One thing that Godzilla fans are always ready to argue about is which of the Godzilla suits is the best and which is the worst. I’ve been thinking about this subject recently because of a wave of headlines that spread across the internet a week or two ago that read along the lines of “Fans say New Godzilla is ‘Too Fat’.” I’ve been intrigued by this reaction for a couple of reasons. First, I was tickled by how it is basically a (goofy) pale shadow of the wave of fan vitriol that met the creature design in Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s take on the monster in 1998.
I also chuckled at these headlines because I’m forward, as a Godzilla fan, to having a response to this complaint after I see the movie*. As you’d expect with any fandom (see the Batfans furiously debating the merits of the recent photo of Zack Snyder & Ben Affleck’s Batman), Godzilla fans have strong feelings about how Godzilla should look, and this is exacerbated and complicated by the fact that Godzilla’s appearance has changed so much over the years. Up until the 1980s and the introduction of molds into the process, the suits were built by creating a bamboo frame and building the creature on top of that out of latex and rubber. This system meant that each suit looked different from the last in ways both subtle and glaring. Since It’s easy to find justification for many different design preferences when you’re talking about a new take on Godzilla, but let’s see if we can agree on at least some of the design elements that this new Godzilla will have to address.
Contrary to the popular wisdom, Godzilla isn’t green (or at least he wasn’t for over the first forty years of his career). The traditional color of the Godzilla suit is a charcoal gray, with white dorsal plates. The only real variations on this color scheme were in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), where the suit was still charcoal colored but with the addition of glowing orange and red patches (in the film, Godzilla’s radioactivity has gotten so out of control that he will either explode or melt down)
and the first two films in the Millennium series, Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. In these two films, he actually is a dark green and his dorsal plates have a pink/purple tint.
All iterations of Godzilla in the Japanese films have atomic breath in their arsenal. In the original film this was depicted primarily as an emission of radioactive gas (with a couple of animated wide shots). Once Godzilla transitioned to color, his ray was depicted using animation, and was a white/blue color (with a couple of exceptions in the Heisei and Millennium series, where the ray was orange or red). By the same token, when he deployed his atomic breath, his dorsal plates glowed white/blue. This was also accomplished with animation throughout the Showa series, and eventually incorporated an actual physical light-up effect in the dorsal plates on the suit in the Heisei era.
Godzilla has three toes, except for the many films in which he has four toes. Yep, for one of the most iconic images associated with the genre at large, you’re equally correct if you picture Godzilla’s foot stomping down with three or four toes. The original film (and its year-later sequel, Godzilla Raids Again) featured a Godzilla with four toes. When he returned in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla had dropped down to three toes, which he retained for the rest of the Showa series. In 1984’s The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla once again got that fourth toe, which he retained for the rest of the Heisei series and the Millennium series. In all iterations, three-toed or four-, the toes themselves end in claws.
Godzilla’s face has changed so many times over the years (often even in the same movie, as different suits as well as puppets and animatronics have been utilized to do different things), so let’s start with the basics. He’s got two eyes, a mouth filled with sharp teeth, nostrils, and a vaguely reptilian appearance. In the original Godzilla, he had ears. In some of the films (ex. King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus) his face is more distinctly reptilian, while in other films (Showa era pictures like Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) he’s got a more canine appearance, and the Godzilla of the Heisei era had a more feline muzzle (and then there’s whatever dopey potato troll he’s supposed to resemble in Son of Godzilla). Similarly, his teeth varied from large fangs to a shark like multiple rows of sharp teeth. Even his eyes could vary pretty wildly from film to film, with some of the suits featuring big, round expressive eyes, while others featured brown, red or golden irises (and the monster in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All-Out Attack had malevolent white eyes without irises or pupils).
He’s got these. There are generally three rows of spines running down his back. In most of the Showa films there were one large row of plates flanked by two smaller rows, while in the Heisei films they were generally three large rows of plates. The plates themselves are irregularly shaped, and are generally smooth, though the tendency in the Millennium era was to make the plates jagged and sharp.
He’s got one. The length has varied a bit from suit to suit, as has whether the underside of the tail is smooth or textured like the rest of his body. Because he stands erect, his tail hangs down behind him instead of extending straight back the way a bipedal dinosaur’s tail would have.
Godzilla has always been bipedal, with his arms bent at the elbow and held in front of him. The shape of the suit changed over the years, sometimes displaying a baggy or bell-shaped form and other times giving him pronounced muscles and a powerful chest and shoulders. As the Showa era Godzilla got more active and the fights grew broader, the suits tended to slim down a bit to allow the performer a greater range of movement. In the Heisei era, there seemed to be an effort made to re-assert Godzilla’s massive size. There were definitely complaints from fans at the time about his “thunder thighs.” Later, of course, there was some controversy when the suit in Godzilla: Final Wars featured a slimmer, more active Godzilla, sacrificing some of the bulk that fans had come to expect.
* For the record, I confess I’ve been trying to avoid seeing too much of this new Godzilla in advance of seeing the actual movie. I’ve caught a glimpse of the action figures in stores, and I’ve seen a few revealing shots of the creature in trailers and TV spots, but I still don’t have a great sense of what all the pieces look like put together. From the glimpses I’ve seen so far I’d say: I’ll need to get used to his muzzle, I’m not sure about the dorsal plates yet, the way he holds his arms in the posters looks a bit weird to me, I like the way his brow seems to have a permanent glare, and I’m afraid his toes aren’t big enough.