Thursday, January 6, 2011

Go Go Godzilla

Legendary Pictures Meets Godzilla
Legendary Pictures has the rights to make a brand new 3-D Godzilla movie, which they have named Godzilla 2012. In honor of Godzilla's impending re-visioning for American audiences, we thought that it'd be fun to interview one of the leading experts on all things Godzilla, the one and only Chris Nigro, creator and curator of The Godzilla Saga website.

OSH: Chris, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your interest in Godzilla?

Chris N.: I have been a lifelong G-fan who grew up loving all aspects of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, and my interest in the dai kaiju eiga sub-genre of sci-fi was always a major part of this. I never failed to catch G-films and other kaiju-films--Mothra, Gamera, the one-shot wonders like Reptilicus and Gorgo, you name it--whenever they were rerun on TV, I made a point to catch them. My grandmother often used to watch these kaiju-films with me, and her minor interest in this sub-genre spiked as a result of having a grandson who always asked her to sit and watch these great movies with him (to this day, we continue to have movie days together, and just the other day we sat and watched Iron Man 2 together). Also, my grandmother worked as a secretary for local branches of film companies who would do business with the smaller independent companies who used to release G-films in the U.S., so she would always let me know when these movies would be released and would often bring me press books and other memorabilia that she acquired from the industry. She took me to see some of these movies on a few occasions herself, while on other occasions I went with my mother. This interest in dai kaiju eiga never died down, but remained in full force as I "matured" (a pretty loaded word when applied to me, haha!), and ultimately the advent of the Internet gave me the opportunity to at last share my own thoughts with the world on everything about Godzilla. As a result of this opportunity and desire, The Godzilla Saga was born.

Anyone who has any interest in contacting me about Godzilla, be it to comment on any of my material on the site or to submit to my guest section, can contact me at g_saga_admin(at)fastmail(dot)us.

OSH: So you've been a Godzilla fan for a while now...

Chris N.: The first G-films I ever saw were from the era of the late '60s when he had a rather ambiguous relationship with the human race, along with the often less than fondly remembered movies from the '70s decade where he was depicted as a bona fide giant super-hero.

OSH: Godzilla as a Super Hero--that seems to be a pretty strange notion, at first, but it really did take off in the Seventies. Godzilla went from destroying cities to saving or protecting the human race. It's an intriguing concept, certainly.

Chris N.: I not only thought the concept of gigantic monsters that were capable of obliterating entire cities with a single day's rampage was a fantastic concept that really gave me story ideas and inspired me creatively, but I identified with Godzilla during his decade long 'super-hero' phase for the same reason I identified and also had a lifelong fascination with fictitious larger-than-life heroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America. They represented all that I wanted to be, the ultimate potential of myself and the entire human race, and the then super-heroic Godzilla (and Gamera) increased the already large scale of these heroics a hundredfold.

OSH: But Godzilla wasn't always a Super Hero...

Chris N.: When I finally saw the first G-film, I was surprised at the way Godzilla was depicted within, as I finally learned that he was initially intended to represent something far different than an intelligent and heroic defender of humanity with a human-like sense of moral justice. He was, as Tomiyuka Tanaka, the late co-creator of Godzilla and producer of the first film and the Showa and Heisei Series that branched out from it, once described him, "the sacred beast of the apocalypse." He was destruction incarnate, a seemingly mindless if cunning engine of extraordinary destruction, nature's volatile revenge on the human race for unleashing the atomic bomb on the world, a modern personification of Biblical monsters of incredible destructive power like Leviathan and Behemoth. In fact, if you read the Biblical descriptions of those creatures of towering might and majesty, they are so similar to Godzilla and others of his 20th century pedigree that it can be cogently said that dai kaiju had antecedents in legend just as popular cinematic monsters like werewolves and vampires were born out of rich legends in folklore, and man-made monsters like the Frankenstein Monster , who likewise had folkloric forebears with the legends of the Golem and homunculi. Godzilla and other kaiju are Leviathan updated for the modern world. This is what he was initially intended to represent, a force of nature that with every rampage makes it clear to human beings that they are not as immune to the wrath of nature as they like to think, and that they are not the most powerful living things on the planet, an incredible and deadly lesson in humility for our species.

OSH: That's one of the most intriguing things about Godzilla--how he has morphed over time from the embodiment of nuclear devastation to a protector-figure and back again to a gargantuan engine of destruction. The archetype that Godzilla expresses isn't totally nailed-down just yet. It's still a bit ambiguous, much like people's attitudes towards nuclear power...

