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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Godzilla (2014)


Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Produced by: Thomas Tull
John Jashni
Mary Parent
Brian Rogers

Screenplay by: Max Borenstein

Story by: David Callaham

Based on: Godzilla by Toho

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Ken Watanabe
Elizabeth Olsen
Juliette Binoche
Sally Hawkins
David Strathairn 
Bryan Cranston

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey

Editing by: Bob Ducsay

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures (International)
Toho (Japan)

Release date(s): May 8, 2014 (Dolby Theatre)
May 15, 2014 (United Kingdom)
May 16, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 123 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $160 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $322, 385, 665


When one cinematic monster returns to the big screen, so must another to the infrastructure by which he connects to his audience (God, that sounds like something from Star Trek!). Anywho, yes, I am back from my sabbatical. The past couple of weeks have been insane busy when it comes to work, but I imagine that there'll be enough gaps in there to see some movies. I'm really looking forward to seeing X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Bryan Singer's directorial return to the franchise. It's probably the most I've got excited for a blockbuster film since last year's Pacific Rim. Also, the 67th Cannes Film Festival is currently underway, and given that they picked the right film for the Palme d'Or last year (Abdellatif Kechiche's magnificent opus to love Blue Is The Warmest Colour), so I'll be keeping tabs on that. As I mentioned in my absence there, I've been making a stab at promoting new and classic films, so for news on that side of things, the reviews and the happenings in the film world (as I see it, of course!), keep your eyes posted!

So, with that being said, it's time to address the cinematic return to the big screen of Godzilla. Just to put things into a bit of context, I love the original 1954 Ishiro Honda Gojira from Japan, which though clearly featuring a guy in a suit eating toy trains and kicking over miniature buildings, is highly entertaining and a genuinely great metaphor for nuclear holocaust, humanity potentially bringing about their own demise, nature fighting back in the Gaian form of a rampaging prehistoric monster having been awakened by nuclear weapons testing, a real-life regular occurrence at the time. The success of this enduring classic spawned a franchise of no less than twenty-eight films (Godzilla vs. Hedorah being a personal favourite) from Toho, three stand-alone television series, a 1998 American remake from Roland Emmerich (often unfairly shat on in my opinion) and was the kick-starter for a glut of kaiju and tokusatsu productions of a similar nature. After the release of 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars, described by director Ryuhei Kitamura as comparable to a musician's "Best Of" album, Toho announced that they would not produce another Godzilla film for ten years and demolished the famous 'Water Stage' used for many of it's productions. In between this time, Godzilla vs. Hedorah director Yoshimitsu Banno (who is credited as co-executive producer on this film) tried to get up and running an IMAX 3D short film featuring Godzilla. Then Kerner Optical, the producers of that planned project, had financial troubles, and that's where Legendary Picture stepped in and green-lit this film in 2009, which has taken a whole five years with their backing to get made and released. In January 2011,  Legendary announced Gareth Edwards, who had previously made his name with the 2010 micro-budget science-fiction film Monsters, as director. So, after a long arduous process with multiple writers (including David S. Goyer, David Callihan, Frank Darabont, Drew Pearce and credited screenwriter Max Borenstein), a missed planned release date or two, it's finally here, so here's a brief synopsis: In 1999 at a quarry in the Philippines a giant skeleton and two egg-shaped pods are discovered, one of which has hatched and a trail leads to the sea. In Japan, nuclear plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and a team in to inspect the core for damage. However, in an accident attributed to an earthquake, the team is unable to escape and the plant collapses into ruin. Fifteen years later, their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is an explosive ordnance officer in US Navy, living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde). However, when his father is arrested in Japan for trespassing in the quarantined area from the fallout of the plant collapse a decade-and-a-half previously, Ford travels to Japan. His father, driven by guilt from the death of his wife and determined to discover the truth behind the accident, is convinced of a government cover-up which implies that "hey, things might not be as they seem!"

