Being an intellectual is not really how it is depicted in popular culture.
- When you picture an intellectual, who do you see? Professor Zena Hitz says that somewhere along the way, the idea of what an intellectual is and does became distorted.
- "The real thing is something more extraordinary but also more available to us," Hitz adds, differentiating between an intellectual life constantly in pursuit of something else, and one that enjoys ordinary activities like reading and thinking.
- An example is young Albert Einstein, who spoke highly of his time working in a patent office and hatching "beautiful ideas" long before becoming a famous physicist.
Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate.
The 2021 film “Godzilla vs. Kong" pits the two most iconic movie monsters of all time against each other. And fans are now picking sides.
Even the most fantastical creatures have some basis in scientific reality, so the natural world is a good place to look to better understand movie monsters. I study functional morphology – how skeletal and tissue traits allow animals to move – and evolution in extinct animals. I am also a huge fan of monster movies. Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate, and there are relative biological advantages and disadvantages that each would have. The research I do on morphology and biomechanics can tell us a lot about this battle and might help you decide – #TeamGodzilla or #TeamKong?
Larger than life
First it's important to acknowledge that both Kong and Godzilla are definitely far beyond the realms of biological possibility. This is due to sheer size and the laws of physics. Their hearts couldn't pump blood to their heads, they would have temperature regulation problems and it would take too long for nerve signals from the brain to reach distant parts of the body – to name just a few issues.
However, let's assume that somehow Godzilla and Kong are able to overcome these size limitations – perhaps because of their radiation exposure they have distinctive mutations and characteristics. Based on how they look on the big screen, let's explore the observable differences that might prove useful in a fight.
Kong: the best of ape and human
At first glance, Kong is a colossal primate - but he's not simply a giant gorilla.
Cliff/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
One of the most striking things about Kong is his upright, bipedal stance – he mostly walks on two legs, unlike any other living nonhuman apes. This ability could suggest close evolutionary relationship to the only living upright ape, humans – or his upright stance could be the result of convergent evolution. Either way, like us, Kong has thick muscular legs geared toward walking and running, and large free arms with grasping hands, enabling him to use tools.
Humanity's bipedal, upright posture is unique in the animal kingdom and provides a slew of biomechanical abilities that Kong might share. For example, human torsos are highly flexible and particularly good at rotation. This feature – in addition to our loose shoulder girdle – makes humans the best throwers in the animal kingdom. Throwing is helpful in a fight, and Kong could probably throw with the best of them.
Kong is also, of course, massive. He absolutely dwarfs the largest known primate, an extinct orangutan relative called Gigantopithecus that was a bit bigger than modern gorillas.
Kong does have many gorillalike attributes as well, including long muscular arms, a short snout with large canine teeth, and a tall sagittal crest – a ridge of bone on his head that would be the anchor point for some exceptionally strong jaw muscles.
Strong, agile, comfortable on land and with the unparalleled ability to use tools and throw, Kong would be a brutal force in a fight.
Kenneth Carpenter/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Godzilla: An aquatic lizard to be reckoned with
Godzilla appears to be a giant, semiaquatic reptile. Like Kong, Godzilla has the traits of a few different species.
Recent Godzilla movies show him decently mobile on land, but seemingly much more comfortable in the water despite his lack of overt aquatic features. Interestingly, Godzilla is depicted with gills on his neck – a trait that land vertebrates lost after they emerged from the sea about 370 million years ago. Given Godzilla's terrestrial features, it's likely that his species has land-dwelling reptile ancestors and reevolved a mostly aquatic lifestyle – kind of like sea turtles or sea snakes, which can actually absorb oxygen through their skin in water. Godzilla may have uniquely reevolved gills.
Godzilla's tail is what really separates him from Kong. It is massive, and anchored and moved by huge muscles attached to his legs, hips and lower back. Dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex stood horizontally and used their tails for balance and to help them walk and run. Godzilla, in contrast, stands vertically and keeps his tail low to the ground, probably for a different type of balance. This vertical posture is unique for a two-legged reptile and more resembles a standing kangaroo. Godzilla stands on two muscular, pillarlike legs similar to those of a sauropod dinosaur. These would provide stability and help support his gargantuan mass but would also bolster the strength of his tail.
