The Return of the King

And I don’t mean Elvis. We all know he was taken by aliens to planet Rx.
*spoilers*

When I first heard that a new Godzilla movie was coming out, my mind immediately cringed. After Roland Emmerich’s debacle that was the “American” Godzilla in 1998, which, if not for Jar Jar Binks, might surpass Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in movie awfulness, I was understandably skeptical of this latest installment.

Godzilla has always held a special place in my heart, and brings back a lot of childhood memories of racing home to watch Monster Week when The 4:30 Movie would have that special week of sci-fi bliss. They also had Planet of the Apes Week, but I wouldn’t appreciate that classic until I was older. Apes were boring as hell, but giant atomic fire-breathing lizards were awesome. Whenever I get the bug to go back and watch one of these movies featuring Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidrah and all the rest I am reminded of just how cheesy almost all of them were. But I haven’t forgotten the boy who saw none of the cheese, either, or the things those producers accomplished without the benefit of today’s CGI tech. They are nice jaunts down memory lane, but also everything that I don’t want to see in a modern rendition that doesn’t intentionally aim for the cheese or target kids.

The original Godzilla, or Gojira, was made in 1954 in glorious black and white and remains a classic. With its muted color and adult theme I don’t recall it ever gracing Monster Week, which was filled with kid pleasing robots, monsters, UFOs, alien roaches disguised as people, and more. The first Godzilla, made less than a decade after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was a strong metaphor embodying the fears of a world now filled with the threat of nuclear annihilation. In the end Godzilla is stopped by the scientist Serizawa, who destroys both the atomic beast and himself while taking the secret to his own destructive device, the Oxygen Destroyer, to the grave with them. The original may have been surpassed by electronic gadgetry and other movie magic, but the story has not. When the film was brought to America, it was promptly sliced up and rearranged with new scenes featuring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin and a few others to help it transition better to an American audience. The attempt was creative, but ultimately takes away from the impact of the original film given the chance to compare.

From there Godzilla would evolve from a lumbering menace born of humanity’s hubris to favored anti-hero and (if benign) champion/defender of earth before going into hibernation in 1975. Nearly a decade later he would reappear in The Return of Godzila to seek out nuclear sustenance (hey, a ten year sleep leaves you a little hungry). The 1984 Godzilla was pumped up in size to compensate for a cityscape now filled with towering skyscrapers. After being knocked out and revived by the skittish Russians launching a nuclear missile, Godzilla is finally led to a volcano by tapping into his evolutionary background with some bird calls. A few explosive blasts to create a controlled eruption sends the giant to a hot bath. Again, the film was sent to America where it would be sliced and hacked. Godzilla wasn’t the only thing that grew in size, as a very rotund Raymond Burr would reprise his role as Steve Martin.

And this would launch into the next series of Godzilla films with a reboot thrown into the mix, as well as reviving such famous adversaries as King Ghidrah. Lots of higher tech movie fluff, but still lots of cheese. Then throw in the American, non-atomic fire fish-breath Godzilla of 1998. Which brings us to now.

The Godzilla of 2014 is the biggest Godzilla yet, and the film does the proper job of not showing too much of him too soon. The film follows the Brody family, which serves as the primary vehicle to transition the audience from scene to scene. Their story is unoriginal and cliché. But we aren’t really here for them. The first full reveal of the new Godzilla, along with the halo jump later in the movie and the first time Godzilla unleashes his atomic breath, are some of the best cinematic shots. This bull-doggish faced CGI Godzilla expresses a better range of creature emotion, from pissed off to exhausted. He is oblivious to the ants (people) swarming around him, and the unleashing of the atomic breath down the MUTO’s throat (MUTO = Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) at the end before ripping its head off truly establishes Godzilla’s title of “King of the Monsters.” This is the kind of geekdom that makes my inner child roar “hell yeah!”

