Shades Of Grey Make For Some Really Bleak Monsters – How Gareth Edwards Took All The Fun Out Of Godzilla (2014)

*** 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. ***

g1When 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

g2We 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.

g7Also, 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.

XXX GODZILLA-MOV-JY-2346.JPG A ENTSee, 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.

g6Again: 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.

g3Okay, 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.

XXX GODZILLA-MOV-JY-2344.JPG A ENTYeah, 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.

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Saturday Double Feature: Godzilla (2014) and…

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I was going to be dropping the Saturday Double Feature in order to make room for a new weekly spotlight that would probably take more time to write. Well, I’m still planning on introducing the new feature, and I’m hoping to at least have a preview of it up in the next day or so, but since I haven’t posted much over the past couple of weeks, and since this one was just sitting there and is such a fun bit of Japanese/American big monster movie trivia, I just couldn’t resist throwing it up today as a double feature.

Spanish_Godzilla_2014_PosterSo since it’s been a little bit since I’ve posted one of these, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Okay, with all that out of the way, let’s get on with today’s pairing, which also provides an interesting answer to the question “when is a sequel not really a sequel, but really is a sequel”?

Yeah, I know. But just follow along here.

First off, let’s start with the trailer for the new Godzilla which hit theaters thus week. n it you’ll note that it references “1954” which, of course, is that year that the original Japanese Gojira came out, marking the new movie as, yes, a reboot of sorts, but also a sort-of sequel to the original.

Now upon thinking about the new film’s status as a sort-of sequel, I was reminded of when the first Japanese sequel to the original was brought to American theaters. Released in 1955 in Japan, Godzilla Raids Again (or as it is more literally translated, Godzilla’s Counterattack) was a direct sequel to the original, even bringing back some of the survivors of the original movie. It was also the first movie to feature Godzilla fighting another giant monster in the form of Anguirus.

GigantisHowever, for some reason, the American distributors of the film decided that rather than simply redubbing the Japanese sequel, they again wanted to Americanize it in the way that they had transformed Gojira into Godzilla, King of the Monsters (as the US version became known).

Actually, there were two attempts to bring the sequel to America, the first in the form of a version that was planned to be titled The Volcano Monsters, which would have excised all of the Japanese actors and kept only the giant monster fights from Godzilla Raids Again, surrounding them with a new script and American actors. The funding for this version fell through, however, and the American rights for the film were picked up by producers Paul Schreibman, Edmund Goldman and Newton P. Jacobs. They eventually decided to make somewhat less radical changes, although they still stuck to the idea of not promoting the movie as a Godzilla sequel, but rather renaming him Gigantis, and even at points changing his trademark roar.

Why go to such lengths to keep from recognizing it as a true sequel to the original? Actually that’s a good question, and if any of you out there who might be more well-versed in Godzilla lore than I am have the answer, I’d love to hear it.

Anyway, various other cuts and changes were made to the film, and finally, a movie entitled Gigantis, the Fire Monster was released to American theaters in 1959.

Yep, four years after it was released in Japanese theaters, Americans finally got to see this sequel that wasn’t a sequel even though it really was a sequel to the original.

And when it did finally hit America, here’s the trailer that accompanied it:

So there you go. The twisted tale of how the original Godzilla got its American sort of sequel. And though this was the last time that American distributors would try to disguise a Godzilla sequel as an actual separate monster film, it was definitely not the last time that they would make radical changes to the Japanese versions of these films before they were released over here.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, the next actual sequel to Godzilla, acknowledged as such both in Japan and America, would be 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla, which was also the first film in which both of the titular monsters would appear in color.

So what do you think? Have you seen Gigantis, the Fire Monster? How about Godzilla Raids Again? And what other suggestions would you have for creating a double feature with the new Godzilla movie?  Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

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Now That’s A Trail! – Yep, It’s Another New Godzilla Trailer!

