Back in the summer of 2007, a very successful viral campaign showing a teaser trailer for a film called CLOVERFIELD swept the Internet. It threw hard core Japanese monster fans into a frenzy anticipating the possibility that Godzilla, who was in cinematic retirement, might finally be making his illustrious return.
This was not to be the case, although the film’s creator, J.J. Abrams, was inspired by Godzilla during a visit to a Japanese toy store. While his son ogled the various Godzilla merchandise for sale, Abrams decided to set out and develop a giant monster Americans could call their own.
When the movie finally made its debut, most of the Godzilla crowd was less than impressed. This movie was nothing like a Godzilla film despite its influences and, although having the presence of a giant monster, displayed few elements of the Japanese Kaiju genre.
The movie is filmed with the same P.O.V. style used with great success in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the Spanish horror film, REC (along with its less effective American clone, QUARANTINE). A camcorder, used to capture a “going away party” for a twenty-something year old moving from New York to Japan, ends up documenting the rampage of a mysterious creature and the chaos it creates. While the lead character searches for his missing love, he and his friends must dodge the monster, the military, and some hideous parasites that had hosted on the creature.
While I didn’t feel this movie was anything like a Godzilla film, it still struck a chord with me. It wasn’t until I attended a forum at the next G-Fest (Godzilla Festival) in Chicago that I understood why.
Before Godzilla became the campy “anti-hero” of the 1960’s and 70’s, he was a very different creature. Created out of Japan’s fear of the atomic age, GOJIRA made his debut in 1954 and was a huge success in its native land. Japan was the only nation that knew exactly what it meant to get hit with atomic power and there is tremendous emphasis on the destruction caused by this man-made “force of nature.” This was much more an element in GOJIRA than the typical giant monster movies playing in the US during this time. To the Japanese, this was far more than a mere drive-in, popcorn thriller. In many ways, it psychologically helped them work through what had actually happened to them as a nation.
With that in mind, I can not sit through a viewing of CLOVERFIELD without being reminded of the news and footage this country witnessed on September 11, 2001. I feel that the destruction, the confusion, and mass exodus from New York City depicted in this film, captures that event better than any movie made directly on the subject.
As stated by one of the G-Fest panelists, “Gone are the days when an American viewer can accept a giant monster toppling a building in three easy pieces, with little to no dust or debris. Americans now know exactly what a skyscraper looks like when it comes down and this film gives the viewer an idea of the chaos that erupted during that fateful day.”
Godzilla was in no danger of losing his title as “The King of Monsters” so far as that crowd was concerned and, in that regard, I am in total agreement with my G-FAN brothers and sisters. Godzilla has become so ingrained in our popular culture that he is as much ours as he is Japan’s. Even the suffix “zilla” has made its way into the American lexicon as something “great and terrible.” Shows like “Bridezillas” or the discovery of an overgrown, hybrid boar in Georgia, immediately named “Hogzilla” illustrate this.
No, my friends, CLOVERFIELD is definitely not our Godzilla. But he might, however, have been our GOJIRA.