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Weekend Diversion: Godzilla Science?!

May 17, 2008 on 10:13 am | In Random Stuff |

Sometimes, you find weird stuff on the internet. But sometimes you find even weirder stuff in scientific journals. To what do I refer? A paper in the Journal of Mathematical Geology back in 2000 entitled Godzilla from a Zoological Perspective, by Per Christiansen.

This was written as a critique of the “new Godzilla” movie, arguing that it is not more biologically plausible than the “old Godzilla” of 1954.

However, calculations show that his limbs and limb muscles must have been severely undersized to move his huge bulk around at even a leisurely pace, and most other biological problems with the old Godzilla, e.g., growth rates and reptilian physiology at such a massive size, have remained unaltered.

This is a 15-page paper, with sections entitled:

  1. Estimating the Mass of Godzilla.
  2. Godzilla’s Limb Proportions.
  3. How Strong are Godzilla’s Limbs?
  4. Pressure on Godzilla’s Feet
  5. Godzilla’s Physiology

In section one, he concludes that the mass of Godzilla is all wrong for the size that he happens to be, comparing him with other bipedal extinct animals of comparable size. (For comparison, a Tyrannosaurus is only about 6 tonnes.) I also lifted a figure from the paper and a table on which the “mass estimates” of Godzilla are based:

Section two concludes that Godzilla’s limbs are the wrong proportion for his body, having the wrong limb length and the wrong femur length to support an animal of his size. Section three furthers this argument by showing that the limbs are too weak to support running on a body of his size and heft.

Section four calculates the absurd value of pressure on Godzilla’s feet, and compares it with the most extreme examples in nature (in units of kiloNewtons/square meter):

  • Apatosaurus: 163 kN/m^2
  • Brachiosaurus, Supersaurus, and Argentinosaurus: 240-260 kN/m^2
  • Largest Military Vehicles: 270 kN/m^2
  • Godzilla (standing): 586 kN/m^2
  • Godzilla (walking): 1200 kN/m^2
  • Godzilla (running or jumping): “Through the Roof”

Section five talks about how Godzilla would never be able to grow so quickly, unnoticed, or have an embryo successfully grow in an egg that large. But the conclusions are where it really all comes together:

Many of the problems raised above also apply for the old Godzilla, and new ones are raised. How can an animal thrive on nuclear radiation? How can its integument be impervious to bullets and missiles? How can it contain an internal nuclear reactor, capable of producing massive amounts of radioactive fire to be expelled at high speeds through the mouth? Why is the mouth and throat not severely damaged by this fire, which seems highly destructive to buildings, ships, military vehicles, and other giant monsters? And how can such huge monsters as Rodan, Mothra, Battra, Megalon, and King Ghidorah possibly fly? This appears completely and utterly impossible.
But it is important to bear in mind that these questions are irrelevant. Godzilla and all his daikaiju friends and foes are monsters, not animals. … Monsters cannot be explained in terms of the laws of physics and one should not attempt to do so.

I cannot summarize this brilliant piece of work any better than the original author did, and so I will leave you with his final concluding thoughts: “The claim that the new Godzilla is biologically plausible is false. Godzilla was always a mythical monster, and should remain so. The Toho studios’ new Godzilla series (the Heisei series from 1984–1995) convey the true image of Godzilla to the audience: A nearly invulnerable giant with distinctive mammalian, not reptilian, traits, as also implied by his true name Gojira (an amalgamation of kujira [whale] and gorira [gorilla]), wild and untamable, leaving a trail of monumental destruction in his path. The Japanese movies display Godzilla as the true King of the Monsters, compared to which the Americanized version pales.”

Alright, fine, here’s a music video to take you home:


11 Comments »

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  1. Godzilla vs. Cat Kong!!!! blimey!!! Thank you, Ethan, for bringing this piece of scientific nonsense to the masses in such an easily distilled summary. Go Go Godzilla! I will let you know if I come up with any more articles meriting a writeup. Currently I have one on penguin poo trajectory??? Tempted?

    Comment by Corey — May 18, 2008 #

  2. Superb! I think I need to get to Copenhagen and ask for funding, looks like the Godzilla research group has some cash to fling around!! For my proposal I’d have to go for “Can Movie Monsters Become a Space Faring Race?” I wish I’d thought of this before, the US and the UK have turned down my research, time to sex it up and fly to Denmark!

    Great article Ethan, loving the science behind the beast :)
    Cheers, Ian

    Comment by Ian O'Neill — May 19, 2008 #

  3. At the end of the article, the author acknowledges the editors of Mathematical Geology for having the audacity to publish this… well, basically this insane analysis.

    Comment by ethan — May 19, 2008 #

  4. Actually, I can see this being some important research for Hollywood - there appears to be a push for scientific accuracy in movies. Plus they have a fair amount of cash to fund research like this… Hmmm, I’m thinking I might start up a science movie consultancy…. ;)

    Comment by Ian O'Neill — May 20, 2008 #

  5. This guy should have a sign stapled to his forehead: “Your tax dollars at work.”

    This is an ignoratio elenchi in that we are given precise sounding answers to questions that never needed to be asked in the first place because they were the wrong questions.

    Comment by BillinDetroit — May 22, 2008 #

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