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Having a pretty good day

October 29, 2012 3 comments

I just got back from running some errands, starting with depositing the advance check I just received for my current Star Trek novel — which I’m still not cleared to reveal any specifics about, as far as I know. It’s the second book advance I’ve gotten in as many weeks, which is a nice state of affairs.

After that, I went to the local Joseph-Beth Booksellers store so I could see my book on the shelf:

Looking good!

The spine really stands out on the shelf!

And hey, I’m almost right next to a book by my NYCC co-panelist Amber Benson!

I also introduced myself to a store manager there and tried to get a sense of how the book was doing, but that was inconclusive. They had 10 copies in stock at that store, which I’m hoping is a good sign, since at Books by the Banks (which Joseph-Beth supplied the books for), there were dozens of copies on hand. But it’s hard to be sure.

On the way out of my parking space at Joseph-Beth, my car was almost bumped into by a minivan with a Romney-Ryan bumper sticker, because its driver wasn’t paying attention. Which seems very fitting to me.

Anyway, after that came the roughest part of my trip, which was trying to take my nonfunctioning vacuum cleaner in to the local warranty service center. I wasn’t sure whether the vacuum had broken or both batteries had simultaneously died, so I hoped to get some help figuring that out and maybe getting replacement batteries if that was the issue, as well as getting the old ones recycled. But first off, I found it hard to find a parking place near the store, and had to do some extra driving and turning around and stuff to find a place I could legally park, which was a bit of a walk from the store. Then the store clerk told me he basically couldn’t do anything for me where that particular model was concerned except sell me a new one, which was only about 10 bucks more than a replacement battery would’ve cost anyway, so he said. (I checked online, and if you take tax and shipping into account, I’d say he was just about right.) My floor wasn’t getting any cleaner, so I gave in and bought the new one (which, to my disappointment, came with only one battery instead of the two my previous one came with, so I hope there’s still some life left in the old batteries after all). I’m upset that I wasn’t able to recycle the old vacuum, but at least I have some spare pieces in case I need them.

So that wasn’t too satisfying, but at least I have a functional vacuum again (hopefully). And on the way home, I noticed I was approaching a Big Boy restaurant. I’d just been thinking, not long ago, that it had been too long since I’d been to Big Boy and had one of their Buddie Boy ham sandwiches, which I quite liked. So I went in and did that, and it was very good, as were the baked apples I had on the side. Plus I saw they were advertising their pumpkin pie, and I remembered that they had a wonderful pumpkin pie, so I had a piece of that for dessert, and it was wonderful. So that was a lovely bit of serendipity and I feel very satisfied now — though it didn’t help with my efforts to lose some weight and get back into shape.

UPDATE: I just tried the new vacuum’s battery in the old vacuum, and it worked. So I only needed a new battery after all, not a new vacuum. I wonder if it’s worth it to return the vacuum and just order a replacement battery. Or maybe it’s a good idea to keep the new vacuum on hand just in case the old one does break down.

ONLY SUPERHUMAN is Library Journal’s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month!

October 24, 2012 1 comment

I just discovered that Library Journal has named Only Superhuman its SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month. The money quote from the review by Jackie Cassada:

Only Superhuman by Christopher L. BennettThe sf debut and first original novel by the author of Star Trek: The Original Series: Ex Machina and other TV and comics tie-ins has created a world of believable supermen and women set against a complex world of rival factions not unlike those of Renaissance city-states. VERDICT: Bennett brings believability to the larger-than-life world of superheroes in a story that should appeal to sf and comics fans alike.

That last sentence is just about exactly what I hoped people would say about my book. Really great to hear. I admit, there are a couple of less flattering reviews out there, and I was starting to worry. I’ve long believed that anything with enough substance to evoke strong positive reactions in some people would inevitably evoke strong negative reactions in others, so I’d be okay with a mix of both. (I’ve gotten a similar reaction to the T’Ryssa Chen character I created for my Star Trek: TNG novels, a character who has a lot in common with Emerald Blair; some people strongly dislike her, while others are very fond of her.) But until now, the positive reactions have been a little sparse, and I’ve been getting a little neurotic about it. So this review is very reassuring. (Actually it’s dated 9 days ago, but somehow I’ve missed it until now.)

The comparison to Renaissance city-states is interesting. Insofar as I had a historical model in mind, I was probably thinking more in terms of ancient Greek city-states — and to a large extent of modern ethnic and religious nationalism and the ways it divides us and causes more problems than it solves.

(Edited to add the review link)

Back from Books by the Banks

Today was the Books by the Banks festival for authors from the Cincinnati region, and I spent six hours at the convention center downtown hawking my wares. In addition to a big pile of Only Superhuman, the bookstore providing merchandise for the event also had a bunch of copies of Forgotten History, a small supply of Watching the Clock, three copies of the Mere Anarchy trade paperback, and one lonely copy of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder — which wasn’t lonely for long, since it was the first book I sold. By the end of the event, I’d sold out of Mere Anarchy as well and was down to one WtC, and I’d moved seven copies of OS and at least a few of FH. Plus a few people who didn’t buy OS then and there nonetheless indicated they intended to buy it online or as an e-book. All in all, while I could’ve wished for better, it was a pretty decent performance considering that this was a general book festival, not specifically SF-oriented. I seem to recall that at my first BbtB, where they only had Titan: Over a Torrent Sea for sale, I didn’t sell that many copies. So I’m satisfied with how this event turned out. Plus I made a couple of new contacts and set things in motion for a book signing event that will hopefully materialize fairly soon.

Jekyll and Hyde and Jekyll and Hyde

Recently Turner Classic movies aired both the 1931 and 1941 film versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on consecutive days, giving me a good chance to compare the two.  The ’31 version was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starred Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, and Rose Hobart. It was a remarkable piece of filmmaking for its day, very technically innovative, with an impressive use of POV shots, including a brilliant opening sequence that’s shot almost entirely from Jekyll’s own point of view, which must’ve taken some very creative camera work. Our first view of Jekyll himself (here pronounced “Jee-kle,” a more correct pronunciation than the “Jeckle” version we use today) is from his own POV as he looks in a mirror, foreshadowing the later shot where we see Hyde for the first time also from his own POV — both no doubt achieved by building a duplicate set behind a clear piece of glass so that the “reflection” was actually March himself. There are also lots of clever scene transitions, particularly the recurring use of diagonal split screens to juxtapose characters and events and convey the theme of duality. I’d love to see a “making-of” featurette or article about the movie. Plus there were all the transformation effects, of course, and though the dissolves and jump cuts are familiar techniques today, there was one technique used that’s still impressive, and that only works in black-and-white. I read about it in The Twilight Zone Companion — they’d paint the first stage of the transformation makeup on the actor in red (say), then light him through a red filter so it was invisible, and then they’d switch to a green filter so it would fade into view, and he would visibly begin to transform right before our eyes, purely in camera. It was done quite effectively here.

I found Hyde’s makeup (by Wally Westmore) and his behavior more comical than frightening at first, but when it got into his ongoing abuse of Ivy (Hopkins), it became quite chilling and dark, and surprisingly modern in its frank portrayal of a sexually abusive relationship. The sexual content was pretty blatant for the era, even with a partial nude scene (plus some nude paintings/sculptures clearly visible at some points), though I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised since it came out before the Hays Code was enforced.

