The newest attempt at reviving Godzilla opened on Friday, and early signs show it being a big hit. (Notice the self-restraint in not using the phrase “monster hit.” You’re welcome!) But how will Godzilla purists feel about it? The giant beast has a 60-year on-screen history (with some parts of its 31 previous films more respectable than others), and deeply invested fans may be tougher critics than casual moviegoers who just want to see a giant lizard trash a city.
To see how respectful and faithful to the Godzilla mythology the new film is, I spoke to one of the franchise’s most knowledgeable followers, Steve Ryfle, author of the Godzilla film history Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star and currently at work on a biography of Ishiro Honda, the director of the original 1954 Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra. (It was easy to track him down: He is my husband.)
Do you consider this version a sequel or an origin-story reboot?
The interesting thing is it’s essentially a sequel and an origin story. As far as the origin, they don’t exactly tell you how it came to be — Godzilla just exists, an ancient sea monster that started to surface in the 1940s to feed on nuclear material. At the same time, the new film is like the second movie in a series because it’s more about the secondary monster MUTO, the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.
How much is the movie like one of the Japanese-produced Toho films?
It has a big fight at the end, and that’s a big Godzilla trope — the big fight with another monster in a big city, à la the Godzilla movies of the 2000s, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. Those aren’t really the iconic, old-school Godzilla movies, but the battle in the new movie resembles something out of those films.
Another trope is Godzilla’s entrance scene. In the ‘54 film, Godzilla raises its head above a mountain ridgeline, and everyone is startled and runs away. It’s the big reveal. That was a standard Toho thing to do, and this one has a version of that.
Are there any callbacks to the earlier films?
Ken Watanabe’s character is named Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. In the original Godzilla film, Dr. Serizawa is the scientist who creates the Oxygen Destroyer, which is the weapon that is ultimately used to kill Godzilla. Ishiro is a reference to Ishiro Honda, who directed that first Godzilla and started the kaiju craze.
Does this version feel more authentic to its roots than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla?
This movie is more faithful. The ‘98 one was made by people who weren’t really interested in making a Godzilla movie. That movie is essentially a remake of [1950s sci-fi classic] The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. I think the ‘98 Godzilla is very much a film of its era, and I think the ship has sailed on that kind of jokey science-fiction and action film: Independence Day, Armageddon. We’re in the post-Christopher Nolan phase where everything is dead serious.
Why haven’t we seen Godzilla in a Toho movie in the past decade?
They made a 50th anniversary movie [Final Wars in 2004], and then they put the character in retirement because frankly it isn’t all that popular in Japan anymore. I think most people there view it as a retro, pop-culture icon. I think Japan will start making them again eventually. This movie will probably stir some interest.
Other than the ‘98 Godzilla, the monster’s never been svelte. All the Toho Godzillas from the 1990s are bulky, and even the original one from ‘54 is kind of bulky.
In the beginning, it had to be, because it was a man in a costume, and you had to build the foam and the rubber around [him,] so the legs become trunk-like and the midsection becomes stout. The irony of the new film is they’re designing a digital creature that looks like a man in a suit.
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