Posts Tagged ‘godzilla’

It’s funny how your mind works. One minute you’re trying to think of something worth writing about, and the next you’re wondering who would win between Godzilla and the Hulk. Then you’re thinking that actually the two of them have a lot in common (big, green, ticked off, created by nuclear bombs) and would probably be great friends if they stopped talk a minute. Which, fortunately for the rest of us, isn’t going to happen.

And then you start thinking, hey, I’m a writer, and writers are a lot like that big green guy–the Hulk, not Godzilla, although I’d be willing to be convinced of that. So how are writers like the Hulk? Let me count the ways…

  1. They tend to jump around a lot with no apparent plan, but somehow they get the job done.
  2. When they’re criticized, they try to stay calm, but inside they want to smash you! (Okay, writers are more like Bruce Banner that way. The Hulk would just smash you.)
  3. They have a propensity for wearing purple pants and no shirts. (There’s a reason writers work alone.)
  4. When they’re stomping around trying to work something out in their heads, it’s best to give them lots of space.
  5. They are, to put it mildly, wildly misunderstood.
  6. They take great leaps.
  7. They try to pare their dialogue down to the most essential words and phrases.
  8. They don’t work well with others, but if Scarlett Johansson bats her eyes at them, they’ll usually settle down.
  9. They both work mostly in fiction.

And the final thing that writers and the Hulk have common:

10. The Hulk is stronger than a tank, and the pen is mightier than the sword.


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I spent the Christmas break catching up on my laziness. Work has been more than usually busy lately, the ebb and flow having gained flow quite noticeably as the year ebbed.* And one evening, as I flipped through the 4000 channels in search of something to watch, I found a gold mine: a Thin Man movie marathon. I think Nick Charles (as played by the iconic William Powell) is the paragon of Thirties’ suavity, urbane, witty, cool under fire, a genius detective…I want to dress like him, talk like him… yes, I want to be him. But not because of any of those qualities I just described. Oh no. I want to be Nick Charles because he’s married to Nora.

Nora Charles. Brought to life by the incomparable Myrna Loy, Nora is unflappable, game for adventure, and fiercely loyal to her Nicky. What man could want more? The first time I saw The Thin Man, I fell in love with Nora Charles and Myrna Loy. I still love them today. (It’s okay, the wife knows.)

Now, I have all the movies on DVD already, and the only reason I haven’t watched them all is because I don’t want to finish the series: I always want to have at least one to look forward to. So the fact that they were now on TV should not have meant much, but we all know the joy of that serendipitous discovery is greater than that of knowing you could just pull the movies off the shelve and watch them any old time.

And then–disaster. Idly scanning the channel guide during a commercial, I discovered that at the same time there was playing on another network a Godzilla marathon. Great Scott! What to do? There are a lot more Godzilla movies than Thin Man movies, and I don’t have most of them on DVD.

Have you ever channel-flipped between the most charming crime-fighting marriage of the 1930s and the greatest man-in-a-rubber-suit monster of the 20th century? I have–now.

And let me tell you, it ain’t Heaven. First, you miss a lot. No matter which one you favor, you’re going to miss pieces while you’re watching the other. Second, there can be too much of a good thing, even with your favorite shows. I could probably watch two or three Thin Man movies in a row before my eyes started to fall out, but it was late that night and I was getting sleepy, so I stopped after 1 1/2 when I realized I’d seen the next one anyway.

But at the point, I didn’t know what “too much of a good thing” meant. It turned out the Godzilla marathon ran for three days. And for three days, I spent all of my free time in front of the TV sucking down the movie equivalent of empty calories. Big calories, but empty. And I started to appreciate what I had known for years: Although all Godzilla movies are not the same, but they might as well be. Honestly, it’s hard to get invested in the Japanese army with its super-weapons when, even if they manage to hit Godzilla (how do they ever miss?), they can’t stop him. It’s one thing to watch such an exercise in futility once in a while, but for three days straight?

So yes, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, no matter how much you love it. At least, it is as far as television is concerned. At the end of the day, I realized something else, something far more important: The person with whom I spend my life doesn’t watch Godzilla movies, but she left me alone that whole weekend to do as I pleased. So I went back to her. Some things that you love, you never get enough of.


*A tortured metaphor, I know, but indulge me.

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I am a fan of bad old SF movies, the kind they made in the 1950s-1960s with giant grasshoppers, and big-headed aliens stalking amorous teenagers, and animated rugs chasing people at 2 MPH (and catching them). You know, the kind of movies Mystery Science Theater made famous again. (And yes, I am looking forward to the new MS3T.)

