Feuerstein’s folly »« What’s with all this pointless posturing?

Weighing in on Godzilla

Hey Hollywood, would it kill ya to have a science adviser when doing science fiction?

Let me preface the rest of my rant with the admission that I have always been a Godzilla fan.  I wasn’t really a fan of kaiju, (giant Japanese monsters) only Godzilla himself.  He was my hero as a boy, and even now his roar has been my only ring tone any of the cell phones I have ever had.  By the time I hit puberty, I had already lost count of how many times I had seen Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, Monster Zero, and the one that started it all, (for me) the 1956 American-dub called ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’.  Literally dozens of movies have been made about this terrible lizard, and all of them have been ridiculous for different reasons.

The original 1954 Japanese film, Gojira was iconic, and only made a couple mistakes of any significance.  (1)They killed him in the end, and we saw his body turned to skeleton. Not the best way to begin 60 years worth of sequels.  (2) Godzilla was depicted as a dinosaur, and was associated with living trilobites.  Even if there was some sort of ‘realm that time forgot’ out in the Pacific somewhere, Trilobites were already extinct before the first dinosaurs, and Godzilla was clearly no dinosaur.

GojiraModelThe conceptual artists reportedly referenced illustrations of dinosaurs, but that’s not what they rendered.  All bi-pedal dinosaurs [Therapods] were digigrade, walking on their toes, like birds, and usually only three or four digits.  Godzilla was plantigrade and pentadactyle, (having five digits and walking on the whole foot) just like lizards.  It even looks like a lizard, apart from the fact that no reptile has an actual nose or external ears.  In a sense, what Toho pictures created was actually an oriental dragon.  These tend to mix reptilian and mammalian traits.

Amusingly in 1954, Toho made a giant lizard and called it a dinosaur.  In 1998, Tristar re-designed Godzilla as a dinosaur, but called it a lizard.  Of course that wasn’t the only thing Tristar did wrong.  They tried to ruin the monster completely.  They took away the only thing that worked in decades of sequels, the look of the monster itself.  Then they took away everything that made Godzilla appealing to Kaiju fans, then they tied it down and shot it.  Such disrespect.  If you’re going to make a movie that already has a fan-base, and they are the ones who will decide whether your film will pay off, respect those fans and the story they’re paying to see.

Where is your god now?

Godzilla vs Buddha

The new Godzilla from Legend pictures tried to do that.  They said their version was the biggest ever, at 355 feet tall.  But that depends on the English dubbing.  Godzilla King of the Monsters said that he was “over 400 feet-tall”.  But they used the same footage as Gojira, in which the monster was only 50 meters, or 164 feet.

Of course, there is another scene in King of the Monsters where Raymond Burr says, “Here in Tokyo… time has been turned back two million years”.  The last of the non-avian dinosaurs were apparently wiped out 65 million years ago. Two million years ago, there were already people and elephants (of a sort) but nothing like the Mesozoic dinosaurs.

Now there is actually one thing Tristar got right.  Out of all the Godzilla movies, Tristar is the ONLY one to get this right.  Their radiated iguana has a much more plausible back story than either Toho’s original dinosaur, being ‘awakened and radiated”, or the new one from Legend Pictures, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

Hollywood, weren’t you embarrassed when you made Avatar, and you made up ‘unobtanium’ as if you could just add a new element to add to the periodic table, and have it be safe to hold in a naked hand?  At least G’14 hired biologists to help design their monster. One thing they got right, that no one else ever did, was that any animal of enormous size tends to have really tiny eyes.

I think that the best science fiction is where the story is fiction but the science is real, or at least as real as possible. If you’re going to write a good sci-fi, and you want me to believe the one wholly implausible idea that your story is about, then every other aspect of the film should be as seemingly reasonable as it possibly can be. That’s what Jurassic Park tried to do. If I am to believe that an impossibly huge reptilian monster is destroying the city, then the back story of it’s origin ought to sound realistic enough to counter-balance that. That’s what the first Godzilla movie tried to do. After that, filmmakers adopted the opposite strategy; so that everything else in the subsequent sequels had so many outrageous absurdities, each so insanely stupid, that the monster in the middle was the most reasonable element by comparison.