I also feel Hyde’s appearance was given away too soon. There should’ve been more mystery about what was going on in that first transformation, some suspense about what the results of Jekyll’s experiments were. Heck, in the original Robert Louis Stevenson story, we didn’t find out that Hyde and Jekyll were the same man until after he/they died! True, most of it was told in flashback, which was a very clumsy format for the story, but the movie could’ve tried to capture some of that sense of mystery.

Unfortunately, the 1941 version is a greatly inferior film. Despite being from a rather accomplished director, Victor Fleming, who’d done Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, it was a much less innovative, much more ordinary production than the previous film, with nothing really intriguing done with the direction, cinematography, or special effects. The casting was also pretty bad. Spencer Tracy was just too nice a guy to be effectively menacing, and as much as I like Ingrid Bergman, it was kind of painful to listen to her trying to pretend to be a Cockney. Though on the other hand, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Lana Turner movie, and she was really lovely.

The movie also suffered greatly from the Hays Code. The hand of censorship was so heavy that the movie couldn’t really explore or depict what made Hyde so evil. It implied that he was sexually violating and abusing Ivy off-camera, but it was executed so sedately that what we saw onscreen made Hyde seem more just uncouth and annoying than cruel and terrifying, so it never really sold the sense of menace. Given the radical difference in censorship, I’m surprised the ’41 movie hewed so closely to the ’31 film’s storyline. I mean, that’s a movie that’s heavily dependent on the sexual nature of Hyde’s relationship with Ivy to demonstrate how brutal and abusive he is. Try to tell the same story with the sexuality swept under the rug and it’s rendered hollow. Maybe they should’ve told a different version of the story altogether, one where Hyde’s evil was demonstrated through crime and violence and stuff they could actually show, instead of nebulously implied sexual cruelty. After all, the original Stevenson work doesn’t include the Ivy character or Jekyll’s more wholesome fiancee, and avoids specific description of Hyde’s debaucheries aside from a murder or two.

Jack Dawn’s makeup for Hyde was also way too subtle, basically just a wig, a small appliance on the brows and nose, some wrinkles around the eyes, and bushy eyebrows, with the rest being just Tracy bugging his eyes and grinning. Fredric March’s Jekyll turned into an apelike brute, but Tracy essentially turned into Burgess Meredith as the Penguin. No, strike that; at least the Penguin was interesting to watch. Plus it was completely ridiculous that nobody could tell that Jekyll and Hyde were the same man. At least Clark Kent had glasses. The whole thing was kind of embarrassing, and greatly disappointing.

Although I guess it’s kind of appropriate that of two consecutive versions of DJ&MH, one would be good and the other would be bad.

Today’s the day! ONLY SUPERHUMAN is on sale!

It’s October 16, 2012, and that means Only Superhuman is now officially on sale! The major online bookseller sites all list it as “In Stock,” and the e-book editions are now available for download! I’ve updated my website’s ordering links from “preorder” to “buy.” But just for the heck of it, here are the main ones again:

Buy from Macmillan

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Books-A-Million

 

In other news, I’ve been interviewed about Only Superhuman by the website My Bookish Ways.

Returning home

My last day of Comic-Con was… largely unnecessary. I went in so I could give that Chronic Rift interview I promised, but other than that I didn’t need to be there at all; I was just waiting for David Mack to finish because we had plans to go to dinner and a movie with a group that was celebrating fellow author Aaron Rosenberg’s birthday. In retrospect, I wish I’d managed to give the interview Friday, then just stayed in Saturday, maybe gotten some writing done, until the time came to go out to dinner. NYCC on Saturday is insanely crowded and noisy, and with no reason to be there I was just wandering, inundated with noise and, err, crowdiness for hours, until I could barely take it anymore. I eventually retreated to the Rift booth and Keith DeCandido was kind enough to let me collapse in his chair. Then we walked through the equally noisy and crowded streets of Midtown Manhattan on a Saturday night, had dinner at an equally noisy restaurant in a group of over a dozen people, then watched Looper (a movie that has its share of noisy bits), then more crowded streets… I finally gave up and made my apologies to the group when they went to get dessert at a tavern where we were seated right next to the band, which for some reason had its performance amplified even though it was a small space. I was just too overwhelmed from over 10 hours of sensory overload, and it was past my bedtime anyway. The dinner and the movie were good, but cumulatively the whole day was too much for me and I would’ve been a drag on the group if I’d stayed any longer. If I’d skipped the con, I would’ve had a better day all around.

Anyway, one upside of being so exhausted was that I finally got a good night’s sleep. And my flight was in the early afternoon, so I had plenty of time to get ready and even pick up a sandwich at a neighborhood deli. I had a bit of a problem at the airport, though, since I foolishly packed my sunblock in my backpack instead of my suitcase. The TSA person had talked me into checking my backpack, but the bag clerk reminded me that would cost me another 25 bucks and it’d be cheaper just to let her toss out the sunblock and buy another bottle. I wish the TSA person had thought to suggest that, because it would’ve saved me a second trip through security. Also, because I made my flight reservations through the NYCC’s affiliated service rather than the one I’ve used before, I didn’t get to reserve my seats ahead of time, so I got stuck with a middle seat in a row of three and didn’t get a decent view.

Otherwise, my flight went smoothly, but there was a delay in baggage delivery, and then I had to wait nearly an hour for the shuttle bus to Cincinnati. And then, once I’d taken the local bus back to my neighborhood, climb the steep street between there and my building. Not easy when you’re totally exhausted. But I’m finally home now, and I’ve had a decent dinner, and my DVR actually recorded everything I told it to (not counting the DC Nation block that Cartoon Network inexplicably cancelled at the last minute).

Oh, and on the plane I read a trade paperback collection I bought of a Stargate miniseries focusing on Claudia Black’s character Vala Mal Doran, who’s one of my favorite cast members. But I found it very disappointing. Vala was handled pretty well, in character and looking reasonably like Black, but its portrayal of the Stargate universe as a whole was astonishingly inaccurate. It has flashbacks set a number of years before Vala joined SG-1, which would be during the Goa’uld’s reign, yet the Lucian Alliance already exists in them, and there’s no evidence of Goa’uld presence anywhere in the galaxy. There are too few human “aliens” depicted, and those that are shown include a man with a modern Western name and wardrobe, something which shouldn’t have existed on another world in that timeframe. Also, the creators confuse Goa’uld transport rings for Asgard technology and misunderstand how they work. When we get to the present, General O’Neill is still going on missions with SG-1, and looks not only nothing like Richard Dean Anderson, but about 20 years and 50 pounds short of how he looked by the time he made general. Oh, and Teal’c is still bald, uses contractions, and doesn’t address people by their full names. And the story as a whole just doesn’t feel like it belongs in the Stargate universe. It has too many discrepancies and too few connections to the mythology and continuity of the series. It’s like some random sci-fi story that got hastily rewritten for SG-1. I’m very disappointed, but unfortunately I can’t very well go back to the store in Manhattan for a refund. At least the other comics I got were worthwhile: a couple of IDW’s Star Trek miniseries and the long-awaited conclusion to the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics miniseries The Promise, which I’ve held off reading until I can reread parts 1 & 2, but which is bound to be good if it’s anywhere near on a par with the others.

So, a mixed trip overall. Some wonderful memories and some very frustrating ones. The balance comes out on the positive side, since some of the positives were among the best experiences of my life, but all in all it’s been the most intense few days I’ve experienced in a long time. I’m glad I can rest now.