To start with the good of the film, I'd like to commend Gareth Edwards and co for trying to do something different with the material. Much has been made of the holding-off of Godzilla's appearance, and seeing as how this seems to occupy a space in much of the critical discussion, I'd like to give my five dimes and say that this was a positive move. For much of the film, the titular beast is absent, and as we have to wait for the character to show up, that only makes his revelation all the more impressive from a building-up standpoint in the film's structure. Lest we forget that in many ways this approach was taken in '54 original, and that to me made the destruction of Tokyo in that film shocking to a tenfold degree. Also, once chaos ensues, the crew and special effects teams are quite clearly more than capable of matching up to our expectations where the spectacle is concerned. The sheer scale of the monsters in the film is awe-inspiring, and the wanton destructive force of these beasts rampaging through the cities is a marvel to behold. Indeed, among my favourite scenes in the film are those of the last act, brilliant shot by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, with a team of soldiers entering by way of HALO jump (to the wonderfully used haunting choruses of Gyorgy Ligeti's Requiem) the proverbial heart of darkness of a San Francisco which has only just been witness to an event of catastrophic proportions. Also, the editing by Bob Ducsay is of a high standard. If there's one place where Edwards' incarnation of Godzilla truly delivers, when shit truly hits the fan, it's realised in a stunningly-depicted atmosphere of carnage and apocalypse. Also, the score by Alexandre Desplat is a departure of sorts for the composer. Normally I'd associate his works (occasionally with mixed results) with the school of classical film scoring, full of orchestral resplendence, but here it sounds like an off-kilt Bernhard Herrmann, with a holy hell of a lot brass and thudding drums. Throughout a lot of it there are subtle and intriguing uses of electronic and synthesised music, which only add to the suspense of the buildup, and serve as a strong aural backdrop to the chaos ensuing. Considering how much I used to groan about his work, Desplat has done a lot over the past few years to convince me otherwise about my past negativity towards what I saw as saccharine scores. Finally, with a strong ensemble having been gathered to play the human parts in the film, it does inevitably come with some good performances. I think that Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe handle their roles with a solid level of decorum throughout, both believable in their parts. Also, though her part is a lot smaller than the former two, Elisabeth Olsen continues to quietly carve herself out as one of the most consistently engaging female actors in the movies today. And with regards to the good, that, as they say, is that!

And I do have to say that while I enjoyed the last act of the film immensely, frankly the first two acts of this film are not up to scratch. I'm going to have to bring up the whinging about the lack of Godzilla in the movie and assert that this is not the issue at hand. Hell, in the original Godzilla you don't see much of him for the first half of the movie, no, the problem is that unlike the 1954 film the drama which precedes the action in the 2014 film is not all up to scratch. For all the point that everyone is making about how the film is focused more on the human characters, as they written on paper and presented onscreen they aren't particularly interesting. David Callaham wrote the original story and Max Borenstein's screenplay is sadly absent of the subtly complex human interactions that would have made the whole film come across successfully. These are not characters, they are caricatures pulled from the stocking filler not befitting the quality of the actors portraying them. As such, while some, such as Cranston, Watanabe and Olsen get away with it, others do not. Talented female actors like Juliette Binoche, one of the screen's finest actresses of the past thirty years, and Sally Hawkins are utterly wasted, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who portrays the film's protagonist, fails to convince because the part written for him is that of an utter dullard whose arc is terribly predictable. I can understand what Gareth Edwards and those involved are trying to go for, and in many ways his Godzilla does hark back to his debut with Monsters, in that it's a human story that just happens to have monsters, as opposed to a monster movie with obligatory human characters. However, the script is highly unbalanced, dragging the movie out into the territory of boredom at different points. 

Godzilla is an unbalanced picture. The script as a whole is not up to scratch, in that the human drama presented to us lacks the necessary parts to make up a wholly engaging piece. Stock characters are resplendent, and even at that they are written poorly, making waste of the talented actors for which they are written. As such, I found that a good hour to eighty minutes of the film dragged on. However, the saving grace that I think tips the balance in the movie's relative favour is that the third act is a great piece of work. Throughout, Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is on the money, backing up the tremendous efforts of the special effects team, who have done a masterful job in realising the sheer scale of destruction and carnage that could be inflicted catastrophes of such proportions. When San Francisco is levelled, it brought to mind the images I saw on the news during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. It is during these scenes, even the quieter ones with the soldiers walking amidst the immediate fallout of the monsters' devastation, that Edwards' aesthetic, the impact that this could have on humanity and the commentary this comes with it, is truly realised. Godzilla is by no means the great movie that it should have been, but it still an admirable, good one. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Glad (to be back!)