Look out Portland! Godzilla! AIIIEEE!!
Sorry – just got a little excited there, since the new, Matthew Broderick-less Americanized Godzilla movie comes out Friday, right smack in the middle of the bustling Old Port at the Nickelodeon Cinema.
Again, sorry. It’s just that, for fans of cult movies, Japanese cinema and giant radioactive lizard monsters stomping all over model pagodas, Godzilla’s 60-year reign of rubbery terror has been the source of a lot of popcorn-fed joy. Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing – especially when we Americans have gotten our hands on the guy.
The original 1954 film (titled “Gojira,” a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “gorilla whale”) was screwed up almost immediately with an Americanized version where reporter Raymond Burr asked a lot of very dumb questions and over-explained everything. But the original was most definitely a horror film.
In it, the titular monster (or kaiju) was a frightening, unstoppable, rampaging force of nature, a mutated manifestation of what nuclear bombing and testing (by, you know, Americans) had wrought upon the world. Especially Japan, the only country that knew first-hand the horrifying effects of nuclear war.
Made less than a decade after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Gojira” was a mournful and frightened rumination on the potential destruction of the world in the nuclear age, with sad-faced scientist Takashi Shimura (“Seven Samurai”) torn over whether to wield an ultimate weapon to stop the creature unleashed by the previous ultimate weapon. Plus, you know, with a giant lizard stomping all over Tokyo.
It was a – sorry – monster hit, spawning an entire genre of similar monster movies (“Mothra,” “Rodan,” many more), most of whom ended up fighting against or alongside Godzilla through the years. Even the Danes (“Reptilicus”) and the Brits (“Gorgo”) got in on the act.
Of course, all this monster-mashing gradually lost the power to shock, with Godzilla becoming a more benevolent figure and the pictures becoming downright goofy. There was even an adorable Godzilla junior for a while, about which we shall never speak again.
But the cinematic power of gargantuan monsters destroying major metropolitan areas, like Godzilla himself, refuses to die.
Sometimes that’s a very bad thing indeed, as with the infamously wretched and ludicrous 1998 American “Godzilla” directed by Roland Emmerich, where the thing they called Godzilla looked more like an oversized iguana (which changed size from shot to shot).
Guillermo del Toro paid his respects to the genre in last year’s silly but enjoyable “Pacific Rim,” and “Cloverfield” (2008) came closest to capturing the ground-level terror of a big, honkin’ monster destroying your city.
But this new “Godzilla”?
Well, it’s got the great Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), who’s so convincingly upset in the previews that it helps sell the gravity of the situation. And the judicious glimpses we’re given of the big G allay any fears that this American remake is going to mess too much with the classic monster design.
As to whether this version is able to recapture the original’s visceral horror of nature gone horribly awry because of man’s irresponsibility – well, at least we’ll always have what’s left of Tokyo.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Thursday-Sunday: “Dancing in Jaffa.” Inspiring documentary about a ballroom dancing champion who brings his dance program to the titular Israeli city and teaches Jewish and Palestinian children to dance together and hopefully not kill each other in the future.
Sunday: “Shoot the Pier.” Who straps on a wetsuit and goes looking for the perfect wave in the frigid-even-in-summer waters off the Maine coast? Crazy people. Also surfers. Come check out this Maine-made documentary chronicling the long tradition of intrepid Maine surf fanatics.