Kaiju Profile: Godzilla 1998 / Zilla
Written by Les, Astounding Beyond Belief, Titanollante, KoopaGalaxain, The Boy Who Cried Godzilla
Edited, voiced by Titanollante
The first incarnation of Godzilla to appear in an American-made film, the TriStar Godzilla is a radically different interpretation of the character, being a mutated iguana rather than a prehistoric creature. His appearance is more reminiscent of modern reconstructions of theropod dinosaurs, and he lacks some of the King of the Monsters' most recognized traits, such as atomic breath and immunity to conventional weaponry. Instead, this incarnation relies on his speed and animalistic cunning to evade attackers and ambush them rather than fight them head-on, ultimately being killed at the end of his debut film — though one of his asexually-produced offspring survived and starred in "Godzilla: The Series," an animated sequel to the 1998 film. In one of its storylines, the original Godzilla's carcass was salvaged by the Leviathan aliens and converted into a cyborg dubbed Cyber Godzilla as part of their plan to overtake the Earth.
The TriStar Godzilla became particularly controversial among the fanbase due to his departure from previous versions of the character, with Toho responding to the controversy through dialogue in "GMK." When TriStar's rights to the character expired in 2003, Toho assumed ownership of the design and reintroduced it as a new character called "Zilla" in the film "Godzilla: Final Wars." Zilla has since been featured in other media licensed by Toho: the IDW comic book series Godzilla: Rulers of Earth" and Godzilla: Oblivion," the mobile game Godzilla: Kaiju Collection," and the novel Godzilla: Monster Apocalypse."
For more on the Godzilla–Zilla name controversy, please check out the corresponding video. Keeping to their official names, the TriStar character will be referred to as 'Godzilla' throughout this video, and the Toho character will be 'Zilla.'
Following the abandonment of a 1983 American Godzilla concept by Steve Miner and TriStar's subsequent acquiring of the rights to produce a Godzilla film of their own, Stan Winston and his studio were hired to handle creature effects for a 1994 precursor to what would ultimately become the 1998 "GODZILLA." The initial design for this film's version of Godzilla was created by Stan Winston Studio artist Mark McReery, and several more artists were selected to work in-house for director Jan De Bont and his crew. One of them was Ricardo Delgado, whose take on Godzilla would be approved as the final look for the monster.
De Bont would ultimately leave the project over Sony's attempts to reduce the budget and 'Americanize' Godzilla. When Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin stepped in, they decided to pursue a new Godzilla design, as Emmerich felt Delgado's rendition was "very close to the original" but thought that it was "not right" because "today we wouldn't do it like that." Illustrator Patrick Tatopoulos created several concept drawings of the design as well as an approximately 50 centimeter tall maquette, which was presented to Toho executives for approval to move forward with the film's production. According to Shogo Tomiyama, who produced every Toho kaiju film from 1989 to 2004, the executives at Toho were initially shocked at the new design. "It was so different we realized we couldn't make small adjustments… That left the major question of whether to approve it or not." They gave their consent the next day. In addition to the CGI model of Godzilla, a massive, 9 meter tall upper half animatronic and full suit were created to portray the monster, the latter worn by Kurt Carley for just 4 shots in the final film. In the vein of Godzilla design nicknames such as "ShodaiGoji," "84Goji," and so on, this Godzilla's official nickname is "ToraGoji."
For "Godzilla: Final Wars," made a year after TriStar's rights to produce GODZILLA" sequels expired, director Ryuhei Kitamura asked Tomiyama if Godzilla 1998 could appear in the film. Tomiyama checked Toho's contract with TriStar and found that he could. Rechristened Zilla, the monster was portrayed entirely by a CGI model, created by scanning a Trendmasters Ultimate Godzilla figure, used like a maquette. Matt Frank would return to the 1998 design again when illustrating Zilla for the IDW series Godzilla: Rulers of Earth."
