In the summer of 1992, while the Heisei Era G-series was still ongoing, Godzilla faced an opponent more unusual than Hedorah and Biollante combined on the small screen in America...none other than NBA basketball star Charles Barkley himself.
This 30 second commercial, one of the best visual depictions of Godzilla ever, and part of an advertising campaign for Nike’s Air Ballistic Force line of basketball shoes, was also fairly respectful considering the frivolous tone of the storyline, and was first aired September 9, 1992 on MTV.
An elaborate teaser trailer preceded the release of the commercial during the July 1992 All-Star Game on CBS, depicting stock footage of Godzilla’s battles from the G-films of the '60s and '70s, and ending with the new footage of Godzilla donning his goggles and confronting Barkley. Full page movie poster-style ads were also featured in magazines such as ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and ROLLING STONE, something previously unheard of for a 30 second commercial. The storyline of the commercial is as follows:
Godzilla is rampaging through Tokyo, smashing buildings and incinerating everything in sight with his atomic breath (a Toho sign could be seen falling by astute viewers). Suddenly, much to the kaiju’s surprise, an almost equally gigantic Charles Barkley approaches him, dribbling a giant basketball in hand. Accepting Barkley’s challenge for a one-on-one basketball game, Godzilla dons a pair of goggles and then uses his tail to move down the ‘O’ in a huge Tokyo sign to form a makeshift basketball hoop.
As the contest begins, Godzilla strikes first, knocking the basketball out of Barkley’s hand with his tail. Barkley nevertheless catches the ball and shoulders Godzilla, sending the Kaiju King smashing into a skyscraper, and the giant athlete then pounds an enormous jam.
Following the contest, the two giants proceed to walk off together in the city, Barkley asking Godzilla if he ever considered wearing shoes.
Nike’s renowned ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, particularly Warren Eakins and Steve Sandoz, first came up with the concept of pitting the famous athlete against Toho’s atomic titan, and they commissioned Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Hollywood’s greatest sfx studio, to produce the special effects for the commercial.
Their Godzilla suit and city miniatures were excellent, and very faithful to the Toho design of the evil version of Godzilla, although the costume was nowhere near as durable as its Toho counterpart (it didn’t have to be for such a short filming period). However, in order to ease the sfx crew in facilitating the accuracy of detail on the city miniatures, Godzilla was given his original Showa Series height of 50 meters, rather than his 100 meter movie height in 1992. The spot was directed by Michael Owens and produced by John Adams.
The commercial was a big hit, the G-fans were pleased, and even a sequel was written and planned for 1994, which would have pitted Charles Barkley and David Robinson against Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. However, due to the projected high cost of such a venture, the sequel idea was abandoned, apparently for good.
A one-shot comic book issued by Dark Horse Comics was based on the commercial, and a very detailed description of every production aspect of Nike's unique contribution to TV advertisement history can be read in JAPANESE GIANTS #8.
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