Monday, May 26, 2014

Godzilla Through the Years - Part 8

The 2014 American Film:  Return of the King

Spoilers below!  
Read on at your own risk!

Marking the 60th Anniversary of the original 1954 film, Godzilla has once again returned to the big screen and, thankfully, returned to form. 

Legendary Pictures' 2014 Godzilla is a very different American Godzilla film.  Unlike the 1998 movie, the filmmakers have paid careful attention to the original Japanese films and made careful efforts to pay appropriate homage.  Once again, radioactivity plays a major role in the plot and the theme of "Man versus Nature" takes center stage amidst the conflict for survival between leviathans and humanity.

Following a prologue involving a startling discovery, the film begins with an anomaly resulting in a meltdown at a Japanese power plant which results in the plan'ts destruction.  Obviously, many die in the aftermath including the mother of the main character, Ford Brody.  15 years later, Brody, now EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) expert for the military must return to Japan to get his father who has been detained by the police for trespassing near where the power plant once stood.  Obsessed with the cataclysm that caused the death of his wife, Brody's father believes that the meltdown was not an accident and sets out to prove this to his son and the rest of the world.  Sure enough, a huge cocoon is discovered at the ruins of the power plant.  A mysterious military organization called Monarch attempts to destroy the cocoon, but is ultimately unsuccessful.  

A gargantuan insect-like creature emerges from the cocoon.  The creature emits a powerful EMP (ElectroMagnetic Pulse) that disrupts all electronic devices.  This devastating ability allows it to escape.  Dr. Serizawa, the scientist in charge of Monarch explains that the creature (called a MUTO - Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) feeds on radiation and will seek out the nearest source.

As the military scrambles to capture and subdue to the monster, Dr. Serizawa reveals to Brody that the MUTO is actually an ancient life-form that belonged to a primordial ecosystem that thrived when the Earth was 10 times as radioactive.  Other organisms like the MUTO thrived on the excess radiation until levels subsided, at which point they went into a state of hibernation.  Dr. Serizawa goes on to explain that another such creature was awakened in 1954 when the first radioactive submarine descended into the depths of the ocean and that this other monster may be humanity's only hope against impending extinction.  This creature is called...  Godzilla! 

As Brody attempts to get back to his family in San Francisco, Godzilla is reawakened by the emergence of the MUTO and begins hunting the monster.  The military pursues both monsters only to find that a third monster - a larger, female MUTO - has appeared near Las Vegas.  All three monsters are expected to converge in San Francisco, where the two MUTOs will begin creating a brood of giant offspring that will overrun the planet...  unless Godzilla is able to defeat them and restore balance!

I love the redesign of Godzilla.  The creators of the film expressed a great desire for realism and this is definitely reflected in the creature design.  I also adore the design of the MUTOs which resemble giant praying mantis with some almost reptilian features.  These monsters will fit in nicely with Godzilla's bestiary of gargantuan foes.

Following the disappointment of the design of the monster in the 1998 film, I am beyond delighted to say that Godzilla actually looks like Godzilla.  The new design reflects all of the fearsomeness and majesty that fans worldwide expect from the King of the Monsters. Godzilla's anatomy actually resembles that of real-life reptiles with layers of scales and leather-like texture.  Admittedly, the filmmakers also borrowed anatomical elements from other creatures (including traits of dogs, bears, and even eagles) to allow for resemblance to the original design.  They do an excellent job overall while managing to create something new and fresh in the process.  This is probably one of my favorite incarnations of the creature.  

The special effects of this movie are top-notch, making this the most believable Godzilla to date.  Many, less capable directors would perhaps take this fact as an opportunity to overwhelm the audience, but throughout the film, director Gareth Edwards exercises a great deal of restraint.  So many blockbuster movies of today put a great deal of focus on spectacle and get carried away, showing scenes of destruction from ridiculous, dizzying camera angles. Edwards, however, wisely keeps the spectacle primarily from the human perspective.  Nearly every shot is from a conceivable point of view, as if the cameraman was shooting on location, which does a great job of putting the viewer in the moment, creating a tangible sense of wonder, suspense, and terror.

Alexandre Desplat did an excellent job with the music of the film.  The score is appropriately loud and bombastic, hearkening back to classic creature features of the yesteryear.  Many fans lamented the absence of Godzilla's theme from the Japanese movies (indeed, I'll admit missing it as well), and yet I think Desplat did a fine job and has created another memorable piece of music that will be long associated with the giant monster. 

Overall, this is a great Godzilla film.  The original 1954 film remains the best in my opinion, but this is a fine update.  As a Godzilla fan, I found myself a bit disappointed by the surprisingly short amount of time that Godzilla was onscreen, but this is my complaint with any Godzilla movie.  I always want to see more of my favorite monster!  

Thankfully, I may not have to wait very long.  It was recently announced that a sequel (possibly even a complete trilogy!) is currently in the works thanks to the film's financial success.  You just can't keep a good monster down!  Long live the King of the Monsters!

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