Saturday, June 7, 2014

Review: Godzilla

Yesterday, I went to the movies for the first time in a year or so (thanks, babysitter) and watched Godzilla. I had heard that it was good, and I had heard it was bad. Usually, such a range of opinions from people I trust is a good sign because there's something to care about in the movie, and it isn't really surprising that the movie was pretty much 50:50 at both. It was gigantic, magnanimous, almost perfectly good in its strong sequences and it was almost painstakingly bad in others. Really, it was some rollercoaster. Let me give you a hint at how to get the maximum fun out of "Godzilla": try to get your 3D-cinema to show a version in which all dialogue is deleted from the movie. Seriously, watching the actors move their mouths without words coming out would be preferable to the real thing. 


In 1999, a Japanese nuclear plant (totally not Fukushima) broke down due to what was later said was an earthquake. But a SMART SCIENTIST played by Bryan Cranston who conveniently lost his wife in the incident for more drama, doesn't believe it and becomes a conspiracy nut. In 2014, it turns out he was right: together with his son, the most bland military guy since Transformers, he is captured in the quaranteene zone and witnesses the escape of a giant flying moth creature (totally not Mothra).  A generic Japanese scientist played by the only Japanese actor existing (Ken Watanebe) confirms that there are more of those, including one "Godzilla", and proposes to let those monsters fight it out amongst each others. The US military, of course, hid yet another of the creatures, and after destroying Honolulu at the end of act three, all three monsters are about to converge on San Francisco for the great finale...

The Bad
The most brutal weakness of the movie: screenwriting. The whole plot is dumb as hell, but the dialogue is even worse. I have to admit that I watched the movie in a normal cineplex, which means I had to suffer through the German synchronisation as well (usually, I wait for the DVD and watch the original), which further enhanced the suckiness of it all. But the dialogue is so cringeworthy, it hurts.  Really, really bad. It's like the characters looked up a list of Roland Emmerich movies and though "Yep, that's appropriate to say in such a situation." Lucky for me, I didn't really memorize any of the dialogue, but one of the notable downpoints was the prayer on board the plane from which the parajump later, in which they prayed to god along the lines of "I'm thankful for the chance to defend my country and now die alongside my comrades." I mean, really? "My country"? And said comrades don't even have names! We literally met them five seconds earlier. Such a prayer might (might!) work after a full movie of bonding with these guys, but we know nothing about them. 
GI Generic and his redshirt crew
The same is true for every scene involving the family of our unlikable hero. The little child is cute and helpless and thankfully not much in the way, the wife is a blond nurse (of course) and he's a military hero. All their dialogue sucks. Really. All of it. The absolute height of suckiness, though, is reserved for the US military commanders, who are constantly speechifying in front of everyone for no reason. Imagine it: you're working in a command center, with a lot of blinking screens with these convenient visualizations they have in the movies. And then the commander breaks into his "most important thing we ever did" routine, and you have to stop tracking that monster and listen to the bullshit. Plus, the commander is totally superflous because he has literally no valuable skill, which leads to stupid orders all the time. Like this: 

GI Generic #1: "Sir! Our projections show that the monsters are converging on San Francisco!"
Commander Generic: "I want their exact positions on my table right now!" 
At which point, unfortunately, nobody points to the many, many screens that depict exactly this information and says "Sir, it's right there, so please stop bugging me", but instead everyone looks very serious and runs around busy. This happens several times. 

There are also really stupid elements that have nothing to do with dialogue but with plot. The bad decision at the basis is that a military hero is our protagonist, which forces us to watch people "doing something" against the monsters all the time, knowing perfectly well that they won't succeed because of course Godzilla will fight these monsters at the end, a fact we have been told early in act two. Had they gone more "Cloverfield" and gave these guys some useful objectives (like evacuating civilians out of the route of these monsters, or perhaps destroying the batch of eggs one monster layed), there would have been stakes and we would have been engaged. So, it's just painful waiting for the monster fight to begin. By the way, the hatch of eggs is destroyed by our hero almost as an afterthought, an action with which he not only rescues the world, but also Godzilla. This almost hilariously bad screenwriting. 
Plus, Brain Cranston should have had a much bigger role.
 The Good

However, the movie is also really, really good in other respects. At first, let's take the premise: Godzilla is the good guy of the movie, and the other monsters ("MOTUs") are the bad ones. That's a good idea, because it turns out expectations and allows to really concentrate on Godzilla as the star of the movie. The "they consume radioactivity"-thing is also a good idea because it gives a convincing explanation for why they attack humans in the first place. Even the military as POV-characters would have worked with a sensible set of objectives.

The second of those is visuals. The movie really sells us on the size of these monsters and the whole physical presence. When Godzilla first emerges from the sea at Hawaii, the water first retreats and then he completely floods Honolulu - just by standing up. The monsters are also big. Really fucking big. And this sheer size is conveyed in a really terrifying, well framed manner. You can see the lumbering Godzilla, a really fat monster in the tradition of the Japanese Godzillas. His slow movements, his hard, crackling reptilian skin, all of it just looks so good. You have to see this movie in a 3D cinema, it's worth it. Really.
MOTU agrees.
The third is sound design. Boy, do they sell the sound of it! Godzilla's animal cry is distinctive and really, really terrifying. The MOTUs also have distinct and terrifying sounds, and all the destruction and havoc they wreak is well adapted in sound. The movie cleverly obscures vision many times, and in these moments, it's only sound to work with. A formidable example for this is the Halo-jump they do (you can see it in the trailers), where we have our protagonist's breathing and the sound of the jump as they pass by monsters well over 100 metres high. That's intimidating work. 

As there are many bad little scenes (like the military I described above), there are also very good little scenes. The Halo jump is almost perfectly staged, for example. There's one scene in the carange where the wife waits for the guy to rescue her. There's dust everywhere from the fight, and then, suddenly, a parachute guy comes down. You see on her face the same reaction you have in that moment: is this her white knight, riding in on a white parachute to rescue her? And half a second later, you and her simultaneously understand when the the plane of the parachuting pilot crashes in a skyscraper (the monsters use EMP). 
They know why they advertized it.
Generally, the use of obscured vision is brillantly done. So many Big-Monster-Movies do this "hide in the city"-thing, where suddenly no one knows where a monster the size of the Empire-State-Building is. You see it in the old Godzilla, in Cloverfield, in Pacific Rim. In this movie, it happens, too, but in a believable way. First, the MOTUs disable all tech with their EMP (which spares us most of the "military arsenal blasted uselessly at monsters"), which includes all light and forces everyone to use spotlights to search for the monsters. Second, at daylight, when they fight in the city, dust is everywhere, further obscuring what happens. At last, there are clever cuts when the fighting starts (doors of bunkers closing or cut to hectic CNN newsreels) that keep suspense at a maximum throughout the movie until the final fight, which is totally worth it by the way. 


The movie is worth to be seen in cinema in 3D, because it's a masterpiece on a technical level. Don't even bother with the small screen. The story and the dialogue are so bad that you want to cry in your seat, and that can only be amplified at your home cinema. Watch "Pacific Rim" instead, which isn't perfect by any means, but which at least works on its own premise.

1 comment:

  1. Heartsbane of HornhillJune 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    How great was the ending of CNN watching Godzilla leave to throngs of cheering people...I was laughing & cheering simultaneously.