“George, here in Tokyo, time has been turned back two million years. This is my report as it happens.”
With these words, American science fiction fans in the mid 1950’s bore witness to a cinematic event that was truly “astounding beyond belief.” That event was, of course, the advent of Godzilla, who in 1956 made his U.S. debut in the highly edited “Americanized” cut of Toho Studio’s 1954 monster blockbuster, Gojira. Retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters for its stateside release, it was this version of the film that first introduced western audiences to the titular beast, and to a film that would eventually evolve into the longest-running franchise in cinema history.
However, if you’re reading this, you likely already know all of that. You likely know that the American version made significant changes to the original Japanese version, including some trimming of much of the ’54 cut’s harrowing commentary on nuclear war. You likely know that one of the biggest alterations to the film was the addition of an American actor, future Perry Mason star Raymond Burr, into the proceedings. And you likely know that it was this version of the film that many American kaiju eiga fans grew up with, long before the first DVDs of the original Japanese cut became available on this side of the Pacific. In the time before the modern DVD/Blu-ray explosion (and the relatively recent embracing/availability of the subtitled Japanese version in the West), King of the Monsters was as close as many fans (this author included) got to seeing the original Gojira.
But those times are now long behind us. These days, the Japanese version is everywhere. In fact, no less a home video luminary than the prestigious Criterion Collection has given the original Godzilla a proper release in the States. This version can be purchased on disk, streamed off multiple platforms, bought and owned digitally, and even makes occasional appearances on television and in theaters. Best of all, it has found a new audience outside of Japan, with Western critics finally acknowledging the film as the masterpiece it has always been.
But what of King of the Monsters? Well, in the wake of the Japanese cut’s explosion into the American zeitgeist, the once beloved (or at worst, merely tolerated) US re-edit has experienced a somewhat opposite effect. No longer the primary method of viewing the story, the film that introduced the Monster King to America has slipped from being required viewing to the status of a mere footnote. It now exists as an often derided cultural curiosity, a relic of the days before the Japanese version supplanted it. Nearly 65 years after its release, Godzilla, King of the Monsters is now a mere bonus feature on the (both literal and figural) bonus disk of Godzilla fandom.
But I’ve never felt that way.
To me, King of the Monsters was – and remains – an integral part of my formative years as a Godzilla fan. While newer generations of G-fans are often heard to dismiss it as a poorly assembled, even bastardized version of the original 1954 classic, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, an examination of King of the Monsters reveals a skillfully crafted, well-acted version of the story that preserves much more of the original cut’s freshness, entertainment, and allegorical boldness than some might have us believe.
While the American cut has much to appreciate, there are two main elements that stand out as being not just exemplary, but pivotal to the film’s effectiveness: its remarkable script (courtesy of Al C. Ward), and the performance/presence of the late, great Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin. As has often been reported, Burr took this role seriously; he understood the gravitas of the story he was taking part in, and instead of simply phoning in a performance in a silly sci-fi movie and collecting his paycheck, he did the exact opposite. Burr’s performance is stellar, memorable, and believable. Armed with Ward’s script and the careful editing of U.S. version director Terry Morse, Burr enters the film with a shocking degree of authenticity. His dialogue – including a pervasive yet effective narration that guides the viewer through the events of the film – is often chilling, and entirely believable when combined with Burr’s performance. In fact, it could be argued that Martin’s experiences in this story are relayed to us through some of the best crafted – and memorable – dialogue in any 1950’s science fiction film.
To me, such accomplishments ought not be dismissed, derided, or swept under the cinematic rug. To me, they are worthy of being commended, respected, and celebrated. For all it gets right, for all it accomplished in the 1950s, and for the debt of gratitude Godzilla fans like myself owe it for being an indelible part of our childhoods, I felt that King of the Monsters deserved a tribute, and a “thank you”.
The story you are about to read is that tribute.
When I first launched the GODZILLA NOVELIZATION PROJECT back in February of 2018, I knew two things: first, that I wanted to include a series of short stories as part of the site’s offerings, and two, that I wanted to find a way to include Godzilla, King of the Monsters somewhere in the project. I had already begun the GNP’s adaptation of the original Godzilla, and felt that writing an entire second novel that copied so much of the Japanese version would be a disservice to both stories. And so, I decided to dust off an old idea I had been kicking around since high school… the idea of “in-universe” Godzilla stories.
The premise of the idea was very simple: essentially, a short story created for the GNP should exist as a sort of “in-universe artifact”, something that could easily be found within the story itself. For example, a specific story could be a journal or diary written by one of the story’s characters, or testimony given by a witness to the authorities. (Think Bram Stoker’s approach to Dracula, which is written as if it were a collection of journals and reports left behind by the book’s characters.) This angle gave the idea of crafting short stories for the GNP a huge appeal for me, as I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of making elements of storytelling tangible to the audience.
And so, the path forward for adapting King of the Monsters became very clear: tell the story from within the story. Give the reader an actual artifact from the world of the story as a way of communicating that story to them.
The end result of this storytelling concept (along with plenty of research, writing, re-writing, further tweaking, and plenty of re-watches of the film) was the GNP’s first novella: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! – The Steve Martin Report!
Published in two parts over the course of several months at the beginning of 2018, The Steve Martin Report (a name sure to confuse anyone who’s more of a classic SNL fan than a kaiju aficionado!) is a first-person recounting of the events of the film, told in the form of a written report by the character of Martin. As per the aforementioned approach to the narrative, the novella is presented as a sort of “in-universe artifact”, a final word report prepared by Steve for his boss (good ol’ George Lawrence, for the nerdiest among you) back at United World News in Chicago. Crafting the story in this way made sense; in my mind, it was only natural for Steve to return to America after his harrowing experience and do what he does best: report on what he saw/lived through. My question was, “What would that report look like?” This story is my humble attempt to answer that question.
In crafting this retelling of a classic tale, I had the wonderful opportunity to both include Burr’s memorable narration dialogue from the film, and work around and in-between that dialogue, filling in the gaps to create a complete recounting of the events of the film from Steve Martin’s point of view. This meant putting myself into the place of not only the character of Martin, but the mindset of a 1950’s American reporter. That meant taking a crash course in 50’s verbiage and writing styles, and learning just how a journalist of the era would communicate to their audience. To say the least, it was quite the mental challenge! However, I had as my guiding light the omnipresent voice of Raymond Burr himself. With that unmistakable and nostalgic voice in my head to remind me of what his character would or wouldn’t say, I was able to fuse the brilliant script of Al C. Ward with new dialogue that I dearly hope has done that original script – and Mr. Burr – justice.
The end result of all that work is the novella you’re (hopefully, unless I’ve scared you away!) about to read. It was a wonderful creative challenge, and I have to say, a true joy to write. Through this project, it is my dearest hope that readers will be reminded of the tremendous legacy of King of the Monsters. Of the legacy left behind by the talented creators – Morse, Ward, Burr, and others – who set out to bring the first Godzilla film to America. And it is to them, and all of you who have taken the time to read this, that I dedicate this adaptation.
I hope you enjoy it.
– Daniel DiManna (signing off from Tokyo, Japan, but not really since he lives in America…)