I expected that I would skip this year’s Halloween countdown. Too much going on, not enough time. And heck, I’ve already given up on pretty much every other aspect of Halloween. I no longer fill my front yard with tombstones. I don’t bother to dress up for the handful of trick-or-treaters who show up at my door. So, why bother?
Screw that. I won’t let the terrorists win.
That said, this will be a low-content countdown this year. No lengthy write-ups, just a gallery of monsters taking a break.
Godzilla on the set of Destroy All Monsters.
Some random (spoilery) bullet points that I neglected to mention in my review of the 2014 Godzilla:
- Trailers often feature shots that don’t make the final cut, but this is the first time I’ve spotted one that was recomposited to disguise its true nature. In the trailers, Elizabeth Olsen catches a glimpse of a roaring Godzilla between a pair of closing doors, but in the film she sees him fighting one of the Mutos.
- Everyone seems to have spotted the Easter Egg of a masking tape label on which is scrawled the word “Mothra.” So far, I haven’t read any mention that Mothra herself (or, at least, a moth with suspiciously similar markings) is depicted on a classroom poster.
- Godzilla’s new origin–that he hails from a time in prehistory during which creatures had evolved to absorb the greater amount of background radiation–is a prime slice of Silver Age science. That befits a character spawned in the 1950s, but it puts the lie to the notion that this is a more grounded, realistic Godzilla.
- I’m glad to see the return of Godzilla-as-metaphor, but his new post-Atomic Age meaning is vague. They seemed to be going for a theme previously summed up by the lyrics of Blue Oyster Cult: “History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man.” I found it a little weak; while the nuclear plant disaster evoked Fukushima, its cause wasn’t human hubris or error, but rather a big, fucking bug.
I wheedled my way into seeing the new Godzilla film while on vacation in San Francisco because, come on, how many opportunities do I get to see Godzilla trash the city I’m in at the time? It wasn’t in IMAX or 3D, but the screen at the Metreon was plenty big. (I’m told that the Metreon is the premier movie theater in SF, and thought that the filmmakers missed an opportunity by not producing an exclusive cut of the film with a shot of the monsters crashing against the mall in which it’s housed, complete with an appropriate THUMP on the soundtrack.)
Overall, I enjoyed it. It may not be the Godzilla My Dreams, but it certainly demolishes the previous attempt at an Americanized ‘Zilla. I agree with the general gist of the reviews: bland human characters, and not enough Godzilla. The former is endemic to the giant monster genre; I’m hard-pressed to think of a single interesting human in a kaiju flick. (UPDATE: I was later embarrassed to realize that I’d overlooked the tragic Dr. Serizawa in the original Gojira. The character even gets a namesake in the new film.) I wouldn’t go so far as to declare it a feature rather than a bug, but neither can I complain too loudly about it.
The relative lack of Godzilla is a bit harder to reconcile. I welcome restraint in the “more is more” era of the modern blockbuster film, yet there was a point in which I was thinking that the film was a continuation of its own marketing campaign, which perpetually teased those who wanted a good look at the monsters. I did appreciate the slow build, but I think that once we got the first full reveal of the Big G in Hawaii, it was high time to stop playing coy. Smash cutting away from the big fight to Elizabeth Olsen’s kid watching the carnage on the living room TV? Cute, but perhaps a bit too clever. People always credit Steven Spielberg with holding back on the shark in Jaws, but later interviews revealed that the real reason it largely remained hidden is that the mechanical prop didn’t work. We don’t have that problem anymore.
Now for the good stuff. Unlike the disastrous 1998 American film, Godzilla ’14 respects the character and does him right. The monster-on-monster action, when it does come, is thrilling. Both the Big G and his “Muto” opponents display personality that makes them more than dumb brutes. And the movie succeeds at one of the most challenging aspects of the kaiju genre: integrating the vastly different scales of humans and monsters. Like Cloverfield, much of the destruction occurs from the people’s-eye view. There’s a shared moment between Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character and Godzilla himself that gave me a happy chill.
That’s it for the non-spoilers. Join me under the photo for all spoilers, all the time.
One thing that I did not suspect at all was that the script would skip past the conception of Godzilla as a malign force or indiscriminate destroyer to something approaching his heroic mode of the ’70s. While the military would be quite happy to exterminate him along with the Mutos, the latter are clearly viewed as the primary threat. The U.S. Navy goes so far as to escort Godzilla to the final battle in San Francisco.
