Science Fiction Film & Television

Godzilla (1998) as camp de-extinction narrative

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (3), 297–314.

Abstract

Godzilla is one of the most famous de-extinct monsters in global popular cinema. Fan loyalty to the original Toho Studios conception of the creature as a super-powered, dinosaur-like creature helps explain the negative response to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Hollywood version, which re-imagines Godzilla as a giant, irradiated twentieth-century iguana. Emmerich’s film is plotted around the monster’s attempt to use subterranean New York City as a spawning ground. The creature lays eggs that later hatch into baby Godzillas that look suspiciously like Jurassic Park-style velociraptors. Indeed, the movie plays like an expanded version of the last twenty minutes of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): a dinosaur-like creature runs amok in a major American city and is eventually defeated by a plan involving its offspring. Emmerich’s Godzilla is famous for being ‘Godzilla in name only’, yet its extensive intertextuality with The Lost World foregrounds de-extinction themes and imagery. Furthermore, Godzilla (1998) emphasises human action - in this case, 1950s French nuclear tests in French Polynesia - as the cause of the mutant creature’s emergence. Humans causing de-extinction is a key feature of the entire Godzilla franchise and of similar creature features from the 1950s to the present. Akin to its 1950s predecessors, Godzilla’s light, intentionally (and sometimes unintentionally) comedic tone open it to camp readings of the kind analysed by Bridgitte Barclay, who writes that the narrative and aesthetic shortcomings of schlocky sf B movies ‘disengage the audience from the filmic world and expose the mechanics of storytelling, making the master narrative a story and thereby resisting it by showing it as such’. Godzilla does just that, deflating its own anthropocentrism and rampant pro-militarism via its blatantly derivative story, shoddy digital effects and ham-handed dialogue.

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Author details

Soles, Carter