Fresh Air’s film critic David Edelstein reviews the latest in a long line of Godzilla movies:
The original Godzilla was a cautionary tale, and in the big monster movies that followed in Japan and America, the invaders were emblems of humanity’s arrogance. We’ve poisoned the Earth, the movies said, and the Earth has come back at us.
But this Godzilla says—explicitly—that Nature is self-correcting, that no matter what we do a higher power will belch forth a savior. With so many threats to the planet, the timing is odd, don’t you think? I know it’s just a dumb genre picture but even dumb genre pictures have a tradition of speaking to their era. In this one, the nuclear roar becomes a reassuring purr.
You can also read critic at-large John Powers’ piece “Movie Monsters, Monster Movies and Why ‘Godzilla’ Endures’ here.
The Japanese horror film, Godzilla, is one of the most famous modern movies, but most people in the U.S. have never seen it in its original form. When it was first released in America in 1956, it was supplemented by new footage with the Hollywood actor Raymond Burr. In 2004, the original Japanese version was released to theaters.
For the monster’s 60th anniversary, Rialto Pictures is releasing a new digital restoration of the film, complete with new subtitles. Seeing Godzilla again, our critic John Powers says it makes him nostalgic for old monster movies.
"Ever since Jaws and Alien and Predator, whose creatures are ruthless murder machines, our monsters have increasingly become soulless things to be destroyed. Consider today’s favorite monster, the zombie. Although zombies could hardly seem more human — heck, they just were human — the walking dead have no individuality and run in packs. They basically exist to have their heads shot off in movies and TV shows that resemble video games.
Godzilla is not remotely like this. In Jim Shepard’s wonderful short story “Gojira, King of the Monsters” — part of his collection titled You Think That’s Bad — Shepard offers a fictionalized account of the making of the movie. At one point, Shepard has director Ishiro Honda explain why the vanquishing of Godzilla feels so sad, and his words sum up brilliantly what gives Godzilla its strange power. “By the time the movie ends,” Honda says, “[Godzilla] is like a hero whose departure we regret. It’s like part of us leaving. That’s what makes it so hard. The monster the child knows best is the monster he feels himself to be.”’
What’s beautiful about Godzilla is, of course, it’s in every way a symbol of Japan dealing with the aftermath of the atomic bombs being dropped on them, and their ideas of how they’re affected by it. But rather than make a movie where they sit around and say, ‘Man, that was really rough, those bombs really did a lot of damage,’ they said, ‘What did it feel like? It felt like a 100 foot-tall giant lizard came through our city and crushed it.’ And I really felt I understood that experience to some degree. I really connected with that fear and that power because, at times, when I was a kid, I would say the chaos in my household — the chaos in my life — felt very much like a 100-foot reptile crushing everyone and everything.