What the movie lacks is that its titular character, recreated with no acknowledgement of previous appearances, is not the focus of the story. The focus revolves mostly around the MUTOs, giant, radioactive insectoid monsters that go around sucking up radiation and preparing to reproduce until Godzilla comes to save the day. In short, the movie feels like a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist. The limited history given on how the atom bomb tests were really attempts to destroy the big G leading up to today seems like something worth exploring–“we tried to destroy it, and now look here, it comes to save us.” The movie tips the hat by having Ken Watanabe play a scientist named Serizawa, but instead of having created a WMD of devastation equal to the original Oxygen Destroyer, his job seems to mostly be standing around gawking. But perhaps I pass judgment too soon. With its success, I understand another movie is already in the works.

Liebster Blog Award

So there’s this Liebster Blog Award chain making the rounds. I was picked by Marzio Ombra who shares a beautifully rendered web page with my good online acquantaince Narcisse Navarre at http://www.khajj.com/liebster-blog-award/. If you enjoy dark fantasy/erotica, you should go check them out.

So here are the Liebster Award rules as passed on to me:

1. Each nominee must answer the 11 questions passed on to them by the person who nominated them. (If you liked the questions they were asked by their nominator better, that’s just too bad for you!)

2. Link back to the person who nominated you.

3. Create 11 questions for the next nominees to answer.

4. Choose 11 people and link them to your post.

5. No tag backs! (This rule was presented with an exclamation point, so I take it to be important.)

So, without further ado, here are Marzio’s questions and my answers.

1) Bad News! You were accidentally killed in a ridiculous stunt while partying with a drunken God. Good News! He feels terrible about the whole mess and has offered to return you to life. Bad News! Due to the complex and arcane rules dictating what the Gods and Goddesses can and cannot do, you cannot be revived as a human being! Good News! You can be brought back as any non-human race from fiction! Which race do you choose and why?

My first inclination is to say dragon, but some might quibble that dragons are a mythological creature, not a race. So, barring that, I would say a fey changeling creature as the Changelings of the World of Darkness setting or something similar. I’d rather be imbued with magic as opposed to having to study it like some wizard. Given a fey tie to a particular season I would, of course, choose Autumn.

2) Tomorrow at dawn you will be executed, but tonight you dine. What is your last meal?

BBQ ribs, a medium rare bacon-wrapped filet mignon, a fine Merlot, cheesecake, two Twix bars, and a wafer-thin mint.

3) Enough of Death, let’s try Life. Would you prefer mortality or immortality? If you choose mortality, how long would you like to live? Why?

Thing about “immortality” is that it is seldom immortal. Ask that Achilles fellow or the last vampire staked through the heart. So I’ll take immortal with the option of voluntarily snorting a wasabi pea up my nose as a way to end my existence, should things get too boring.

4) Someone who knows you quite well told me that you are like an animal but I forgot which one. What animal do you think they said and why on earth would they say such a thing?

I’ve been called a mouse, because I’m smallish, quiet, and sneaky. #rogue

5) What is the best prize you ever received and what did you do to win it?

Life. Nothing.

6) Hot damn! They are making a movie of your life! Due to the complex and arcane rules dictating what Hollywood Gods can and cannot do, they have asked you to name who will direct this epic film and which actor/actress will play you. Who are they?

Johnny Depp/Scott Bakula. It’ll be the true story of a pirate who stumbled into a quantum flux and leaped into the body of a guy driving a Dodge truck. We’ll call it a tragedy with comedic appeal.

7) You have been banished! What in the Nine Hells did you do to deserve Exile and where will you go?

You see, that’s just it. I’m innocent. I had nothing to do with all… this. But I’m being sent to the Halo Sleep detention centre anyway.

8) We all have our moments. What is the absolute smartest and/or dumbest thing you have ever done?

I’m going to plead the fifth on this one.

9) What is your favorite movie adaptation of a book?

Off the top of my head, I thought The Green Mile was an excellent adaptation of the serial series by Stephen King. Lord of the Rings ranks high, too, even with the story changes.

10) The Sphinx owes you a boon for services rendered. She has agreed to answer one question with complete honesty & accuracy. What question would you ask?

So, what about those GMOs, anyway??