In addition to his powerful tail, Godzilla carries three rows of sharp spikes going down his back, thick scaly skin, a relatively small head full of carnivorous teeth and free arms with grasping hands, all built onto a muscular body. Taken together, Godzilla is a terrifying and intimidating adversary.
Tim Simpson/Flickr, CC BY-NC
So now that we've looked a little closer at how Godzilla and Kong are built, let's imagine who might emerge victorious in battle.
Though Kong is a little bit smaller than Godzilla, both are more or less comparably massive in size and neither has a clear advantage here. So what about their fighting abilities?
Godzilla would likely favor his robust tail for both offense and defense – much like modern-day large lizards that use their strong tails as whips. Scale up that strength to Godzilla's size, and that tail becomes a lethal weapon – which he has used before.
However, Kong is more comfortable on land, faster and more agile, can use his strong legs to jump, and possesses much stronger arms than Godzilla – Kong probably packs a walloping punch. And as an ape, Kong would also likely use tools to some degree and might even capitalize on his throwing ability.
Both would have a gnarly bite, with Kong likely getting a slight advantage. However, Godzilla's bite is by no means weak, and all of his teeth are flesh-piercing, similar to crocodile and monitor lizard teeth.
On defense, Godzilla has the edge, with thick scaly skin and sharp spikes. He might even act like a porcupine, turning his back to a rapidly approaching threat. However, Kong's superior agility on land should be able to offer him some protection as well.
I will admit I am #TeamGodzilla, but it's very close. I may give a slight edge to Kong in broad terrestrial battle ability, but Godzilla's general mass, defense and tail would be hard to overpower. And lest we forget, the tipping point for Godzilla is that he has atomic breath! Until researchers find evidence of a dinosaur or animal with something like that, though, I will have to reserve my scientific judgment.
Regardless of who emerges victorious, this battle will be one for the ages, and I am excited as both a scientist and monster movie fan.
This article has been updated to use more inclusive language.
Kiersten Formoso, PhD Student in Vertebrate Paleontology, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
A curated watchlist from Big Think readers.
- We asked Big Think's readers and staff for their recommendations on films everyone should watch.
- A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world, these movies will entertain and expand your horizons.
- The films cover various topics, explore numerous themes, and shed light on several controversial historical events.
Ever find yourself unsure of what movie to watch? Have you spent so much time looking at the options on a streaming service that you could have finished a film in the time it took you to pick one? It's alright. We've all been there.
Thanks to a couple of posts on Facebook and Twitter, we've collected some of your top film suggestions and combined them with a few of our own picks to make a list of 13 films you ought to see. They'll make you laugh, cry, learn, and scratch your head in utter confusion.
This experimental animated film by Richard Linklater explores the life of an unnamed man and his interactions with a variety of people concerning the meaning of life, the nature of reality, and the structure of society. It features cameos and brief scenes with many actors, filmmakers, and philosophers, among others.
The film's surreal and occasionally uncanny animated style was created via rotoscoping, the process of tracing over filmed footage, adding to the dreamlike atmosphere. While this style and the general lack of plot may put off some viewers, the film is highly regarded. Roger Ebert included it on his list of "Great Movies."
Mel Brooks' masterful spoof of classic horror makes fun of the monster films, the phenomena of never-ending sequels to films that don't need them, and cinema techniques from the 1930s.
The film follows Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), who has just inherited the estate of his infamous great-grandfather, the original Dr. Frankenstein, despite the younger having worked much of his life to distance himself from his family. Upon arriving in Transylvania, he is met by Igor (Marty Feldman), the great-grandson of the original; the young lab assistant Inga (Terri Garr); and the fearsome housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman).
Being a Frankenstein, he can't help himself and ends up following in his grandfather's footsteps, much to the local villagers' irritation. The Creature (Peter Boyle) is a monster with a sensitive side and some tap dancing talent.
Note that this is a 50-year-old Mel Brooks' movie, and not everything in it has aged gracefully.
