This is an adaptation of a review I wrote for The Main Four (my high school newspaper – see the fantastic website here). It’s a straight review that hits on the movie’s strong points and gives my general opinion. Enjoy!
In 1945, World War II was brought to an abrupt end by two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. One destroyed the city of Hiroshima, the other Nagasaki. Nine years later, the Godzilla (originally “Gojira”) monster was created to symbolize the destruction brought by the bombs, and has since become a legendary movie monster.
Now, 60 years later, Godzilla was revamped and redone by Warner Brothers and director Gareth Edwards (appropriately, the director of a 2010 movie called Monsters) earlier this year.
This movie was hyped for six months, and already-anxious fans were cruelly teased by the incredibly elusive trailers that showed only glimpses of the monster. Very little was released about the plot.
But who needed plot? All we needed to know was that it had Godzilla in it. After making $9.3 million on the midnight premiere alone, this hit is said to have had the best special effects of the year.
Every critic has seemed to be generous with the stars and thumbs up for Godzilla, and I have to say after I threw my own $10 ($15 after popcorn) into the $9 million, I agree.
Plot Development (Limited Spoilers!)
Unlike most movies that use special effects as their main draw, Godzilla’s storyline was well developed and well told.
The story begins in Japan, featuring the American mother and father of a young boy, Ford. The parents work at the nuclear power plant in the city, and the father, Joe (Bryan Cranston) appears to be the chief engineer at the plant. The father is concerned about seismic tremors, and is insisting that the reactors be shut down until they end. The mother takes a team into the inner workings of the plant to check things out, and the increasing tremors keep them from getting back out. The plant collapses as the boy watches from his classroom window. So, right away, the emotions get hit hard.
Fast forward fifteen years, and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is grown up with his own family. Now the real story begins. The father is now a conspiracy theory lunatic who’s sure that the tremors were not a normal earthquake, and draws his Navy lieutenant son into the hunt.
As the world believes that Japan has been devastated by another earthquake, a secret organization reveals to Ford that his father was right; the governments were hiding what appears to be the cocoon of a monster.
Oh yeah, here’s the thing. Godzilla isn’t the only monster in this movie. No, the audience is first introduced to two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Then Godzilla shows up a bit later, and it’s actually one big monster battle, in which Godzilla destroys the MUTOs and returns to the ocean to live in peace.
What stands out about this plot is the way in which it actually creates an ending that leaves the viewer with something more than “Yay, the monster is dead.” It almost leaves you contemplating: “Is Godzilla a good guy…?” Maybe not the “good guy”, when his feet killed more citizens with each step than either MUTO did with their tendency to land on top of skyscrapers and crush them. But he does have good intentions.
Let’s talk about CGI. Despite the well-developed plot, this movie was all about the effects.
The MUTOs, since their features were not previously defined in another movie, were incredibly well done. Their primary feature was their glowing eyes and highly detailed face/mouth. In this area, the realism of today’s animation was very clear, as I did not consider for a second (especially in 3D) that a MUTO wasn’t an actual thing that may very well be outside the theater door. Their insect-like anatomy made them especially freaky to anyone with a spider problem.
Godzilla, on the other hand, was almost comedic in his mannerisms. By this, I mean that he walked and moved his arms as if he were a man, inside of a cumbersome Godzilla costume. I don’t think that this took away from the movie, necessarily; I mean, let’s be honest. Modern technology and special effects can make a sci fi movie pretty cool, but what about a dinosaur-like creature that rises from the ocean to battle other dinosaur-like creatures in the middle of the city is ever going to lose its sense of cheesiness? I’d rather embrace it.
Sound Effects and Music
Here’s what blew me away about this movie: the way that the sound effects, background noise, and music were used in combination and in isolation from the others to create emotion.
Unlike Godzilla’s iconic roar, the MUTOs communicate via echolocation. This means that they communicate in sonic pulses that are indistinguishable to human ears. However, the monsters are so large that their echolocation calls are low enough to be heard by humans in the movie (or, at least the humans in the audience. Could the people in the movie hear it too? I’m not sure).
The score of the movie (composed by Alexandre Desplat) was perfect. Is it hard to make a soundtrack that sounds like monsters fighting? Not entirely. But what is difficult is to create a soundtrack that not only throws multiple Jaws-esque phrases into the sound at just the right times, but also is unique in its theme. Godzilla has a song now, just as Jaws and E.T. and Superman have a song. Not John Williams, but a shadow of his level of quality.
Once the creative team had these two tools in their hands, they ran with it. In scenes where the music could be used to create the desired emotion, all of the other sounds were silenced. The sound of crunching cars and crashing buildings were turned off, so to speak, and only the mysterious music was used, to draw attention to the fact that the MUTO was right around the corner. Or, when Godzilla appeared from the ocean to beat the MUTOs into the ground, the first time the audience could see him from head to toe, everything was silenced in anticipation of his mighty roar. The effect of this sound-isolation technique was twice as powerful as any visual tool they could have used.
As an advocate of the “Whose idea was it to put Matthew Broderick in the 1998 Godzilla movie?” philosophy, I would have to say that this movie is an incredible remake of a movie that has earned a reputation for bad effects and a monster that has earned a reputation for being the bad guy. I love the respect Godzilla has brought to its name, and I recommend this movie to anyone interested in an entertaining, quality movie.