This reboot of the modern-day Godzilla franchise which–thanks to director Roland Emmerich– had died before it really got going back in 1998 is directed by Gareth Edwards. And if I tell you that Edwards is the guy who gave us the 2010 Monsters for under $500,000 and add that it is one of my all-time favourite low-budget masterpieces then you’ll understand that I was looking forward to this new Godzilla with huge anticipation… which was accompanied with feelings of apprehension. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that Hollywood saw a filmmaker who could turn really memorable stuff in on a tight budget, and decide that if they threw squidillions at them then they would become even more creative. They’ve made that mistake many times. Just think of the distance between the wonderful Heathers and uh…Hudson Hawk, say step forward Michael Lehman and you’ll get the idea; and the budgets there jumped from $3 million to $65 million. In the hands of insane children!
As well as director and special effects creator (on a laptop) for Monsters, Edwards was the sole writer. With his first foray into the big time, his screenplay is by Max Borenstein, with several others like David S. Goyer (the Dark Knight trilogy) and Frank (Shawshank Redemption) Darabont giving us their tuppence ha’penny worth; so betwixt that and the pressure he must have been under with an expensive cast and very expensive locations it couldn’t have been easy.
It’s a pleasure therefore that Godzilla is such a credit to him. It’s not an unqualified success but I’ve a feeling that hardcore Gojira fans will have been well satisfied.
From Atomic to High Camp
Of course, the very first Godzilla film was the Japanese one directed by Ishiro Hondo and was released ‘way back in 1954. It’s hard for us to credit now, but the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less than a decade in the past for the Japanese and they were still rebuilding their ruined cities; and with Godzilla they had a monster that was the very essence of the Atomic Age. There is no other time in history that this giant cinematic icon could have been conceived.
Of course, as time went on and the series became more and more of an exercise in high camp, this aspect was blurred as the huge creature was pitted against everything from Mechagodzilla and King Kong to the Smog Monster.
The 1998 version didn’t seem to know quite what to do with the nuclear theme of the original and, by tippy-toeing around it in various ways, ended up pleasing no one. Edwards and his crew have made the decision to bring that theme of ever-threatening atomic destruction back to the fore—and it is a decision that pays off handsomely.
As soon as the opening credits sequence was over I was wishing that I could see it again. It is 1954 (nice touch) and the nuclear powers are setting off atomic ‘test’ explosions all over the Pacific. The credits come in the form of official documents that are briefly glimpsed before being censored and leaving only the credit name. This is intercut with grainy black-and-white footage of partially-seen objects that seem to add up to the existence of something huge just beneath the waves. In other words, what the world knew as tests were in fact real attempts to kill something enormous that has been awakened.
It’s really quite ingenious: the idea that we may be looking at suppressed evidence of something that has been dormant for decades sets us up nicely for what is to come.
Enter the Alpha Predator!
Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is one of those in charge of a Japanese nuclear reactor when something goes wrong. His wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) is killed in the ensuing destruction and Brody spends the next 15 years trying to find evidence of a cover-up. As the film proper begins his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a lieutenant in the American military who views his dad rather sadly as an obsessed crank. Yep, he is about to find that his father has been right and that there has begun the unearthing of enormous creatures known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). They come from a period even before that of the dinosaurs, when the entire planet was highly radioactive and these creatures actually lived off that ‘unfortunate dispensation’.
Of course three of them end up on the loose, feeding off nuclear missiles and submarines and generally causing havoc in the form of what the Godzilla fan wants—stomping entire cities into the ground. Enter the ‘alpha predator’ Godzilla, who is hailed in a manner that I didn’t quite understand by Dr. Ishiro Seriwazi (Ken Watanabe) as some sort of entity that puts Nature back into balance whereas the other MUTOs are disrupting it; and yet he is also a symbol of and driven by nuclear power. Perhaps I’m not quite getting this, but it seems that in some manner he is the ‘good guy’, although I’m not sure that the people of Honolulu (which is devastated by a gigantic wave caused by him) would agree. In fact at another point he is explicitly referred to as ‘a God’. Oddly enough, by now I was thinking that the whole scenario was reminiscent of Brian Lumley’s interpretations of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, especially in his novel The Burrowers Beneath.
Ah well, I’m no doubt overanalyzing here. Still, I think that it’s warranted as Godzilla has been accused of being overly serious as well as not being serious enough. Jeez, lads, make your minds up. Ultimately it is Godzilla we’re talking about here. You know: bloody huge great monsters, lots of noise, buildings getting knocked over, all of that malarkey. And in fact I did sense a dry sense of humour at work. I’m thinking of the cockroach crawling over the toy tank, reminding us simultaneously of of the Big Creature movies of the 50s and of how far special effects have come. Or how about the container with ‘Mothra’ written on it? There’s even a bit of high camp in that rolling news headline: GODZILLA—KING OF THE MONSTERS OR SAVIOUR OF THE CITY?
One of the things that I loved about Edwards’s debut Monsters is that until the very end the creatures are only partially glimpsed; although of course that would have been more to do with budgetary considerations as much as artistic decisions.
Well, here Edwards plays quite the tease for over an hour. We get only brief flashes of the title character (which I’m not sure about since we are meanwhile seeing the others in their entirety). When he delivers the cum-shot we see just how massive this creature is. Is it worth the wait? I think so.
And Edwards continually takes you by surprise. For example, there is a moment during one of the fight scenes where I thought that he was just going to lazily rip off the King Kong moment where Kong detaches the Tyrannosaurs’ jaws. Well, let’s just say that Godzilla does something…quite different.
You know, I was going to go into some of the areas where I didn’t think that it worked; but I’ve enjoyed writing this so much that I don’t think that I will.
I guess that makes Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla a hit.