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Godzilla crashes back on to the big screen for another chapter

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By Staff & Wire Reports
Monday, May 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

“Godzilla,” director Gareth Edwards' $160 million reboot of the classic monster, hasn't even opened yet and, already, the movie is under attack.

According to The Japan Times, diehard fans of the creature have taken to the Internet to complain the United States has done a “Super Size Me” number on the giant fire-breathing lizard. “He got fat in America on cola and pizza!” is a typical complaint. “Couch potato Godzilla” is another.

But Edwards is taking the criticism in stride.

“I don't know which pictures they've seen, but I don't think he's fat,” the filmmaker says, chuckling. “He's just big-boned. Plus he's middle-aged. You tend to get a little bulky.”

This is not meant to suggest that “Godzilla,” which opens May 16, is in any way campy or humorous. Unlike the last time Hollywood tried to revive the popular monster (Roland Emmerich's 1998 jokey, reviled misfire), the new film is dead-serious in tone and mood, treating its central character and the theme of man vs. nature with the same gravity and seriousness director Ishiro Honda brought to the 1954 Japanese original.

We've used Godzilla's 60th birthday as an excuse to look back at our favorite sea creature.

Political monster

Godzilla is more than a reptilian behemoth. It is a monster with a message.

Appearing first in the 1954 film “Gojira,” the gigantic beast often is seen as director Ishiro Honda's look at the threat of nuclear weapons. The destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not long past. The same year the film was made, the crew of a Japanese fishing boat was contaminated by a U.S. hydrogen-bomb test in the Bikini Islands.

That brought about the story of a beast being awakened by nuclear testing, showing another threat of the bomb. Since that time, in more than 27 sequels in Japan and the United States, the monster has lost its political stance, sometimes becoming a creature of parody rather than politics.

king of the monsters!

Godzilla was mainly a Japanese phenomenon until 1956, when an American version of the 1954 Japanese film was released called “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” Although described by The New York Times' review as “an incredibly awful film,” the movie enjoyed success in its theatrical release in the United States, Europe and South America and continued, in ensuing decades, to be a regular presence on television.

The Americanized version went further than merely translating the original's dialogue. “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” added an American character, Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr, who would soon win the leading role in “Perry Mason.”

personality changes

In the first few remakes, Godzilla is the rampaging monster we all know and love, but, starting in 1964, he became friendlier and sillier. He began defending humanity against other monsters, like in “Godzilla vs. Hedora” (1972). The last Japanese-made Godzilla film was “Godzilla: The Final Wars” (2004), which marked the character's 50th anniversary.

MODERN REMAKES

The mutated monster made Manhattan his stomping ground in the 1998 “Godzilla” remake.

Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo and Hank Azaria, the movie is full of all the building bulldozing, car chomping and mass casualties that fans of the original expected. However, critics largely panned it for its far-reaching, at times confusing, plot.

The new interpretation promises to be more scary than silly with a bigger, badder villain. It stars Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn.

BEST FORM OF FLATTERY

Godzilla spawned a host of imitators over the years. There are the small, harmless creatures suddenly made huge by some horrible eco-disaster or science experiment gone wrong, such as in 1954's “Them!” (giant ants) or “Night of the Lepus” (giant killer mutant bunnies).

Then, there are the more direct relations to Godzilla.

“Gamera,” featuring a giant turtle-like creature that walked on two legs, was created by a rival studio as a direct competitor to “Godzilla” during the 1960s monster movie boom. Gamera often protected the world from evil flying beast called Gyaos. There were 10 more Gamera films made, the most recent 2006's “Gamera the Brave.”

The monster in “Cloverfield” (2008) rises out of the water and wreaks havoc in New York City. Sound familiar?

In Guillermo del Toro's “Pacific Rim” (2013), giant sea creatures battle giant man-made robots. The credits include a dedication to Ishiro Honda. Del Toro has said he'd like to see a film that combines his “Pacific Rim” creatures with those in the upcoming “Godzilla” remake, which is being made by the same studio, Legendary Pictures.

And who can look at the T. rex in “Jurassic Park” and not think of a rampaging Godzilla?

EVEN MONSTERS NEED LAWYERS

He spews radioactive fire, razes cities and pummels creatures from Earth and beyond, but even Godzilla needs a good lawyer sometimes. For decades, attorneys acting on behalf of Godzilla's owners, Tokyo-based Toho Co. Ltd., have amassed a string of victories, fighting counterfeiters and business titans such as Comcast and Honda along the way. The opponents have come from all corners of pop culture: TV commercials, video games, rap music and even the liquor industry.

The litigation has kept Godzilla's brand thriving and helped pave the way for commercial and merchandising tie-ins that will accompany the monster's return to the big screen May 16 after a 10-year hiatus. Godzilla's image is for sale, but permission is needed.

Toho's attorneys use copyright and trademark law as effectively as Godzilla uses his tail and claws to topple buildings and swat opponents. Their court injunctions have permanently whacked music, books and movies from store shelves.

Godzilla's popularity has made him an attractive spokesmonster. He's appeared in ads for Snickers candy bars, Nike shoes, Doritos chips, as well as in marketing for the original “Simcity” computer game, Honda minivans and Subway's “Five Dollar Footlong” specials. Yet, those last three uses weren't properly licensed and prompted Toho to sue.

Godzilla has suffered one notable loss. In 1981. A federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by Toho against Sears Roebuck & Co. filed over a line of trash bags the retailer had named “Bagzilla.” The bag's use of a Godzilla-esque creature represented a “humorous caricature” and not a serious threat to Toho's business interests, the court ruled.

SURPRISE PACKAGE

“Godzilla” plays everything straight, but the picture is peppered with playful Easter eggs for hardcore fans. Keep an eye out for what's written on a piece of masking tape on an aquarium in the abandoned apartment Cranston and Taylor-Johnson visit early in the film.

 

 
 


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