I love these poor things so much that I once, many years ago, helped compile a list of 50 of the worst, with annotations. I have tried very hard to find that list and repeat parts of it here, but alas… (Perhaps I shall try at some point to re-create some portion of it from memory, but like I said, this was written down many years ago and if I can remember more than a half-dozen, I’ll be doing well. Besides, it didn’t include Manos, Hands of Fate, which would now be #1.*)

But the point of this meandering is to ask: Why are so-bad-they’re-good movies popular? If you tried to do a staged MS3T with short stories and novels, you’d get past “The Eye of Argon” and find yourself completely out of material. Sure, there are loads of lousy books out there, but their shortcomings are seen as pathetic or boring, not amusing. Why, then, movies?

As with so many of life’s mysteries, I have no answer. I would theorize it has something to do with movies being more passive than reading, or perhaps the added visual dimension gives them an edge. I just know it’s so.

There have, of course, been many bad movies since our original list, but no so many enjoyable ones. (Granted, one tends to be less charitable when one is actually paying for the privilege of viewing.) Perhaps some of these newcomers could still make the list–I’m looking at you, Godzilla…

*For the love of heaven, if you must watch Manos, watch the MS3T version. The original has probably been outlawed by the U.N. anyway. The fact that the last three digits of its IMDb URL are “666” should tell you something.




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If there’s anything we can count on in today’s world, it is that if you dare to put any sort of opinion forward on the Internet, a million people will attack you for it. Amazon apparently feels it is big enough to stand the hit, and it is publishing various lists of 100 Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime, categorized by genre. Today it’s science fiction and fantasy’s turn. Well, to take my inspiration from the Bard (who better?), I come not to praise Amazon nor to bury them. I just want to nit-pick a little bit.

First, in a flurry of self-congratulation, I have to admit that I’ve read–or tried to read–a good number of the recommended books already. (Okay, 37.) Although “tried to read” is a more accurate description in several cases, I count them. Intent is important, and in almost none of those cases did I simply give up for lack of time. No, it was nearly uniformly for lack of interest. And therein lies the nit-pick.

Now, I am not going to say that every one of those books I failed to finish was bad and doesn’t belong on the list. Most of the time, they simply weren’t my cup of tea. And a couple were just too damned long. There are only so many hours in a day. I mean, I read A Song of Ice and Fire, but I gave up in the third book because the story’s just too complicated and I haven’t the time–nor can I remember each book for five years until the next comes out. But a few of these titles…yes, one or two I simply cannot hold with. And while I realize they have their defenders (I’ve had the arguments), and they certainly have the sales, I would not have put them on this list.

Three books stand out for me: Pawn of Prophecy, Perdido Street Station, and Guilty Pleasures.

I didn’t hate The Belgariad. I read the first five Eddings books straight through. They were entertaining. They just weren’t award-worthy. I thought they were derivative, stereotyped, and thoroughly run-of-the-mill. It’s on this list because it sells, and Amazon is a book-seller.

Perdido Street Station is hailed everywhere I look as a transcendent work of art, a masterpiece. Me? I finished the book, looked at the cover, and asked: “What was the point of that?” It might belong on this list, but I wouldn’t put it there.

I loved Guilty Pleasures. I bought it when it first came out, and read the next half-dozen or so like clockwork. I got some signed. Then I stopped. The story veered way off in the wrong direction, and the last I heard, it was a parody of its former self. More to the point, though, there’s nothing ground-breaking or life-changing about that first book. Again, it’s there because it sells.

Bonus title: Why The Curse of Chalon? Why not one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels? Not a quibble, just a question.

What would I have picked? Why, I thought you’d never ask. Off the top of my head…

Telempath, by Spider Robinson. Blew my mind. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s been in print for over a century for a reason. And for heaven’s sake, any of a dozen novels by Tanith Lee. They’re like Pringles, except that you can’t read more than one without a break, because they are so rich.

So, there. Only three or four disagreements out of a hundred. Who says you can’t be reasonable on the Internet? Now, if you wanted to rate all the Godzilla movies…


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When last we had words with our Intrepid Hero (yes, me), we had discussed the humanization of larger-than-life characters, among them, Godzilla. In a completely serendipitous turn of events, a few days later I noticed that the latest screen version of my beloved Uber-dinosaur was playing on cable. Since I had not seen that particular epic, I resolved to spend a portion of my evening watching it. You’d think I’d’ve learned my lesson in 1998 (which disaster I actually saw in a theater), but you’d be wrong.