11) For some crazy reason, you decided to let the party God from Question 1 borrow your house last weekend and the nut completely trashed the place! While he did agree to have it cleaned up, he feels awful all the same. To patch up your friendship he hands you a “Re-Do” coin. It grants you one free “do-over” for any one event in your life. Do you use it right away or hold onto it for future needs?

Assuming a few things about this, I would choose to sleep in two hours later on May 28, 1989. Thus refreshed, I would use what knowledge I retain of the future to meet some people sooner, and meet others not at all. There are quite a few other things I will do, too, since this makes for a pretty good makeover. Such that you will not recognize your world at all. Of course, you won’t know that, but you’ll know me. Oh, and I’ve changed my name to Zod.

Now for my questions, which no doubt will shed much insight into the human condition and meaning of life.

1. This morning when you woke up, your brain was functioning differently. It may have been from eating all that GMO wheat all your life, bacon & eggs, or that time your mom washed your scalp with toxic chemicals. It’s hard to tell. But, more than likely, it was the wheat. The point is, today you’re different. You have either the mental ability of telekinesis, pyrokinesis, or telepathy. Which do you have, and why that one?

2. Imagine the animal you would describe yourself as. Now imagine the animal your friends would describe you as. Morph them together. What is this creature called?

3. Your uncle, who has always been a bit of a mad chemist after being released from that pharmaceutical company, has left a concoction on his basement workbench. The label on the side reads Inviso, and his notes nearby claim the effects last about 4 hours. Shrugging and imbibing the potion, you turn invisible. What do you do for the next 4 hours?

4. After drinking that potion and later watching Kick-Ass, you feel pretty damn inspired to go kick some ass yourself. So you create your own costume and get ready to set out and beat some butt. What does your do-gooder outfit look like?

5. When you wake next, you find yourself living in Westeros, sitting on the Iron Throne. Knowing that you’re probably going to need a bit of help if you want to keep that seat (and your head), which great House do you pick to aid you in your cause? Stark, Lannister, Greyjoy, Martell, Baratheon, or Targaryen? (You’re still going to die, though.)

6. The Gaming Gods smile upon you, and with all the power at their command have decided to let you alter reality to resemble any one RPG game setting. What setting do you pick?

7. The mischievous god Loki has decided to grant you one small boon. Every time someone carries out a pet peeve of yours that you witness, they experience a mild shock that increases in intensity with repetition. That should stop that pretty soon, eh? What pet peeve do you pick?

8. You’re offered your choice of a functional light sabre or an honest-to-gosh living fire-breathing pet dragon. Which do you choose?

9. Who is your favorite author?

10. You wake up one day and it suddenly hits you–if L. Ron Hubbard can create a brand-spanking new religion, why can’t you?? People are bound to flock to your faith, and think of all the tax exempt money! What’s the name of your new religion and its major tenet(s)?

11. You’ve died a rather gruesome death. Now your spirit haunts the earth. What act by those left behind will send you to your final rest?

As far as listing eleven nominees…I don’t follow that many, and I’ve never been a huge fan of chain emails etc. (which this is kind of like). But this one was a bit of fun. So if YOU, dear reader, want to answer those questions, jump right in. Consider yourself nominated. Post them to your blog, and pop me a link so I can read your answers.

As far as checking out some other interesting peeps, and depending on your interests, in addition to Khajj above, consider these folks. I don’t know if they’ll play the game, but they’re worth a follow on Twitter.

Brian Rathbone

Action Chick

K. Jean King

Amy Ratcliffe

James L. Sutter

Rebellicious Red

Waiter, there’s a cross in my horror.

I’m a person of skeptical bent, which means I remain dubious of most any and all faith claims as fact. But my mind postulates that without religion and myth, two of the things I enjoy most in life, namely supernatural horror and fantasy, would not exist. What creature of the night or flighty god of fancy does not owe something to a mythological predecessor?

