May 17, 2014 at 4:41 am #3704
Godzilla has taken on many roles since his 1954 debut.
Originally an allegory for the destructive powers of man, he has been a campy superhero, a blockbuster action set piece, and a world threatening force of nature. The latest Godzilla movie makes a strong effort at incorporating all of these character elements in to its titular giant lizard.
I am probably far too biased to ever make anything approaching an objective review of anything Godzilla related. I loved Godzilla vs. Megalon. If that’s not an indicator you either haven’t seen it or you’re just as crazy as I am. Be that as it may, I thought this movie was top notch. Not as a movie, but as a Godzilla movie. It evokes particular elements, themes, and characters that span the decades long history of Godzilla movies while offering a fresh, more American style take, on those elements, themes, and characters.
It would be easy to dismiss this movie, as a lot of the groundwork has been laid out for it already. As long as the movie hit certain fan favorite notes it would readily garner a cult following if nothing else. Fortunately, this movie does more than pay homage.
A key element of any Godzilla movie is the musical score and queuing scenes to match the rise and fall of the music.
Godzilla’s appearances in the movie are set to ever greater crescendos. His first appearance outside of the opening scenes is very brief and the action which ensues is cut short. This occurs several more times, building a sense of anticipation and a yearning for giant monster smashing release. The sexual overtones cannot be understated. I came to see buildings smashed and giant monsters eviscerate one another. The teasing and denial of these two things becomes palpable. By the last fifteen minutes this slow burn develops in to a roiling magma chamber that’s ready to pop. And pop it does, in a series of quick scenes that you’ll walk out of the theater discussing and laughing about for the rest of the night.
The important thing about giant monster movies, and really any monster movie, is that it is important not to blow your load too soon.
That is, one should not reveal the important part of a monster’s character until the peak of action and intensity has been achieved. Be that characteristic the horrifying visual or psychological nature of the monster or the actions of the monster, in the case of giant monsters, the fight scene. Godzilla movies have always stuck to a kind of formula in which human actors play out the drama that ensues in the wake of giant monsters terrorizing Tokyo. This new movie utilizes that formula, in my opinion, better than any one previous. The humans aren’t exactly important in a giant monster movie. This seems to be understood in this movie so characters are fairly flat and predictable. The human characters are an amalgamation of tropes which create a sort of archetypal character that an audience can readily understand and identify with. While the acting and dialogue may fall flat in more than their fair share of places, it is not important to the movie that they do. What is important is that we as the audience have enough of a sense of the characters that we can understand their stake in the action that unfolds so that we can be lead from action set piece to action set piece with out having to add an additional thirty minutes on to an already two hour movie just to develop a more nuanced understanding of humans who are largely just there to flee for their lives.
Human drama sets the stage for another important theme in Godzilla movies. A recurring question: what is Godzilla?
Godzilla is often some form of outsized irradiated and mutated reptile. A parable of man’s hubris and capacity for self destruction. Yet sometimes this origin, haphazardly ensconced in the trappings of science, is taken over by elements of fantasy and mysticism. This new Godzilla is a synthesis of both the scientific and the mystic. A lot of the language used to describe Godzilla in the movie is of a biological nature, “alpha predators” and the like (though I think they meant apex). Yet a great deal of Godzilla’s time is spent avoiding smashing humans to bits. Godzilla’s role as King of the Monsters in this universe seems to entail Godzilla literally suffering no other monsters to live. In this capacity Godzilla ensures the safety and continued existence of humanity. Is Godzilla merely a brute whom suffers interlopers ungladly? Is he a protector of the Earth and of mankind? Much of the knowledge humanity has of him in this movie is spurious at best. As for what Godzilla is motivated by, he is not saying. This vagueness of character leaves both the pure organism and mystic guardian arguments valid. Leaving origin interpretation open to the fans, a smart move if ever there was one.
As much as Pacific Rim was an homage to kaiju movies generally, this is absolutely a love letter to the history of Godzilla.
On top of getting the musical score right and hitting a lot of the elements and themes that go in to the Godzilla formula, there are many nods to Godzilla movies of the past. Most recognizably, Serizawa the name of the scientist that kills the first Godzilla, is given to the eminent Japanese scientist. A brief mention of the island chain where Godzilla first lands in the ’54 movie is made. There is a nod to fan favorite Mothra. Musical scores are reused and re-orchestrated for sections of the movie. Best of all. Godzilla sounds like Godzilla, they appear to have used the original track for his voicing instead of trying to create some new sound. There are more things, and probably many I missed on this one viewing, but they were exciting to see and looking for them made for an engaging scavenger hunt if nothing else.
I went in to this movie skeptically. I was not a fan of the designs revealed for Godzilla or his cockroach antagonists. Nor was I heartened by early reviews. But this movie managed to win me over. If they can maintain even a fraction of the elements they used to make this one, I am all strapped in for another fifty odd years of Godzilla vs. Monster X movies.May 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #3715
Wow! Great Post. I was looking forward to seeing this movie too, but now I really need to see it sooner rather than later. I am glad they went back to the roots of the Godzilla flicks and treated the anti-nuclear weapons message. When do you think we can expect the return of Godzuki?
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