Ups and downs at NYCC

Back from Comic-Con. It was kind of a mixed day for me, but one that turned out mostly positive. First, my Tor publicist and I found that the Barnes & Noble booth that was supposed to have copies of Only Superhuman on sale for the autograph table didn’t have them, 15-20 minutes before the session was to begin. Turned out they were still en route from the store, so an arrangement was made for the Tor folks to bring down some of the copies meant for my later signing at their booth, with an appropriate trade to be made later.

But it turned out we needn’t have bothered. Anyone who’d been interested in my book must’ve already gotten in the autograph line before the books actually got there, so all I got were a few people asking where the book was. At least I was able to sign my homemade flyer for them and let them know about the later signing. The signing was linked with the panel I was on yesterday, with the same group of writers, and most of the people in line were there for the more famous authors in the group, including Jacqueline Carey and former Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast member Amber Benson, who’s got her own series of fantasy novels. So aside from those three or so people, I had a very quiet hour.

I was feeling pretty bummed when the session broke off, but then I got a chance to talk to Amber Benson, who was really nice and approachable and had some complimentary things to say about my comments on yesterday’s panel. So we had a nice little chat, and then she actually tagged along with the publicists and me when we left. We walked past other people who were signing, including Lou Ferrigno and Adam West, and when I mentioned how I would’ve liked the chance to say hello, Amber encouraged me to just stop by for a moment and give them signed copies of my book as gifts. Unfortunately I couldn’t get past Adam West’s handlers even with my publicist’s help, but his people did accept the book. And then Amber led me over to Lou Ferrigno’s table and I got to thank him for his work as the Hulk and shake his hand. So I just felt great after that. I’d expected that Amber would be the busy celebrity and get swept away by her staff or whoever as soon as she was done with the signing, but she was really friendly and just one of the guys, and I was touched that she would go out of her way to help me with my little problem. So that was a definite high point. Wow.

I had a while before the Tor signing so I wandered the floor and talked to some folks I knew, mainly Keith DeCandido, who as usual was selling his books at the table for the Chronic Rift podcast (which will probably be interviewing me tomorrow). I also ended up giving a spur-of-the-moment video interview to another podcaster who dropped by, although I don’t currently have specifics about where to find it, if it’s even up yet.

The Tor signing went much better than the earlier event. That was a con-exclusive giveaway, a good way to drum up interest, so I’m told, and there was a nice-sized line already there when I arrived. We gave away all the books pretty quickly and that was very gratifying.

After that, I had a nice talk with fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore over at the Hallmark booth (his day job is for them), and then I made my way back to where I’m staying, which was a long walk to and from the subway. But I’m back now, and the day is over, and on the whole it was a pretty great day.

Good first day at Comic-Con

Day one of NY Comic-Con is over, and it went fairly well. I felt better than I feared I would, having been a little ill earlier this week. I’ve gotten to catch up with some friends and colleagues and meet my Tor publicist. And the “Justice is Served” panel went very well. It was an interesting, rather philosophical discussion about the idea of justice and how it plays out in the context of fantasy or SF universes, and the audience questions were in the same thoughtful vein as the moderator’s. There was an eclectic group of authors present and an interesting range of perspectives discussed. I feel I was more on the ball mentally than I expected to be, given how little sleep I’d had the previous night, and I think I managed to give a decent showing of myself.

I’m quoted in a Flavorwire piece on comic-book heroes

The folks at the Flavorwire website recently solicited opinions from various comics- and superhero-related authors about which comic-book characters they felt deserved their own TV series (other than their own), and thanks to the efforts of my publicist at Tor, I’m one of the people they asked. To see my answer (which is tenth on the list), read the article:

Flavorwire: Comic Book Characters Who Should Have Their Own TV Show

 

My New York Comic-Con schedule

I’ve just been updated on what’s hopefully my finalized schedule for New York Comic-Con this week. It’s pretty light, actually:

Thursday Oct. 11, 5:00-6:00 PM: “Justice is Served” panel, Room 1A14

Cops, P.I.’s, government agents and regular Joe’s fight for all that is good and just in these Science-Fiction and Fantasy tales, even if the villains are vampires, telepaths and the magically gifted. These protagonists solve crimes, kick-ass and don’t let anyone–supernatural or otherwise–stand in the way of justice. Featuring Myke Cole (CONTROL POINT), Thomas E. Sniegoski (Remy Chandler Novels), Jacqueline Carey (Dark Currents), Christopher Bennet (Only Superhuman), G.T. Almasi (Blades of Winter), Amber Benson (Calliope-Reaper Jones Novels) and Kim Harrison (Into the Woods). Moderated by Michael P. Spradlin (Blood Riders).

Friday Oct. 12, 1:15-2:15 PM: “Justice is Served” signing event, Autographing tables 2, 3, 4

Friday Oct. 12, 5:00-6:00 PM: Only Superhuman signing, Tor booth (#920)

Holy cow, I’m going to be on a panel and a signing with Amber Benson! I didn’t even know that.

Other than that, my schedule’s open, though I’ll probably be hanging around the Tor booth a fair amount. And though there aren’t any specific Star Trek-related events that I’m involved with, I’ll probably spend some time around the Simon & Schuster booth as well. That’s booth #829, and it’s just one aisle back and one aisle over from the Tor booth.

General info is here: http://www.newyorkcomiccon.com/ 

It’s here!!

October 8, 2012 1 comment

Look what the UPS guy brought to my door today:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only Superhuman final

It’s finally here! It’s been 24 years and 2 months to the day since I first came up with the character of Emerald Blair (I remember the date since it was 8/8/88), nine and a half years since I first outlined Only Superhuman, and now it’s a finished hardcover novel I can hold in my hands. My journey is finally finished.

Although I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of a new journey. Which depends on all you guys buying enough copies that I get to do sequels.

Godzilla: Final thoughts

Well, it’s been an interesting journey: three eras of Godzilla films and at least seven different continuities. (My previous posts: Shōwa Era, Heisei Era, Millennium Era Pt. 1, Millennium Era Pt. 2.) Which would I say were the best? Well, keeping in mind that I’ve only seen about 8 of the Shōwa films in recent months (though I’ve seen most of the later Godzilla films from that era in decades past) and only the last 5 Heisei films (edit: I’ve since been able to see all seven Heisei films), I’d say the most important and worthwhile installments are:

  • Godzilla (or Gojira) (1954)
  • Mothra (1961)
  • Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
  • The Return of Godzilla (or Gojira) (1984)
  • Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
  • Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
  • Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
  • Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or GMK) (2001)

I’d also more grudgingly recommend 1955′s Godzilla Raids Again as an important member of the Shōwa continuity. It’s a relatively boring film, and a huge letdown after the original, but it’s significant from a continuity standpoint in establishing the existence of a second Godzilla and explaining in retrospect why the original one attacked Tokyo in the first place. Similarly, 1991′s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is quite important to the Heisei continuity, though it brings in some very problematical time-travel concepts and some uncomfortably jingoistic politics (which are diametrically opposed to those of GMK). And the first Heisei-series film, The Return of Godzilla from 1984, would certainly be an important part of the series, if only it were available on DVD.

