*** Two things to note before we start. Yes, this will be full of spoilers. This is simply one of those write-ups where I can’t really discuss the movie without hitting upon some of the twists and turns that it takes. So if you haven’t seen it yet, perhaps you’ll want to wait until you have to read this. Or maybe you don’t need to bother. Also, I am highly indebted to this article from the blog We Minored in Film for binging together a number of the quotes used as examples below from various interviews, etc. If you want to see more of their insights into the film, including much that isn’t covered here, along with links to the original sources for the quotes, I highly recommend checking that one out. ***
When Gareth Edwards and his team said that they were going back to the original 1954 Gojira for the inspiration for their new take on Godzilla, I really didn’t think that they meant that they were going to be making the new film in black-and-white. And while it’s technically true that they didn’t, in some ways they might as well have.
And in leeching all the color out of the film, it seems like they’ve also leeched out the fun.
Yeah, this is going to be another one of those reviews. Sorry.
The truth is, Godzilla isn’t really a bad movie. I suppose it does achieve what it set out to do, which is to ground the “Big G” in a 2014 reality and bring a fresh perspective and a human touch to a somewhat lost franchise.
The problem is, if I wanted “grounding”, if I wanted “reality”, if I wanted a “human touch” in my movie, then I wouldn’t be going to a Godzilla flick where what I’m really wanting to see is a bunch of big monsters kicking the crap out of each other. Or at least one big monster stomping his way through a city and tearing up everything in sight until eventually he is put down through some kind of contrivance.
And I’ll admit we do get those scenes. Well, sort of.
By my count, there were at least five different scenes in the movie that provided the opportunity for exactly what I’m talking about above. Unfortunately, of those scenes, at least three of those scenes are shown to us mostly on television screens or monitors,, and for the most part we only get to where the action is in time to see the aftermath of the fight, and only bits and pieces of the actual action.
Instead, we wind up spending most of our time with the human characters and seeing things from their viewpoint. Which even then might not be such a bad thing if we were actually able to care about any of those human characters. The harsh truth is, however, that we don’t. Even Edwards himself seems to have recognized this, as he has been quoted as saying in regards to the death of Bryan Cranston‘s character who really is the only one who truly brings anything even resembling chemistry to the outing
We tried versions where he survived, in terms of the screenplay. The thing is in every one in which we did that there’s nothing left for that character to do without it being silly. If he sticks with Ford, it turns into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the tone of the movie becomes fun, but not the tone we were trying to do…. Retrospectively, when you see the movie I understand, and I wish that we had maybe figured a way to make it work.
Yeah, that’s right, Edwards really didn’t want the movie to be fun. And it sounds like maybe he knew he had made a mistake in doing so.
Also, Edwards has said that, taking his inspiration from movies like Jaws, Close Encounters, Alien, and other “slow burn” movies where the ultimate reveal of the monster is delayed until the end of the film. Again, quoting the director:
Something they all have in common is that slow-burn build, where the audience is drip fed the imagery to get them on tenterhooks. I thought that style of filmmaking was really effective. It stayed with me the whole time I grew up, and those films stand the test of time.
Which again is a fine way to go, except for one thing: the thing that is burning slowly in those movies is a fuse, and no matter what, once you reach the end of that fuse, you have to provide the audience with a big bang. And the longer your fuse burns, the bigger that bang needs to be.
Unfortunately, Edwards forgot to include the bang. Or maybe he did, but the movie was, by that point so rain-soaked and water-logged that instead of a bang all we got was kind of a fizzle.
See, that’s where we get to the point I was making at the top of this essay. One of the biggest drawbacks to this movie is that everything, and I mean everything in this movie seems to be cast in shades of grey. Godzilla? Grey. The MUTOs that he fights? Grey. The landscapes they are fighting in? Either cloud covered and rain-soaked (i.e. grey), seen on televisions or computer monitors (not only grey, but adding to the distance between us as an audience and what we came to see), underwater (well, okay, that’s really more of a blue-grey, but…). It’s almost as though Edwards and his tech team simply couldn’t stand the thought of giving us anything resembling a primary color in the film. Even when the opportunity presented itself for some color to be brought into the film, when we hit the Nevada desert and see some welcome sunlight and find out that one of the MUTOs is heading towards Las Vegas where we might actually get a really cool scene of destruction amidst the neon lights of the town, Edwards pulls us back and away again so that we only wind up seeing most of that scene on a monitor. Fortunately (he said ironically) we do get to go back to see the aftermath. Yay.
Again: rampaging monsters, the thing we actually come to a movie called Godzilla to see? Nope, not so much. Destroyed buildings in the wake of the monster’s passing? Yeah, we’ll show you that. Again, quoting Edwards:
We were already in Nevada due to the Yuka Mountain where they store their nuclear waste. The nearest city was Las Vegas, really, and I couldn’t resist it because the way they do all their casinos is like a one-stop shop for monsters. You can smash every major landmark in the world in one go!
Yeah, even Edwards realizes the potential for a lot of fun in that sequence. And he acknowledges that originally “that sequence was much longer, but then you watch the movie and as fun as everything is individually you kind of need to get one with the story”. In other words, again, Edwards has decided to sacrifice the fun of the movie for the “iconic” shot of post destruction.
Okay, so let’s finally get around to the climactic sequence. You know, the great big fight that we’ve been slow-burning all the way through this movie to. The one where we’re finally gonna pull the cameras back, open the perspective up, and just let these creatures have at each other like we’ve been waiting (or is that wading?) through the whole movie for. The sequence where Edwards finally takes the advice of Ken Watanabe’s character from much earlier in the movie when he says “let them fight”.
Yeah. And by “yeah”, what I mean is “no”. Instead, once again, we are stuck at ground level, looking up at these incredible monsters, rain-soaked, again in shades of grey, and when it comes down to it, the portion of the fight that we see may last something along the lines of three minutes. Now admittedly, there is one shot in there that is a standout, that almost makes up for everything else in the movie, but, like I said, it’s one shot. Which lasts at best 10 or 15 seconds.
Here, I’ll just let Gareth Edwards explain to you himself what the problem with the movie really is:
Originally, there was this thing where he would break the MUTO’s jaw, but we decided it was too much like King Kong. So, it was like, ‘What if he just vomits blue breath down his throat?’ I honestly thought we weren’t going to get away with this; it’s absurd. However, then we did test screening, and audiences loved it.
Yeah, that’s the scene. But look at what Edwards is saying there. He’s pretty much admitting that he had no idea that that kind of thing was exactly what his audience was looking for. To him it was too “absurd”. To the audience it was that one moment that actually delivered after almost two hours of missed opportunities.
And that, honestly, is the thing that really gets to me about this movie. Again, its not that it’s a truly bad flick. It’s certainly not Man of Steel or Lone Ranger bad. It’s just that it really could have been so much more.
So where does that leave Godzilla now? What can we expect going forward? Well, I have no doubt that it will perform well enough that we’ll be getting a sequel, though we’ve had no official word on that yet. And I suspect that if there is one, it will again have Edwards at its helm. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But before he does tackle the Big G again, maybe he’ll actually sit down and watch some of the other movies in the preceding franchises. Maybe he’ll look at the audience reactions to this one and see what the real appeal of this type of movie is. Maybe he’ll consider opening up not only his perspective in shooting those big monster fights we’re plunking down our dollars for but also his special effects team’s color pallet so that we can have something to look at other than shades of grey.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll let us have a little more fun next time.