Chris N.: After Godzilla gradually evolved into a super-hero character, the Showa Series met an ignominious end, and when he finally returned to the big screen, and to the comic book medium via Dark Horse and then IDW Publishing, his original nature as a creature who breeds devastation with every step he takes was restored, seemingly forever. Sometimes he may still battle and defeat other kaiju that present a threat to humanity, but only because these other creatures wandered into his territory, or attacked him first. Humans and their entire vast infrastructure mean no more to him in his classic incarnation than the ant in the field means to humans when they are going about their regular business. Godzilla is a clear protest to the misuse of nuclear power, as his attacks on humanity would have been far less frequent had the presence of nuclear facilities not been as numerous. The Japanese know this all too well, as no other culture on Earth currently can, and Godzilla was clearly intended in his classic incarnation to personify the dreaded atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended WWII. It ended a war, but at what price? Godzilla was initially created to ask that question in a somewhat disguised manner, something the sci-fi genre in general is very good at doing.

OSH: It's not just some guy in a rubber suit stomping on models. There's a lot more going on with Godzilla than just mindless carnage and mayhem.

OSH: You've been working for a while now on a Godzilla Movie Timeline, as well as a Godzilla Event Timeline in addition to your work on the Warrenverse and WNU. Could you tell us a bit about this project? Why three different chronologies? How does this tie into the Wold Newton Universe (WNU)?

Chris N.: Another popular sci-fi concept I have always been fascinated with for as long as I can remember--yet another one with an actual basis in quantum physics--is the idea of alternate timelines, realities both similar and different from each other where multiple versions of various characters can exist independently of each other, with histories that can be an endless amount of variations of a single basic premise that allow for many interpretations of these characters to be built on by different creators without any single version being "right" or 'wrong." In the eternity of the multiverse, all versions of a single character can be depicted by a plethora of different creators, each with their own unique vision building upon the core premise, with all resulting iterations of the character being equally legit in their own way.

In fact, the presence of the Atomic Titan and his Tohoverse crew of dai kaiju on many disparate alternate timelines was made quite clear--and was in fact the very premise of--the third series of G-films produced by Toho, which is often referred to as the Millenium Series (and sometimes the Alternate Reality Series for obvious reasons).

OSH: How will the new Godzilla movie affect the timeline? Is this the 'real' Godzilla or one more alternate universe version?

Chris N.: It can further be conjectured that the upcoming version of Godzilla that will be produced and released by Legendary Pictures will feature a version of the Big G who exists on yet another alternate Earth, distinct from all others seen before. The same can be said for the versions of Godzilla seen in comic book series published through the decades by Marvel, Dark Horse, and IDW, as well as Marc Cerasini's series of prose novels published by Random House in the late 1990s and the various manga published in Japan through the years. And of course, we have the heroic version of Godzilla seen in the Hanna-Barbera animated series from the late 1970s--an episode guide of this series can be found on this part of The Godzilla Saga. There is, of course, the terrific animated series produced two decades later by Centropolis, but like most fans I consider that kaiju to be an entirely different monster despite sharing Godzilla's name.

OSH: Godzilla wasn't the product of centuries of folklore like vampires, werewolves or their ilk. It's a modern, post-atomic monster. The first Godzilla movie appeared in 1954 and it encapsulated a lot of the fears and concerns of the day, but is Godzilla still relevant? Is there still some juice left in the Big G?

Chris N.: Godzilla remains relevant to modern audiences due to the concepts he embodies. The misuse of power and abuse of nature by the powers that be who presently rule the human race are as relevant today as they were in 1954 when the first G-film was produced and released. The same system under which humanity lived then remains intact today, and we still have wars and other conflicts between competing nations, and there are far more nuclear weapons extant in the world today than that which existed at the time the first G-film was released. I think the presence of these literally thousands of nuclear weapons in the world today cause human beings across the globe to suffer nightmares on a level that most of us may not be willing to admit, and Godzilla embodies this nightmare in the collective human psyche that enables us to deal with and face this situation by watching these films without coming right out and discussing it in real world terms, something that makes all of us a bit too uncomfortable. This is what the genre of sci-fi and its 'brother' genre, horror, provide for us, and why they are so important to modern culture. The archetypes expressed in the Bible that I mentioned above remain intact in the human collective psyche today as much as ever before (if you will permit me a Jungian moment). What the classic incarnation of Godzilla represented in 1954 is even more relevant to those of us who live today. This is because the international situation in the world--and the globally based socio-economic system under which we live--has not changed since that time.

Also, there is another thing that hasn't changed since 1954: moviegoers crave action, excitement, and terrible devastation on the big screen as much now as they did then, and what type of character can deliver all of that on the scale that a dai kaiju like Godzilla can? In other words, Godzilla has an inherent coolness factor that is difficult to deny in any decade :-)

OSH: What sort of a future do you envision for Godzilla?

Chris N.: I see continual revivals of Godzilla whenever a new crop of fanboys make their mark on the world and earn the proper credentials to convince Toho to give the Titan of Terror another shot at the silver screen. As I noted above, Godzilla's relevance remains intact; the only thing that puts him into periodic slumber are too many bad ideas for realizing such a great character presented one after the other in continual succession. Nevertheless, the character and the concept behind him are good enough that I am confident that new generations of fanboys turned screenwriters and producers will continue to present fresh interpretations of the character for a long time to come, if not indefinitely.