Godzilla is positioned as a defender of nature/Earth, much like Mothra or the ’90s version of Gamera. He’s not quite Godzilla, Friend of Children (though we do get a young Japanese boy who, surprisingly, is not named “Kenny”); his approach to Hawaii creates a tidal wave resulting in massive destruction and loss of life. Yet, when the San Francisco news media proclaims him as “Savior of (most of) Our City,” it’s without irony. In that regard, it’s a more optimistic film than the most recent take on Superman.
Oh, and I couldn’t wrap this up without mentioning the return of Godzilla’s atomic breath, which the makers of the ’98 ‘Zilla found too hard to swallow. When the spines on his tail began to light up, I mentally punched the air. And, of course, there was Godzilla’s finishing move against the Queen Muto, a use of his breath I don’t believe we’ve ever seen before!
All in all, it was a good film and I’m glad to see it doing well enough to immediately green light a sequel. Go, but temper your expectations for the first hour and save some popcorn for the final reel.
I’d hoped to write a longer Godzilla blog entry before my trip to the coast, but ran out of time. Instead, enjoy this WILL-AM radio program from 2004, in which I interviewed William Tsutsui, author of Godzilla on My Mind.
It’s a clear sign of how much has been on my plate in recent months that we are now only days away from a huge, new Godzilla film and I’ve blogged nothing about it. I spent weeks rehashing old Speed Racer cartoons in the build-up to that movie, but here I am, about to be reunited with my first geek love, and…
Frankly, I’m disappointed in myself. Heck, I thought I’d spend the past few weeks gorging on Toho DVDs, but all I watched was a third of Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster. (So, basically, one head.)
And as it turns out, I’ll probably have to wait a few days to see the new movie. I’m off to a PBS conference in San Francisco (ironically, one of the cities slated to be damaged by Godzilla), and we’ll be staying a couple of extra days to see the sights.
I’m going to try to get in one ‘zilla blog post before then, but for the moment, here are links to previous Thiel-A-Vision entries on the big G and his friends.
- 31 Japanese Monsters
- 31 Monsters #3: Mothra
- 31 Monstrous Failures #4: Megalon
- 31 Monster Toys #10: Aurora Models’ Godzilla
- My Favorite Martians: The Kilaaks
- Destroy! All! Monsters! (in which I play with my Godzilla toys)
- Go, Godzilla! (a review of Godzilla Final Wars, the 50th anniversary G film)
- I Love You, Godzilla (’nuff said)
As a kid, I loved models…but I didn’t want to build them. With unsteady hands and deep-seated anxiety, I turned to my dad when it was time to transform a pile of plastic parts into a finished product. (I did eventually overcome this weakness, but as with many of my childhood achievements, it took far longer than it should have.)
Here’s one of the two dad-built model kits that I still have.* It’s from the famous Aurora Models line of classic monsters, and depicts a decidedly off-model Godzilla stomping all over a absurdly out-of-scale Tokyo. Dad’s color scheme for the city skyline was a bit outré, but hey, wimpy kids who won’t build their own models can’t be choosers.
*The other is King Kong, naturally.
I’m just speculating here, but I imagine that the average anxiety level in the production offices of Legendary Pictures has risen a few notches. Here they are, trying to drum up interest in next summer’s Godzilla reboot at the same time that the American public is demonstrating its indifference toward their current giant monster epic, Pacific Rim.
Maybe it was just a scheduling issue, but it did seem odd to me that Godzilla is being produced as the follow-up to Pacific Rim rather than the other way ’round. Godzilla has the name recognition,
but it also has (so far as we know at this time) just the one giant monster. (EDIT: Ding dong, I’m wrong. The official description was just released, and say “this spectacular adventure pits the world’s most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.” So there’s that.) Pacific Rim, on the other hand, has lots of monsters (and robots), but isn’t based on an existing property.* Coming out second, Godzilla risks being seen as the lesser spectacle, a potential problem made worse if Pacific Rim appears to have poisoned the giant monster well.
I’m torn here. I really, really, really, really want to love it. I want to hold it to my bosom and proclaim it as the Second Coming of Spielberg.
And, lest we forget, I am very forgiving when it comes to giant monster movies. I unreservedly love Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, despite production values perhaps 1,000 times lesser than those displayed by Pacific Rim. Hell, recently I voluntarily watched the nadir of the Toho Studios film series, Godzilla vs. Megalon, in its native Japanese.
