I knew as soon as the release of this movie was announced that many critics would use it as a way to bash Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version. So at that time I rented Emmerich’s “Godzilla” and reviewed it for this blog. I liked it; I even thought it was great, both clever and exciting. And I called it “one of the best popcorn movies ever made”. Then I watched, also for the first time, the Raymond Burr American version of the original Japanese movie. I was blown away, since the Japanese film was used as the basis of the film, with extra shots of Burr inserted, and involved dubbing, using shots from behind a character while you heard American dialogue, and so on. I said it was “very cleverly made by expert craftsmen, a real wonder of filmmaking.”
Then this movie came out, and my prediction about the Emmerich version being panned in comparison came true. What has Roland Emmerich done to anger so many critics?
The opening credits here are clever. They start with “AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON had recorded the seismic activity.” And “ELIZABETH OLSEN emphasized that there are monsters in the depths of the Pacific.” And “SALLY HAWKINS search these by submarine.” And my favorite: “Even with nuclear weapons there is no guarantee that the creature will succumb. Evidence show (sic) that it is likely the creatures will come back with DAVID STRATHAIRN’s head.” Then the lower-case parts of each sentence are redacted, leaving only the actor’s name.
Behind the credits the title page of “The Origin of Species” is shown and then woodcuts, presumably from that same book. Then film of Japanese fishermen with something large swimming in the background, maps of Japan, atomic bomb blasts. So similar to the beginning of the Emmerich version, but not as compelling. Now the words “The Philippines, 1999”, and we see a helicopter carrying Dr. Serizawa from the original movie (here played by Ken Watanabe) and his cohort Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) to a mining pit, the floor of which has collapsed due to moving in a lot of heavy machinery. The cave-in has revealed a tunnel leading to what looks like a very large egg which is extremely radioactive.They also find a broken egg that we are told looks like something came out of it (we don’t see this). Then an aerial shot looking down at a long trench leading from the egg chamber to the sea.
Janjira, Japan: Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has been monitoring tremors ever since they started in the Philippines and now they are in his backyard – that is, the nuclear power plant for which he is responsible. His wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and son Ford (CJ Adams) have plans for his birthday, which is today, but he is totally focused on work.
15 Years Later: Ford is now played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He is military returning to San Francisco for his first leave in fifteen months. He is really looking forward to time with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carson Bolde), but he ends up in Tokyo, where Joe is still obsessing over measuring radioactivity levels and, new to the mix, echolocation. With Ford accompanying him, Joe tries a water entrance to the quarantine site around the closed nuclear facility, and this time he doesn’t get arrested. They make their way to their old house, where Joe collects data (books and discs) he has not been able to access in 15 years. Then as they leave the house – Boom! They are arrested and taken to the monitoring quarters the military (American, not Japanese) have established at the badly damaged facility. They meet Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), and while they are there a monster is hatched and forces its way to the surface. Our first glimpse of MUTO occurs at 35 minutes into a 2:03 movie (well, a 1:56 movie, if you don’t count the credits). Godzilla enters to threaten MUTO at 59 minutes (first seen is his left calf and foot).
So now you see that this is NOT a remake of “Godzilla” (or “Gojira”) as the critics at the time stated; it is a remake of “Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973), or “Terror of Mechagodzilla)” (1975), or any other film where Godzilla is actually on our side against the Monster-of-the-Moment.
This is a decent film, though not a particularly good one.The problem is that so much of the action takes place at night. The scenes are dark and sometimes smoky, and the action is really obscured. At about 1:43 I literally did not know if I could stand anymore. I asked, “What is happening onscreen?” I felt lost, like a kid from my old neighborhood who used to watch a movie and say, “Is he bad?” No matter what the reason for so much nighttime, it was a dumb decision. Scary stuff can happen in the sunlight. On the other hand, perhaps in 3D I would not have had this problem. Too bad that we’ll never know.
The movie was directed by Gareth Edwards: a solid effort except for the dark stuff. The Visual Effects (which were good when you could see them) are credited to MPC, Double Negative, Pixel Pirates, Scanline VFX, Hammerhead Productions, and Pixel Playground. With an “Additional Visual Effects Designed By” credit for John Dykstra. There were hundreds of names in the closing credits, including 132 Stunt Players, so at least the film represents a lot of jobs.