Now, this is only one blogger’s opinion, but I have seen a great many Godzilla movies in my time; I even have a couple on DVD (that I picked up cheap). I will watch almost any of them at any time (Godzilla’s Revenge and Son of Godzilla being notable exceptions). My impression: I have added this version to the list of Will Not Watch Again.

My reasons are many and varied, encompassing plot, art direction, casting, and screenplay, but these are not the point of my essay today. That is, while as I said last time some human context is necessary for the audience to relate to a story essentially about super-beings, it is possible to overdo even the human element when it eclipses the super-beings for whom the movie is named. This movie isn’t even all about the people whom Godzilla’s existence affects–it’s about all the people who are affected by the monsters Godzilla is there to fight–and we don’t even get to see the fight.

Yes, we should care what happens to the bomb disposal expert, his heroic nurse wife, his never-understood-but-right-all-along scientist father, the ever-changing and interchangeable parade of small children, and the Japanese scientist who believes in Godzilla even though nobody explains why. (We don’t, but that’s part of my list of reasons cited above.) The problem is, we should also care about what happens to the titular character–and we hardly see him, let alone have a chance to care about him. Compare this to King Kong: yes, the ape is a monster, and yes, he goes on a rampage, and yes it’s kind of hard to relate to a fifty-foot tall gorilla–but we do anyway. Can you honestly watch Kong gently set Fay Wray (I’m a classicist) down out of harm’s way before he takes those final bullets and falls off the Empire State Building, and not wipe away a tear? It wasn’t “beauty killed the beast,” it was the exigencies of the plot–and yet we feel more for the monster than we do for the faceless pilots he swats from the sky. Why? Because that movie balanced the characters–human and ape–and made us care about both of them.

Then there’s Godzilla. It spends so much time on so many people (part of the problem) that we have no sense of relation to the monster. He doesn’t come on till it’s about half-way through, and then he’s almost always covered by water, or clouds, or smoke, or darkness. He barely smashes anything, and by the time he unleashes his fire breath (so sadly missing in 1998), you want to cheer because now you’re seeing Godzilla–but you ask, what took him so long?

If the filmmakers had been attempting to take the big lizard back to his roots, that would have been one thing. The original was, as we all know, a commentary on the nuclear age, and that monster came across anything but heroic, or even anti-heroic. But Godzilla has evolved, and the fact that he was facing off against other monsters shows that it was the latter-day G the movie was aiming for. And missed by a mile.

What do we take away from this from a writing point of view? That while a story about larger-than-life heroes needs relatable, developed characters, the hero should stand out. A larger-than-life hero should be pretty easy to see. If, for example, you call your movie Godzilla, that’s who your audience expects to see. Maybe they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when given a poster and a trailer and more than 50 years of history, they should be able to guess who they’re going to see–because that’s who they’re coming to see.


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Heroes. We all write about them. They’re kind of necessary: They propel the story, readers identify with them, they are the way we write stories that provide some kind of cathartic resolution to implacable problems. (For both our readers and ourselves.) Heroes: can’t live with ’em, can’t write without ’em.

Wait–“can’t live with ’em”? Yeah, because heroes are larger than life. It wasn’t because Superman lives such a dangerous life that he couldn’t marry Lois–she got into as many scrapes as he did–it was because he would never have any time for her. And as hard as heroes are to live with, they’re just as hard to write.

To be interesting, to be believable, a hero has to be flawed. All of us are. Somebody like Superman or Doc Savage, we can admire them, live vicariously through them, but we can’t relate to them. That’s why they have associates, assistants, friends. Watson is our way in to Holmes’s world. Even Godzilla movies have some kind of human story going on alongside the mayhem.

That’s one way to humanize a hero, although it’s not direct. The direct way is to make him more like the rest of us, scrape away some of his superhumanity. Batman has a tragedy in his past. While we can’t relate to putting on a mask and a cape and swooping in on armed bad guys, we can understand loss. But if you go too far, you risk making your hero–not a hero. How far can you go before your hero is no longer heroic? Where is the line between hero and villain?

It’s interesting that if you actually go way beyond that line, you reach anti-hero territory. Superman kills Zod, and the public screams. (I, for one, won’t watch that movie.) If Batman machine-gunned the Joker and his entire gang, his readership would vanish. (Okay, probably not completely. There are people out there who will read anything.) But let John McClane commit a mass killing, his movie gets three sequels. You skip over “villain” altogether.

So we go from hero through villain and end up at (quasi-) hero. With such a broad spectrum available, where do you fit in the “he’s just like us” part? It isn’t easy. But if you want a relatable character, you have to find a way.

Ironically, if you try to humanize a villain, you do it exactly the same way. And then things get really interesting.

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