Of course you’ve got a 30 story-tall sapient dino-lizard with a phaser-generator in it’s mouth. Why not? How else is it going to fight the equally enormous bipedal beetle with drill-bit arms? Especially now that it’s being mind-controlled by those aliens from another Japan in outer space. Someone needs to get those 3-inch tall identical twins to sing their song that wakes up the giant space bug. I don’t know what a 100-meter moth can do, but we need all the help we can get now that our toxic waste has come alive too!

I like Godzilla as much as the next guy. No, I like Godzilla more than the next guy!  Since I was a little kid, I watched all those absurd rubber-suit movies thinking how cool it would be if we remade Gojira as a big budget block-buster. They failed to do that in 1985, when they brought back Raymond Burr. They failed to do that in 1998, with Tristar’s GINO (Godzilla In Name Only) and I’m sorry to say that they failed again with the latest attempt.

The first problem was that it should have been a horror movie. It is actually possible to do that.  As a survivor of both earthquakes and tornados, I can explain exactly what that would be like. I once got a phone call saying that radar is tracking a twister headed straight for my house.  I looked out the front door, but couldn’t see the end of my driveway because of the torrential rain.  I knew there was a 400 foot-tall monster coming at me through the darkness, but I couldn’t see or hear it. All I could hear were were the warning sirens and distant screaming, both barely audible through the driving rain.  Having no defense or escape in that situation, I know exactly how frightening Godzilla could have been.

There is also the issue that the new Godzilla is fighting other kaiju. What makes this monster unique is that he’s far bigger than the biggest thing there ever was. So it doesn’t make sense to suddenly have a whole bunch of other things that are just as freakishly huge as he is. The ‘mutos’ he had to fight were beyond absurd just on their own, and they are part of the biggest problem this movie has.

The male muto starts out as a parasite on a fossil, even though it’s far bigger than anything that is actually known in the fossil record. Then it burrows underground (again grossly implausible for an animal that size) as a caterpillar which then has to build a nest in a nuclear reactor where it takes ten years of radiation absorption to gestate. Then it has to fly half way around the world to find a female. Within the female’s eggs, we can see spawn identical to the adults. No parasitic stage, no caterpillar stage, no gestation period. No one paid any attention to the biology of these ridiculous things that don’t match anything from this biosphere. Essentially it’s like Godzilla vs the alien monster from Cloverfield, because that’s very much what these things look like.

Godzilla 2014 missed the mark primarily because it is not an origins story.  Gojira was a monster of our own making.  Similarly Gino was supposed to impose nature’s response to our meddling.  But G2014 pre-existed genetic modifications and nuclear testing.  We have no responsibility for him, nor the mutos either. They come from a time that never was, millions of years ago, “when the world was much more radioactive than it is today”.  The story implies that mutos ‘eat radiation’. In the film, they can track it through every kind of protective shielding, and they eat nuclear devices like fruit -metallic peal and all. I guess millions of years ago, nuclear missiles grew on trees, and kaiju were common even though they’re absent from the fossil record -with only one top-secret exception.  As an advocate of science education with a deep interest in paleontology, and as someone who would rather see humans held accountable for what they do to their environment, this film was very disappointing.  As an atheist, it was even worse.

This is apparently now the church of Kaiju.

The star of the film not only has impossible dimensions and an inexplicable power, he is also immortal.  He’s been alive forever, and spends all his time sleeping. He awakens only he senses submarines or the arrival of other kaiju, because he has a mission to protect humanity.  G2014 put the ‘god’ in Godzilla. The director called him a god, and some of the characters in the movie describe him as a god too.  So he’s not a lizard, not a dinosaur, but one of the Lovecraftian great old ones like Cthulhu.  In a video I made years ago, I too joked about Godzilla being a god. But it was still somewhat disappointing to see him depicted that way.

However, just to end this on a high note. The new Godzilla movie is better than most of it’s predecessors. One of the worst things about G’98 was that Gino didn’t have a breath-weapon like every other Godzilla movie did. I took my boys to see G’14 in IMAX 3D as soon as it came out, and we didn’t yet know if this movie would have what the last one didn’t.  That scene -when the battle was on, and we finally saw those dorsal spikes light up, glowing blue; we knew what that meant, we knew what was coming, and my boys were already cheering. That was the money shot!

