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What I've Learned
In 1954, Japan's Toho Studios was about to shoot a film called Beyond the Glory, but the production came to a halt before it even got started. The movie was to be filmed in Indonesia, but the Indonesian government refused to issue work visas to the film's two stars. Toho found itself with everything needed to make a movie, but no movie to make.
Gears were shifted, and a new script was hastily written. The film would be about the dangers of nuclear weapons testing. It would feature a giant creature, fearsome and destructive, that is born from the effects of radiation.
At first, no one knew what the creature would look like or what it would be called. It was referred to simply as G (for giant) or Project G.
There is a great story, probably not true, about how a large fellow in the advertising department was said to be as big as a gorilla. No, others said, he's as big as a whale. Eventually, the Japanese words for gorilla and whale were combined, and the guy was nicknamed Gojira.
Be that as it may, or may not, the creature was called Gojira.
It was estimated that it would take seven years to make the film using stop-motion techniques like those employed in 1933's King Kong. There were just months, not years, to complete the movie, so a solution had to be found. The solution, a man in a monster suit, would influence monster movies for decades to come.
The original Japanese film, though it included a 400-foot reptilian creature that destroys Tokyo, was a serious movie about a serious topic: the dangers of nuclear testing. The plot was highly character driven. When Hollywood got hold of the rights to the movie, all that changed.
The serious dialogue was dubbed into English as cheesy lines, and an American actor, Raymond Burr, was added to the cast. To get Burr into the film, the plot was changed and certain scenes were edited to make it look like Japanese actors were carrying on conversations with him. The result was a drive-in quality, grade B monster flick.
The name of the movie was also changed. In Japanese, R is pronounced like L and vice versa. (What sound does a Japanese camera make? Crick.) Gojira, in Japanese, is pronounced GO-dzee-la. When the film was Americanized, the name was transliterated into English as Godzilla, the accent shifting from the first to the second syllable.
The last five letters, zilla, have since become a suffix meaning excessive, large, or monster-like. The use of the suffix was contested by Toho, owners of the trademark, Godzilla, but without success.
The program I use to transfer files from my computer to my website is called Filezilla. The email program I use was designed by a company called Mozilla. I watch a technology show called Tekzilla.
There is Shopzilla, a comparison-shopping search engine, and Eventzilla, an event registration website.
In some cases, zilla is not a suffix, but part of a portmanteau. Just as fog and smoke were combined to make the portmanteau, smog, and motor and hotel to make motel, Godzilla has been merged, for example, with bride, to create bridezilla, a difficult bride.
The original movie, Godzilla, spawned some 30 sequels and spin-offs, including Godzilla Raids Again, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla 1985.
In 1969, there was a two-minute cartoon called Bambi Meets Godzilla. Most of the cartoon shows Bambi grazing serenely in a meadow. Suddenly, Godzilla's enormous foot stomps down, crushing the little deer. The closing credits include gratitude to the city of Tokyo "for their help in obtaining Godzilla for this film."
And then there was the 1998 movie, Godzilla, starring Matthew Broderick, which I enjoyed, though it was much maligned by critics and Godzilla fans.
We've not seen the last of the big guy. A new Godzilla movie is coming out next year.
There is a lot of excitement about this upcoming release because the director is Gareth Edwards, who directed and did special effects work on a pretty-darn-good, 2010 character-driven movie called Monsters.
While you are waiting for the new movie, I suggest you skip back to 1954 and watch the non-Hollywood, original Japanese movie with English subtitles. You'll be impressed, I think, at how good it is.