I’d say my favorite era overall is Heisei. Certainly the original 1954 film was the best by a very wide margin, one of the most powerful, thoughtful, dark, and dramatic monster movies ever made. But if we’re talking overall eras, then Heisei was the one that had the highest percentage of strong entries, and the tightest continuity binding it together. The various Shōwa films are treated as a single continuity, but that’s largely retroactive due to popular monsters being brought back in later films, and really the whole thing doesn’t fit together all that smoothly. But Heisei had continuing human characters and a loose evolving storyline through seven films, and though it has some glaring continuity issues in a couple of movies, overall it does the best job of conveying a sense of a consistent and developing universe. It’s also perhaps the most satisfying era musically, with Akira Ifukube distilling and refining so many of his best themes from the franchise in four of the seven films.

Still, consistency isn’t everything. It’s fascinating to me how the Godzilla franchise has handled continuity overall. In Star Trek fandom, I see so many people (not the majority, but certainly a vocal minority) complaining when tie-in novels or comics aren’t consistent with each other or are superseded by later episodes or films, or crying bloody murder that the new Abrams films dared to create an alternate timeline. But I look at something like Godzilla, where the creators have intentionally embraced multiple conflicting yet partly overlapping realities and made it a feature rather than a bug, and I have to wonder what Trek fans are complaining about. If anything, they’re missing out. Remixing a fictional universe, reinventing it and giving it a new identity and approach, comparing the different ways its history and ground rules can be constructed, is a lot of fun.

And what’s particularly wild about the Godzilla/daikaiju franchise is that its separate continuities aren’t completely separate, but have certain films in common. The original Godzilla is a part of virtually, if not literally, every different universe in the franchise. Mothra, War of the Gargantuas, and possibly other non-Godzilla films are part of the Shōwa, Kiryu, and Final Wars continuities. And at the risk of offending purists, I can make a case that the 1998 American Godzilla has a place in more than one continuity (see below). And yet these aren’t simply alternate timelines, histories diverging from a shared origin; they’re wholesale reimaginings of the underlying premise of the franchise. Many of them reinterpret the very nature of Godzilla and his 1954 attack — including the same events but changing their meaning, context, and history, offering different theories of what Godzilla is, where he came from, and why he attacked. They’re different, incompatible realities from the start, but they include equivalent events. It’s an intriguing ongoing experiment in invention, and it demands flexibility and an open mind.

So since I love making lists, here are my semi-conjectural overviews of the various Godzilla continuities to date. This will not be a strictly chronological list, since some of the continuities are more closely related than others and I’ll group them together for easier comparison.

1) Shōwa universe: Includes all Toho daikaiju/tokusatsu films from 1954-1975, more or less

In this reality, many giant prehistoric animals survive to the present in remote areas of the Pacific or in dormant states. Beginning in the 1950s, atomic radiation and the spread of civilization displace or revive them, leading them to jeopardize human populations. The first attacks come in 1954-5 by two members of a giant amphibious dinosaur species named Godzillas, a name the Otoshima natives gave to one or more of the creatures which they worshipped as a sea god. The first Godzilla was killed by Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer, but the secret of the weapon was lost, so the second Godzilla could only be temporarily incapacitated or contained, usually through the intervention of other daikaiju including the island deities King Kong and Mothra. A series of alien invasions also imperiled Earth, and in time Godzilla II and other kaiju, driven by territorial instinct, became defenders of the Earth in grudging cooperation with the human military. Godzilla II mellowed further upon adopting a third, juvenile member of the species, and eventually became somewhat friendly toward humans. In time, Monster Island was established as a nature preserve for daikaiju, and they lived in relative peace with humanity.

2) Kiryu universe: Includes Godzilla (1954), Mothra (1961), The War of the Gargantuas (1966), Space Amoeba (1970), Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), possibly other Shōwa-era non-Godzilla kaiju films

This reality is much like the Shōwa universe, except that Godzilla I’s skeleton survived the Oxygen Destroyer, Godzilla II did not emerge in 1955, and no alien invasions occurred. A second Godzilla finally emerges in 1999 and has a spiritual connection to the remains of the original. The original Mothra apparently dies in battle against some kaiju other than Godzilla, and leaves a single offspring. (To explain how Chujo could recognize an attack from a movie not part of this continuity.)

3) Final Wars universe: Includes Godzilla (1954), Mothra (1961), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), probably Godzilla Raids Again (1955), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), and other non-Godzilla Shōwa films

Another Shōwa variant in which the alien invasions of the ’50s-’70s do not occur, but the Xilians of Planet X interbred with humanity at some point in the past, leading to the rise of a breed of superhuman mutants within the last generation. The second Godzilla did emerge, perhaps as seen in Shōwa, but without the invasions, Godzilla II never “reforms” and continues to menace Earth until he is buried in the Antarctic c. the early 1980s. Earth’s nations unite against the ongoing kaiju menace, forming the Earth Defense Force, which recruits the mutants as part of its anti-kaiju forces.

4) Heisei universe: Includes Godzilla (1954) and all films from The Return of Godzilla (1984) through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), though G v SpaceGodzilla (1994) is dispensable

In this reality, very few prehistoric giants survive to the present. The main exception is a land-dwelling carnosaur of the Godzillasaurus species, which is mutated by American atomic tests into the much larger Godzilla, attacks Tokyo in 1954, and is defeated by the Oxygen Destroyer. Either this Godzilla regenerates or two different mutants were created the same way; reports are unclear and conflicting. (Update: the final film confirms it is a second Godzilla, so I assume the earlier films’ assumption that it was the original was an error on the part of the characters, and that new information eventually revealed the truth.) The second or regenerated Godzilla, possessing a nuclear reactor for a heart and needing to feed on nuclear energy, emerges to attack Japan again in 1984 and periodically throughout the early ’90s. The Japanese government employs psychics to assist in its conflict with Godzilla, the most powerful of whom, Miki Saegusa, eventually joins G-Force, a UN-operated anti-Godzilla task force employing reverse-engineered technology brought back from the 22nd century. Other prehistoric survivors include unhatched Rodan and Godzillasaurus eggs which are revived by radiation, causing the former to become giant; the latter begins at normal size but is later mutated by radiation exposure after being adopted by Godzilla. All other daikaiju in this reality are created by science or mutation, except for the prehistoric Earth spirits Mothra and Battra.

5) Steve Martin universe: Includes Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956), Godzilla 1985

Evidently a variant on the Heisei reality. Events of Godzilla’s 1954 and 1984 attacks occur slightly differently and may take place 1-2 years later. In this version, American reporter Steve Martin is peripherally involved in the events of the initial Godzilla attack, and plays a role in persuading Dr. Serizawa’s fiancee Emiko Yamane to reveal the existence of the Oxygen Destroyer, a decision she reaches on her own in most realities. Three decades later, Martin serves as a Pentagon consultant during the second Godzilla attack.

6) Millennium universe: Includes Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

The vaguest of all Godzilla continuities. Godzilla exists, feeds on nuclear energy, and has been troubling Japan regularly for years, but evidently not very many years since scientists know little about him. It is not even clear whether the original 1954 attack occurred in this reality. Given Godzilla’s attraction to nuclear energy, this could hypothetically be a Heisei variant in which the psychic research program and G-Force never arose, and in which Godzilla’s more recent attacks began later or came more infrequently.

7) G-Graspers universe: Includes most or all of Godzilla (’54), Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

In this reality, Godzilla either was not attacked by the Oxygen Destroyer at all or was incompletely destroyed and regenerated (I suspect the latter, since a character says that “this time” they must make sure nothing remains of him). Godzilla makes his second attack in 1966 when Japan’s first nuclear reactor goes online.  His periodic attacks on nuclear plants lead to the outlawing of nuclear energy in Japan. Decades of alternative-energy research, and the absence of other daikaiju, produce a fairly prosperous and technologically advanced present.

