14 June 2019

Go, Godzilla!

The 2019 Godzilla film--Godzilla: King of
the Monsters
--from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Welcome back. Did you see the new Godzilla film? On its opening weekend, the movie earned $48 million in North America, topping the box office charts, and another $130 million worldwide. Not bad for the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise (a world record!), but they were expecting more. The movie cost an estimated $200 million to make.

I think I saw the reworked version of the original Godzilla when it came out in the U.S. in 1956, though none since. I’m just not a fan. That said, I was greatly impressed with the article on Godzilla’s evolution by two Dartmouth College faculty members.

Introducing Godzilla
In case you’re not up on the basics, Godzilla is a ceratosaurid dinosaur (Late Jurassic period), thought to be extinct, only to come bursting forth.

The 1954 Godzilla movie;
Japanese movie poster
(available from Amazon).

The first movie, produced and released in Japan in 1954, harkened back to the World War II nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. More immediately, it followed a U.S. nuclear weapon test conducted on 1 March 1954 at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

That initial test of a high-yield thermonuclear weapon produced unexpected, widespread radioactive fallout. The fallout contaminated islanders and the crew of a Japanese fishing boat and spawned international reaction to atmospheric thermonuclear testing, including anti-nuclear peace movements across Japan.

The test set the stage for the movie, in which an atomic bomb test awakens and unleashes Godzilla, mutated with an atomic fire breath. The bomb destroys the monster’s deep-water home, and the monster destroys Tokyo.

(Although I’m not a Godzilla fan, I thought The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was great. An enormous, carnivorous dinosaur is released from its frozen, hibernating state by an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle. The beast made its destructive way to New York City a year before Godzilla appears. That and a King Kong movie were reportedly inspirations for Godzilla.)

Size Matters
The Dartmouth researchers focused on Godzilla’s morphological change, to wit that Godzilla more than doubled in size from 1954 to 2019, 50 meters to 119.8 meters.

Godzilla Size Chart, 1954-2019, by Noger Chen
(from eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/202312.php).
They attribute the extraordinary growth to strong natural selection and apply the Breeder’s Equation to calculate the selective pressure.

(The Breeder’s equation, which is considered the workhorse equation for quantitative genetics, may be written: R = h2
S, where R is the response to selection; h2 is the narrow-sense heritability, the proportion of variance in a particular trait, in a particular population, due to genetic factors; and S is the selection differential.)

Suffice it to note that using data from genetic studies of lizards they estimate Godzilla has been subject to a selective pressure 30 times greater than that of typical natural systems.

Wrap Up
The researchers recognize that a movie-star monster may not warrant a genetic assessment, yet they speculate that the causal agent of natural selection is the spike in humanity’s collective anxiety--many democracies are electing nationalist leaders, strengthening borders and bolstering their military presence around the world.

Expanding on military presence, they calculate a high, positive correlation (r2 = 0.74) between U.S. military spending and Godzilla’s growth that’s hard to ignore.

They conclude with the message from most Godzilla movies--humanity must work together to defeat the monster. Now is the time for cooperation--across countries, across disciplines, and across party lines. It is our only hope of mitigating the dire existential threats we face today. That’s also hard to ignore.

Thanks for stopping by.

Weekend movie box office, May 31-June 2, 2019: www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/
Example articles on the first Godzilla movie and the franchise:
Wikipedia article on 1954 thermonuclear weapon test: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Bravo
Example article on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms: www.imdb.com/title/tt0045546/
Study of Godzilla’s growth in Science and a news release on EurekAlert!:

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