The TriStar Godzilla is a mutant iguana—a new species hatched from an egg that was exposed to a 1968 French nuclear test conducted in the Mururoa Atoll Islands of French Polynesia. Godzilla matured over the ensuing 30 years, reaching a height of approximately 55 meters. While this origin dissatisfied many fans, as it shifted blame from the United States to another country, it was topical when Devlin and Emmerich first wrote the script. France conducted six underground nuclear tests in French Polynesia from 1995 to 1996, drawing international condemnation. The final test took place one month before they finished their first draft.
Although Zilla's origins go unexplained in "Godzilla: Final Wars," supplementary materials state Zilla is in fact a mutated iguana, and often point out (even in social media posts) that a similar creature struck New York in 1998. When talking about the 1998 monster, the reverse happens: the fact that a "similar monster" appeared in "Final Wars" is almost always brought up.
In Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," Zilla is one of the many monsters that has lived on the planet for centuries. A mural on Infant Island aligns him with the element of water.
GODZILLA (1998): In 1998, the Japanese fishing vessel Kobayashi-Maru was sunk at sea by a gigantic creature, leaving only a single survivor. The creature dredged the shipwreck ashore in Panama, leaving behind a trail of footprints across the island. Believing the monster was the result of a secret nuclear test their country had conducted in French Polynesia 30 years ago, the French government authorized a team of secret servicemen led by Philippe Roaché to investigate. Posing as an insurance agent, Philippe investigated the shipwreck, which had its entire payload of tuna removed, and interviewed the only survivor of the incident. The survivor had been exposed to a great deal of radiation during the attack, and claimed he saw Gojira, a giant sea monster from Japanese legend.
Sometime later, the creature traveled up the Eastern seaboard of the United States, causing multiple shipwrecks as it approached New York. Finally, the creature came ashore in Manhattan, causing extensive damage before vanishing into the urban jungle. Taken completely by surprise, the military scrambled to evacuate the city and prepare countermeasures against the monster. At the suggestion of Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, a scientist recruited by the military to investigate the beast, a plan was proposed to lure it into Flatiron Square with 20,000 pounds of fish. The plan was set into motion, with a mound of fish being dumped into the street and military forces being stationed around the area. After manhole covers in the area were opened, the creature broke through the street and began eating the fish, soon after which the the military opened fire on it. The monster fled from and ultimately evaded the assault, with the military inflicting more damage on the city than he did. Nick was able to recover a blood sample from the creature left behind in the attack, and after close analysis discovered that the creature was capable of asexual reproduction and about to lay eggs. Nick's former college sweetheart, Audrey Timmonds, reunited with him and stole some of his classified video tapes about the monster, intending to use them to advance her aspirations as a news reporter, but Audrey's boss stole the story and reported it on live television, giving the monster the name "Godzilla" after mispronouncing Gojira. When the military found out, they promptly kicked Nick off the task force dealing with the monster. Nick was subsequently kidnapped by Philippe and his men, who wanted to work with Nick to find Godzilla's nest under the city before his young could hatch.
The military prepared for another assault against Godzilla in Central Park. Once he surfaced and entered the park, the military opened fire on him, sending him into retreat again. Godzilla dove into the Hudson River, where three submarines locked onto and fired torpedoes at him while he attempted to burrow to safety. The torpedoes struck the monster, and he sank to the bottom of the river. The military declared Godzilla dead.
Following the destruction of the Madison Square Garden, the still-living adult Godzilla rose up from under the street. After seeing the charred corpses of his young, Godzilla became enraged and started chasing the humans. They hijacked a taxi and began fleeing from the monster, who chased them across the city. Nick established contact with the military, warning them that Godzilla was still alive. The taxi began to lure Godzilla to the Brooklyn Bridge so that he could be easily targeted by the military. Once there, Godzilla jumped onto the bridge and quickly became ensnared in the suspension cables. With Godzilla trapped, the three F-18 Hornets flew overhead and unleashed their payload on the stationary monster. Godzilla roared out in pain, and after several direct hits finally collapsed to the ground. Nick stared into Godzilla's eyes as the monster breathed his last and finally died. New York immediately erupted into celebration, with the threat of Godzilla finally eliminated.
