November 23, 2007

The Y2G Problem

With the year 2000 looming close, man has one fear: the end of civilization. However, it won't be caused by crashing computers, but by massive meteors and killer kaiju. Godzilla 2000 is the second novel in Marc Cerasini's Godzilla series. Don't judge this book by its title, as it is not a novelization of the movie of the same name. This book came out in 1997, while the film was released in 1999. I'm sure you all remember that, as the century came to a close, tacking the number "2000" on everything was in style. This book is notable for being Godzilla's first major foray into the United States. I don't count the brief scene in Destroy All Monsters where Godzilla attacked New York merely by wading next to the city and blowing his breath on a single building. It's also worth pointing out that the TRUE Godzilla took Manhattan one year before the impostor Zilla did in theaters. This book is much longer than the first one, which is appropriate because there's so much more material to work with.

While Godzilla Returns was a single monster affair... I just wish I could remember which one it was... the sequel has the tagline of "The age of monsters has begun..." so we've got some of the Big G's famous co-stars tagging along for some action this time:
Godzilla- the indestructible nuclear monster rises up from the depths of the Mariana Trench and cuts a path of destruction through the United States. What could he be doing so far away from his native Japan?
King Ghidorah- a three-headed gold dragon from space who threatens to annihilate all life on Earth. Capable of spewing gravity beams that can vaporize an army vehicle in an instant.
Mothra- a massive moth who does its best to ensure peace for the Earth. She's equipped with a prism beam fired from her antennae and a pair of twin fairies who communicate with humans on her behalf.
Varan- a dinosaur that has evolved the ability to glide. Tears up real estate in search of his steady diet of humans.
Rodan- a Pteranadon that can fly at supersonic speeds. Can fire a super-heated uranium beam from his beak.
Kamacuras- gigantic mantises with an appetite to match.

The climactic battle is underwhelming when you consider that whenever a kaiju movie features several monsters in its lineup, they usually come together for a colossal brawl. Even Godzilla's old sparring partner Rodan had no part in the final outcome. His entire contribution to the story, in a nutshell (or eggshell), is flying from Alaska to South Dakota, laying an egg which immediately hatches, and then flying back home with his brood. The majority of this time is spent describing how the Special Defense Force goes about trying to stop him. But there is a nice build-up to his appearance, with an old village's shaman talking about how he's having visions of a giant Thunderbird, who was "coming to the places of man, for he may soon be needed". We needed Rodan to destroy a train and lay an egg? I feel safer already. Then there was the rare appearance of Varan, one of Toho's first monsters. He played the part of "wild monster on the loose", terrorizing the populace by feeding on them and toppling various structures. He also landed on a large ship to bask in the sun, much to the chagrin of the ship's crew. Mothra, though barely seen, played a role throughout the whole story by trying to convince a member of G-Force that Godzilla isn't the threat that he is assumed to be. It turns out Mothra was actually leading G to New York to have a showdown with King Ghidorah. As for Ghidorah, we knew he was coming since the beginning, being encased in a meteor that threatened to eliminate all life. But he didn't actually touch down on Earth until the last few chapters, trashing Paris before heading directly to New York and his eventual downfall. And if there's one thing Cerasini should get credit for, it's that he managed to do what no mortal writer has ever managed to do before: he made Kamacuras, the giant praying mantis, a credible threat. A large swarm of them ripped through America's midwest, eating all plant and animal life and laying waste to whatever wasn't edible. It must have been a terrifying time to be in the same region those mutated mantids, knowing nothing would be spared from their rampage.

Cerasini violated a cardinal rule of the Godzilla universe: never have the Special Defense Force victorious against kaiju unless they are utilizing a robot monster themselves. Kamacuras is exterminated, Varan is bombarded with firepower to an inch of his life, Godzilla is put down temporarily and the obscenely powerful Ghidorah has his middle neck blown off by a simple bomb. I can forgive the Kamacuras, merely house-sized insects, being taken down, and will even allow the idea that Godzilla's weaker cousin Varan can be fended off by the military like he was in his own movie, but King Godzilla and King Ghidorah are supposed to be indestructible to all of Earth's conventional weapons... yes, even American made ones, if you can believe that. The Japanese Special Defense Force is portrayed as being ineffective against their home grown threats, but the almighty American made G-Force goes on a kaiju killing spree. The purpose of the army, navy, and air force in kaiju movies isn't to win, it's to fail in a way that satisfies our desire for destruction. Even when the monster threat is evil, we still want them to crush those trying to save us. When a cast of characters we don't care about dispatch the kaiju we came to see/read about, it annoys us.

Waaaaaay too much time is spent describing the personal histories of people whose sole purpose in life is to be squashed. We don't care how an off-duty police man has concocted an elaborate plan to meet a pretty jogger at the beach, and we don't want to read about it for four pages only to have him die on the fifth. The worst is at the end, where Cerasini devotes a few pages to the humans that we forgot about as soon as their scene ended and the next kaiju one took place. Also seen in the book is Nick Gordon, a barely tolerable main character from the prequel. He is unmercifully dropped in press conferences, newscasts, and even as a witness to the final battle. The human cast in the previous book was better because there were less of them and more time was spent developing them. Here, Godzilla, Rodan, Varan, the Kamacuras, and King Ghidorah have their own plot points devoted to them, as well as their own small cast of human characters to react to them. Instead of reporters and NASA scientists, more time should have been devoted to G-Force, the people whose lives revolve around those this book exists for.

Much like how he described the horrific experience of being incinerated by Godzilla's nuclear breath in Godzilla Returns, Cerasini now tells us how it must feel to be splattered with G's radioactive blood and skin tissue. We seldom think about how every explosion that tears Godzilla's flesh must spray a considerable amount of gore all around the battlefield. One especially unlucky person ended up being showered with the stuff. He became violently ill, throwing up and feeling convulsions in his stomach, until just falling unconscious. We also were treated to a bonus fight where one natural disaster took on another: Godzilla vs. Tornado!

An awesome cover by Bob Eggleton depicts the kaiju apocalypse, with Godzilla rearing his head over a beam-spitting King Ghidorah as Rodan soars through the background. Although it would have been more appropriate to include Mothra in Rodan's place as the insect monster was the one who played a role in the final battle.

There's also a reference to that atrocious Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla. That's right, I said it. I'm a Godzilla fan who hates that song.

And that's just the way it is.

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