Based on the novella by Stephen King, Frank Darabont's film depicts life in the seemingly hopeless Shawshank State Penitentiary from the perspective of two men on the inside. At once a prison drama, an allegory for Christian Mysticism, and a character study, the film overcame a weak box office showing to become a hit in rentals and video sales.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to multiple life terms for murder, despite his claims of innocence. In prison, he befriends smuggler Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), with whom he shares a dream of escaping to Mexico. Despite the brutality and corruption of the prison and its warden (Bob Gunton), Andy's hopefulness, resourcefulness, and professional skills help him and those around him to endure.The story is often praised for the relationship between Andy and Red, which is atypical in both the depth of the friendship it depicts and the fairly realistic conditions that spark it. The film is also brilliantly shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Giuseppe Tornatore's brilliant movie about nostalgia, going home again, youth, cinema, and what it costs to be the best version of yourself centers around the projectionists at a small theater in Sicily and their mutual love of movies.
Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin), a famous Italian filmmaker, is told that his old hometown friend Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) has died. He remembers in flashback the circumstances of his youth that brought the two of them together. The film follows their friendship and mutual love of movies as Salvatore grows older and considers where his life will take him.
Stanley Kubrick's burning satire of Cold War thinking might be the greatest example of a satire ever put to film. While it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, it is also possible to take large parts of the film as a serious and terrifying depiction of what could go wrong with nuclear weapons when the wrong people are in charge of them.
Insane US General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) exploits a loophole in the nuclear command structure to order a first strike on the USSR in retaliation for their evil plot to fluoridate water. President Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his advisors, including the childishly warmongering General Turgidson (George C. Scott) and "ex"-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers again), frantically try to cancel the attack. During these attempts, The Russian Ambassador (Peter Bull) informs them of a Doomsday Machine that will destroy the world if the attack is not prevented.
Oh, and ignore the disclaimer at the start of the film. Everything that it depicts was entirely possible for decades, several of the characters are based on real people, and the Russians really did build a Doomsday Machine.
Sleep well tonight!
A Pixar film by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E is the story of a lonely robot that cleans up garbage. While that might not sound like the beginnings of an animated masterpiece, the film is a beautifully animated story of love, environmentalism, and humanity.
Centuries after an environmental disaster, WALL-E (Ben Burtt) is the last cleaning robot on Earth. His lonesome existence is interrupted by the arrival of a sentry bot named EVE (Elissa Knight). Their adventure takes them into the depths of space, where they encounter the descendants of the people who left Earth so long ago and a host of other robots.While the film's environmentalist and anti-consumerist messages are often the focus of most reviews, the gorgeous animation is also a key element of the picture. Operating with minimal dialogue, the expressions, movements, and physical interactions of the characters carry much of the story. This is done so well as to make the lack of dialogue almost unnoticeable.
Once deemed the "Greatest Film of All Time" and universally considered one of the most influential movies ever created, "Bicycle Thieves" (also known as "The Bicycle Thief") is an Italian film by Vittorio De Sica noteworthy for its extreme realism.
Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), a poor man in post-war Italy, manages to buy a bicycle (which permits him to hold down a job) by selling his family's possessions. On his first day at work, a thief steals the bike. Doomed without it, Antonio and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) pursue the man through increasingly destitute sections of Rome.
The film was made on a shoestring budget, filmed on location, and features non-actors in all the major roles. While most of these actors did not translate their roles into film careers, a young Sergio Leone appears in a bit part.
The second Kubrick movie on our list, "2001" was co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Its story also features input from experts and scientists, including a young Carl Sagan. It explores ideas of extraterrestrial intelligence, machine sentience, emotion in a scientific world, and possible future evolutionary paths for humanity.
While the plot isn't always easy to follow, the film traces the evolutionary history of humanity, from the rise of tool-making apes, to the discovery of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence and the journey of a crew through space. Among them is humanity's greatest creation, the HAL 9000 computer (Douglas Rain), who will protect the mission he serves at all costs.
The film has long stretches without dialogue and limited performances by most of its actors. It is also the greatest science fiction film ever made and the one to which all others are compared.
Steven Spielberg's film depicts the story of Oscar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
Schindler (Liam Neeson), a member of the Nazi party, cashes in on military policies in occupied Poland. This allows him to make a fortune, which he uses to save his workers from the Holocaust. His accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), desperately balances the needs of the Jewish workers and his German bosses' greed while trying to keep everyone alive. Both of them interact with Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), the psychopathic commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, who often complains of the tedium of his work. All the while, the multitude of people working for Mr. Schindler try to do as best they can in unimaginable circumstances.
