Godzilla: why can’t we get it right?
Yesterday I went to see the new one. I get excited about films like this because it brings out the 10 year old in me. I remember eagerly waiting to find out whether “Jurassic Park” was going to be a PG or a 12 rating – if it was a PG, my parents were going to take us to see it. If it was a 12, then no no no. This was before the days of 12A when any child is allowed into a movie as long as they are accompanied by an adult (much like the family who took their 3 year old to see “Godzilla” to yesterday’s 4:45 showing at the Vue, Reading, only for said 3 year old to CONTINUOUSLY TALK throughout it. And the mother kept getting up and going to the toilet, with her jewellery loudly clanging around her wrists and neck and ears and probably feet, ankles, thumbs, toes and tongue by the sounds of it).
I passive aggressively digress. I am a big fan of anything deemed to be an unnerving disaster movie with some sort of ominous creature-like entity threatening a major city/tropical island/expedition to the Andes/residents of a lake-side town/whatever. I am more excited about next year’s fourth “Jurassic Park” film than I have been about anything else in life and if they ever decide to re-make “Jaws” I will be first in line on opening night. Has anyone thought to remake “Bigfoot and the Hendersons” but without the Hendersons and instead with a rabid, blood-thirsty Bigfoot who is hellbent on claiming the Rocky mountains for his own? Just me?
“Godzilla” might be the mother (or father?) of all creature features. Born in an era of Japanese cinema that defined this genre, it was not only a blockbuster of the time, but it was a political commentary as well. This wasn’t just an alien from Jupiter, or a snake on a plane or a family of prehistoric piranhas that have coincidentally managed to survive millennia in a watertight canyon in Arizona. This was an artistic opinion of the development of hydrogen bombing. Godzilla was a metaphor. Yes, the original might seem a little “silly” to the children of now (especially to the 3 year old in the 4:45 at the Vue, Reading yesterday) but I think the graininess of the original “Godzilla” (or “Gojira”) has the same effect today as movies like “The (original) Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. They are almost scarier because the cinematography isn’t as polished.
But it seems that the multitude of sequels, remakes, reboots and re-imaginings of this one film from 1954 can’t quite break the ground like the original did. And I don’t really understand why. I would be lying if I claimed to have seen ALL the “Godzilla” movies…I have only seen a handful; and if there’s one out there amongst the likes of “Son of Godzilla”, “Godzilla Raids Again” and “Godzillasaurus” that is exceptionally good then by all means let me know. There was a slew of Japanese films that continued the series from 1955 all the way up to 2004 (who knew? I didn’t until last night). Weirdly, some of these took the franchise down the route of Godzilla being an anti-hero…a friendly, cuddly sort of creature. Almost like how The Loch Ness Monster is meant to be quite nice, actually. Sorry, but have you HEARD the story of the woman with the friendly pet python that one day stopped being affectionate and decided to size her up so he might swallow her whole? Exactly.
I come from a Western, Hollywood viewpoint though. The Japanese might very well love the idea of a gigantic mutant reptile who will sway you to sleep in his scaly claws but the original film wasn’t like that. Godzilla was a threat. He was a centuries old beast that had been dormant at the bottom of the ocean until nuclear testing woke him up and pissed him off. Understandable, really. Hollywood took the story on in 1998, and it actually was quite in-keeping with the original from 1954. It was panned by the papers, but I quite liked it. It was decent enough as a monster-attacks-New-York-type-thing and it wasn’t actually that disloyal to the original concept. There were ridiculous elements to it, naturally. Godzilla reproduces asexually (of course) and travels from the French Polynesia to New York City (of course) to make a nest for it’s eggs. Why it chooses there rather then a nice little valley in Wales is beyond me. The monster and its offspring (which start to hatch) are seen as an out-and-out threat, and so the film is very much “Humans Vs Godzilla” (and her kids). At the end, they are all killed, and so we have won (although one remaining egg survives, hatches and paves the way for the trilogy that was meant to happen but was shelved because of the reviews). Where 1998’s creature failed was in it’s design: Godzilla was extremely T-Rex like, and seemed more like a Jurassic Park spin-off than a “Godzilla” reboot. Despite all that was said against it – bad plot, bad acting, too dinosaur-y, too far-fetched – it was actually truer to the original than most people give it credit for.
The franchise then lay dormant in Hollywood for the best part of twenty years until some courageous soul (Gareth Edwards) decided to tackle it again. In the film I saw yesterday, Edwards took a route that I do applaud him for. He decided to keep it very Japan/nuclear-themed, and rather than send the drama straight to New York or somewhere like that, the story ended up in San Francisco, which made a lot more sense due to the locale of Asia’s and America’s mutual tie to the Pacific. As well as this, 2014’s Godzilla does not look like he’s escaped the Velociraptor compound after a power cut. He is NOT a dinosaur. He’s Godzilla. Nor is he/she looking to breed.
Where the film veers off in terms of plot is when we learn that the actual threat is a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) who are totally different monsters and have been kept under governmental wraps for years. But now the MUTOs are finally surfacing. Godzilla is sort of a bi-product of the film – a convenient OTHER monster that will come in handy in saving the earth from Mummy & Daddy MUTO. This then takes us down a sort of “King Kong” route – Godzilla isn’t evil, he’s just misunderstood, and he’s quite happy to battle the MUTOs and head back to his (sea)bed. I find this to be a brave move from Edwards but I also feel that this is now a different film all together. Godzilla was always intended to be a threat, and in this film we’re rooting for him. On top of this, Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoch are horrendously under-used, we don’t really care about the protagonist, the protagonist’s son is one of the most underwhelming child actors ever who you kind of hope gets eaten, and the majority of the film’s second and third acts are spent with a bunch of dull-as-ditchwater military types (although there’s a terrific scene with the army on a train-track in the jungle).
To be blunt – this was not a good enough reboot. It wasn’t worth the wait since 1998. It wasn’t outstanding enough. And I am left, therefore, with the same question I started with: why can’t we get it right? In today’s age of breathtaking CGI (which to be fair was very very good), can’t we please have a disaster movie with the story quality, acting and tension of, say, “Jurassic Park”? 2014’s “Godzilla” just lacked something extraordinary that I would love to see achieved from a movie in this franchise. The “King Kong” remake by Peter Jackson was way too long, but I cried during it (embarrassingly) due to the exceptional emotion that the gorilla displayed through the graphics. King Kong WAS misunderstood, and this film displayed it beautifully. Godzilla isn’t meant to be cheered on, nor is he the supporting monster to a couple of other monsters. He’s the leading lady, not the funny best friend.