In 1975, groups of movie goers flocked to their local cinemas. The lights went down and the screen lit up. On screen, two teenagers tease around with each other and one skinny dips in the ocean. Suddenly, John Williams’ iconic score starts. We see, from the point of view of something beneath the surface, the unsuspecting girl swimming innocently. Suddenly, she is yanked at from that something beneath the waves. She is lifted up and pulled through the water right before disappearing beneath it. That opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s spectacular triumph Jaws is one of the most terrifying scenes ever seen on screen, and that’s not the only one from that movie. Jaws terrified millions of people throughout the world, making people think twice before they stepped foot into the ocean again. Lord knows what could possibly be lurking beneath those deep dark waves. The most fascinating part of that film is the fact that you never really see the shark, the very thing the film was named after! And yet it still managed to scare even the most unmoved of moviegoers. Gareth Edwards certainly did his homework before tackling his big budget monster movie Godzilla. He no doubt found enough inspiration from the greatest Godzilla films and plenty Spielberg films like Jaws (as mentioned), Jurassic Park (the original), and War of the Worlds.This is one summer film where I actually felt the director’s presence. The shots are so well thought out and well executed, carefully waiting for just the right moment to reveal the film’s lead monster and even then lets every moment from that point on with the beast slowly earn its title. He’s not seen too often, never overstaying his welcome as so many monsters in movies these days do. And like the film Jaws, it still manages to thrill me in every way it’s supposed to.
As pointed out by my friend Nick after leaving the theater afterwards, Godzilla is the kind of monster movie you usually see people in movies watching; big bowl of popcorn in front of them, that frightened look on their faces. When scenes like that pop up in movies, I can’t help thinking, “Why don’t we have real monster movies like that anymore?” That’s probably the exact same question Edwards had at one point in his life. Thankfully, he has managed to create, for the first time in what feels like decades, a true monster movie in Godzilla. One I think will change the game for a lot of Hollywood’s future decisions.
I don’t think it’s ethical for me to write this review and not mention that 1998 atrocity from one of Hollywood’s long running jokes, Roland Emmerich. It’s one of those films we should never forgive Hollywood for. I remember my family renting it back when I was around five back when Blockbuster was the Netflix. I hate to admit it but I remember liking it when I was five. I didn’t see it again until about a year and a half ago. It’s one of my more shameful ‘face palm’ moments, not so much at the movie than at my five year old self. “How did I ever like this piece of trash?!” I exclaimed toward a sky that took its business to more useful locations. I know, I was only five but still, I could’ve at least compared it to Toy Story. 1998’s Godzilla was not very Godzilla at all, actually. An overly silly joke in which I laugh more at the fact that it was even funded than the moments in the film where we were actually supposed to laugh. I don’t even know where to begin with that one. If I was told to review it now I wouldn’t be able to find the words. I’d probably just end up posting a simple ‘No’ and call it a day. I don’t know which is worse: the scaling issues, the acting, the script, the overall direction of the film, or the countless other mistakes. It was a terrible, disrespectful representation of the beloved monster. A film created by people who couldn’t care less about any of the profound themes that flowed throughout the original films. It was just… certified terrible. I’m surprised it took them this long to reboot it but I’m grateful they took their time.
Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is made with plenty of respect for the original, keeping all the themes of nuclear paranoia that flowed throughout most of the original films. Right down to Godzilla’s roar, it’s a love letter to that 1954 classic that started it all. As people erupt in mass panic over all the chaos and destruction, the film fights hard to make you feel like you’re really there. There are many shots where we’re looking up from the human perspective, catching quick glimpses as we rush to safety. Lots of tricks pulled straight from the set of Cloverfield are put to good use here. With this, we get the opportunity to truly get the idea of the massive size and weight of these creatures, which I wish more films would focus more attention on. I mean, do these other films really expect us to think something is gigantic if we’re looking down at it from an aerial perspective? I mean, come on. Gareth Edwards has common sense, and there’s really nothing else you could ask of a film maker.
You might’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned any of the actors yet. I wouldn’t expect any Oscar nominations in the acting categories, my dear friends. I’ve always liked Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an actor but I can’t say he really brings any momentum to his character. He’s basically just the eyes of the film, we experience it as he does, etc. I can’t really complain because I can’t even find anything that really bothered me about his performance. Think of him like the lead in a Cirque Du Soleil production. We follow him around as these fantastic things happen all around. Bryan Cranston does a great job as Taylor-Johnson’s father, reminiscent of Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He’s about the only character we really get invested in. But these characters aren’t really here for us to get invested in, that’s the thing. They represent the shifting shots, the different angles we can view the situation from. We see what they see as they experience it. Taylor-Johnson throws the Cirque Du Soleil torch to them to take our hand and light our pathway through the movie. That in mind, everyone does their job. So, I’d encourage you to not look too much into it. They’re not supposed to be that interesting. The film is, after all, named Godzilla not Ford or Elle Brody .
As characters tossed each other through buildings and caused them to crumble to the ground in last year’s overstuffed disaster-of-a-film Man of Steel, my attention kept falling to the time on my watch. “How much longer do I need to see things get trashed before they get to the point of it all?” is a question I ask in too many films these days. If you’re going to make a film where things get trashed for most of the movie you have to do it right. It shouldn’t be boring. And yet, films like Man of Steel, Transformers, and every other action movie in Hollywood manages to bore me to tears, literal tears in almost every single disaster scene. Godzilla is no such movie. Beautifully shot, Godzilla shows us that there’s still excitement we can find in a summer movie. Where we can buy an overpriced ticket and walk out of afterward with a smile on our face. This, my friends, is what monster movies are all about. B+