THE LEGEND RETURNS or Godzilla versus Dr. Pepper - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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THE LEGEND RETURNS or Godzilla versus Dr. Pepper

What's the worst that can happen? Asks Gordon Hopkins.
It had been nearly ten years since Toho Studios gave the world a new Godzilla movie. It wasn't for lack of trying. While the final movie in the original series, Terror of Mechagodzilla, held the record for the lowest-grossing Godzilla movie ever, both fans and merchandising made sure there was enough interest to make another entry in the franchise worth pursuing, both by Toho and America Studios. There were numerous false starts over the years.

But the movie industry, itself, had changed, primarily thanks to two men, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who gave the world a string of supercharged, high-profile, outrageously expensive, special effects laden films like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The term, blockbuster, entered the public lexicon and forever altered the perception of what a movie, especially a science fiction movie, should be, both to movie going audiences and in the studio boardroom.

On December 26, 1983, the day after Christmas, officially announced a new Godzilla film was in the works.

Thirty years after Godzilla first rose out of the sea to menace Tokyo, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was still around, still guiding Godzilla's fate. This new Godzilla was to be a return to his radioactive roots. Tanaka ultimately decided attempts to make the series more kid friendly, make Godzilla a hero, had been a mistake. This time, there would be none of the silly, fantastical nonsense that turned the series increasing goofy. No giant robots. No cockroach aliens disguised as humans. No annoying little kids (unless they are running away, screaming in terror). No ridiculous monsters for Godzilla to wrestle. In fact, this would be the first Godzilla movie since the original where Godzilla doesn't do battle with another giant monster.

This new movie was a direct sequel to the original Gojira and also a reboot of the series, before the term, reboot, became a thing. All those other movies in which Godzilla faced off against giant crabs and defrosted dinosaurs and space dragons would effectively be written out of Godzilla's history. While hardcore Godzilla fan(atic)s might have moaned a bit, it wasn't really that big of a deal. Continuity had never been a strong suit of the series anyway.

Significant changes to the character occur in the new movie. Most notably, Godzilla is now eighty meters tall, instead of the previously noted fifty meters. That's not a major continuity problem. After all, who says Godzilla doesn't keep growing? Something similar was suggested in the more recent American movies to explain why King Kong was so much bigger in Godzilla versus Kong than in Kong: Skull Island.
The film opened in Japan in 1984, Sometimes it is called The Return of Godzilla and other times, just Godzilla. The straightforward and streamlined story begins like many previous Godzilla films, with a ship at sea menaced by a huge...something. The devastated ship is later discovered adrift by a reporter on a sailboat, who boards the derelict and finds the crew dead, their bodies desiccated like mummies. This was caused not by Godzilla but by giant, radioactive sea lice, which attack the reporter, who is rescued by the ship's lone survivor.

Now, I know I said there were no monsters for Godzilla to fight in this movie, and that is true. Godzilla never takes on these sea lice and they are never seen again. These were parasites, living on Godzilla's body and were mutated by his radioactive blood. There is no real payoff for their introduction and they could have (and probably should have) been excised from the movie with no impact at all. I am guessing the idea was simply to further emphasize the nuclear issue, which was front and center in this movie. As Tanaka himself has said,
“Godzilla is the son of the atomic bomb. He is a nightmare created out of the darkness of the human soul. He is the sacred beast of the apocalypse.”
Whoa. That's heavy, man. Pretty deep dish for a movie that features a guy in a rubber suit stomping on models.

That bleak vision doesn't come out of thin air. The fear of nuclear annihilation was ever-present in the eighties. Cold War tensions were pervasive throughout pop culture in the decade of Ronald Reagan and Max Headroom and MTV and, if you did not live through it, you may not understand just what it was like to expect the missiles to start flying at any moment. The aesthetic of the eighties and the fifties may be very different, but they had a lot in common, politically.

Two of the biggest science fiction authors of the day wrote books that addressed the apparent U.S.-Soviet Union rush towards nuclear oblivion, Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) and Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987). Interestingly, both were follow-ups to movies made decades earlier and updated their political themes for the Cold War era, exactly the same way The Return of Godzilla did.

This movies doesn't not have the best reputation among fans, which I think is something of a shame. Admittedly, the film has its flaws. (Giant sea lice?) However, it most definitely succeeds in doing what the filmmakers set out to do: make Godzilla scary again.