8) GMK universe: Includes Godzilla (1954), Godzilla (1998), Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Godzilla is a receptacle for the restless dead killed by the Japanese war machine in World War II, and attacks Japan in 1954 out of vengeance. After his defeat, Japan is kaiju-free for half a century, and the government suppresses many details of the original attack to avoid humiliating the Self Defense Force, leading to a world where the Japanese have little memory of Godzilla and underestimate him as a threat, with some even considering him a legend. Thus, when a similar giant lizard mutated by French nuclear tests emerges in 1998 and attacks New York City, some Japanese observers mistake it for Godzilla. Years later, the real Godzilla completes regenerating and attacks Japan again to punish its populace for forgetting the crimes of WWII, but is confronted by the ancient spiritual defenders of the land, the Yamato Monsters Mothra, Baragon, and Ghidorah.

9) H.E.A.T. universe: Includes Godzilla (1954), Godzilla (1998), Godzilla: The Series (1998-2000)

Events unfold similarly to the GMK universe, with the real Godzilla’s attack and destruction occurring in 1954 and its details being largely forgotten. The mutant lizard misidentified as Godzilla attacks New York and is killed, but its one surviving offspring imprints on biologist Nick Tatopolous, who “tames” it and calls it Godzilla as well. This namesake creature assists Tatopolous’s Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team in dealing with other giant mutant creatures that emerge around the world, as well as an alien invasion or two. Whether the real Godzilla ever returns is unknown. (Although the ’98 film fits neatly into the GMK universe, G:TS does not, since the characters in GMK were unaware of the spate of kaiju incidents in the animated series.)

It seems the various realities break down into three clusters: One where Godzilla is one of many giant prehistoric species that survive to the present; one where Godzilla is an atomic mutant who needs to feed on nuclear energy; and one where Godzilla is a force of spiritual vengeance and was unique in the world until around the turn of the millennium.

I’m not counting the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon in this listing since its version of Godzilla is too different from the original, breathing actual fire instead of an atomic ray and having Superman-like heat vision, as well as being quite different in appearance. It also has no sense of a backstory and no evident connection to the original film, so there’s really nothing to discuss.

I’m tempted to include the excellent 1954 American film Them! in the Heisei continuity, since it predates Godzilla by several months and was perhaps the first film to depict animals (in this case ants) being mutated to giant size by atomic radiation, a characteristic trope of the Heisei continuity. Since it ends with the lead scientist acknowledging that other giant mutant creatures may arise in the future, it makes a natural lead-in to the emergence of Godzilla. Although it treats mutation somewhat more credibly than the Heisei universe does, since its giant ants only emerge after multiple generations of mutation, as opposed to specific individual creatures actually transforming into giants. Of course there was a spate of later American giant-monster films, some of which might also be compatible with the Godzilla continuity, but I’m not well-versed in them. We might also consider 1953′s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was a direct inspiration for Godzilla. There’s also Harryhausen’s It Came from Beneath the Seafrom 1955, featuring an irradiated giant octopus displaced from its natural feeding grounds by the very same Marshall Islands nuclear tests that led to Godzilla’s rampage the previous year. I’m unsure whether to include it, since there’s no mention of the Godzilla incident in contexts where the characters would normally be expected to bring it up; but then, the same probably goes for films like Rodan and Mothra too.

One thing the Godzilla franchise has few of are recurring human characters. For whatever reason, the tendency in the Shōwa era was to build each film around a new set of characters, even though they often reused the same actors in different roles. The Heisei era had several recurring characters but also quite a few one-time characters. Millennium only had one (briefly) continuing universe, yet replaced most of its characters between the two films. But there were several cases of “legacy” characters from early films being brought back decades later.

So here’s my attempt to create another list, in this case of recurring characters from the Godzilla/daikaiju franchise. I tried to find if something like this already existed online, to save myself the trouble, but I couldn’t find anything. So here’s my best try, which might be incomplete:

  1. Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura): Godzilla (’54), Godzilla Raids Again (’55): Paleontologist, the first Godzilla expert
  2. Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kōchi): Godzilla (’54), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (’95): Daughter of Dr. Yamane, fiancee of Dr. Serizawa, adoptive aunt of reporter Yukari Yamane and student Kenichi Yamane
  3. Shinichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi): Mothra (’61), Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003): Linguist on expedition that discovered Mothra, father of Yoshito Chujo, grandfather of Shun Chujo
  4. Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi): Mothra vs. Godzilla (’64), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (’64): Polymath scientist (uncertain; see below)
  5. Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka): Godzilla vs. Biollante (’89), G v King Ghidorah (’91), Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (’92), G v Mechagodzilla II (’93), G v SpaceGodzilla (’94), G v Destoroyah (’95): Telepath and psychic instructor/researcher, government consultant, member of G-Force following its establishment in 1993
  6. Takayuki Segawa (Kenji Sahara): G v Mechagodzilla II, G v SpaceGodzilla, G v Destoroyah (aka the G-Force trilogy): Government minister overseeing G-Force (note: Sahara also played an Army Commander Segawa in Terror of Mechagodzilla in a different continuity)
  7. Commander Takaki Aso (Akira Nakao): G-Force trilogy: Commanding officer of G-Force
  8. General Hyodo (Koichi Ueda): G v Mechagodzilla II, G v SpaceGodzilla: Deputy commander of G-Force
  9. Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku): G against Mechagodzilla, G: Tokyo SOS (Kiryu duology): Pilot of Kiryu/Mechagodzilla
  10. Lt. Togashi (Ko Takasugi): Kiryu duology: Backup Kiryu/White Heron pilot
  11. Lt. Hayama (Yusuke Tomoi): Kiryu duology: Backup Kiryu/White Heron pilot
  12. Hayato Igarashi (Akira Nakao): Kiryu duology: Prime Minister of Japan
  13. Chief Hitoyanagi (Takeo Nakahara): Kiryu duology: Head of JXSDF
  14. General Dobashi (Koichi Ueda): Kiryu duology: Member of JXSDF
  15. Dr. Gorou Kanno (Naomasa Musaka): Kiryu duology: JXSDF scientist

I could also include the two pairs of actresses to play Mothra’s heralds the Shobijin: Emi and Yumi Ito in Mothra, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Otsuka in Tokyo SOS and Final Wars. But they’re not technically human, and the latter case is across two different continuities. There’s also the borderline case of Shelley Sweeney, who’s a Mechagodzilla operator named Susan in the first G-Force film and an unnamed technician in the third; it’s unclear whether they’re meant to be the same character.

Professor Miura may not actually be a recurring character; some references list Koizumi’s character in Ghidorah as Professor Murai instead. But I get more hits from “Miura” than from “Murai,” so for the moment I’m going with that. If both of Koizumi’s consecutive professors were in fact Miura, then there are apparently three actors who’ve played two recurring characters, not just two as I said in my last post: Hiroshi Koizumi, Akira Nakao, and Koichi Ueda. And all three of them are in Tokyo SOS. So if not for Tokyo SOS, there’d be nobody who’d played two different recurring human roles in the franchise, but because of it there are three (or at least two).

But Miki Saegusa is the most frequently recurring character by a factor of two, appearing six times while the next highest number of appearances is three in the case of G-Force Commander Aso and Minister Segawa (who might have appeared four times if you count his Shōwa namesake as the same character), and the ’60s generation of Shobijin if you want to count them. (The Shobijin in SOS are explicitly different individuals.) All other recurring characters (that I know of) appeared only twice. And Miki, Chujo, and (maybe) Miura are the only ones who appear as central characters in more than one film, though that’s borderline in Chujo’s case. Generally they’re either supporting characters or characters who are featured in one film and then cameo in another.

A final note: There’s a new American version of Godzilla in production from Legendary Pictures for a 2014 release, in time for the franchise’s 60th anniversary. From the production art we’ve seen, this Godzilla will be far closer in appearance to the various Toho versions than the 1998 American Godzilla was. Reports are that it’s a reboot, but I’m hoping that it, like essentially all prior Godzilla movies, will turn out to be a sequel to the 1954 original. After all, even the Emmerich film can be implicitly interpreted to be in a universe where the original film occurred, especially since it was directly referenced as part of the GMK continuity. (“Zilla” appears in Final Wars as well, but the ’98 film could not have occurred in that daikaiju-plagued reality.) If the goal this time is to be truer to the original character and franchise, then it seems to me that a core element of what defines the franchise is that the original film is virtually always included as part of its history. And it would be nice to add a tenth universe to my list above.

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Kirkus Reviews: ONLY SUPERHUMAN “worthy”

Kirkus Reviews has posted its list of “Can’t-Miss Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for October” — and, well, Only Superhuman didn’t technically make the “Can’t-Miss” part of the list. However, it is listed in the “Worthy Runners-Up” section at the bottom as a “worthwhile” title for “more voracious readers.” And you know, in a month that features the Gregory Benford-Larry Niven “Big Smart Object” novel Bowl of Heaven (also from Tor) and the new Iain M. Banks “Culture” novel The Hydrogen Sonata, that’s kinda not bad.

Only Superhuman by Christopher L. BennettIn other news, the cover to Only Superhuman may have inspired a fundraiser for charity, courtesy of fantasy author Jim C. Hines. Admittedly, it’s kind of about poking fun at the cover, but I can be philosophical about that because a) it’s for a good cause and b) it brought a good deal of new attention to the book and to my blog, which has gotten a record number of views in the past few days.

Introducing my Facebook author page

October 5, 2012 1 comment

I’ve decided it was high time to create a fan page in Facebook to promote my work. My personal page wasn’t doing the job very well, I think, since I’ve been picky about whom I added as a “friend,” so my posts there only got limited attention. It makes more sense to use a fan page for promotion so I can focus the personal page more on just friends and family. So fans and generally interested parties are now encouraged to “Like” my fan page, which is at:

www.facebook.com/ChristopherLBennettAuthor

Thoughts on Godzilla: The Millennium Era (Part 2)

October 3, 2012 1 comment

The first three Godzilla films Toho made in what’s called the Millennium Era, which I covered in the previous post in this series, were all set in different continuities — treating the original 1954 film as canon just as every sequel has, but disregarding every other film since. I gather that the idea was to test out three possible directions for the series before settling on one to carry forward in subsequent films. The “winners” were the makers of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus: director Masaaki Tezuka, writer Wataru Mimura (who also wrote my favorite Heisei-era film, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), and composer Michiru Ohshima.

But instead of staying with the new continuity of Megaguirus, this time they went back to an old one, more or less. 2002′s Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, or GXMG as it’s abbreviated on the Japanese poster (in fact, it’s the third film to bear the identical title Gojira tai Mekagojira in Japanese), is set in a universe that’s essentially a variant of the original Shōwa-era kaiju continuity, incorporating non-Godzilla Shōwa films including Mothra and War of the Gargantuas in its backstory — but which only experienced the one Godzilla attack in 1954. So Japan’s Anti-Megalosaurus Force has gotten pretty good at fending off daikaiju over the decades. But when a second Godzilla does finally emerge in 1999, they’re flatfooted, because Godzillae are in a class by themselves. A young (and very, very pretty) lieutenant, Akane Yashiro, panics during a retreat and gets her commander killed. She’s transferred to the file room as punishment, and spends the next three and a half years being very, very serious and harnessing the power of the training montage to perfect her abilities. Meanwhile, single-dad scientist Yuhara, who’s invented the bionic trilobite for some reason, is recruited to a government project to build an anti-Godzilla weapon literally out of the bones of the original Godzilla, which in this continuity survived the Oxygen Destroyer rather than being disintegrated as in the original film. (The first Godzilla’s death scene is recreated using CGI which somehow looks even more ridiculous than the original effects.) He only agrees when he’s allowed to make every day Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, and little Sara becomes a fixture at the project, somehow not aging over the 3-4 years it takes to complete.

Sara coins the name “Mechagodzilla,” but the cyborg’s official code name is Kiryu, don’t ask me why. Somewhere along the line, the AMF is renamed the JXSDF, the Japan Counter-Xenomorph Self-Defense Force. (The Millennium series films put “X” in their titles in place of tai/vs., and I guess here they wanted to extend the branding and thus concocted that labored designation.) The JXSDF commander decides Akane’s been a good girl and is the best pilot around (which is the first we’ve heard that she even was a pilot), so he picks her to drive Kiryu, earning her the resentment of Hayama, kid brother of the commander she got killed. The goofy Yuhara is smitten with Akane and comes onto her a bit creepily, though it’s supposed to be endearing. Sara doesn’t like her, since she still misses her late mother.

Unlike the Heisei Mechagodzilla, Kiryu is piloted remotely from a plane called a White Heron. The new Godzilla shows up during Kiryu’s big unveiling, so they scramble into action to take on the big guy, pinning their hopes on Kiryu’s Absolute Zero freeze ray. Akane manages to send Godzilla into retreat. But as soon as G gives off his famous roar, it triggers something in Kiryu that causes it to go rogue and act just like the Godzilla whose bones and DNA it contains — or rather, how that Godzilla would behave if he had shoulder-mounted missile batteries. There goes the neighborhood, literally. All the JXSDF can do is wait until his batteries run down. Oh, and Akane saves Hayama’s life and earns the team’s admiration, but Hayama still resents her.

Yuhara realizes that maybe it was a mistake to build his DNA computer (which uses the four DNA bases for quaternary calculation rather than binary and is thus far faster) using DNA extracted from Godzilla I’s skeleton, causing Kiryu’s “brain” to resonate with its Godzillan heritage. The fix is ridiculously simple: he’ll just build a new computer out of some other source of DNA. Meanwhile, he bonds further with Akane, revealing how his wife died while carrying their second child, leaving Sara rather troubled by death. Sara wishes Kiryu could just be friends with Godzilla like Kiryu “wants.” Akane tells her she identifies with Kiryu, feeling worthless and unwanted, her birth a mistake, but Sara tells her no life is worthless.

The prime minister who initiated the Kiryu project is facing a scandal after its runaway attack, but when Godzilla comes back — drawn to the skeleton within Kiryu — there isn’t any other way to fight him, and Yuhara and company have completed their suspense-free repairs, so it’s off to another battle. The climactic fight in this short movie isn’t very impressively shot; it takes place in what looks like a Power Rangers cityscape, with an implausibly wide central street bracketed by cheap-looking miniature buildings. There’s a big fight, Kiryu’s remote controls get knocked out, so Akane risks her life by going down and taking manual control from inside Kiryu. Godzilla knocks her half-unconscious, but she’s rallied by a memory montage (girl likes her montages) and calls on Kiryu to fight alongside her as “buddies” (so say the subtitles, which I don’t think were written by a native English speaker). Hayama makes a kamikaze run to try to give Akane a window to fire the Absolute Zero cannon, but she refuses to let another Hayama die and saves him — then inexplicably flies Godzilla into Tokyo Bay and sets off the AZ gun there, basically wasting most of its energy on freezing the water, even though she had plenty of opportunity to zap him on land. Godzilla is driven away for now but still alive. Basically Akane’s guilty of gross negligence here, far worse than in the 1999 accident, but the movie doesn’t see it that way, since of course the filmmakers need the battle to be a draw so there’ll be a sequel. And Sara accepts Akane now and she and Yuhara go out to dinner, but for some reason we don’t find that out until the post-credits scene. (I wonder if they went out for shawarma.)

Given its pedigree, I was hopeful this would be a good one, but it’s pretty mediocre. The plot’s fairly shallow, the miniature effects aren’t great, and nothing is done with the partial reintegration of Shōwa continuity beyond a stilted exposition scene near the beginning. It does have its merits, though. Yumiko Shaku is the prettiest leading lady I’ve ever seen in a kaiju film, though she’s playing very much against her girlish type and does well as the somber Akane. And the Godzilla suit this time is the best one in the Millennium series so far, looking more like the Heisei version but with a heavier, more reptilian neck like the first Millennium design and a very sinister-looking face. Ohshima’s music is pretty good, reviving the same themes he used in Megaguirus, though it’s quite repetitive and I’m less happy to have it stuck in my head all day than I am with Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla themes. And there’s an interesting bit of realpolitik where we get a hint of the public and press reaction to the Japanese government’s decision to build a weapon of mass destruction to fight Godzilla, although there wasn’t any real follow-through. Still, it’s the weakest film yet from Tezuka and Mimura.

The second Kiryu film was released in 2003 as Godzilla × Mothra × Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS, though it’s known stateside simply as Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. It’s a direct sequel to the 1961 Mothra, and something of a remake of Mothra vs. Godzilla. It begins in 2004 with Mothra and the new generation of Shobijin (the foot-high twin ladies who are Mothra’s heralds/warmup act) dropping in on Shinichi Chujo, one of the main characters from the original Mothra. They tell him, his nephew Yoshito Chujo (who happens to be on Kiryu’s maintenance crew), and his young grandnephew Shun that Mothra’s very cross with humanity for desecrating Godzilla’s bones to make Kiryu, and will declare war on them if they don’t return the bones to the sea. When asked how Japan will protect itself from Godzilla, they say Mothra will defend them.

But Young Chujo the engineer has a geek-crush on Kiryu and doesn’t want to hear it, and when Old Chujo takes it to the Prime Minister, the latter is skeptical, since Mothra wasn’t exactly kind to Tokyo the first time. Still, Kiryu’s badly trashed from the last movie, and the Absolute Zero cannon is beyond repair, so we’re stuck with some mediocre character stuff while they try to fix the thing. Unfortunately, Akane and the other pilots from the previous film only appear briefly before being shipped off to the US for advanced training, and we’re introduced to two new pilots: the obligatory jerky rival who will learn to grudgingly respect Chujo by the end and the obligatory vague romantic interest for Chujo that nothing will really come of. Why even replace the characters if they were just going to copy the same basic dynamic?

There’s a bit more politicking about Mothra’s threat, but nobody’s willing to act on it, and apparently neither is Mothra. It’s not long before Godzilla returns, again drawn to the bones of the original, and little Shun defies the evacuation order and runs to his school, somehow managing to single-handedly move dozens of desks and chairs outside to make a large version of the symbol that summons Mothra (they must have very high physical fitness standards in Japan — kid wasn’t even winded). The PM holds off on using Kiryu to see what Mothy can do, but she’s frankly a little ineffectual and does more damage to Tokyo than to Godzilla, and takes some serious damage herself. Eventually Mothra begins her last-ditch attack of shedding her scales onto Godzilla, and Old Chujo, who’s come into the evacuated city to find Shun, recognizes that Mothra expects to die and thus is using the scale attack she can only use once. The problem is that Old Chujo shouldn’t know this, because that only happened in Mothra vs. Godzilla, a movie that isn’t part of the Kiryu continuity.

Anyway, the PM is moved by Mothra’s defense and attempts to save her — by doing exactly the thing she’s mad at him for and launching Kiryu into battle. Which doesn’t work that well, since Mothra gets blowed up real good and Kiryu ends up damaged and nonfunctional. But the Shobijin have sung the famous Mothra theme song to hatch the latest Mothra egg, and just as in MvG, there are twins inside who come to mommy’s defense. And Young Chujo, who’s in the area to find Old Chujo and Shun, volunteers to repair Kiryu — and naturally gets stuck inside when it goes back into action. The Mothra larvae eventually encase Godzilla in their silk, exactly what happened in MvG — and really, given how effective that attack is every time it’s used, I have to wonder why Mommy Mothra didn’t just lead with that. Finally the Godzilla bones inside Kiryu assert control again (after giving Young Chujo a psychic vision that makes him understand Kiryu’s craving to rest in peace) and fly the cocooned kaiju out to sea for a joint burial. And everything seems hunky-dory, except for a post-credits scene suggesting that somebody with very, very bad judgment is trying to clone Godzilla, a setup for a sequel that never happened.

Tokyo S.O.S. wasn’t much better than its predecessor. It was nice to see Mothra again, and to see another classic character brought back, but too much of the film was a rehash of previous Mothra films and MvG in particular, and even of the immediately previous film. The business about the threat from Mothra went nowhere, aside from serving as an excuse to reintroduce Mothra and the Shobijin and a setup for the film’s theme about how desecrating the dead is bad. And I would’ve rather seen more development of Akane and the cast from the previous film, instead of the cookie-cutter new characters we got here. On the plus side, the action scenes looked better than last time, though still far from the best this series has had to offer. The music is also an improvement; it’s still Ohshima, and revisits the themes from his last two Godzilla scores, but is less repetitive than the previous one. (The two Kiryu films are the only Millennium-era films to have no Akira Ifukube music in them, although this one quotes Yuji Koseki’s original Mothra theme.) Also, the new Shobijin are just about the cutest ones yet.

Many actors in the kaiju franchise have played multiple roles, but this film is noteworthy for featuring both of the only two actors (as far as I know) to have played more than one of the Toho daikaiju franchise’s handful of recurring human characters. The Prime Minister in both Kiryu films is Akira Nakao, who also played the G-Force commander in the last three Heisei movies. And Hiroshi Koizumi, who reprises the role of Shinichi Chujo here, also played Professor Miura in Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster — as well as playing different roles in half a dozen other Toho daikaiju or tokusatsu films.

The Kiryu films performed poorly at the box office, leading Toho to decide to cancel the series; yet since 2004 was Godzilla’s 50th anniversary, they decided to do one last film, Godzilla: Final Wars. It abandoned the Kiryu continuity and portrayed another variant on the Shōwa history, a world where humans have been battling daikaiju, including Godzilla, for decades. But in this reality, Godzilla never turned good, and the alien invasions that characterized the Shōwa series never occurred.

Yet this is not just a celebration of the past, but an attempt to update the franchise for the present. They brought in a hot young director, Ryuhei Kitamura, who turned out a hyper-stylized, hard-rocking, ADD-edited martial-arts film with the occasional kaiju content thrown into the mix. It’s basically Godzilla meets the Power Rangers in the Matrix on Independence Day.