Comments

  1. says

    Aron Ra:
    Argh!
    Why did I read this before I saw the movie? Oh well. What’s done is done.
    Like you I’m a big fan of Godzilla (I haven’t seen the new movie yet bc a) I don’t like seeing movies during the frenzy of opening week and b)I have to be incredibly careful with finances right now).
    Like you I *love* Gojira.
    Like you I *love* his roar (don’t have it as a ringback tone though; of course my ringer is never on, so it wouldn’t make much difference; I’ve got him as screen saver on my laptop though-does that count for love?)
    Like you, I love that the original Godzilla was a response to our actions. We tampered with forces beyond our control. Nature responded by showing us that harnessing such power has consequences.
    I suppose I agree with you about the ending of Gojira wrt the big guy’s death (even though AFAIK, Toho wasn’t planning on making a series of films, let alone expecting the character to have such staying power).

    As an atheist, it is disheartening to hear the Big G treated as a god (probably the biggest spoiler-for me-in your post).
    I am grateful to hear that his nuclear breath (for some reason I always thought it was flame breath; don’t know why) is present, as that was one of *many* things I despised about the horrid Emmerich remake (detailing the missteps and screwups in that movie is a post of its own).

  2. Gerard O says

    Apparently Sean M. Carroll has been doing a lot of advisory work for Hollywood, maybe you could send him an email.

  3. Al Dente says

    He’s been alive forever, and spends all his time sleeping.

    So Godzilla is one of the Great Old Ones like Cthulhu.

  4. Ed says

    It looks like that’s what this movie did; created a quasi-Lovecraftian mythology around the Kaiju. I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds interesting from what I’ve read about it, including this post.

    Movies like this are “science fiction” in a loose sense, like superhero movies. There have been attempts by various writers to make a scale of “hardness” and “softness” of science fiction and Godzilla tends to be put toward the very soft end.

    This isn’t an insult. Some science fiction themed stories are not attempting to create something plausible so much as using the language of science fiction allegorically. For example, The Martian Chronicles wasn’t supposed to be a realistic speculation about future colonization of Mars, but used Mars as a symbol of humanity’s hopes, dreams and failures.

  5. Menyambal says

    I think that the best science fiction is where the story is fiction but the science is real, or at least as real as possible. If you’re going to write a good sci-fi, and you want me to believe the one wholly implausible idea that your story is about, then every other aspect of the film should be as seemingly reasonable as it possibly can be.

    I have been reading science fiction since ever, and that is an excellent insight and/or description of what makes it good. Bravo!

    I caught a video clip of the new Godzilla movie, where a cable gets cut on the Golden Gate bridge. The science was so horribly wrong, there. It was played for a visual that looked pretty, rather than the much more dramatic and much more visually impressive real destruction that would have happened. It was enough to put me off the movie (not that I had planned to after that last movie).

    But now, thanks to this post, I may go see it.

    By the way, my name for largest numbers is “Godzillion”.

  6. says

    I wish I remembered to comment about the Lovecraft thing in this article. I should have, because that came up when I talked about this with friends.

  7. says

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate a really good article… but what can I say…
    I hesitate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

    • Narf says

      Yeah, now that Aron has a few more hours of his time back each week, perhaps we can get some more, deeper blog posts out of him. Hell, seeing as how I only first found Dogma Debate through him and followed it because of him, at least in large part, I’ll take whatever I can get from him.

      More YouTube stuff from him would be fantastic, too. I’ll be joining the YouTube atheists myself, shortly, and we’ll see how that goes.

  8. says

    I think they just put science advisers on the payroll to say they have one. Even shows that are supposed to be about actual science say incredibly stupid things and include very wrong or completely irrelevant to anything visuals. Hell, so many plots are internally inconsistent that it is mind-boggling, never mind playing with facts or plausibility.

    But for stuff like Godzilla, if you want to play that game, go full fantasy and leave the incredibly stupid attempts at scientific rationalization out of it. In most cases, they are going out of the way to provide unnecessary story elements. In the case that they want to show “unintended consequences of humans fucking around too fast and loose with science/technology”, theyr doin it rong. Try harder. Maybe even make it a central point if they want to claim it as a central point.

