Godzilla is a gargantuan, semi-intelligent, indestructible, nuclear-powered dinosaur whose spine lights up when he breathes atomic fire. Forgetting all the cultural iconic status built up around Godzilla and other kaiju franchises, sit with that first sentence for a moment. If there’s no part of you that reacts with childlike wonder and joy at the idea of watching such a creature in action, there’s not much I can say that will convince you why Godzilla is a great franchise.* But I’m going to try anyway.
What drew me in when I first watched a Godzilla movie, despite the campy special effects that didn’t fool me even then, was that these movies invited imagination. While I watched the films, I wasn’t lost in the drama created for me on-screen – most of the movies I watched in those early years were dubbed into English, and badly so – but rather in the surrounding drama I imagined for the characters on screen. Like a lot of folks who like zombie movies or other supernatural genres, I was asking the question of an impossible scenario, “What would I do? What would others do? What would the military do?” and so on. Only as I got older and read the news more often did I realize that the scenario of an unstoppable force of nature leaving a wake of destruction in its path is actually not so impossible. It just doesn’t come in the form of a giant green monster. (The campy special effects actually encouraged imagination, too. As a child, I could “see past” them and imagine my own, cooler, much more realistic images.)
Here’s the thing – Godzilla movies are only ever guilty pleasure movies. Don’t expect sophisticated commentary on environmental or political issues, though plenty of the movies address those topics. Expect to see a lot of buildings and vehicles gets destroyed, expect cheesy dialogue, and expect to laugh. But also realize that this is the longest-running film franchise in the world, and that there’s a reason Godzilla is a household name. He was the first kaiju (no, 1930s King Kong doesn’t count), and one of the most powerful.
But here’s another plug for Godzilla: there are so many movies in the franchise (over 30!) that if you’re up for a campy movie about a dinosaur that breathes fire you have great variety from which to choose. Interested in musings on the world’s entry into the atomic age from a Japanese perspective? Check out the original Gojira or some of the mid-‘90s films. Want something to watch with your kids? Most of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s films will have you and your kids belly laughing on the couch. Like horror movies? Godzilla vs. Biolante is surprisingly creepy. Heck, Netflix just released the first of a planned trilogy that should appeal anime fans!
With Legendary Pictures putting together the pieces of its “MonsterVerse” and Toho Company showing no sign of ceasing production of its own films, my favorite dinosaur that breathes fire and fights other monsters will be on the big screen for years to come. I hope you’ll join in the fun.
*The only person I’ve ever met who likes Godzilla more than I do has had many people ask him why he’s such a fan. When his pastor asked him one day, he replied, “When I was about five years old, I thought Godzilla was the coolest because he’s a giant dinosaur that breathes fire and fights other monsters.” When his pastor asked why he’s still such a fan, he repeated, “Because he’s a giant dinosaur that breathes fire and fights other monsters.”