My ideas for a future Godzilla should look to what made the first film work, look at what the most successful G-films had compared to what the too many failures lacked, take what made him work and interpret these factors to a modern sensibility without losing the essence that is the crux of the character, and translate this all to a big screen project. I understand that a general and wide audience needs to be attracted, but this doesn't mean that the concerns and opinions of the fan base should be ignored or dismissed, because a general audience knows garbage as well as the fan base does, a lesson that a certain Mr. Devlin and Mr. Emmerich learned the hard way.

OSH: What do you think about the idea of a Godzilla RPG?

Chris N.: I think a G-Force RPG could work very well. It would allow the gamers to create characters based upon themselves, with certain desired fantasy skills and attributes tacked on, some from the onset and others earned by surviving long enough and making good decisions (along with a little luck of the dice, of course) as the game progresses, or on successive missions. The gamemaster could create a world threatened by dai kaiju to whatever criteria he/she may desire, and pick and choose which kaiju he/she wants to have emerge from their slumber and present a threat to the world and a challenge to the players. Different kaiju will have different strong points and weaknesses, and the random choice of these kaiju by the gamemaster could very well bring unpredictable and exciting moments for the players, who will have no idea if their particular characters will be more or less effective against any given kaiju chosen by the gamemaster (and he/she will have much to choose from), and which of their chosen weapons or skills will be most effective during any given day's scenario or mission. These RPGs could also present specs for a variety of technological weaponry and mecha, which would include both warships like Atragon and mechanized kaiju like Mechagodzilla and MOGEURA, each of which would likely require the different players' characters to have to earn the right to access and operate by gaining a sufficient amount of experience points determined by a combination of their success (or lack thereof) and the gamemaster's choice, and each of which would have a unique variety of strengths and weaknesses of their own, depending upon which "evil" kaiju they would happen to go up against. These decisions would partly be determined by whatever player was acting in the role of commander for his/her unit of G-Force, and partly based upon which kaiju the gamemaster chose to throw into the mix during any given day's scenario. Of course, mecha-kaiju wouldn't have to be limited to the status of weaponry utilized by the players, since alien forces have sometimes used bionic kaiju of their own to threaten the world, and this could allow certain of these types of kaiju to be directed by the gamemaster against G-Force.

Also, it should be noted that the realm of science and technology need not be slavishly adhered to with the result being that magick and mysticism are entirely dispensed with in the game. Of course, this would depend upon what type of world the individual gamemaster chose to create, but certain dai kaiju--such as Mothra, King Seesar, and Bagan--were of mystical origin, so there could be a G-Force member or two in any given team unit who may have a specialty in the mystic arts. Not all the non-bionic kaiju need to be in an adversarial role to the human race, or even under the constant control of the gamemaster. Certain members of G-Force could, for example, earn sufficient experience points in the mystic arts that they will come across a means of summoning Mothra and using her to battle other kaiju on behalf of the human race, or even to psychically convince other errant kaiju like Battra or Bagan to join her under certain circumstances--but possibly only if a certain (presumably high) number of experience points are earned. Not only that, but bionic kaiju controlled by malevolent alien forces under the direction of the gamemaster could, under certain circumstances, be captured by members of G-Force and reprogrammed to serve humanity against the "evil" kaiju or any malevolent alien forces the gamemaster may choose to utilize in any given game. Of course, it's also possible that the gamemaster may reserve the right to unexpectedly and periodically throw a mechanical "glitch" in the programming of a mecha-kaiju under the control of G-Force that will cause the giant robotic creature to temporarily run amuck, and lives may be lost and a lot of destruction can occur before the G-Force team manages to either regain control of the out of control mecha-kaiju or be forced to successfully destroy it in self-defense. The gamemaster could plan an epic battle that takes the G-Force players all across the globe, or limit the action to a few areas, depending upon his/her whims on any particular day. The gamemaster could even decide whether or not he/she wants certain factors such as invading alien races who use kaiju as part of their arsenal to be a factor of their individual world (or universe, as the case may be).

As you can see, the possibilities of a Godzilla-based RPG can be endless.

OSH: Wow. No kidding. What you describe would be a great RPG!

To wrap things up, for now, what would you say are the Three Coolest Things about Godzilla?

Chris N.:
1) He duly represents the extreme folly of power without wisdom or moral restraint, and thus serves as a powerful archetypal cautionary tale to those who view films featuring his classic incarnation.

2) His prominent presence in fantasy fiction makes it clear that the human race does indeed feel that it can be humbled and thus should never overstep its boundaries.

3) He is extremely cool, and the smashing of buildings is an awesome spectacle to observe onscreen.
OSH: Thanks for doing this interview with us and we look forward to talking to you some more about the Warrenverse in a future post. Anyone interested in Godzilla should definitely take a look at Chris' The Godzilla Saga website--there is a lot of great stuff there, including a Godzilla Glossary, a page dedicated to Godzilla TV Commercials, a very nice Godzilla picture gallery, and a Godzilla Magazine Cover Gallery--as well as loads of links and other fun stuff.