  9. Nice Ogress says

    I did like the monsters in this one, though the biology of the Muto was incoherent and silly. It’s initially described as a parasite, but that’s a throwaway line: it doesn’t behave anything like a parasite for the rest of the movie. And, aw man, the awful plot-holes. There were so many. Soo many.

    A bigger problem was the problematic treatment of the characters: None of the ladies did anything besides getting fridged or menaced, and I don’t think we ever even learned that one lady-scientist’s name. The nonwhite dudes in the movie -even Ken Watanabe – persistently took a backseat to the white dudes that did all the talking and plot-furtherance, and the main character we were supposed to care about was, uh.. well, not exactly the brightest tool in the shed, shall we say.

    This was fun, and I don’t regret seeing it, but yeah – SOMEday, they’ll make an awesome Kaiju Monster Movie that is awesome all the way through. Pacific Rim was almost there!

    • Gravity Defying Turtle says

      I’ve been trying to think of an at-least-semi-plausible explanation for them ‘eating’ radiation, and the best that I could come up with is radiosynthesis. They use radioactive elements to break down molecules in the air (O2, CO2, N2, etc) and build proteins and sugars and whatnot, like plants use sunlight. The food chain aspect comes from the monsters killing and eating each other to get at the sweet, sweet radioactive isotopes sequestered in their meat.

      Honestly, the movie was boring up until the last 45 minutes or so, with that last fight. I loved the new Godzilla design, thought; he looks like a real animal, and you can even see the fat and loose skin jiggle when he steps. And dat roar! The rest of it was just meh.

      As for GINO, I love what Toho has done with it. He’s been brought into the main Godzilla universe as “Zilla”, a mutated iguana that the Americans mistook for the real Godzilla. Also, there was a two-season cartoon based on the ’98 film that was vastly superior to the movie itself.

      • parasiteboy says

        Before I even thought about the plausibility of radiation as a source energy for biology (like light for plants), the idea that the earth was highly radioactive and could have supported life is implausible. IIRC the only time that there would have possibly been enough radiation at or near the earth’s surface, would have been when the surface was still molten rock or at least very, very hot. In that scenario no biological organism as we know them to exist would have been able to survive.

        Maybe I’m biased since I like the old story of Godzilla’s origin’s as a result of our nuclear testing causing mutations.

        • Gravity Defying Turtle says

          Oh I know, it was just a mental exercise on my part to try and come up with something on the drive home after the movie.

    • parasiteboy says

      Some nematodes of the genus Strongyloides are facultative parasites that can have parasitic and free-living stages. The parasitic ones are female that reproduce parthenogenetically with the free-living ones reproducing sexually. It would be the offspring of either of those reproductive strategies that would be parasitic, not the adults themselves. I’m not sure how often this particular type of life-cycle appears across parasites, but not all parasites are obligate, there are some facultative parasites, so there is some biological basis for the movie.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    Hollywood, weren’t you embarrassed when you made Avatar, and you made up ‘unobtanium’ as if you could just add a new element to add to the periodic table, and have it be safe to hold in a naked hand?

    Hollywood is not that original. Unobtanium dates back at least to the 1950s, and before Avatar it made an appearance in The Core. If you are concerned with scientific inaccuracy in movies, you probably already know about that travesty.

  11. Latverian Diplomat says

    “the new Godzilla is fighting other kaiju”

    I think that GINO was an attempt to remake the Gojira and avoid the silliness of the later monster fight movies. When they looked at why GINO failed, I find it plausible that they would want to draw from the later films as well. And let’s be honest, that breath weapon is thrilling instead of horrifying precisely because it’s directed at another kaiju, and not a bridge full of school children.

    The MOTU design, while implemented in CGI seemed to me to be “rubber suit friendly” if you will, featuring some very human looking hips. It’s an aesthetic I can respect, even though I don’t personally care for it.

    They really don’t seem to understand how EMPs work. (they fry unshielded electronics not just temporarily “suppress” them like the UFO cliche). And they had electronic bomb trackers working right after making abig deal of having to do a HALO jump into the EMP zone.

    The female MOTU was travelling along the ground, probably kicking up enough dust to see on weather satellites and they still couldn’t track it well enough to avoid putting the bomb train right in her path?

