With the enormous and obvious exception of King Kong, no giant movie monster has had the distinctive and curiously endearing personality of Godzilla, with his blunt snout and his galled expression and his unmistakable, irritable roar that sounds like the world’s largest rusty hinge. And while Godzilla is unquestionably a cultural icon in the Land of the Rising Sun, he also transcends nationality. He’s quite comfortable in the Western idiom, and has been a part of many non-Japanese pop-culture projects, some of them highly peculiar. Here are a few…
12. Godzilla: The Series
Roland Emmerich’s 1998 movie version isn’t on this list. It wasn’t a very good movie, but that’s not why it’s excluded. It’s not included because, well, it’s not Godzilla. The svelte, crocodile-ish creature who starred in that film, who loped forward instead of waddling on a big butt and stumpy legs, simply didn’t have the Godzilla personality. It was even kind of a cool creature design, it just wasn’t Godzilla, the same way certain things aren’t cricket.
Whatever else may be wrong with the new American Godzilla, opening this weekend, and I think there’s plenty, it does at least have a Godzilla who truly feels like a Godzilla. The 1998 movie did, however, spawn a certain amount of authentically Godzillian ephemera, including this quite cool late ’90s animated series, which, though it featured the Emmerich movie’s design, had a far more Godzill-ish feel.
Much hokier and less graphically intriguing was the Cartoonzilla which many of us who came of age about two decades earlier remember, Hanna-Barbera’s Godzilla Power Hour…
Godzooky was the Jar Jar in this version, of course. But his cringe-worthiness was somewhat offset by the fact that his Dad’s roars were supplied by none other than Lurch himself, Ted Cassidy.
11. Godzilla Vanilla
Yes, nothing says creamy dairy goodness like a radioactive reptile. Dreyer’s, or Edy’s, depending on where in the country your supermarket was, offered this flavor in connection with the ’98 movie. It was vanilla, packed with tiny Godzillas made of chocolate. That is to say, it was packed with tiny lumps of chocolate that, if you were in a generous mood, vaguely resembled the shape of Godzilla.
And ice cream with lumps of chocolate has a tendency to put me, at least, in a generous mood. I went through several containers of this in the months surrounding the movie’s release, and can say without reservation that they gave me more pleasure than the movie. I briefly hoped that it might transcend its origin, catch on as a favorite with consumers and become a standard Dreyer’s variety, but alas, it went the way of Mr. T Cereal.
10. Godzilla Meets the Taco Bell Chihuahua
Part of Godzilla’s appeal, no doubt, is his quality of unmanageable Id. And Id is what advertisers, fast food advertisers at least, are trying to stimulate. Thus Godzilla is a natural fit for advertising, and has shilled for various products over the years.
In this commercial tie-in with the ’98 movie, the creature is lured in by the Taco Bell Chihuahua, who uses a plate of the chain’s tacos as bait. In his signs, the crafty canine even sweetens the deal by noting that the tacos are free. Who knew Godzilla was so thrifty?
9. Godzilla Meets Snickers
Here we get a glance at the Godzilla who belies his reputation for belligerence, a fun-loving, prank-playing ladies man. Except, we are warned, when he’s hungry.
The ad, which ties in with the current movie version, is part of the popular “You Aren’t You When You’re Hungry” campaign for Snickers, which also featured Betty White talking trash in a pick-up football game. The spots imply that the best response to a mood swing is to dose yourself with a high-calorie, high-fat snack. Sound nutritional advice.
What the heck, here’s one more Adzilla, another tie-in with the current movie, and probably the most visually elegant of the bunch. Godzilla attempts to make a snack of the pretty little Fiat 500L four-door, and finds that “It’s a lot bigger than you think…”
That’s cute, sure, but please allow me to call your attention to the disclaimer which appears at the bottom of the screen, in tiny lettering, for a second or two near the end of the ad: “Didn’t actually happen.”
Didn’t. Actually. Happen. The curt phrasing suggests a sheepishly tongue-in-cheek tone, I suppose, but it’s clear, all the same, that somebody somewhere in some legal department wanted us to understand that this ad wasn’t realistic, that a giant mutant dinosaur didn’t actually pick up a Fiat-ful of attractive twenty-somethings, pop it into his mouth, then yak it up like a hairball seconds later, leaving the vehicle and its occupants unharmed. Wouldn’t you sort of like to track down whoever this was, and ask him or her exactly what liability exposures he or she was afraid of? Or, better still, have Godzilla track him or her down, pop him or her into his mouth, and not vomit him or her back out?
8. Aurora Godzilla
First issued in 1964, this Aurora model kit version is thought to be the first piece of Godzilla merchandising in America. Like the other kits in Aurora’s monster series, it had gorgeously seductive box art by James Bama, also known for his vivid Doc Savage paperback covers.
The version of the kit I had as a kid in the early ’70s, however, had the schlockier box art demonstrating the model’s Glow In The Dark parts. Unlike the King Kong kit, this sort of worked in Godzilla’s case, as his radioactive and flame-breathing nature would account for the glow. In Kong’s case, it just seemed like he had a skin condition.
