RiffTrax's Kevin Murphy on Making Fun of Godzilla

Roland Emmerich's 1998 take on the kaiju classic Godzilla is rightly reviled by both fans of the original and anyone else who hasn't suffered brain trauma. But among one select audience -- fans of RiffTrax, to be specific -- it's been in great demand for years. When RiffTrax Live: Godzilla hits theaters on August 14, that demand, however inexplicable, will be fulfilled at last -- and no one is better suited to make fun of it than the RiffTrax crew. Michael J. Nelson and Bill Corbett join Kevin Murphy -- all Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni -- for a live lampooning that should be the most fun it's possible to have with Emmerich's bloated monstrosity of a monster movie. Before the fun starts tomorrow night, we caught up with Murphy to talk about the awfulness of the movie, how riffing this one compares to making fun of old-school kaiju, and why it's easier to make fun of really, really stupid films.

See also: RiffTrax's Kevin Murphy on Birdemic and Mystery Science Theater 3000's legacy

Westword: I understand that this version of Godzilla is something people have been asking you to riff for a while.

Kevin Murphy: Yeah, strangely this is an audience favorite [request]. It's one that, when we've asked for suggestions, people say, "Do this, get this Matthew Broderick Godzilla!" My best guess is because it's so far off the kaiju canon for everybody, they seem angry and resentful for the fact that this version of Godzilla was made. I don't have that much of a dog in this fight [laughs], so I don't care either way, but it is fun to make fun of. It's a big, dumb Roland Emmerich film.

Yeah, it's the one I've never seen, because I hate Roland Emmerich. I couldn't believe it was being made, and then when the reviews came out and said it was as bad as I had imagined... I just couldn't do it.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Especially for Godzilla fans, they seem to be particularly vitriolic in their comments about this movie.

So you've now watched it some ungodly number of times to prepare for this show. Does it live up to its shitty reputation?

I've watched it a lot of times. I've spent a lot of time with this film. Does it live up to its reputation? Well, it certainly is right in the Roland Emmerich wheelhouse, I'll say that much for it. You sort of take Independence Day, strip it of aliens and insert giant dinosaurs and a lot of shameless Spielbergian references, and there you have Godzilla.

That's exactly what I was afraid of. On the other hand, that gives you good material to work with, I assume?

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Well, yeah, it's fun. Any time you have these big, goofy, overly dramatic monster-disaster films taking sort of a classically B-movie genre and trying to make it bigger than it ought it be, you just have a great opportunity for our type of fun.

Is it easier to make fun of dumb movie than smart movies?

Well, yeah, usually. It's not a poorly made film in any respect, except a lot of people don't like the actual Godzilla monster. But technically it's fine. Its goofiness is just in the fact that it takes itself way too seriously at times, and the comic relief in it is really sort of sad and depressing. Those we can work with.

Continue for more from Kevin Murphy on kaiju and bad movies.

It does seem to be high time to skewer this film. Not only do you have all those fan requests, but it seems like kaiju are on the rise these days.

Boy, yeah, once again kaiju are rearing their collective, scaly heads, aren't they? I have lots of friends who have been kaiju fans and I just sort of fit in between those. I didn't go see a lot of Godzilla movies as a kid, and when I got grown up I lost interest in them, unlike a lot of grownups. It's been an era of discovery for me again, just like in the MST3K days, when I'd never heard of Gamera and suddenly Gamera came back around. I've been studying Godzilla, and he's a big, dumb monster.

You guys did a fair amount of kaiju films back in the MST3K days -- two Godzilla movies and what, forty Gamera films?

Oh, man, yeah. We did a whole bunch of those guys. They were fun. There was a sort of innocence to the way that the early Japanese ones were made. I think they were as much kids' films as anything else, so they were more cartoony. And for my money, the more cartoony these things are, the better off they end up being. The less cartoony they are, the easier they are to poke fun at.

How did the experience of the 1998 Godzilla compare with the two Godzilla films and innumerable Gamera films you did back in the day?

Well, this one's a hell of a lot longer than any of those, I'll tell you that. [Laughs.] Matthew Broderick seems almost as out of place in this as Jeff Goldblum did in Independence Day. It seems like a lark for him.

You guys have now done a number of these live RiffTrax events, starting in 2009 with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Is it fair to say that's continuing to become a bigger part of your business and art all the time?

It's really special for us to do it, and it's really cool for us to do it, because of that audience interaction. We actually get to ply our craft in front of an audience, which is a lot more stressful, but a lot more gratifying. It really adds a lot of energy to what we do, and the audience becomes part of it and it makes it that much more cool. Seeing what we do in a crowd is always lots of fun. It's great fun to do at home, with some friends, which I always encourage people to do, but to see it in a theater with a whole bunch of people really ramps up the fun energy of the whole thing.

We don't want to wear out our welcome, of course, but we want to do as many as we can without either fatiguing the audience or killing ourselves. We're trying to figure that out. It's fun to do the ones we're doing this year, and we'll just have to see how they do for us. They've done great recently. Sharknado was great all around and I think Godzilla will be right in there. A different movie, but the same sort of goofy experience.

The simulcast live show RiffTrax Live: Godzilla-- transmitted from a theater in Nashville -- will also offer a new video and theme song from Jonathan Coulton. It screens at 7 p.m. Thurday, August 14 at numerous local theaters, including the Pavilions 15, and again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 19. Tickets are $12.50; to purchase yours and to get more info, including a complete list of theaters, visit the RiffTrax or Fathom Events websites.

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