When I was about eight years old, I discovered a series of books at my library about movie monsters. Of course that included the Universal monsters like Frakenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman (of whom I was a little afraid), but it also included monsters like King Kong and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But the one who captivated me was Godzilla. I must have checked that book out a dozen times. I think it might have been his resemblance to a dinosaur that got me in the door, but I was truly enchanted by the enormous variety of creatures he battled. Rodan, Mothra, and the coolest one of all, King Ghidorah.
You can imagine my delight when I found out my friend’s dad had a whole array of Godzilla movies on pirated VHS tapes, back in the days before everything was pirated all the time. The first one I watched was Son of Godzilla, which I of course loved. It wasn’t just the strange character of Minilla, Godzilla’s son. I was also thrilled with the exotic (to my eye) jungle scenery, the bizarre plot involving weather control, and the mildly frightening giant mantises. I proceeded to borrow and binge through a lot of different tapes. I loved them without discretion, but my favorite was certainly Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
This is a little funny, because most Godzilla fans know that King of the Monsters is actually a butchered English dub of the original Gojira movie, the first movie starring Godzilla. They hacked out a bunch of stuff and clumsily inserted Raymond Burr as an American who was “present” for all the events of the plot. Purists almost all prefer the Burr-free Japanese cut, but that was the one that captivated me as a child. I haven’t gone back to see that version in over 20 years, though I have seen Gojira. I liked it well enough, but there was something missing to it. It felt longer, and more importantly it didn’t match what was in my head.
In fact, revisiting Godzilla has never worked out very well for me. I’ve gone back and watched a couple others like Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon, neither of which did a whole lot for me. I also watched Godzilla’s Revenge on Netflix, but that was terrible even for a Godzilla movie. The nadir has to be the 1998 Roland Emmerich-directed American production. Normally Emmerich is my kind of hack. I sort of love The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. But even I had to admit that Godzilla was beyond awful. Everything that felt charming was now all roided up and “extreme” in that awful mid-90s way. The actors all looked like they were embarrassed to be there, and I would be too with the drab dialog they were forced to barf up. It was deathly serious in all the wrong ways, and utterly laughable at the same time. I’ve never been sure how much of my iffy experiences with Godzilla since my childhood have been because I’m not 8 anymore, or just watching terrible installments. But the 1998 version is objectively terrible, and not even in a fun way.
So Godzilla fans can be forgiven for being a little skittish around the new movie coming out in two weeks, appropriately entitled Godzilla. Part of my is a little worried about yet another remake, but then that concern has to go out the window when we’re talking about a franchise that has been rebooted a full three times, and that’s not including Emmerich’s cinematic black hole. Besides that, the trailers have managed to somehow overcome my skepticism. It’s telling that we’ve seen far more of the human characters than any shots of Godzilla himself. For once I think the post-millenial tendency to make everything way gritty might actually work in the movie’s favor, since the original Gojira is surprisingly bleak. And the eight-year-old in me still unironically enjoys giant monsters knocking things down. Something about hearing the strange bellow makes me feel young again, and that’s not something a lot of movies can do anymore.