The film is a powerful reminder of the horrors of the mid-twentieth century, several of which are depicted in graphic detail.
This is an adaption of the novella "Heart of Darkness" set in Vietnam and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It blends elements of a war film, surrealism, psychological horror, film noir, and a bad acid trip into an epic that dives into questions of morality, sanity, and existential nihilism.
Captain Ben Willard (Martin Sheen) is given a mission to "terminate" the command of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) with "extreme prejudice" as the US army fears the Colonel has gone insane. As Willard travels upriver with the crew of a river patrol boat (which includes a 14-year old Laurence Fishburne), he sees the depravity of the Vietnam War on full display. Along the way, they encounter Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his love for Wagner, endless battles fought for esoteric reasons, and a mad photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) who considers Kurtz to be a genius.
Three major cuts of the film exist. In addition to the original, there is Redux, which adds 50 minutes of deleted scenes that provide some extra explanation while smoothing out some transitions. The most recent version, The Final Cut, is director Coppola's favorite and scales back some of these changes.
Our first staff pick is a documentary by Ava DuVernay. "13th" focuses on the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution—which bans slavery while allowing involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime—and the horrors it has wrought.
The film dives into the post-slavery social and economic history of the United States, demonstrating a link between the second half of that amendment and the rise of Jim Crow and mass incarceration. The film features interviews with various intellectuals and political figures, including Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Our second staff pick is a documentary by Errol Morris on the life and worldview of former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Often considered the architect of the Vietnam War, McNamara reflects on his philosophy of war and how it can be applied or misapplied in different parts of life and warfare.
The interviews in the film were shot using Morris' interrotron device, which reflects the image of both the interviewer and the subject in a way that allows for the subject to face both the camera and an image of the person they are speaking to at the same time. The effect is that, unlike other interview formats, McNamara appears to be speaking directly to the viewer as he responds to Morris' questions.
The parallels between McNamara's era and today are striking, which makes for an excellent insight into current events.
Our final staff pick is a three-part, five-hour, Spanish language documentary by Patricio Guzmán on the rise and fall of the Chilean government under Allende.
Filming close to the action on Chile's streets before and during the 1973 coup, the crew interview people from all walks of life as the left-wing government tries to guide Chile along the path to socialism through democratic means before being overthrown. The film also includes newsreel footage from Leonardo Henrichsen, a journalist who filmed his own murder.
The film has a clear bias in favor of Allende's government. After the coup, one of the crew members even "disappeared" due to their left-wing politics. The worldview of the filmmakers is obvious and pervasive, but a dedicated watcher can see around it.
Even diehard fans are experiencing superhero exhaustion. But it's not impossible to do something original.
- I'm a comic book fan 50 years in the making but, over the last few years, even I have found myself with superhero fatigue.
- Then came "WandaVision". The writers have found a way to blunt our expectations about what should happen in this kind of genre.
- Formula fatigue isn't just a problem for the superhero genre. Creators of sci-fi, detective, romance, and buddy-comedies can recapture exhausted audiences by telling a story differently—or telling a different story.
Human beings are, more than anything else, storytellers. It has even been said that stories were humanity's first technology. For most of our time here on Earth, the most important stories—a tribe's myth of creation or an ancient city's central Hero's Journey narrative—were told only at special times like yearly feasts or celebrations. But in the modern era, our capacity for cultural storytelling has exploded through a thousand platform varieties: streaming video services, podcasts, cable TV, blogs, vlogs, and so on. Digital technology means we are now literally awash in so many stories that it seems every genre has been made and remade to the point of exhaustion.
It's against that background that Marvel Studio's latest streaming series "WandaVision" becomes something worth consideration. That's because no modern genre has so saturated modern culture as the superhero.
You don't need me to tell you how prevalent superheroes have become. The Marvel Studio franchise has been dominating the box office since its first Iron Man movies back in 2008. Before that, other studios had found gold with characters like Spiderman and the X-Men. For a long-time comic book (ahem… graphic novel) fan like me, this triumph was a vindication 50 years in the making. I reveled in those first movies, seeing the complex interplay of stories from the Marvel comic universe being brought to life with such joy, passion, and attention to detail. And I count the day director Scott Derrickson asked me to be the science advisor for Dr. Strange as the fourth greatest of my life (just after meeting my beloved wife and the birth of my two children).
