A giant radioactive monster terrorizing a city inherently relies on a certain flexibility to the laws of physics and the nature of science. Even so, the science content between the 1954 original Godzilla and the 2014 remake contrast as starkly as the special effects. No spoilers.
Bikini Atoll atom bomb tests. Image credit: US Navy
It's always a bit aggravating to take fiction and grade it like a science textbook, deducting points for every minor inaccuracy. Instead, the fiction-loving scientists at Physics Today write their reviews using a three-part scale of if the science is authentic, if the use of science is imaginative, and if the movie is independently enjoyable irrelevant of the science content.
The original Godzilla is a product of its time, released the same year that a hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll exploded more dramatically than estimated and rained down radioactive fallout on a Japanese fishing boat. The movie of a beast spawned of this radioactive destruction manages only a passing grade from Physics Today's Paul Guinnessy, but using that monster as an imaginative method of broaching conversation on the ethics of nuclear weaponry is far more impressive.
When it comes to the recent remake, Guinnessy argues that while modern storytelling and special effects make for a visually appealing, entrancing story, the science content in both accuracy and imagination have taken a severe hit. His full review contains spoilers for the original 1954 movie, but do spoiler alerts really count half a century later? It also contains hints about the plot of the 2014 remake, although probably nothing you haven't already picked up from trailers and gossip. Now you're sufficiently warned, head over to Physics Today for the science in Godzilla.
Do you like reading about the science in fiction? Check out science in the Game of Thrones, in Stargate: Atlantis, or in Doctor Who. You may also be interested in these totally bizarre ideas on how to use nuclear weapons as something other than weapons.
The discussion section absolutely does contain spoilers, so scroll no further if you plan on watching the movie before learning about who does what with whom and when. Paul Guinnessy has joined the Discussion, so feel free to ask him questions directly!