Movies of the eighties saw an obsession with special effects and Godzilla certainly succeeds there as well. The model work and pyrotechnics are top notch, with a few notable exceptions. (Again, giant friggin' sea lice!).
The American Version: The movie was released in the U.S. the following year under the title, Godzilla 1985. Sticking a year into the title is usually a bad idea.

Toho shopped the rights to several big name studios, thinking a special effects movie, which were in high demand in the eighties, and the name recognition of Godzilla, guaranteed a big payday. They were wrong. The bidding war for the rights was barely a skirmish and it ended up going to Roger Corman's New World Pictures.

This movie was not simply an English dubbed version of the Japanese film. The American distributors decided to follow in the footsteps of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and film new footage of Americans, as was done thirty years ago. Given the major appeal of Godzilla at this point was nostalgia, Raymond Burr was once again hired as Steve Martin, though to prevent giggles from the association with the “wild and crazy guy,” he is usually just called Mr. Martin here.

In the American version, Martin is called upon for advice as one of the few survivors of Godzilla's original attack on Tokyo thirty years prior. Burr isn't given much to do, although his presence does lend an air of gravitas otherwise missing from the American scenes. Unlike his scenes in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which were integrated into the film, most of Burr's scenes took place in a “war room” and were just inserted periodically to add commentary.

Actually, Burr's most significant contributions occurs behind the scenes. Reports indicate the distributors originally wanted to make this movie a comedy, giving funny dubbed dialogue to otherwise serious scenes, a la Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily (1966). Indeed one point, leading man turned comic actor Leslie Nielson of Airplane! (1980) fame was mooted to star in the American version. Given the scenes of death and destruction, there are simply no words to describe what a terrible idea this is. Raymond Burr actually took Godzilla very seriously and believed in the film's message. It was he who put the kibosh on this ill-conceived plan.

As for the rest of the movie, it was not much changed from the Japanese version. There were a few altered edits here and there. The only really significant one, plot wise, is when the Soviets launch a nuclear missile to destroy Godzilla. With the emphasis on Cold War tensions, Japan was seen to be caught in the middle between the Soviet and the U.S. Both superpowers wanted to use nukes against Godzilla. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese government was not keen to have radioactive bombs exploded on their country once again. The U.S. and Soviet Union are seen as moral equals. In the original version, the Soviets launch the missile by accident. In the U.S. Version, it is quite deliberate and American forces shoot it down, making very clear who are the goodies and who are the baddies. .

At about the same time, Raymond Burr was reprising his Perry Mason role in a series of TV movies. While doing the talk show rounds for Perry Mason Returns (1985), Burr would occasionally be asked about Godzilla, thus giving the movie some free publicity. Despite this, the movie didn't do anywhere near the boffo box office in the U.S. as it did in Japan.

Another reason American fans give this movie a hard time is the rather unsubtle product placement. Dr, Pepper launched a $10 million ad campaign for the movie and the fizzy beverage features prominently in the American scenes, such as a vending machine in a hallway and Pentagon staff sipping a can during what is supposed to be a tense scene of guys in uniform watching Godzilla's path of destruction on monitors.

In reality, the product placement isn't that obtrusive, especially given today's climate. The problem is, most fans know about it and are immediately aware of it every time the Dr. Pepper logo appears. Drinking game, anybody?

The Denouement: Okay, here may be a major reason this film is not taken as seriously as it deserves, and I'm not sure its really fair. Noticing that Godzilla changes course after hearing a flock of seagulls (the birds, not the ubiquitous eighties MTV band that is probably responsible for half of all hair gel sales in that decade), scientists figure out that the sounds of birds can be used to divert him and, perhaps, lead him into a trap. And that is exactly what happens. Godzilla is led, pied piper-like, to a volcano. No one in the movie suggest Godzilla is actually dead but he is certainly trapped.

Scientifically, this actually makes some sense. After all, Godzilla is a mutated dinosaur and dinosaurs are now thought to be descended from birds. It is an attempt to create a scientific explanation for the defeat of Godzilla without resorting to a Deus Ex Machina, like Oxygen Destroyer from the first film.

And yet, this is the movie where Godzilla is defeated by bird calls.

The Odds: The only other monsters to appear in the movie are giant friggin' sea lice and they will never be seen again. No odds.

Trivia: The war room where the American scenes were shot was an already existing set, previously used in another special effects heavy science fiction flick, The Philadelphia Experiment (1984).

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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