Crush Crumble Chomp
Posted by Dirck on 3 June, 2014
I’m distracting myself from finishing that damned story, but I made a promise to my wife I’d get this entry out while the effect was still fresh. It’s a movie review without reference to any other reviewers work, regarding something that’s still in the theatres. I’m probably in over my head.
But first, a word on the combination of logistics and the effect of expectations. My wife and I have not been to a movie together and unaccompanied since the decent but slightly silly The Happening. My son appeared shortly thereafter, and because we got a late start on child-bearing and keep odd company, we’d no one to look to for babysitting– friends either physically distant, past the screeching infant phase of their lives, or not inclined to deal with such things in the first place, and parents too old for the pressure. However, with the lad’s sixth birthday impending, he’s reached an age when the beginnings of civilized behaviour are starting to appear. This means that we sometimes think it might be safe for his grandparents to be left alone with him for an hour or two; like the cats, they’re not to be rubbed the wrong way, folded, or hurled onto the roof. And that means we can look at going to a film.
But the first film seen in six years is going to have unfair expectations set against it, right? Or rather– the first film for which the vast heaps of treasure are paid out for the privilege of seeing it in a first run theatre. We’re not hermits. Anyway, that’s the context of what follows.
We went to see Godzilla. I’d also run expectations up on the foundation of the ads. It was, to look at those, a proper Godzilla film, as opposed to the 1998 foolishness (which, because I am a devil and an idiot, we had gone to while on our honeymoon; thank heavens Jean Reno was in the cast). Godzilla as an impossibly huge, atom-powered, semi-allegory, rather than a hermaphroditic Bruce Campbell caricature with a fondness for fish. I was excited, and my wife wanted to see me giggling with glee at the action.
And there’s the first problem. Action. There is action, to be sure, but it is interspersed with such deserts of not-action that by the time if comes around, all your blood has pooled in your feet. Holllywood apparently doesn’t quite get how to make a proper kaiju film, and the problem appears to be this– they think it’s a disaster film. There are similarities, in that something terrible happens on a rather large scale. However, the central hook of the disaster film (and, to my taste, central failing) is the fates of the people caught up in it. We have tragic swimming, leaping across chasms, pinnings under heavy things, immolations, but it’s all at the scale of humans. Kaiju films do not work at this scale, because what we’re there for is, at that scale, a mere toenail briefly filling the background. The closest approach to doing kaiju right with that sort of approach was Cloverfield, and when I say closest I mean the best possible, ever, and any further attempts should be shelved as a waste of time and effort. I liked Cloverfield, and I suspect the reason I like it and not this new Godzilla is that it isn’t Godzilla and there’s rather fewer contrivances demanded to keep the human characters in the action.
Well, to be fair, there’s two big contrivances, and at this point I’m going to start waving spoilers around rather freely. One is that the son of The Only Man Who Understands What’s Happening is a highly trained soldier with enough freedom and loose cash to visit Japan at a moment’s notice, and thus get initially inducted into the action. The other is that his efforts to get home to his wife and son are constantly derailed by the appearance of the various monsters who seem to be following the same route as he is. By the end of the film, I leaned over an whispered to my wife, “Obviously, the problem is that the monsters don’t like that guy. They should run him out to sea on a raft, and the problem is solved.”
Putting the emphasis on the human face of the drama also apparently required Hollywood to turn on the saccharine spigots. Our central protagonist (who is not, to our bitter disappointment, Bryan Cranston, whose absence from most of the film is bad news indeed) has a wife and child, and as you might guess, they are frequently menaced with the possibility of squishing during the supposed climax. However, not content with this particular use of the cliche, protagonist also finds himself in loco parentis to a Japanese kid in short pants during an earlier rampage– as obvious a reference to the noxious Kenny of Gamera and some of the more kid-friendly Godzilla films of the late 1960s and early ’70s as one could fear. But wait! There’s more! A sweet innocent little girl is threatened by a tsunami which somewhat inexplicably accompany’s Godzilla’s big entry. The same tsunami also menaces a helpless doggie, just in case your pancreas was still working. It’s an almost Spielberg level of unnecessary emotional manipulation, although Spielberg is usually a little better at making it work.
Adding to my complaints is a sort of running gag nuclear countdown– a device meant to put an end to the monster menace by blowing up in their faces, which one of them steals and inconveniently embeds in San Francisco. The exact yield of the item is never specified, but it’s some number of megatons, which means it’s a really big explosion when it goes off. Our intrepid protagonist volunteers to join the squad tasked with either de-activating it or getting it far enough out to sea that it won’t destroy the city. When the squad arrives at it, it is down what the 3D glasses suggested was a very deep hole indeed. There’s 27 minutes left on the clock, and the access panel is sticking a little. Personally, I look for a crowbar, but the decision is made for six guys to carry this very heavy object out of the very deep hole, at least a kilometer to the seafront, put it on a tour boat, hotwire the boat, and… get rescued by a deus ex helicopter. All of which happens, at least for the protagonist; his buddies Pay The Ultimate Price, somewhat predictably.
I have to imagine that the hole was not as profound as it looked for this to work at all. However, when the boat gets up and running, there are five minutes on the clock. If it were the sort of boat that can do 100km/h, the bomb could be gotten… nothing like far enough away. The boat is the sort that probably glows with pride if it manages 40km/h with a following tide. And yet, the city is saved, in so much as only some of it was rolled around on by huge monsters. It’s the one thing too much to swallow (and I gleefully accepted the Traditional Nonsense Science Exposition scene about the end of Act I).
Gripes also about the monsters, but minor ones. The central gripe is that we hardly get to see them at their tussles. The action is implied by wreckage. It is obscured by swirling dust. It is shown diminished on a background television, which brushed up against an insult to the audience. If the few clear looks we’re given of the actual monster wrasslin’ is anything to go by, there was the potential here for a proper Godzilla movie. The fact that it hints at the potential without ever really engaging it is enough to make a fan like me a little angry. That the monsters are not extremely overheated stuntmen in heavy suits who are stumbling around a large model city is small potatoes next to that; the computer effects were quite good, to be honest, but whatever element in the human brain is that detects fakery was not fooled. The addition of 3D to the pot was really neither here nor there– as was the case in the ’50s and the ’80s, when there were also 3D movies, it’s a mere condiment, and easily lost in the face of miscarried storytelling.
I guess it really comes down to pacing. If this film were 95 minutes long rather than 125, and that reduction were at the expense of protagonist getting to and from places and the general, “Oh, who will save the little doggie?!” junk, this could be a cracking good example of a Godzilla movie. As it is, I’m hard pressed to recommend even waiting for it on video. Get thee to a place of renting GMK: All Out Monster Attack, or any of the Gamera films of the late 1990s; they’re kaiju films made by people who know how.
p.s. I know there’s at one reader here waiting for me to comment on a specific pen, which I long since should have done; it’s down to getting the pictures processed, which I appear to be developing some kind of hysterical blindness about. Soon.