Godzilla: The Series: Godzilla first reappears in "Godzilla: The Series" in the form of a recap of the ending of the 1998 film. Following his death, Godzilla's body was taken to the Sandy Point military base where his carcass was studied by top scientists. However, the Leviathan Aliens took over the minds of the scientists using spheres of influence planted within some of them when the sunken alien ship, the Leviathan, was first discovered by humans. With the whole base under their control, the Leviathan Aliens used their technology to resurrect Godzilla as a cyborg named Cyber Godzilla. He was ordered to eliminate H.E.A.T., who had sneaked into the facility to investigate. When the new Godzilla, the original-now-Cyber Godzilla's son, arrived to save them, he refused to fight his father and was taken under the mind control of the aliens. The father and son team gave chase, but were distracted by N.I.G.E.L., which allowed H.E.A.T. to escape. Cyber Godzilla and the other mutations under alien control were then sent out to various major cities in order to destroy them, with Cyber Godzilla chosen to attack Tokyo.
The other mutations were saved from the control of the Leviathan Aliens, but Cyber Godzilla remained loyal. He soon confronted his son, who decided to fight for his surrogate father Nick, rather than his biological father. The two began to fight, with Godzilla tearing out Cyber Godzilla's internal mechanisms, killing him.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004): Zilla was among the monsters that were secretly controlled by the Xiliens, as part of their plan to conquer Earth and harvest humans for their mitochondria. Zilla emerged from the Pacific Ocean and attacked Sydney, Australia, before the city was saved" by an Xilien UFO which transported him away. After the aliens' plan was uncovered and the crew of the Gotengo released Godzilla from Antarctica, the Xilien Controller deployed Zilla in Sydney to try and stop the King of the Monsters. "I knew that tuna-head wasn't up to much!"
Physical Capabilities: While not as powerful as the Japanese original, the '98 Godzilla is able to sink three fishing boats by pulling them underwater despite them moving at full speed. He also dredged a large freighter onto shore with ease. In the comic "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," Zilla mauls his enemies with his claws and teeth. While these attacks are not extremely effective against Godzilla, they are sufficient to tear apart Trilopods. In addition, he displayed the ability to use his scutes as a weapon.
Despite his large size, the '98 Godzilla uses his speed and agility to his advantage. With a top speed estimated between 300 to 500 miles per hour, Godzilla is able to outrun attack helicopters with ease, and can also swim underwater at high speeds. Similarly, Zilla is incredibly fast and agile. Zilla tends to charge at his opponents, and is capable of quickly fleeing or evading enemies when he is overwhelmed.
High Jump Kick: In "Godzilla: Final Wars," Zilla has the capacity to traverse great distances by way of pouncing, and can utilize this ability to perform a "High Jump Kick" to attack his enemies.
Godzilla has displayed a remarkable burrowing ability: being able to excavate the thick tar and concrete around New York with ease. Using this advantage, he was able to escape and hide from the United States Army. Although Zilla did not display this ability in his sole film appearance, "Rulers of Earth" does feature the monster burrowing through concrete and steel as he ambushes Godzilla in Honolulu.
Camouflage: Godzilla's skin color allows him to blend in well with New York City's architecture. He also possesses an incredibly low body temperature, which renders him colder than his surroundings and unable to be detected by the military's thermal scanning or locked on to by heat-seeking missiles. In the first draft of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's script, Godzilla could change color, an ability he used to ambush an Apache.
The 1998 Godzilla is able to carry out asexual reproduction, producing eggs that contain viable offspring via his own mitosis. Zilla retains this ability in "GODZILLA: Monster Apocalypse," wherein he is given a role directly inspired by the worst case scenario from the 1998 "GODZILLA" film. After the French military killed the original monster, his progeny overran the city of Rouen. Text from the novel reads: "If you leave one young one alive, no, if you leave just an egg behind, it'll hatch and reproduce all over again." Also, "The big ones are dangerous, but the young ones were more troublesome. They're intelligent and act in herds. The young ones act as decoys for the tanks while the adults attack from the rooftops." Finally, "It was more difficult to free the city besieged by Zilla than any other monster."