But over the last few years, even I have found myself with superhero fatigue. It feels like I've watched so many versions of these stories (way beyond just Marvel) that the very idea of this kind of narrative has become exhausted. Most new shows appear to be rehashing the basic formula ad-infinitum. And this genre exhaustion is not just a superhero phenomenon. Sci-fi, detective, romance, buddy-comedies—with so many venues pumping out so many shows, so many stories, it feels like the possibility of doing anything surprising has become impossible.
Until it isn't.
Like many fans, I came away from the first few episodes of "WandaVision" feeling perplexed. For those who haven't followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe (spoiler alerts!), Wanda Maximoff is a superhero (maybe) who was orphaned as a child during a civil war. Later, she lost her brother when they fought against, and then with, the Avengers. Wanda's powers in the movies were basically hurling red energy bolts around and some mind-y-wimey stuff. In the final Avengers movies, her husband, another superhero named Vision, died twice (it's complicated). One of these deaths was even at Wanda's hands. So, Wanda has experienced a lot of loss.
The first few episodes of "WandaVision" don't really touch any of this. Instead, each is a re-creation of a sitcom from a different era. Episode 1 is a classic "I Love Lucy" 1950s comedy. Episode 2 is straight out of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" or "Bewitched" of the 1960s. Episode 3 goes all "Brady Bunch" including the 1970s groovy architecture. As a fan expecting a superhero story that fit into, literally, hundreds of hours of already existing superhero stories (i.e., The Marvel Cinematic Universe) I was left scratching my head. After each one, I asked myself: "What is this? Where is this going?"
In retrospect, those questions were exactly the point.
The writers had found a way to blunt my expectations about what should happen in this kind of genre. They left me guessing in a way that was all the more interesting because the rendition of the old sitcoms was done with such love and attention, they felt like love letters to the history of TV (the music for each of these fake shows perfectly nailed the vibe of that era). In later episodes—more spoilers!—"WandaVision" would become more of a traditional superhero show, but not without also becoming a vehicle to explore grief and its toll on its super-powered central character. In fact, as Linda Holms at NPR has pointed out, the show missed an opportunity by not going even further in exploring this dark aspect of grief. Still, I came away from the show genuinely excited for the next step in Wanda's story as her powers had grown dangerously beyond those red energy bolts.
In the end, it's about the courage to tell a story differently or tell a different story.
So, in this era where digital technologies dominate every aspect of our storytelling, from their creation (including mind-boggling special effects) to their omnipresent distribution and availability, "WandaVision" demonstrates that there is still a place for art and novelty. In the end, it's about the courage to tell a story differently or tell a different story. This extends to giving people who have been woefully underrepresented in our story-making industries the power to be the storyteller (think "Black Panther" or "Get Out").
So, while we were born to spin tales of our lives and experience, recently it seems like new technologies and commercial interests have driven us into an endless flood of the familiar. What "WandaVision" demonstrates is that in spite of those pressures, there will always remain the possibility to find stories that can delight and surprise us.
Technology of the future is shaped by the questions we ask and the ethical decisions we make today.
- Robots (from the Czech word for laborer) began appearing in science fiction in the early 1900s as metaphors for real world ideas and issues surrounding class struggles, labor, and intelligence. Author Ken MacLeod says that the idea that robots would one day rebel was baked into the narrative from the start. As technologies have advanced, so too have our fears.
- "Science fiction can help us to look at the social consequences, to understand the technologies that are beginning to change our lives," says MacLeod. He argues that while robots in science fiction are a reflection of humanity, they have little to do with our actual machines and are "very little help at all in understanding what the real problems and the real opportunities actually are."
- AI has made the threat of "autonomous killer robots" much more of a possibility today than when Asimov wrote his three laws, but it's the decisions we make now that will determine the future. "None of these developments are inevitable," says MacLeod. "They're all the consequences of human actions, and we can always step back and say, 'Do we really want to do this?'"