Now I’m in no way saying that Pacific Rim is inferior to Godzilla vs. Megalon, in that very little that exists in any of the known states of matter is less than Godzilla vs. Megalon. It’s just that, considering both its production budget ($190 million) and pedigree (acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro), I hold Rim to a higher standard.
The main problem for me is the assortment of stock character types with their off-the-shelf backgrounds and motivations. That wouldn’t be a problem if they brought a bit of personality or fun to the party, but the only ones who seem to be having a good time are Ron Perlman as a dealer in monster body parts, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the comedy relief scientists. When the frog-faced guy from Torchwood is the most entertaining member of your ensemble, that’s a concern.
My other major complaint is that, with the exception of a couple of flashbacks, every monster appearance takes place at night, in the rain and/or at the bottom of the ocean. I thought that we were past the point that we needed everything to be dark and rain-streaked to hide the special effects seams.
So, what does Pacific Rim do right? A lot, actually. It’s got a bit of a Top Gun vibe with its international team of pilots. The monster designs–many courtesy Hellboy artist Guy Davis and master alien illustrator Wayne Douglas Barlowe–are varied and bizarre. A great deal of attention has been paid toward world-building, with such details as a slum built inside the carcass of a dead beast and a misguided attempt at border-security known as the “Wall of Life.”**
It’s far from a disaster, but it’s a definite disappointment coming as it does from del Toro, whose love for this subject matter runs deep.
In light of this, I say good luck, Godzilla. Your long-anticipated comeback just got a bit more difficult.
*And if you doubt the power of intellectual property, look at the many Internet comments declaring Pacific Rim to be a Transformers rip-off, even though what it’s really ripping-off predates the robots-in-disguise by several decades. Furthermore, consider that Transformers: Dark of the Moon made nearly as much on opening day (a Wednesday) as Pacific Rim did in its first weekend.
**It, of course, works here about as well as it does in real-life, never taking into consideration–for example–that the evolving cavalcade of creatures might eventually exhibit the ability to fly.
I always preferred Toho’s Godzilla films to those of Gamera, the giant flying turtle from rival studio Daiei. The Gamera series looked cheap(er) in comparison. It pandered to its audience by placing kids at the center of the action. And its monster designs were unlikely agglomerations of mismatched parts.
Unfortunately, the success of the terrible terrapin left Toho scrambling to catch up. Children in disturbingly short pants began to cheer on Godzilla. And even the monsters he fought became a jumbled mess.
Such was the cockeyed cockroach known as…
As the god of the underwater Seatopian civilization, one might think that he would be–I don’t know–a fish or something? Instead, he was some manner of napalm-spitting beetle with a lightning-emitting horn and pointy “hands” that clasped together to become a drill.
Godzilla vs. Megalon was arguably the low point of the classic Godzilla film series, yet ironically it may be the one most familiar to American audiences. Not only did it get a big theatrical release–with a poster that aped the ’76 King Kong remake by placing the two monsters atop the World Trade Center–it was the only Godzilla movie to play on network TV. John Belushi, dressed in a Godzilla suit, hosted a highly-edited version on NBC. The film subsequently fell into the public domain, making it all-but-inescapable for a time.
Megalon himself fared less well. He was one of the few Godzilla co-stars who never made a second appearance.
As with yesterday’s post about Mothra, I don’t know that I have much more to say about the subject of today’s final entry in my Japanese monster retrospective. But none of the creatures that have flown, swam and stomped their way across the Japanese isles would’ve existed if not for…
|Monster Island Nickname||Your Majesty|
|Hails From||The Unknown Depths of the Ocean|
|Movies Appeared In
(not counting stock footage)
|28 (plus Hollywood Boulevard, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Always – Sunset on Third Street)|
|Quote||“Hey, Angilas! C’mon! There’s a lot of trouble ahead!*”|
As I mentioned in my entry on King Ghidorah, I am a chronic doodler. So here are some actual doodles of Godzilla from actual meetings I have attended.
I hope that you have enjoyed this month of monsters. Every time I embark on one of these month-long series, I tell myself that I’m going to keep it short and simple. Well, that didn’t happen.
If this has encouraged you to put on a rubber suit and trash some cardboard buildings, then my work here is done. Happy Halloween!