There was a big monster movie marathon on satellite a couple of months ago. My son and I sat down and watched about fifteen hours of classic Japanese monster mayhem. We’re both big fans of the genre. He’s eight years old. I have no excuse.
They had all the big ones. They had the granddaddy of them all: Godzilla, The King of Monsters. He’s a big dinosaur, begat by radioactivity from atomic tests and he has a real big hard-on against Tokyo for some reason. He breathes nuclear fire and chills the blood with his mighty roar. Actually, “roar” is not the word I’m looking for… ululation, perhaps? After that was Gamera, the Godzilla knockoff. He’s a giant turtle monster who is rocket-powered. No, I can’t explain it; you just have to experience it for yourself. Then they showed Rodan, another prehistoric monster brought back to life. He laid waste to New York instead of Tokyo for a change.
And then, they had Mothra.
I think the point of these monster movies is to scare you, though I don’t find Godzilla all that frightening. I can’t say I’m afraid of people running around in rubber costumes (though reading that last line back perhaps I should be). In any case, while the execution leaves something to be desired, I understand that Godzilla – as a concept – is pretty scary. Dinosaurs by their very nature are fear inducing. They are big. They have lots of teeth. There’s probably something in our genetic code, going back to our shrew-like ancestors, that makes us instinctively want to crouch and hide from big stomping lizards. The same thing with Rodan; he’s a big radioactive pterodactyl monster. Humans aren’t natural fliers. Half of us need to be seriously medicated to get on a plane. When we see pilots bailing out after Rodan attacks, we empathize with their helplessness as they dangle on their parachutes like bait under a bobber, unable to fight back when Rodan swoops in to gulp them down like Dippin’ Dots.
I just don’t get Mothra. For the uninitiated, Mothra is what you think it is: a big moth. That’s it, a great big moth. It hatches from an egg, turns into a caterpillar, pupates and ends up as a moth about the size of a DC-10. It’s sort of like your sixth grade science project on a grand scale. Sure there’s some stuff about pixie women from Monster Island and sleazy businessmen, but Mothra is the main draw. I suppose you could say bugs are frightening. That would explain a movie with a giant spider or a really big cockroach. But in the insect world, moths are pretty low on the scary scale of things. I doubt our caveman ancestors cowered in fear when moths circled their early fires; instead moths were probably the first form of entertainment, flopping around drunkenly into the flames.
So, if I wasn’t frightened of Godzilla or Rodan, I really wasn’t frightened of Mothra. In fact, watching the movie, Daniel and I felt sorry for Mothra. It was just a big, fuzzy, victim of circumstance. However, in the end, Daniel mentioned Mothra was his favorite monster of all, even better than Godzilla. He felt Mothra was nicer than the other monsters. When it wiped out stuff, it was because it was provoked rather than because it felt like it. You could even argue the monster in Mothra isn’t Mothra, but rather, the people.