant lizard. Or, in fact, the atrocious acts of man against himself and nature, of which Godzilla is the analogy.
Nowhere is this idea more apparent than in Toho’s original Godzilla movie, particularly the original Japanese theatrical release. A cautionary tale about the horrific realities of nuclear warfare. A pacifist message told first hand by a people who experienced – and go on experiencing – nuclear horror to this day, in one form of another. At times, the film seems to tear the fourth wall down and address the viewer directly but without the glaring pomp and circumstance of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.
To a Japanese audience in 1954, the desolate cityscapes and raging infernos were a very recent memory. Less than a decade before the movie’s release, the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had occurred. One character even speaks of barely escaping the bombing.
So in a mere minute and thirty two seconds, the Comic-Con teaser evokes an almost identical sense of horror, and yet one cannot help but feel a certain sense of elation as the dusty silhouette forms a familiar shape and we hear that all-too-familiar roar.
Our next promotional trailer retains this bleak tone and sense of impending horror contrasted by a certain sense of uncomfortable elation by reusing some elements from the prior teaser. The divergence occurs when it introduces us to what we assume will be several human characters whose journeys, be they long or short, we will follow.
Finally, the recently released second official trailer is where things get a little odd.
At first glance, things seem to be in keeping with the minimal and back-to-basics aesthetics of the prior two trailers. Vast scenes of high resolution devastation and the borrowing of that haunting score from 2001 are used once more. However, when viewed through the eyes of diehard Godzilla fans, something of an inversion occurs. One might argue that, in fact, this movie may well be as much the child friendly multi-monster affair of later Showa-era movies – such as Invasion of the Astro Monster or Destroy All Monsters – as it is the unsettling hopelessness in the face of unrelenting destruction.
That May’s cinematic offering would feature not only Godzilla but at least two other kaiju is something that has long been known. However, the impression was that these would be two entirely new kaiju not seen before. The keen eye and steady hand of today’s technically-minded fan has created rumor as the involvement of at least two, if not three, of Godzilla’s former enemies / companions.
Can a movie that tries to combine the stark political and environmental ideas of the original movie with the all-out kitsch of other movies in the franchise’s vast history actually work? In my opinion, yes, and a good example of this is the Millenium Series’ Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, which is understated and yet abruptly stark and stirring. The commonplace science-fiction conventions of many Godzilla movies mix with an almost Shinto flavour of mysticism, which in itself evokes the Odo Island ritual from the first movie. This creates at once a profound sentiment and an incalculable horror. The monsters who square off against Godzilla – previously characterised as being antagonistic and indifferent to mankind – are somewhat akin to the Greek Daemon or the Shinto Kami. Rather than rolled out in some assembly-line fashion to predictably duke it out, the kaiju are tantalizingly alluded to. This makes their eventual appearance and rampage all the more profound.
Adding to that weight is an almost consistent focus on the effect of the kaiju on the world of man. Being released two months after 9/11 adds to the unsettling destruction.
True however to those conventions of Godzilla movies, we are reminded of the atrocities visited upon Japan by America. The scene jumps on you out of nowhere, much like it must have done to the people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and aboard the Lucky Dragon Five. However, the movie is not particularly bleak. The female lead, Yuri Tachibana, has an almost naive yet ultimately endearing spirit. Her father, Taizo Tachibana, is conversely so stone faced and pragmatic he drips with action movie alpha male cool.
Beyond the original, GMKG:AOMA is my favourite Godzilla film. When the full horror reveals itself in May, and the extent of the number and power of the Kaiju alongside Godzilla is witnessed, I hope that it’s handled in a similar manner to that film. What little we see in the most recent trailer seems to confirm this with scenes of man’s supposed military superiority failing and literally falling out of the sky.
I dare say the element of Shinto mysticism will be removed in favour of a reiteration of the idea of nature’s primeval vengeance and the consequences of man’s hubris and transgressions against nature. As these are fundamental ideas to the Godzilla concept, this will be more than satisfying and hopefully the right way to introduce the big G to a whole new audience.