Best of luck trying to get to sleep, by the way, with those glowing bastards staring at you in the dark from the top of your bookshelf.
7. Godzilla, King of the Monsters
Godzilla has long been, and remains, a fixture in American comics, making his 1976 debut in a promotional comic for Godzilla vs. Megalon. But this Marvel series, which ran from 1977 to 1979 and shares the title of the creature’s first American movie release, put him through some very peculiar paces. A couple of issues are even Godzilla westerns, in which he’s wrongly accused of cattle rustling.
In other episodes of the 24-issue run he meets Marvel regulars like The Avengers, or travels through time to tangle with Jack Kirby’s wonderfully nutty Devil Dinosaur and his cave-kid pal Moon-Boy. Maybe his oddest adventure, however, came in issue #18, when, having been shrunk down to a manageable micro-monster size, he escaped into the Big Apple and took on a New York sewer rat. Kind of humiliating, after opponents like King Kong and the Smog Monster.
6. Godzilla vs. Barkley
…if there’s a weirder comic featuring Godzilla than this Dark Horse one-off from December of 1993, I haven’t seen it. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that there can be all that many weirder comics of any kind than this pitting of Phoenix Suns great Charles Barkley against the Big G.
The capable art is by Jeff Butler and Keith Aiken, and the script is by Mike Baron. The plot, perhaps significantly credited to “Alan Smithee,” concerns a little boy who idolizes Sir Charles, and is trying to get past his handlers at a photo shoot on a California beach when suddenly you-know-who arises from the Pacific and starts tromping around. The boy has a magic silver dollar, given to him by his grandfather, which for some reason causes the Round Mound of Rebound (and his ball) to grow gargantuan, and he and the mighty beast face off for some one-on-one, using a scaffold at an abandoned air force base for the basket.
It’s a fairly painful read, with trash talk lines like “Hey, you sorry suitcase-lookin’ sucker!” But it does feature a nice phonetic rendering of the Godzilla roar:
MAD Magazine’s Don Martin would be proud.
5. Godzilla Game
There have been a number of Godzilla games over the years, from a ’60s-era Ideal board game to 2011’s Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars to the card game Godzilla Stomp! But it’s doubtful that any of them have been marketed with the same eerie atmosphere as the TV commercial for this 1978 version from Mattel.
In the game, the titular beast springs up periodically to snatch a spaceship from an unsuspecting player. It looks like a sort of Godzilla roulette, played by haunted, joyless children. It has less the flavor of kaiju and more that of a ’70s-era Italian horror picture.
4. Bobcat Goldthwait as Godzilla in One Crazy Summer (1986)
In this fondly-remembered ’80s John Cusack comedy by Savage Steve Holland, Goldthwait spends much of his footage in a Godzilla costume. In his big scene, he comes to grief when the great William Hickey discards a cigar.
It’s striking how comparable Goldthwait’s characteristically strained voice is to Godzilla’s nettled bellow.
3. John Belushi’s Godzilla
Gilda Radner, as Baba Wawa, interviewed Belushi, as Godzilla, in the March 1977, Broderick Crawford-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live. In the interview it’s revealed that Godzilla isn’t Japanese after all, but rather Hawaiian, “hatched from the warmth of a lava flow during the eruption of a dormant volcano.” It’s also revealed that he went to high school with Bette Midler, and that they “went steady for two years.”
Belushi played the monster at least one other time, also in 1977, when NBC decided to kill a slow evening by showing Godzilla vs. Megalon, and used Belushi in the suit in videotaped wrap-arounds. It’s sad to think that the titanic monster has proved far more stable in the role of movie star than the gifted young comedian spoofing him back then.
Footage of any of Belushi’s Godzilla appearances doesn’t seem to be readily available online these days, sad to say. But another magnificent and lamented comic talent, John Candy, played the unassuming “Grogan” in this sublime SCTV sketch from the ’70s:
2. Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
Just about anybody who’s ever attended a midnight movie since the ’70s has probably seen this minute-and-a-half epic from animator Marv Newland tacked onto the bill. I’ve always thought it was an impressively Kubrickian piece of work, with its inexorably held frame, its use of classical music (Rossini’s William Tell) and the austere ambiguity in that closing flex of Godzilla’s claws.
David Mamet borrowed the title for his book of lordly essays on Hollywood: Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. It fit nicely with the book’s general argument that in Hollywood, the sweet innocent grazing fawn of honest cinema art has been crushed under the implacable reptilian talon of the ascendant producer. Does the guy who wrote The Untouchables and Glengarry Glen Ross think of himself as Bambi?
1. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla”
Just listen to it. It’s awesome. Yeah, this video does use Japanese footage; it’s a promo for the Toho flicks from TNT in the ’90s. So sue me.
When you think about it, it’s quite a testament to the monster’s power that, while Blue Oyster Cult told us not to fear The Reaper, they offer us no such reassurance about Godzilla.
Previously by M.V. Moorhead: