Opinion piece: The methods change, but the hero never dies4,252 Views21 RepliesAdd A Reply
This is going to be a little long winded so if you're one of those "TLDR" guys, don't burden yourself, but I'll appreciate it if you look this over and give it a fair thought.
My family has been attending Godzilla Fest in Chicago for over a decade. When we started it was a more humble gathering of around 1,500 fans who came together from across the country (the world in some cases) to celebrate Godzilla, kaiju and tokusatsu in general. When we started there were 28 Japanese Godzilla films and one largely hated but still debated American effort. It was a fairly niche genre with a small but happy club who accepted that our favorite entertainment was men in heavy rubber suits beating the crap out of model cities that by modern standards looked pretty silly and cheap, but we knew the heart of it and gave no mind to those comparisons.
Then something happened. A new Godzilla film was announced for America, and the excitement began to bubble. Then the BIG thing happened...Pacific Rim dropped. Suddenly we had a real idea of what a fully realized CGI Godzilla universe could look like, and most were happy because they realized it could look good, and be appealing to the movie going masses who wrote off giant monsters, particularly Godzilla, as silly nonsense for kids and nerds.
But that was when I realized something listening to the fans discuss Pac Rim among themselves, and listening to opinion at panels and online, that young and old had a segment of the fanbase which looked down on CGI and modern special effects in general. One commentator said Pac Rim and Legendary Godzilla were "harmful" to the kaiju genre because it would only continue to make people think the old school was silly and worthless, putting them down for that reason alone before we'd even seen G'14.
As time went on, even after the generally positive response to G'14 and the love for Pac Rim 1 there was always that corner of the fandom that sneered at modern effects and even went so far as to declare them "fake", that anything short of a man in a suit and model cities wasn't "real" Godzilla, just a nice imitation but nothing worthy of the title.
The thing was after 2013 I noticed something...the G-Fest attendance began to climb. Big time. What once was 1,500 max became 2,000, and from that to nearly 3,000. That may sound like small numbers, but it was a smaller fandom. More kids and families than ever were showing up, with kids eagerly buying up Legendary Godzilla merchandise right along side their Heisei Ghidorahs and their Showa Rodans. The fandom was growing again, and now at present day we find ourselves in the midst of mega hype as the King Of The Monsters prepares to go full blast with a movie that promises to pay respects to the old while bringing Godzilla and company roaring into the present with big spectacle and impressive visuals.
I have been a Godzilla fan, a Toho fan, for over 30 years. The Godzilla forever in my heart is the image of the tattered and beaten 1972 suit, Nakajima's last stand, whooping Gigan's hinder before boldly swimming away into the sunset. And yet I fully embrace and adore the usage of modern special effects to bring the Big G to life in ways that make him appealing and accessible to modern audiences and can draw them in.
Here's what I've concluded, and you may agree or disagree as you will, that there's a segment of every fandom that feels the need to "gatekeep", to keep their precious thing "pure". In the case of kaiju fans it seems to be a reluctance to admit that these characters, that the genre, must transition into the modern age of special effects to continue to have commercial appeal. They are, after all, movies that seek an audience with the intent of being popular enough to continue to make good business and produce more.
The thing is that the movie making process evolves. The methods change, and the expectations of the audience changes.
Let me frame it this way; my father used to take me to Gilbert and Sullivan operas a lot, as there are fanbases and societies that still put them on regularly to this day. However they are incredibly niche, and not at all commonly popular or profitable, they're for the minority that know them and love them. Back in their time they were high entertainment and made a lot of money when the dominant form of entertainment was live theater and stage productions in high society. For all intents and purposes it's a dead genre.
For Godzilla to continue to gain fans on a wide scale and draw mass appeal the methods must change. Does that mean the old movies are disqualified from being watched, loved and nerded out over by new generations of kids? Of course not. Does it mean the old methods are BAD? No, but they were products of their time and of the limitations of money on behalf of Toho and the Japanese movie industry. As much as we love them even the Millennium series by a worldwide standard was outdated in the arena of special effects. I showed Final Wars to friends and they assumed it was an early 90s film, not a 2004 production until I told them otherwise. They were shocked and scoffed at the reality of it.
The point is I've found some fans have a fierce protective attitude about allowing Godzilla to transition, as though to interpret the character outside of suits and models makes it "illegitimate", as though they must protect Godzilla from being "sullied" by modern special effects. Again, newer doesn't always mean better, but there are advantages, and the reality is the audience has come to expect more than what has come before. If the die hard Godzilla fans want the fandom to forever be a small club of enthusiasts that enjoy their movies made with old school methods then they can have it, but it will mean Godzilla will become like those comic operas, reserved for a niche and not reaching a greater audience potential....not growing, but retreating like it seemed to between those barren years of 2004 to 2014. I'll add it also becomes a point of hypocrisy in some cases because most of those same fans give an easy pass to Shin Godzilla which by all accounts from its director utilized a fully CGI creature in the final product.
The kids that love KOTM 2019 deeply enough will seek out the old movies and many will appreciate them as well because they love the CHARACTER of Godzilla, no matter how he and his friends are portrayed, through suits or pixels. It's narrow minded to declare the character must stay restricted to the same medium of special effect forever, when the potential before him is too great to not explore. We can debate forever whether CGI or practical looks superior or is appropriate (I believe a marriage of the two is best depending on the cir***stances), but what I've seen of my favorite fictional character in this modern era of effects leaves me happy, inspired and takes my breath away just as it did at the age of 4 when I first popped in King Kong vs. Godzilla and first explored the wonders of giant monsters.
Let's not be so arrogant as die hard fans about the future. The methods change, but so long as the character is true to itself it will live long and thrive.
Thank you for reading this long winded rambling :P
I don't get the sort of zero-sum mentality of the fringe corner of G fandom. Accepting CGI now does not mean the old suitmation is automatically bad or chessy. It's not an either-or proposition. You can like BOTH.
It's like those debates that Trekkies have about which version of starship Enterprise they like the most. Some hardcore fans think only the original NCC-1701 is the "real" Enterprise and the rest, whether it's Next Generation or the reboot films, is not acceptable.
My personal thinking is live and let live. One should not divide Godzilla universe into absolute dichotomies between "superior" suitmation or CGI. It's the monster design and the quality of the overall movie that counts, not the method of how Godzilla is portrayed. If you like suitmation, fine. If you like CGI, fine. Just don't try to insist and demand your favorite form of Godzilla is the only one true Godzilla.
Life is too short to be so dogmatic and rigid.
I always say to enjoy something for yourself before you consider what others think. You'll find it's much easier to deal with fictional entertainment that way.
Snide comments and remarks are unavoidable so long as one person thinks one thing and another thinks something else, but we can work together to minimize their voices and bring some real excitement and positivity.
I can appreciate standing firm on things you believe matter that are worth fighting for, but when it comes to entertainment mediums it annoys me because this segment of the fandom treats kaiju like a religious experience rather than a realm of fictional characters and storytelling which inevitably and rightfully use the tools of their time to draw in their audience and continue to tell more stories. I feel a lot of that elitist mentality comes from a fear that their favorite thing won't be "special" anymore, that by making it new with modern methods and inviting in others to enjoy it who wouldn't have before that they lose specialness by having to share it with "noobs", but it's either that or watch the thing you love stay in the shadow of media that adapts well to the methods.
Personally I find Shin Godzilla to be boring, but it's an excellent example of how modern effects were well crafted to make the old story breathe some new life again, and I'm still hard pressed to find any Toho Godzilla fan who doesn't consider it "real" and worthy of the title other than some inexplicably stupid remarks I've read here on the Disqus comments ;)
Agreed, it was just bothering me to hear this rather one-way street line of thought coming from fans who I'm sure think of themselves as "truer" fans than those who embrace the new methods. I have to stress there's nothing wrong with preferring the old school films or saying they're superior, it's just the inability to acknowledge the good qualities and inevitability of special effects, it's empty thinking to write off anything that uses different tools to create the same overall positive experience in entertainment and storytelling if it does it well, and so far on the monster side of things the Monsterverse is two for two (soon very likely to be three) in giving us GOOD kaiju action with modern means. I just want to see some of that old school kaiju stubbornness chill the frick out and not brow beat the means or the fans that like them.
Anyway thank you guys for giving this ridiculous article a look :P
I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with using CG effects and what not to bring Godzilla to life. I'm not quite in, say, Jeff Zornow's court from G-Fest a few years ago regarding his rather passionate negative tirade on Pacific Rim.
I do however want to stress the difference between "outdated" and "different". I believe it was Kiyotaka Tiguchi who said, "Why can't a miniature building, just look like a miniature building?" Accepting that the style of tokusatsu was not realistic and that they were sufficient realizations unto themselves for the specific style they were going for.
For example, Kill Bill, 300, Dick Tracey, etc, don't look realistic at all--But that's the point. Likewise, Godzilla, Gamera, tokusatsu, etc, became their own entity existing as a stylistic art piece. Many of the crew at Tsuburaya Productions consider themselves artists over anything. (Which could also help explain why their legal staff was so easily steamrolled the last couple of decades, but that's another topic entirely.)
Was it conducive for growing a mainstream audience? No, but I don't think that really matters. Many self-proclaimed indie artists aren't exactly making movies for a massive turnout either.
Crew members at Tsuburaya and Toei take a lot of pride in the current shows/movies they work on don't consider it outdated at all. They cite the original Godzilla as being the father to the style they're dedicated to and rightfully so--Tsuburaya is the father of Japanese special effects and Godzilla is the King of tokusatsu.
In America Godzilla's more of a pauper to things we've seen before--Cameron and Spielberg. Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. Which is expected considering the goal and audience in the west, but no less true. (I have mixed feelings on where Shin Godzilla falls in that category only because of the overwhelming amount of miniature work that most aren't aware of.)
I'm glad the genre is getting a little more exposure from it - Pacific Rim in particular has become one of my all time favorite films - But it does sort of resonate with something Matt Frank said to me awhile back, "Western audiences don't care if the movie looks realistic, they care if it looks expensive."
Indeed. Different? Sure. Remember "state of the art" depends on the advances in specific techniques, not what the technique itself is. Knowing that, certain techniques used in Ultraman Geed last year are actually no less "state of the art".
One cannot deny that there is a bit of elitism with regards to addressing the differences in technique. It could just be the blunt and contextually-lacking nature of plain text on the internet, but this post is founded on some real anecdotes.
It's not like any of us want the craft of tokusatsu to die out or anything. Far from it, we'd rather there be a variety of ways in which to craft the characters and stories we love to enjoy. But there needs to be an appropriate community attitude that supports this notion.
Even you, original Gman, have sometimes come across this way when addressing the difference between CGI and suitmation. I'm sure you never meant it, but the way you worded things sometimes came with the kinds of connotations this thread was made in response, at least in interpretation.
Basically, we're all allowed to think about things one way or another, but we need to work on ensuring that it's done in a way that doesn't step on people's toes.
Adding a PS to this for those who read the article, I wanted to mention that part of the inspiration for this writing was out of reaction to individuals on this site who personify that elitist mindset and who irked me for trying to prove their points by putting words in other peoples' mouths.
I and another fan were discussing that ideal digital for the future is well done, purposeful and well realized CGI and that CGI done right is a good evolution of special effects, but the other party claimed we were saying that "CGI was superior" and twisted what we meant. This is a part of that "gatekeeping" nonsense I mentioned before.
I just encourage my fellow fans to not apologize for encouraging new methods of special effects, and to not allow yourself to be brow beaten by the gatekeepers. It's ok to like practical, it's ok to prefer digital, and don't let them put you in an imaginary box. Enjoy the fandom and don't suc***b to the snobbery, because if it's not fun then it's not worthwhile. And sometimes you have to just let the old guard pretend that they know what's best. Just don't let them ruin the thing you treasure.
I think the highlight you mentioned was that we don't honestly want that art form we love to die, that's never the point, but the industry and the tools have caught on and raised the bar and we as people just like seeing things develop and the tools create new possibilities. My wife and I were talking about the article after I wrote it and she compared it to the claymation Raptors in the original Jurassic park that would have been versus the digital segments we got like the kitchen scene. In retrospect, yes, we can confidently say we're glad the tools developed gave us the version we have. That's not to say the claymation was BAD, Phil Tippet was a genius, but JP would not be the classic it is today I believe if they had made all the dinosaurs claymation in 1993. That's not a slam against claymation, it's the reality of what looked better for the story they wanted to tell.
The same for the Big G. We love the suits, but if the tools can tell the best possible story and draw in fans with the new tools, bring it on.
YukisSpecial: I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but I don't have time to tolerate any "elitism" over Godzilla. G fandom should be open to all, young and old, rich and poor, of different ethnicities and religions, and that means it should be a big tent that caters to varied interest and taste. If those "old guard" don't like it, too bad, they can take their "suitmation-is-the-only-real-Godzilla" nonsense and shove it up their...you know.
It's interesting how not one of those "old guard" seem to realize that the Japanese themselves don't have such an issue over the suitmation over CGI "debate". Haruo Nakajima himself never said "only-suitmation-works-for-Godzilla". For the Japanese, suitmation was a pragmatic means to address the limitations of budget, time and special effects technology of the time. After all, as I am sure you all know, Eiji Tsuburaya had wanted to use stop-motion as the preferred means to show Gojira, but can't due to time and money constraints, so suitmation wasn't even their first or ideal choice!
Sure, over time, they develop a degree of admiration and reverence for suitmation in Japan, but they never saw it as the "only" style that Godzilla must be portrayed in. Heck, even with Ultraman, they now liberally use CGI, and I don't see any massive uproar or boycott of Ultraman in Japan because of it.
Since we're all stating our opinions, I for one have to say overused CGI does not make the storytelling better. You don't hear people complain about Shin Godzilla because the CGI for that movie looked practical. To me, that's good CGI when done correctly.
Yes, the methods are going to change over time. However, when CGI is mixed over CGI and the movie has a lot of dark scenes to hide how poor the CGI is some shots or when they have to add rain effects to it to cover it up, that's not entirely good CGI. I don't mind CGI as long as it's done correctly or is an assisting tool the way it was used for Gamera 3. The problem with today's standards in CGI is that it's not as "Groundbreaking" as it was during Jurassic Park or whatever film have you that had good CGI. I'm always going to prefer practical effects over CGI, but have nothing against CGI if that makes sense.
Entertainment though while we are on that topic, is found more in the film than just exciting special effects. Entertainment can be found in great story telling through a solid well written script that keeps the viewer engaged and can also be found in interesting characters who don't end up as cardboard characters that people can't really engage in. When characters can't be written well from the story telling and badly written by the story teller, it's gonna hurt in the long run.
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I think the problem with elitism is it comes in a few forms and sometimes it's just misconstrued by the overtly sensitive--Which an individual here seems to suffer from. For example, recently, Michael Dougherty said something in the new Total Film article that has rubbed a few fans the wrong way:
"It wouldn't be a true Godzilla film if you didn't touch upon those things. Otherwise you're just making a big dumb giant monster movie ... you're not being faithful to the original intent of the series. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not a true Godzilla fan."
Yup. The guy everyone has been worshiping for the last half year just pulled the, "you're not a true fan" card. But here's the deal, I don't think he was targeting anyone specifically when he said that. The fact is when protecting a franchise you love/drawing more attention to its lesser known, positive attributes, it's sometimes impossible not to ruffle some feathers. I appreciate his passion and the balls he had to say it like he thought.
I don't really greenlight the, "you're not a true fan" line--But that's getting feathers ruffled over the less important thing he said.
In terms of CG vs. tokusatsu, I think it's important to understand the roots of both and why that effects the franchise. There are some perceptions being missed in light of the very whittled down, "good thing CG is here to save the day," mentality. (Which, in itself, is also elitist.)
Whether that ruffles some feathers or not is entirely up to those taking part in the conversation.
Well I can truthfully say I absolutely agree with everything you just said. While I found the CGI in G'14 quite good the rest of the film didn't really live up to it for me, so the whole thing suffers and no amount of good CGI can fix that. The point here, again, since I feel like I have to clarify this over and over, wasn't to tout CGI as superior, and that's not the point, but it's the thing that gets thrown back in our faces when any of us say we like seeing the way the technology has grown and celebrate when it's used well. The elitism annoyance is just that hard core section of the fanbase which loudly decries the use of any tools other than the traditional and makes us out to be anything less than "good", sincere or well informed fans if we don't fall in line with that thinking. All in all, yeah, I prefer practical, but I feel one genre that well honed CGI can elevate very well is the kaiju genre, and I'm glad it's reached the point it has at this place in time to show us this particular vision with the Monsterverse. It deserves as much respect for the craft as the suits.
Of course, the discussion really isn't about that part of the debate, Ben.
It's more about how people are interacting with one another through these analyses and perspectives. It's clear that enough people feel that an elitist attitude has propagated to a noticeable degree with regards to addressing the topic.
While laying such criticisms is fine, it should be done with respect to the people who hold opposing critical perspectives. No method is inherently superior, as they're all just means to an end of entertaining the viewer; however, there's a perception that some people believe different, that there is a "superior" one that must be held above the "inferior" one, with the latter being "put down for being inferior".
Whether or not this perception is objectively accurate isn't really as relevant as the fact that some of us seem to see it when we're just trying to honestly talk about our favourite things about the franchise and its direction.
If I may bounce off of your point, sir, for me that manifests at both conventions and online talking to other fans who take one of three approaches in this conversation and have laid all on me personally when just talking about the varying technical elements of the films; 1 is that they accuse you of being an illegitimate fan if you accept modern methods, we've heard and seen enough of that. 2 is actual pity, as if you're somehow a sell out because you find something to appreciate in the digital approach because it's giving into Hollywood and big money. 3 is just simply misunderstanding your stance and making judgments and assumptions like we've seen a lot of even on this site, not really comprehending that you can appreciate both. The biggest mistake I keep seeing in this discussion is falling back on the statement that it's some of us "advocating for the superiority of digital", when that's not the issue at all, but the landscape is changing and since it is we hope it will do its utmost best to tell good stories and represent the characters we love accurately. If the height of technology was hand puppets it would still be the same, make the best damn hand puppets you can and tell the best story, but if something can create a worthy alternative then by all means, let's explore it and not be puppet elitists demeaning the other fans :P
G. H. (Gman): "I think the problem with elitism is it comes in a few forms and sometimes it's just misconstrued by the overtly sensitive--Which an individual here seems to suffer from."
Now who are might that be. Come on, be specific. ;)
I think it's important to remember that difference in opinion is what makes a fandom so engaging. I would not go as far to say some act as "elitists", but rather are just as passionate about their views as you are yours.
I'm a huge advocate of differing opinions because that's where the best conversations are birthed. I would hope no one takes offense to other articulating an opposing viewpoint.
With Godzilla now inspiring new generations of G fans, some of which may be new to the franchise and not a veteran like many of us, we need to expect that there will be polarized opinions regarding the execution of these films. CGI, practical effects, etc... Expect that.
As with any large group of people with unique viewpoints, I encourage discussion and debate, but try not to take opposing views personally. Share your points, engage with one another and take your debates to new depths. That's the whole point of this forum. No one should feel like they're not "part of a camp" or disregarded as not a true fan for their opinion.
Gloss and titles are the smoke and mirrors of conversation my friend. But mostly titles. ;)
YukisSpecial: There will always be a-holes everywhere, even in the G fandom, hiding behind "old guard" or "elitist" tags. Just ignore them or if not, tell them point blank they are wrong and if they don't like it, too bad, deal with it.
Anyone in any capacity is capable of pretending their position is far above what it really is, sir, whether in politics or following a fictional fandom. I left this site a while back out of annoyance because genuine, spiteful elitism condescendingly informed me that people I respected and admired within the fandom who have done a great deal of good in the lives of thousands of fans were, basically, "fake", and unworthy of their prestige. It was repulsive to me to see that here, but it's true in person with that same mindset of the fanbase, and it tends to go hand in hand with the opinions spoken of at length here.
I'm not here to start fights, quite the opposite, I'm trying to encourage a better mindset, one that tries to forget the temptation of snobbery and remember that this is a fictional genre we love and that there should be no place for that sentiment, but the fact is it does exist and it adds an unpleasant element to something that doesn't need it, but that thankfully will continue on in spite of it. Just my two cents, and I appreciate everyone who has joined in.
I probably tend to agree with the sentiments presented by YukisSpecial. I do, however, still love and appreciate, as he does also, the age old art of tokusatsu. In fact, my two favorite G movies are early Showa films and nothing has come close; not 2014, nor Shin. I don't have the energy right now to get into a whole discussion, but I do think it's the end product that's important and not necessarily how that end is gotten to. If Toho wants to keep producing G movies "old school", I will continue to tune in, but I'm not averse to them or anyone else utilizing a different approach, as long as the movies are engaging.
@G. H. (Gman), the snippet from Dougherty is interesting, and although I would never call out anyone for not being a true Godzilla fan, it seems a bit out of context. Do you have a link to the whole article, as pulling a paragraph or quote from anyone's conversation never truly tells the whole story. I'm sure there's more there fans would like to read/know. Thank you!
The entire paragraph of that portion reads:
"The Titans, we learn, are awoken from their slumber because the planet is on a collision course with self-destruction.
'It wouldn't be a true Godzilla film, if you didn't touch upon those things,' says Dougherty. 'Otherwise you're just making a big dumb giant monster movie. There has to be a sprinkle of it, otherwise you're not being faithful to the original intent of the series. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not a true Godzilla fan.'"
The next paragraph goes in to Adam Wingard visiting the set.
^Thanks. I found the article online. Not sure if that's the whole article in the actual magazine, but what's there is clunky and doesn't make a lot of sense.
Still looking forward to what he has to bring to the table. We'll all find out May 31st.