Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Go, Go (Buy) Godzilla on Criterion Blu-ray

Rihanna was the original subject of today's Pop Rocks. Specifically, her apparent downward spiral into self-delusion/destruction following the news that she had "THUG LIFE" tattooed across her knuckles as well as reports she'd gotten back together with Chris Brown, the model citizen who pled guilty to felony assault after beating her up after the 2009 Grammys.

But then I had what scienticians call a "moment of clarity." Specifically, I realized I really didn't care. Rihanna's 23 years old, she's not my daughter and if she wants to hook back up with a dude prone to fits of rage when things don't go his way, that's her problem. Leave it to TMZ's commenters to bleat about it.

Why the change of heart? Because Godzilla just got a Criterion Collection release, and I'd much rather talk about that.

The U.S. release of Godzilla is something of a mess: It replaced a good chunk of original footage with Raymond Burr's American reporter character (named "Steve Martin," humorously enough) who serves no real purpose except to Anglicize the proceedings. Nevertheless, this was the first version I ever saw, and I have my dad to thank for it.*

Godzilla was a big deal on Dad's side of the family (my uncle had an impressive clay reproduction of the Big G that he'd painted and glazed and, now that I think of it, may actually have been a giant bong), and he would wake me up on Friday nights (my preadolescent self rarely lasted past 9 p.m.) for the "Friday Night Creature Feature," or whatever the hell it was called. And at least once a month, it was Godzilla, or Rodan, or one of the many others from the latter part of the Shōwa period.

Even as a kid -- and even with that bastardized American version -- you could tell the movie had a dramatic heft lacking in most of the other movies I was watching around that time (The Deadly Mantis was also a favorite). There were no square-jawed protagonists, no sensibly-dressed-yet-sexy damsels in distress, just a nigh-indestructible giant dinosaur leaving Japan in ruins. Again.

The whole post-nuclear angle of Godzilla was, obviously, lost on my eight-year-old ass. Yet even without knowing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was no denying the horror in the faces of Tokyo residents (tellingly, many women and children and old people). Director Ishiro Honda lets the camera linger over the burning ruin of the city, capturing perhaps a sense of survivor's guilt (Honda was a POW in China) while also presenting a cautionary tale. Godzilla's origin, after all, was directly tied to atomic testing in the Pacific.

Even watching it now, it definitely has more of a horror feel than others of that era. Aliens and giant bugs are creepy and all, but they're hardly an implacable force of nature indifferent to the thousands of souls left killed or dispossessed by its passing. Hell, he's practically Lovecraftian, and all anyone can do is endure his passing. Tell me that isn't a commentary on the experience of the Japanese civilian in WWII.

Godzilla is finally taken out by [SPOILER WARNING] Dr. Serizawa and his "oxygen destroyer."[/SPOILER WARNING]. And in another nod to the Japanese distrust of weapons of mass destruction, Serizawa only agrees to use his superweapon when he realizes the threat Godzilla poses to mankind, yet still destroys all records of his research, and after activating the weapon, kills himself to make sure the secret of its design never gets out.

Of course, the oxygen destroyer would prove to have other side effects in 1995's Godzilla vs. Destroyah, but one global crisis at a time, huh?

So yeah, I'm a fan. If you've never seen Godzilla, or haven't seen it in a long time, I urge you to take another look. It's not just one of the finest "monster" movies ever made, it's a damn good film, period.

And really, do I have to give you spoiler warnings for a movie made during the Eisenhower Administration?

* Credit where it's due, Mom was the one who got me out of school early one day to go see Star Wars.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar