Growing up Godzilla: How My Childhood Saturday Afternoons Led to This Weekend

Obviously, not your father's Godzilla. God, I feel old.
Obviously, not your father's Godzilla. God, I feel old.

Growing up a white kid in the Houston suburbs, I was fascinated with anything and everything that seemed completely different from myself. My heroes growing up included Bruce Lee, Dr. J and KISS, and much of what fueled my interest in these divergent people was Saturday afternoon television. In the '70s and even into the mid- '80s, there were limited numbers of TV stations. Even in a city as large as Houston there were, essentially, six channels: the networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), PBS and a couple random local channels like KRIV (long before Fox) or KHTV 39 (which is now CW39).

I knew the stations by the programming. NBC was home to Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Chico and the Man. CBS had All in the Family and The Jeffersons. ABC had Happy Days and The Love Boat. PBC was all about Mister Rogers, Sesame Street and Villa Allegre. And the local stations had reruns of shows in syndication, particularly in the afternoons.

Sure, I watched plenty of primetime and afternoon TV, but it was Saturday when I sunk my teeth into stuff I really thought was interesting.

After Saturday morning cartoons, there was a wealth of stuff worth checking out for a youngster bored on a rainy afternoon. First and foremost there was always sports. In addition college and pro athletics, there was Wide World of Sports that actually got people interested in Olympic events in the off years. But, surprisingly, there wasn't the wall-to-wall coverage of every sporting event like there is today. And when there was no basketball or football on, there were always old movies.

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Westerns, creep shows, mystery theater (how my mom managed to get a tween watching Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in black and white, I still don't know), kung fu flicks and, of course, monster movies. As a young boy, the latter two in that list were my jam. Every cheesy, overdubbed minute of The Five Deadly Venoms or King Kong vs. Godzilla had my rapt attention.

Looking back at particularly the Godzilla films now, it is pretty clear the "monster" was just some dude in a rubber costume trampling a bunch of miniature models. But, at the time, it seemed like magic.

This story continues on the next page.   I would like to believe that my love of action movies and comic book heroes is based on more than testosterone and an unwillingness to fully grow out of being a boy. I want to think that the fascination stems, at least in part, from a desire to enjoy something different when I was young, a way for the middle class, white kid to break out of the daily routine of faces and places in 1970s and 1980s America.

It's probably both, if I were being totally honest with myself. Nevertheless, the interest remains to this day, which means I have watched the disastrous 1998 American reset of the Godzilla series, partly in horror for what a train wreck of a film it was and partly in pure, unabashed boyhood joy. It didn't hurt that two of the best voices from The Simpsons, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, were part of the cast either.

But, even that couldn't save the Madison Square Garden full of giant mutated lizard eggs that may as well have been a dung heap. Still, I would be lying if I said I had seen it only once. This is not about quality filmmaking, my friends. This is about big, scary monsters and the part of me that still wants to absorb every ridiculous, campy minute of them on the big screen.

Now, with a brand new version of the classic Japanese monster flick hitting the big screen this weekend, my 45-year-old self feels just as giddy about it as the 12-year-old version did. And this version is clearly the darkest and biggest of the bunch (literally and metaphorically). It makes sense because the original was not supposed to be silly, but a terrifying metaphor for post-nuclear bombed Japan, as a writer for described it recently.

At this point, I really don't care much about Godzilla's politics, or whether it is a rubber-suited caricature or a CGI freak. I just wants to see a big ass monster lay waste to New York (isn't that what they all do?) and shock the hell out of everyone. If it delivers on that, I'll be as happy as the 12-year-old version of myself, lying on my stomach in front of the living room TV on a random Saturday afternoon 30 years ago.

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