TBT – Godzilla (2014)

fucking beautiful, Godzilla, reboot, TBT

As some of you may remember, my, personal history with Godzilla hit a rocky patch when I first watched the disgusting Matthew Broderick film, as it did with many fans. So when it was announced that Monsters director Gareth Edwards was going to create a new one to be released in 2014 I couldn’t bring myself to be that excited by it. I’ve always loved classic Godzilla and will always be a little bit excited by the prospect of gigantic creatures beating the shit out of each other but I’d been hurt too badly to let this Kaiju back in my life. Until a guy I work with told me I had to and proceeded to bring his copy of the film in for me to borrow. I felt like I couldn’t really say now. So I did what I never thought I’d do. It sort of feels like taking back a cheating ex but never being able to get over the idea that he’ll cheat again.

After a short clip showing a nuclear blast and a mysterious scientific discovery, the action picks up in fictional town, Janjira, where the Nuclear Power Plant is experiencing unusual seismic activity. Engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is worried about a potential meltdown and sends in a team to investigate the reactor. The reactor is breached and the team, including Brody’s wife, perish whilst the plant is destroyed. 15 years later Brody and his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) discover the breach was caused by a huge, winged creature. A creature that has now woken up and is searching for his mate. Turns out the creature was also noticed by Godzilla who is now hunting down his competition. In order to get back to his family, Ford must take part in the operation to trap and destroy the monster threat.  Whilst humanity is doing all they can to prevent the new MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) from destroying everything in sight, the King of the Kaijus is planning his attack.

Godzilla is exactly the kind of film that we needed to get past the 90s abomination. Gareth Edwards’ epic blockbuster doesn’t feel anything like a huge blockbuster. The direction is restrained and he takes a more classical approach. Tension is built through suspense and, like Jaws put off showing the title character until late into the film. It is a world away from the 1998 film, which is something the fans and Godzilla himself really needed. We don’t actually see the titular monster in full until about an hour into the film but his presence is felt through small glimpses. It feels like both a great and a sad choice for Edwards to make. On the one hand, it is very artistic and dramatic. On the other, it limits the amount of monster fighting.

I prefer to focus on the positives and Edwards’ approach is visually stunning and does well at creating tension around it’s main feature. The scene of Godzilla’s first real reveal is just stunning: he appears into a foggy night sky before walking through an array of red Chinese lanterns. Turning to the camera he roars at the audience ensuring that his main entrance is unforgettable. It’s a really amazing scene. However, there is still a part of me that wishes Edwards had been a little less restrained and artistically minded. A part of me that wishes he’d just given us a little more Godzilla. Although, the slow reveal does at least stay faithful to the original.

Godzilla is, unlike its predecessor, heavily influenced by the original but it manages to feel fresh and exciting. The biggest influences, though, come from Steven Spielberg. This is almost like Edwards trying to make a Steven Spielberg Godzilla film and that’s not a bad thing. The film tries to show the human element behind the monster attack. Rather than trying to humanise Godzilla, like the 1998 one tried to, it brings emotional elements through the idea of absent fathers. Yes, it might not be perfectly executed but it acts as an emotional jumping off point between huge monster attacks.

Monster attacks that are, we have to admit, are the main reason we’re here. The coworker who let me borrow the film told me he wished there’d been more fighting, which is something I understand. However, there are moments within the latter half of the film that are just outstanding. Take the moment Godzilla first shows off his dragon-breath. Then take the second time. There might not be as much monster on monster action for a lot of hardcore fans but there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Considering the pressure that Edwards was under to do justice to the classic and improve on the previous film, Godzilla is a remarkable film. It isn’t perfect but Edwards once again proves that he is a talented film-maker. The less is more approach isn’t in keeping with the blockbuster monster movies that we know now but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. With a few tweaks to the narrative and more dimension to the human element, this film would have been as astounding as its title character.

Godzilla (1998)

CGI, fucking awful, Godzilla, Matthew Broderick, news, origin story, review, Roland Emmerich, terrible

The same colleague who continues to push his misguided, positive Man of Steel feelings on me is currently trying to pique my interest for Gareth Edward’s upcoming Godzilla film. As much as I want to believe Edwards can pull off a film that adequately honours the 1954 Japanese original, I just can’t trust it. Now I can tell what some of you are thinking and I get it: none of the many films starring this reptilian nightmare can really be classed as “good”. There are issues with continuity, the portrayal of the monster, and the basic filming techniques to be found in pretty much all of them. However, there is something about Ishirō Honda’s original that just works so well. Yeah, it might not even be on a par with the 1933 King Kong in terms of quality but fuck it: he’s a goddamn giant lizard monster. Of course, I’ve been burned by heightened anticipation in the past so I’m trying to calm myself down a little. What better way to do this than by rewatching the Matthew Broderick centred travesty from 1998?

Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film Godzilla is dark. Now, by dark I don’t mean like a Christopher Nolan film: I mean it’s fucking hard to see anything. Before New York is cursed with a rampaging monster, it is haunted by torrential rain and gloomy skies. The awful weather should tell you everything you need to know about Emmerich’s visual offerings. I mean it doesn’t scream of a director being confident in his title character when he purposefully creates a situation in which it is almost impossible to see the fucker. Compare it, for example, with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park released five years earlier: Spielberg takes his audience and slaps them repeatedly in the face with his well-lit and well designed dinosaurs. Now there’s a director who trusts his end product.
I could almost forgive Emmerich’s shadowy setting if he were doing something groundbreaking with the rest of the film. However, his script, co-written with producer Dean Devlin, is an insipid reworking of a concept that is more familiar to us than the faces of our family. I guess I can understand him not trying to reinvent the wheels in terms of the structure: it’s a tried and tested formula and Godzilla has a lot of loyal fans out there. Imagine how much more pissed off they’d have been if Emmerich had ignored the vital moments of the ritual: mysterious blips on radar; wrecked ships; traumatised survivor: and hapless fisherman celebrating a “monster bite”.  In between the awful scientist and news station exposition, the director creates a fairly decent sense of foreboding and, once the monster arrives in New York, there are some pretty good special effects on display. There is just the right amount of tension and more than enough destruction for anyone’s inner 12 year old to enjoy.
And there it is: the place where I run out of polite things to say about this film. As for the rest, it’s a fucking sham. There are times when the filmmakers seem unsure about whether they are making a film or a video game and it ends up looking trashy and cheap. Take the scene where a military plane is pursuing the creature: Emmerich is clearly attempting to emulate a classic videogame style but, rather than immersing the audience in the chase (which I imagine was his justification) it just looks shit. There is no real sense that this film knows what it’s trying to do. Is it a comedy, an action film, a romance? Who fucking knows.
The plot (don’t worry I understand the ridiculousness of criticising plot in a mutant lizard film) is just a confused, bloated and self-indulgent mess that I can only imagine Emmerich and Devlin knocked up the night before filming was due to start. We have the basic ‘Godzilla comes to New York and destroys some shit’ plot but the producers clearly saw that this wouldn’t create a very substantial film. The action is dragged out thanks to the ever changing size of the title creature who can magically fit into subway tunnels one minute and can’t enter the Park Avenue tunnel the next. This ability to shrink to whatever fucking size he needs means that Godzilla is constantly able to hide from his pursuers. (Handy considering he is the first incarnation of the creature that can be harmed by human weaponry.) Here’s a quick piece of advice to any bloodthirsty Kaiju out there: go to New York because apparently it’s such a huge place that the army will never be able to fucking find you.
Wishing to drag the action out further, our heroes discover that Godzilla is a proud father. This new plot twist has the overall feel of the writers sensing the lack of a follow-up and hastily gluing the script for the potential sequel onto the first one. It’s totally unnecessary and only damages the potential for success. It’s over two hours long for fuck’s sake. I very nearly fell asleep throughout the final parts of the film and I can’t help thinking that, had I only allowed myself to succumb to exhaustion, it probably would have improved my final opinion of the piece. If you’ve got a shitty story adding an even shitter second story on top it is never going to end well.
Guiding us through these bloated plot-twists is a cast of utterly uninspiring, stock characters. I mean, aside from the French guy (Jean Reno) who I was ambivalent towards, there wasn’t a single fucking character in this entire film that I hoped would survive. The oddball cast is headed by 80s darling Matthew Broderick as a scientist who had been working with radioactive, mutant worms in Chernobyl. Unfortunately, Dr Niko Tatopoulos has no real personality and, despite several women salivating at the very sight of him, looks so much like a 12 year old that it’s difficult to take anything he says seriously. There are moments when Tatopoulos attempts to hold down the necessary pro-Godzilla argument but, once he finds himself in danger, is more than happy to ignore his inner thoughts and watch the fucker get blown to pieces. He’s hardly the inspiring and charismatic hero that a good Kaiju film needs.
But wait, who needs the weird worm guy when you have a mysterious Frenchman bemoaning the state of American coffee? To say that Jean Reno is the shining star amongst the rest of the cast really isn’t much of a compliment but he certainly doesn’t seem as constrained by the same bout of self-delusion that infected the rest of the cast. He embraces the farce and makes it work to his advantage. However, intelligence agent Roché is as underdeveloped as the rest of the cast and only serves to offer up the necessary one-liners and gun-fire.  Really there is never a moment when you have a sense that any of the characters are there except to provide witty or shrewd observations about the action that is unfolding before their eyes: adding nothing to the drama or emotion but the obligatory action movie dialogue.
Emmerich and Devlin famously named two of the characters after legendary film writing duo Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in response to negative reviews of their previous films: the useless but opportunistic mayor Ebert and his advisor Gene. In terms of sticking it to their critics it’s hardly a cutting assault. The characters make it through the film without a scratch for fuck’s sake. If you’re going to make a big deal about getting back at someone then the least you can do is have a giant reptile eat them. I mean if Emmerich can’t get a quest for personal vengeance to work for him how the hell was he ever going to deal with Godzilla himself?
Over the years a few different techniques have been utilised to bring Godzilla to the big screen. He was traditionally portrayed by an actor wearing a latex costume (aka suitmation) but has also been depicted using animatronics, stop-motion animation and CGI. Whilst it may not seem that way looking back now in 2014, the period that Godzilla was released was a pretty exciting time for computer-generated effects. The film was released only 3 years before Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring was released and 4 years before the, it was impressive at the time, Spider-Man was released. It was a good time for special effects is what I’m getting at here.
This nugget of film history serves to remind us all just how spectacular this film could have been. Unfortunately, by the time eventually Emmerich and Devlin became involved with the project they were just too keen to put their own stamp onto everything that had already been planned. They scrapped the original idea to develop a version of Godzilla that remained faithful to the original design and instead okayed a completely new and, if I may be so bold, disgraceful design. The Godzilla on screen wasn’t the upright reptilian sea monster that we were so used to attacking well-known landmarks but the creepy, giant result of a sexy t-rex and iguana union. Let’s be honest, it was fucking awful. So awful that Toho, the Japanese film company that owns him, has officially renamed the monster to Zilla in an attempt to cut any ties with the classic.
I say, if it’s good enough for the Japanese then I’m more than happy to forget that this joke was ever compared to the unstoppable legend.