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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How Big is Godzilla Anyway?

How big is Godzilla? That's not such a simple question as it may seem. If you mean the new Godzilla 2014, I'll get to that in a moment, but first I think it would be good to put Godzilla's size into a little historical perspective. Godzilla 2014 marks the 30th Godzilla film and the second American production. Since the original Gojira in 1954, Toho Godzilla films can be divided into 3 separate series and Godzilla's appearance and size have greatly changed over the years:

1. The Showa series: 15 movies from Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954) to Terror of Mechagodzilla(1975). (The term Showa comes from the name of the Japanese emperor of the day.) The original Godzilla was 50 meters(164 feet) tall with a weight of 20,000 tons. This size was maintained throughout the Showa series. Godzilla's appearance significantly changed however, with 8 different suit designs over the course of the series. Although Godzilla's historical origins were maintained, there was actually very little continuity from one movie to the next with the exception of Terror of Mechagodzilla as a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

2. The Heisei series: 7 movies from Godzilla 1985 (1984) to Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) (This series takes its name from the current Japanese emperor.) For his return in Godzilla 1985 and again for Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla grew to 80 meters(262 feet) and 50,000 tons. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, he had a new origin story and emerged at 100 meters(328 feet) and 60,000 tons. Unlike the Showa series, the Heisei movies are continuous with one film a direct sequel to the next. This is in no small part to actress Megumi Odaka whose popular character Miki Saegusa was a common thread in all the films from Biollante to Destroyah.

Godzilla(1989) In his first ever American film, Godzilla was imagined as a giant, mutated iguana and stood 65.5 meters(215 feet) tall. This Godzilla was rather unpopular with fans and is often referred to as Zilla or Gino(Godzilla In Name Only). The Godzilla 2014 reboot has no connection with this movie whatsoever.

3. The Millennium series: 6 movies from Godzilla 2000 (1999) to Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
In the Millennium series, Godzilla was reduced to a more believable 55 meters(180 feet) and in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack(GMK), he was a slightly larger 60 meters(196 feet). For Godzilla Final Wars, the last Japanese movie, he returned to 100 meters. These movies also showed continuity with the exception of GMK and Final Wars.

Godzilla 2014

In the 2014 reboot by Legendary Pictures, Godzilla is slightly larger than the Heisei series at 106 meters(350 feet), making him the biggest Godzilla of all. Yet, this was far below initial estimates of 120-150 meters.

So let's recap Godzilla's height changes over the years;

Showa 1954-1975, 50 meters(164 feet)
Heisei  1985-1995, 80 meters(262 feet)-100 meters(328 feet)
American "Zilla" 1989, 65.5 meters(215 feet)
Millennium 2000-2004, 55 meters(180 feet)-60 meters(196 feet) Final Wars, 100 meters

Godzilla 2014: 106 meters(350 feet)

Why has Godzilla's size changed?

Godzilla's size changed to reflect the times, both architectural and economic. The original Godzilla was 50 meters to match the cityscape of the time. At this scale the Japanese craftsman had to pay meticulous attention to detail to miniature work. This was also a matter of pride, as there had been a long tradition of expertise in miniatures in Japanese film making.
For Godzilla's return in 1985, it was decided that Godzilla be larger to reflect growing skyscrapers and he was 80 meters. This grew again in the 1990's to 100 meters. This was also done to reflect Japan's economic prowess at the height of the bubble economy and national pride was at an all time high since the war.  The problem with this scale is that miniatures and buildings have less detail and look like, well, miniatures. By 2000 however, the bubble had burst and also for nostalgic reasons, Godzilla was reduced to a more believable 55 meters, yet still larger than the original. And film makers could show off detailed miniatures again. And of course, in the King's return in 2014, he should be the biggest ever at 350 feet(106 meters)

Godzilla opens May 16 and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and Ken Watanabe. It doesn't open in Japan until July 25th. I have to wait until then, dammit!

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