Just a few of notes about this new trailer:

godzilla-comic-con-poster1) We’ve seen the shot with the “path of destruction trail” before, and I’m really hoping that it means we’re also going to get a return of Mothra* in this flick, too. After all, we already know that there’s going to be more than one giant critter in the film, and this does look like it could be the path of the “Big M” in it’s larval stage.

2) Speaking of other giant monsters, there’s definitely something flying in for an attack in some of these shots, and it isn’t a plane, nor is it Mothra, so what might it be? Well, there are a number of classic Toho monsters that could fly, but I’m going along with the current speculation that says this is a new adversary for the big lizard. After all, why not take the opportunity to introduce something new to the canon?

3) I really like the fact that these trailers aren’t just focusing on the monsters and destruction, though there certainly is a lot of that, which is appropriate, but are spending a lot of time – at least in the voice-overs – dealing with the human factor and the characters that are impacted by the appearance of these incredible beasts.

Okay, let’s get to the  meat, shall we? Here ya go:

*By the way, yes, it’s true that one of the biggest (or, perhaps in this case, it would be more fitting to say “smallest”) reasons I’m looking forward to the return of Mothra is that I’d love to also see a return of the “Peanuts”, though I doubt that’s really going to happen.

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That’s One Big Frakkin Lizard! – Here’s The Brand New Trailer For Godzilla (2014)

Interestingly, some of the dialogue and shots in this trailer seem to be indicating that this version of Godzilla should be considered a sequel to the 1954 original – or at least that this isn’t mankind’s first encounter with the big lizard. Whatever the case, May 16 can’t get here soon enough.

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Who’s The King Of The Monsters? This Guy! – Here’s The First Trailer For Godzilla (2014)

He’s immense! He’s Powerful! And most importantly he looks like he’s finally back to being himself and ready to do some city stomping! He’s Godzilla!

Yeah, it really looks like they might be doing the big guy right this time. And I couldn’t be more excited!

Another Day, Another New Godzilla Poster – This One Giving Us a Whale of a Tail

godzilla-tail

Yeah, that’s big.

So, which do you like better? This one, or the one we got yesterday?

Actually, I susupect we’ll know a lot more about this flick after SDCC this weekend.

The Upcoming Godzilla Redo Gets A Very Iconic Poster

Bouncing off last weekend’s release of Pacific Rim, and anticipating its official unveiling at the San Diego Comic Con, here’s a look at the very interesting first poster design for the upcoming Godzilla remake.

godzilla-poster-comic-con-2013-fullI really, really like the iconography of this poster and everything that it implies for this remake. It doesn’t really give us an actual look at the big guy, which I’m completely cool with, because it does give us enough of the classic outline to shake any fears that they’re going to go too far astray, and the incorporation of the destroyed buildings really just adds that much more to the menacing feel of power that he should have.

This is definitely one of those posters that, should it make it to theaters looking like this, is going to stand out from all the oh-so-similar-to-each-other posters on the walls.

The movie itself is expected to hit theaters in May of next year.

Saturday Double Feature: Pacific Rim (2013) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before.. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Yeah, I think Pacific Rim is really going to turn out to be the big one for the summer for me. I haven’t managed to see it yet, but hopefully I will this afternoon, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m just hoping it can live up to the hype, and the early reviews certainly seem to be indicating that it does.

So obviously there are any number of ways I could go with this, but in the end, there’s really only one clear winner, so LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLLLLE!

In case you weren’t sure, that was 1974’s Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla. Here’s the only version of the English language trailer I could find:

Yeah, sure, there were plenty of other, and some would argue better kaiju flicks I could have chosen, but that one seemed to fit the bill nicely.

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below, along with any ideas you might have for other pairings with Pacific Rim or for other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

New Full Pacific Rim Trailer Gives Us Backstory and Big Punchin’

Yeah, I spend a lot of time watching and writing about smaller, indie or classic films, but there comes a time when you just have to buy some popcorn, check your brain at the door, and watch big frikkin’ robots fight big frikkin’ monsters. And since we’re still officially a year away from the opening of the new Godzilla movie. it looks like this year, this is going to be that movie.

Guillermo, I’m putting my faith in you.