Perhaps that explains my continuing fascination with theology and mythology, which to me are much one and the same. Asked to concisely define mythology, Joseph Campbell answered, “Mythology is what we call someone else’s religion.” Mythology today has come to be equated to “a fiction,” whereas I prefer to think of it as Campbell put it, “symbolic images and narratives, metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and the fulfillment of a given culture at a given time.” Myth is storytelling with meaning. It can carry truth, and it carries on today.

In the past,  as often as not, supernatural horror did not come without the inverse supernatural good. There was kind of a karmic balance. That’s changing somewhat in this modern era, and can particularly be seen with vampires. Anne Rice writes about vampires that can be fond of crosses, taking away the Church as antagonist and leaving the vamps to a carnal, dark underworld of their own making. In fact, being a vampire these days seems more of a sleek, sexy lifestyle with a couple of social glitches and hang-ups than being a curse. An American Werewolf in London (best werewolf movie EH-ver) dispensed with the notion of silver bullets. What seems to be happening is that the mythology surrounding the core ideal is stripped away, leaving just the creature. Sometimes that mythology is reimagined and replaced with a more modern interpretation, which can be a lot of fun. Or it can result in plain, unadulterated Evil, like sparkly vampires. Regardless, that is the nature of myth for each new age. It is never static. The novel I am currently working on carries many theological and religious overtones, drawn from a variety of  sources. These are our metaphors for relating to the universe.

I doubt supernatural horror will ever be completely free of religion, any more than man will. Like horror and fantasy, religious myths adapt and move with us too, and give birth to new ones. There is a natural progression. Scientology comes to mind as a recent example.  In many respects, belief in alien life is only the transference of belief in gods to belief in gods with space suits. Religion, in one form or another, will continue adding flavor to our cups of horror for many moons to come. We are hard-wired for it.

For my part, not all religions are built equally, though, and some make for more entertaining storytelling than others. The aforementioned Scientology is prebuilt for sci-fi. Given its creator wrote science fiction, perhaps that is not really surprising. It gives me pause that its faithful don’t quirk an eyebrow at this. But then again it makes sense–our myths come from our storytellers. Modern storytellers tend to be entertainers; L. Ron Hubbard went the extra mile to establish a new religion. The Mormons took us to space with Battlestar Galactica. Star Wars carried a quasi-Eastern religious feeling with the Force, until Lucas went and screwed that all up with “midi-chlorians.”   And the Roman Catholic Church gave us rich tradition and the cross which was the bane of evil for hundreds of storytelling years and remains so today. Catholicism is the standard foil for many a horror flick. It’s filled with awesome pageantry and ritual, making for great storytelling and visuals. It’s played such a huge role in history, both positive and negative, its influence on myth and faith is found across the globe. Modern day Protestantism, in comparison, is just damn boring. They don’t do flashy.

It’s also trendy to cast the man of god into the dark role, which may be somewhat a product of our age, but something the Church has lent itself to both historically and in current affairs. After all, when your local preacher gets busted for porn or theft, they’re guaranteed to make headlines. You can’t preach a higher standard and not expect to be excoriated for it when you yourself fail. Stephen King’s werewolf in Silver Bullet was the town preacher and the Da Vinci Code stirred the Catholic conspiracy pudding to such a degree some people thought it was real. But it’s good, even refreshing, to have an unspoilt (even if troubled) man of the cloth now and again. Father Karras and Father Merrin from the Exorcist come to mind. I liked those characters. I may not be a person of by-the-book faith, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positive metaphors there to be used, one that most often involves sacrifice or atonement.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing fantasy and horror reestablish themselves in today’s culture. When it comes to fantasy, I credit a lot of that to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films. Being a fantasy and horror lover is no longer equivalent to being a social pariah, as a rash of new book series and movies will attest. It has begun to enter television media now, with HBO launching Game of Thrones last year (a personal fan favorite for me), and networks airing Once Upon a Time and Grimm. And forget Disney, these are shows with something of a darker bent–as is right and proper.

No matter how they are used, these are powerful themes and archetypes used to build the fantastic metaphoric tapestries that spring from our imagination and express the depths of the human mind, and I welcome them.