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May 31, 2014

Godzilla: The King of Monsters Rises

by Jonn Holland

ImageTwo weeks ago, a film about a gigantic reptile with nuclear breath and a very recognizable scream was released into theaters. The films name? Godzilla. The film is an American reboot of the enormously famous and successful franchise which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe; Directed by Gareth Edwards. But first, a little history before delving into a discussion concerning the reboot.

In August of 1945 the United States dropped two Atomic bombs in order to halt the Japanese military near the end of WWII. The first was on Hiroshima August 6 and the second on Nagasaki August 9. Both bombings decimated the two islands, leaving survivors with burns, radiation sickness and fear. Thus, the Japanese military entered into a treaty with America.

For the last sixty nine years, the Japanese people have lived within the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Its influence can be seen in a majority of the visual media that has come from that nation. Yet none of the animated features (anime) of films that have been made in Japan over the nearly seven decades have become as iconic to modern pop culture as the first Godzilla film.

Released in 1954, Godzilla, or Gojira introduced Japanese audiences to a towering monster born from nuclear radiation who rampages through Tokyo leaving devastation in its wake, mirroring the destruction experienced at the time the two atomic bombs were dropped. Clearly this was the filmmakers way of dealing with the horror of a nuclear holocaust.

ImageIn spite of the negative reception by Japanese film critics; who claimed that the motion picture exploited the devastation of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira went on to make 152 million Yen ($2.2 Million USD) and sold over nine million tickets. It also spawned twenty seven remakes and even became popular in America, spawning a remake in 1998-which also resulted in an animated series-and this years reboot.

Godzilla is one of those franchises that benefits tremendously from an updated version. The reason for this is mainly because the visual effects are hopelessly outdated. If anyone has ever wondered why Godzilla’s appearance changes from film to film, it’s because the suit the actor wore had to be made from scratch every time. Though the idea of having an actor in a suit demolishing miniature buildings was both brilliant and innovative, it was problematic for that very reason. None of the suits survived the filming process fully intact.

It could be said that Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park opened the door for a film like Godzilla to be remade. Because of the advances in animatronics and CGI, as well as the combining of the two; the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and its sequels wouldn’t have been as believably realistic as they were. Likewise with Godzilla. A reptilian behemoth who towers over an average skyscraper. Putting an actor in a suit wasn’t really an option and neither was using puppets, simply because those techniques wouldn’t have been relevant to more modern audiences and its just campy now.

In Godzilla 2014, it is massively evident that CGI has come a long way in the sixteen years since the late nineties remake. From the first moment the King of Monsters appears on screen, to the end of the film, one would be hard pressed to deny how real Godzilla looks. This version of the monster doesn’t move like a human in a suit, a marionette. a stop motion figure ala King Kong 1933, or even a Jim Henson creation-hello Jabba the Hut. Nope. Not here. Every step, gesture,breath and glare looks natural and fluid. Godzilla moves the way a creature his size would really move. Oh, and those wacky martial arts stances from the older movies? Non existent.Image

Undoubtedly the visual effects alone are a reason to see this film. However, they are not the only reason. Edwards and his team managed to take all the elements that fans love about Godzilla and put them in one film. Specifically, Godzilla fighting other monsters of the same gigantic proportions, humans caught in the middle of the destruction trying their best to not be killed and the military doing what they do best. Preparing for the worst case scenario.

Amidst the turmoil, destruction and military decisions, there is another element that makes this version more than just a film directed by a fan with the greatest opportunity a fan could ever have-other than J.J. Abrams- a human antagonist. A character who isn’t just there to explain things but to actually get in on the fight; that of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Lt. Ford Brody.  At first glance, Brody is just a young career officer in the Navy who has issues with the fact that his father, Joe Brody (Cranston) can’t let go of the past. We won’t delve into that though. Spoilers…

ImageThe younger Brody gets a wake up call that is much larger-and dangerous-than he would have ever imagined. As a result, his opinion of his Father is changed in an instant and he quickly adopts the idea that he needs to get home to his own family and protect them. An interesting thing happens during his quest to do so. At some point he realizes that his fight to return to his family and to protect them is not so different from Godzilla’s fight to restore balance . After all, Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe) points out that Godzilla is natures guardian and in many ways a father is the guardian of his family. Thus, it is a father’s duty to restore balance within the family when things go awry.

Adding the element of a man who must overcome his fears and insurmountable odds to not only survive, but to fight and live, raises Godzilla from being nothing more than a monster versus monster film. Instead we have a relatable story that just happens to be built around the fact that gigantic monsters are engaged in a life and death battle in the middle of a city and human lives hang in the balance.

There is one final theme that we should touch on briefly that makes this Godzilla stand out from the others. While the 1954 film was an indirect reaction to the tragic-yes tragic-and devastating results of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and an outlet for the underlying fear of all-out nuclear war, the theme in this twenty first century Godzilla film appears to be that we humans tend to cause our own problems and in some cases-like the advent of nuclear arms-those problems usually end up being gargantuan in proportion to our own lives. In this film, it is the need to harness radiation for practical energy use and human curiosity that causes the first big-an understatement-bad monster to appear. Through out the film the humans-aside from Lt. Brody-make very poor decisions that only make things go from bad, to worse. Seemingly, there is an underlying notion within the film that suggests that our own human pride is our worst enemy. Even if there are dangers in the world beyond our control.

In the end, Godzilla 2014 is well worth watching in the theater-I strongly suggest IMAX for you Godzilla fans-whether you see it for the visual effects, Godzilla was your childhood hero, your boyfriend-or girlfriend-drags you to it, you like the idea of monster vs. monster/man vs monster/man vs himself in a movie, because it looks like a good flick with an awesome story and premise, or you really want to see how real Godzilla looks. You will not be disappointed.

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