    Lastly, when son of Bryan Cranston see the female MOTU up close, it sure looked like there were already embtyos moving around in those eggs. I realize that a Kaiju sex scene is not on the table, but the male and female haven’t even been on the same continent yet!

    So, not just bad science, but some significant unforced errors in storytelling logic as well. Disappointing.

    • Noktelfa Rootcreeper says

      I think they were trying not to ignite a nuke on land. What bothered me about that whole thing was how even ships operated via purely mechanical means were suddenly dead in the water when the EMP hit.

  12. sathyalacey says

    For people who are interested, that picture of the house is from Tucson. The owner is apparently a crazy gun-toting dude, and there’s a regular tradition of braving the danger to mark up his home. God(zilla) is only the latest in a long string of graffiti I’ve seen.

  13. says

    I think that the best science fiction is where the story is fiction but the science is real, or at least as real as possible.

    That makes me think of a joke I came up with for some sci-fi shows: “It’s science fiction; emphasis on the ‘fiction’”…or something like that. (I’m sure my exact wording varies every time I tell it.) So, yeah, I basically agree. I like science fiction with a good mix of science and fiction. Sometimes speculation as to what we’ll discover is needed, but it is rather obnoxious when sci-fi totally gets things wrong that are pretty basic.

    Similarly, I watched Star Trek (the reboot movie from ’09) recently and griped a couple times over Spock getting his logic wrong! :)

  14. favog says

    One other thing that got me, that no one else seems to be complaining about, is that supposedly the MUTOs thrive on radioactivity, can’t get enough of it, a whiff of it a continent away will draw them to it. And yet the one thing that takes them down is Godzilla’s radioactive breath.

  15. parasiteboy says

    No one paid any attention to the biology of these ridiculous things that don’t match anything from this biosphere.

    The allometric scaling of Godzilla’s anatomy and physiology have always been implausible. Maybe we are actually getting more biologically realistic. This last link pointed out something I did not notice in the movie. Godzilla had gill slits!!!

    The most infuriating part of the movie from a “biological reality” standpoint was the offspring in the eggs looking exactly like the adults. That and there was no MUTO sex, they just rubbed noses like marmot’s and the egg’s were fertilized.

    • Narf says

      Err, so you’re saying that you want to actually watch them doing it, on screen?

      Anyway, how do you know their genitalia isn’t in their noses? There’s no reason it couldn’t be. Real animals have all sorts of fucked up methods of reproducing. If you want to see something really fucking disturbing, look up a video about the Suriname sea toad giving birth, sometime.

      • parasiteboy says

        I wouldn’t say that I need MUTO porn in my life, but from their insect like anatomy, they could of had the male just land on the female, to make it more believable to SciFi loving biologist.

        I’ve seen the Suriname sea toad video before and that still freaks me out.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    In my mind, hard science goes out the window necessarily with any Godzilla film because of the square-cube law. (Also magic fire breath.)

    My major problem with this film was the lack of focus on Godzilla. Sometimes a film like this will focus on a side character and how it affects him personally, and his family and friends. Sometimes that works. Here it did not. I did not care about the jackoff and his family. I wanted more backstory and world building. I wanted to know more about Monarch and the conspiracy. I wanted more focus on the military plans to defeat the monster. (I was actually lost at one or two points – IMHO because their plan was so goddamned stupid and they were so incompetent in general.) I wanted more shots of panic in the street because OMG GIANT MONSTERS ARE REAL.

    In short, I wanted more Godzilla in my Godzilla film. Instead, I got a film where Godzilla features as a plot device to support some character development of some random jackoff whom I do not care about at all. I got Godzilla-lite.

  17. Noktelfa Rootcreeper says

    For the record, G’98 wasn’t the last Godzilla movie made… after Toho got upset at the disaster and took Godzilla back, they made another six Godzilla movies, including one that featured the “Godzilla” from the 1998 movie, renamed “Zilla”, as a really easy-to-defeat antagonist. Toho also made another movie in 2007 that they list as a Godzilla movie, but it only features Godzilla in a daydream sequence.

    But really, doesn’t that one soldier seem to have just about the worst luck in the world? Everywhere he goes, monsters are there interfering with his trip home.

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