One of the biggest and most common remarks I often hear about the Godzilla franchise is that it is campy and cheesy. That people often can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of these films and could never once take them seriously.
My common response to this is to ask, “Really? What is so campy about the Godzilla films?”
The problem with this is that there is no set definition of “camp” in films that people can agree on. Everyone has a different tolerance with cheese in cinema, but most people will often note that it involves a situation that is played for laughs while breaking the tone and flow of the film.
Which begs the question of why people often jump to the Godzilla franchise as an example of this.
While there are certainly moments in these films that are ridiculous to say the least yet still get a laugh out of me, these moments are rare. The most notable one coming from “Invasion Of Astro-Monster” in which, after forcing King Ghidorah to retreat, Godzilla does a little dance directly into the camera.
This is an undeniable moment of camp. The filmmakers put this in because they felt it was funny. At no other point in the same film does it try to do something similar. So does that make the entire film campy? I say no. It makes that moment of Godzilla doing something ridiculous funny, but the rest of “Invasion Of Astro-Monster” is done competently and without ever winking at the camera.
Some will define being cheesy as attempting any sort of comedy where it shouldn’t belong. This might explain why people use the Godzilla films as an example, as these films will often use comedy in giant monster movies.
My question is, if a giant monster film attempts any sort of comedy, does that automatically make it cheesy or campy? If so, isn’t that unfair?
I can think of plenty of monster films that use comedy as a way to relieve tension or to make the film feel more human or to even set an entirely different tone and atmosphere. All without ever going over the top or being ridiculous.
The best example of this comes from “Son Of Godzilla” where most of what Godzilla’s son, Minya, does is portrayed in a comedic way. He will kick and scream if he doesn’t get his way, he is incompetent in combat, he is happy when he gets fed and will often wag his tail, and when he is bored he will jump over Godzilla’s tail for amusement.
To me, none of that is campy. Minya is a child, and as such, he acts like a child. Children get bored easily and are prone to quick mood swings. They aren’t familiar with the world so don’t know exactly how to act. What Minya does is funny, but not ridiculously funny as to become cheesy.
In my opinion, there are only three or four true moments of camp in all twenty-eight Godzilla films. The previously discussed moment from “Invasion Of Astro-Monster,” Godzilla using his atomic breath to fly in “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” and Godzilla using his tail to slide roughly a mile so that he can drop kick an enemy in “Godzilla vs. Megalon.”
These three moments are absolutely ridiculous and feel out of place in their own films. They break the rules that the film had set up and are all played for laughs. That makes those instances campy.
To say the entire franchise is the same based solely on three moments of cheese seems a tad unfair. Especially when most of the films are done in a competent manner and trying to tell stories that try their best to relate to the audience. To start with a film that shows the impact and horrors of the atomic bomb and what that meant to the Japanese should tell you that the filmmakers are not making these films just to entertain, but to enlighten. To show the world just what our continued use of atomic power can do and the path that we are heading down.
A much better example of camp would be the Gamera series, which takes every opportunity to poke fun at the ridiculous situations of two giant monsters fighting. From Gamera using a skywalk as a swing set to a knife-headed monster cutting up another monster like sushi, the franchise is full of memorable cheese-fests.
The difference between the Godzilla films and the Gamera series is how they chose to view their audience. While both franchises were often marketed towards children, the filmmakers of Godzilla respected their audience and often treated them like adults, by telling stories that weren’t afraid to hold back and had characters who often weren’t defined by being “good” or “bad.” Gamera, on the other hand, knew that these films were for kids and were simply making these films to entertain those kids.
As such, the Godzilla films can be enjoyed by both children and adults, whether for their action sequences or the story. While I’d be hard-pressed to find an adult who enjoys the Gamera films without the camp.