Some unspecified time in the past, the supership Gotengo, a high-tech flying submarine with a drill on the front (from the ’63 film Undersea Warship, called Atragon in the West), buried Godzilla in the Antarctic ice, immobilizing him. We then get a frenetic montage expositing that in the interim, not only have Earth’s nations united to battle the kaiju threat, but a new race of mutants has arisen, superhumans with awesome martial-arts skills. Our hero is the mutant Ozaki, who looks a bit like a Japanese Ted Raimi. He serves under Captain Gordon, a badass rogue captain who looks like a cross between Dick Butkus and Macross‘s Captain Global and delivers his all-English dialogue in a voice that sounds like Scruffy from Futurama. Gordon’s younger self fired the missiles that buried Godzilla in the opening flashbacks. (So judging by his age, that burial had to happen no earlier than maybe 1983-4.) But Gordon gets thrown in the stockade for punching a superior, and Ozaki gets assigned to shepherd Miyuki, a pretty biologist who’s found a mummified alien cyborg whose genes contain an “M-base” also found in the mutants. The Shobijin (same actresses as last time) show up and reveal that the monster is Gigan (a rather silly-looking monster from 1972′s Godzilla vs. Gigan) and that the M-base is evil, though Ozaki has the power to choose his fate and Mothra will be on his side if he chooses good (and they give him a dagger-shaped amulet).

Then a bunch of daikaiju attack all over the world — including a version of the ’98 Emmerich Godzilla, here called “Zilla.” The UN Secretary-General (played by a kaiju-film stalwart who was the male romantic lead in the original Godzilla) is in his jet when it’s blown up by one of the kaiju. But then all the kaiju are teleported away by alien ships. The aliens reveal themselves as Ekkusu-seijin, literally “X-Aliens,” or Xilians as the subtitles and Captain Gordon render it. They’re a variation on the “Xians” of Planet X from 1965′s Invasion of Astro-Monster. Like the Xians, the Xilians claim to come in peace, and they seem to have rescued the Secretary-General, who shills for them; it’s obvious from the start that he’s an alien duplicate, and it doesn’t take our heroes long to figure that out, and to discover that other key leaders have been taken over as well. (This includes Earth Defense Force Commander Namikawa, played by the same actress who played a Miss Namikawa in Astro-Monster, yet I doubt it’s the same character since the two films aren’t in continuity.) Ozaki releases Captain Gordon to help them, knowing he hasn’t been replaced. They expose the fakes on TV, and the Xilian General, who prefers taking a subtler, less brute-force approach to taking over the world, gets shot down by his hotheaded, punk-kid second-in-command the Controller, who then mind-controls all the mutants except Ozaki, who’s immune for some reason, and has them turn on the good guys. The good guys flee and there’s a motorcycle fight between Ozaki and his mutant partner Kazama, which manages to rip off both The Matrix and Akira at the same time. Ozaki wins, but doesn’t kill Kazama because they’re partners.

Fat lot of good it does, though, since the Controller releases all the daikaiju and devastates all human civilization overnight. The world is ruined, but our heroes manage to escape in Gotengo and Gordon formulates a desperate plan of revenge against the Xilians, namely to free Godzilla from the Antarctic ice and lure him into battling all the other kaiju. So finally, more than an hour into the movie, it remembers it has “Godzilla” in the title! What follows is a rather cursory sequence of Godzilla effortlessly trashing other kaiju — which works with the pretender Zilla, whose complete inadequacy next to the real thing is a blatant dig at the ’98 film, but isn’t so effective when it keeps happening with other classic monsters. Eventually we get the inevitable big battle in the ruins of Tokyo, and while Mothra and Godzilla respectively battle an upgraded Gigan and a creature called “Monster X” (with two shoulder-mounted half-heads bracketing its head), the heroes battle the mothership. Kazama redeems himself by making a kamikaze run into the ship’s Death Star reactor to take down its shields so Gotengo can drill inside, but the Controller captures them before they can do any damage. He gives the obligatory exposition about how humans are their cattle and they need to feed on our mitochondria, etc., but also reveals that mutants are descended from Xilians and he couldn’t control Ozaki because the latter is a latent “Keizer,” a special one-in-a-million mutant, like the Controller himself. He zaps Ozaki to activate his Keizer powers and orders him to kill his friends, but Miyuki stabs him with the Mothra dagger and frees his will, so he’s now Neo and can telekinetically stop laser blasts. The two Keizers have a big fight scene while the others — including the real Secretary-General and EDF Commander, who are conveniently still alive and have conveniently escaped from captivity — try to get to the ship. Oh, and there are occasionally some big monsters fighting or something, but the director doesn’t seem too interested in that. Eventually the good guys get away and the ship blows up, but Monster X turns into Keizer Ghidorah, and Godzilla and Gotengo (with an infusion of Ozaki’s Keizer power) fight together to destroy it. And then Godzilla turns on the humans… but then something really stupid happens that I won’t spoil because I… just… don’t want to talk about it. I’ll just mention that there have been a few scenes involving a little kid and his wise old grandfather discovering Minilla, the stupid-looking baby Godzilla, and driving him toward Tokyo. For most of the movie these scenes are just incongruous, seemingly pointless comic intrusions, and when their purpose finally is revealed, it’s hokey as hell. Well, it might’ve been a decent ending in a way if it hadn’t felt so tacked on.

Frankly, Final Wars is a mess. It’s too conceptually cluttered and sloppily executed. And the problem isn’t just that director Kitamura was more interested in the hyperstylized, anime-esque martial-arts action than in the traditional kaiju stuff — the problem is that even the hyperstylized, anime-esque martial-arts action is often clumsily assembled and lacking in coherence. There are some fun character bits, rare in a kaiju film; Captain Gordon’s unrelenting badassery is actually kind of fun, and mixed martial artist Don Frye’s one-note, expressionless performance in the role actually works at conveying a character who’s so tough and self-possessed that nothing gets to him. And Kazuki Kitamura (no relation, apparently) does a fun, if caricatured, turn as the spoiled, smug, hotheaded Controller, who has some flamboyant tantrums as his daikaiju fall like dominoes before Godzilla. But overall the film just doesn’t hold together very well and doesn’t fit neatly into the Godzilla/kaiju franchise. It’s too derivative and self-consciously stylized, and overall too cluttered and noisy. Although there are some brief quotes of Ifukube’s themes at the beginning, most of the score (done primarily by British musician Keith Emerson) is the kind of loud, hard-driving rock that gives me a headache, and it’s representative of the film as a whole. Even the special effects weren’t that great; the Godzilla suit here, while not as bad as the GMK one, is probably the most rubbery and stiff of the Millennium-era suits. The other daikaiju were okay, but Godzilla should be the most impressive one, and he was just the opposite. Just another way in which Godzilla’s 50th-anniversary film didn’t serve him very well.

That’s it for the Millennium Era, which turned out to be rather a disappointment overall, with only two of its six films, the second and third, being reasonably satisfactory. I’ll be back with some final thoughts and an overview later.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

ONLY SUPERHUMAN essay up on Tor/Forge’s Blog

I was asked to write a short piece about Only Superhuman for Tor/Forge’s Blog, and it went live on the first of the month:

The Ingredients of a Hero (Not the Sandwich)

The hardest part was figuring out what to say when I only had 7-800 words to say it in. But it seems to have done me some good; my blog had a record number of views that day.

We’re now only two weeks from the official release date! It’ll probably start showing up on shelves before then. And of course it can be preordered right now.

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