Although not possessing a traditional atomic breath, the 1998 Godzilla does have a volatile "power breath," a jet of flammable material that can ignite with explosive force. Originally, this ability was intended to be a simple blast of air, but fan outrage convinced Devlin and Emmerich to change it in post-production. A jet of flame shown during Zilla's attack on Sydney in ‘'Godzilla: Final Wars might be another example of power breath, although it's uncertain because Zilla was not in the shot.
Meanwhile, when the '98 Godzilla was revived and upgraded as Cyber Godzilla in "Godzilla: The Series," he gained a blue atomic breath, much like the Japanese Godzilla's, while his son possesses a green atomic breath. In some of Patrick Tatopoulos' concept art and in artwork for merchandise related to the film, Godzilla is depicted firing atomic breath. Toho forbade Zilla from using this ability in Godzilla: Rulers of Earth."
Cyber Godzilla has a number of missile launchers affixed to his dorsal plates, which are able to launch barrages of up to eight energy missiles at a time. He is also able to reflect sound-based attacks with his Sound-Reflecting Dish using the disk installed in its chest.
Weaknesses: The 1998 Godzilla is vulnerable to conventional weaponry. Two torpedoes from Ohio-class nuclear submarines were sufficient to knock him unconscious, and after becoming entangled in the Brooklyn Bridge, he was killed by twelve missiles fired from three F-18 fighter jets. Similarly, the "Monster Apocalypse" Zillas can be killed easily compared to other kaiju.
The Toho monster Orga's final design was influenced by the 1998 Godzilla. Modelers Shinichi Wakasa and Kenji Suzuki specifically based Orga's design on the TriStar version so that, "[the] Japanese Godzilla could defeat the American Godzilla." Additionally, the roars from the 1998 "GODZILLA" were reused for Godzilla in TriStar's version of "Godzilla 2000: Millennium" and for the Monster King's cameo in "Always Sunset on Third Street 2." Further: despite Zilla's quick demise in "Godzilla: Final Wars," Patrick Tatopoulos was thrilled to learn that the Godzilla he designed would be appearing in a Toho film.
Unlike other incarnations of Godzilla, this incarnation is known to have genitalia — female genitalia. Patrick Tatopoulos admitted this in the 1998 "GODZILLA" DVD Special FX Supervisor commentary, saying: "This one thing that's interesting is that we actually did end up sculpting the genitals of the creature, which you barely see in the movie. You guys were aware of that; when we started on the CG, we actually created the idea of putting genitals. Thank God we didn't see too much of it [and] they were quite discreet. But, you know, it was interesting that we were building some of that. [...] And the funny thing is, if we did make male genitals, it'd be very scary, because most of the shots are from the street level, I think it'd be too much."
Dean Devlin however denied that Godzilla was a "she," in addition to denying many other rumors, including leaked images of the monster's design in merchandise. "Hi. This is Dean Devlin coming to you from the trailer on the set of GODZILLA. Now I know I promised I wasn't gonna respond to any more rumors, but I'm going to respond to this ONE last one. Now whatever you read in Newsweek, forget about it! Newsweek got it wrong, okay? Let's make this clear once and for all: Godzilla. Is not. A she. Okay? Godzilla is not a she and does not go traipsing across the United States. Now that's it! No more responses to rumors, nothing, nada, zip, cut!"
The 1998 Godzilla appeared in two video games alongside Toho's Godzillas: Godzilla: Generations" and Godzilla: Trading Battle." Pipeworks briefly considered Zilla for inclusion in "Godzilla: Unleashed," but he didn't make the cut due to the team's observation of kaiju message board discussions during production on Godzilla: Save the Earth." Whenever someone brought up the prospect of Zilla appearing in the game, the replies were overwhelmingly negative.
In the thirteenth issue of "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," when Zilla is seen swimming in the waters around the Monster Islands, the character Chavez suggests that Zilla may be reluctant to set foot on the islands because he isn't welcome. Lucy assures him that the other monsters will eventually come to accept him — the monsters likely standing in for the Godzilla fanbase. His return in the final issue to help the other monsters defeat the Trilopods was a response to the uproar when his appearance in the first issue was announced.
That's it for ToraGoji and Zilla. Thanks for watching and stay tuned for more ZILLA month!