It wouldn’t be Halloween without a monster movie. And one of the more iconic monsters (with apologies to King Kong) is back on the DVD shelves.
But what can director Gareth Edwards offer with this latest incarnation of GODZILLA that has not already been explored exhaustively in numerous sequels and remakes?
Well, for one, there are now three monsters and for another, Edwards’ version brings in Japan (the woeful 1998 Roland Emmerich remake had Godzilla destroying NYC). Tokyo-based Toho Studios started the whole series in 1954 . (According to website tohokingdom.com there are 29 Japanese-filmed movies in the series.)
In Edwards’ version, Bryan Cranston (that’s right, Walter White in TV’s Breaking Bad ) is Joe Brody, an American engineer employed by a Japanese corporation. Joe suspects there is something seriously skewed about the seismic readings he has been picking up. Turns out he’s right. But wait a minute, what are those guys from Vancouver doing in it? There’s the police captain from TV’s Cold Squad and that Japanese guy who seems to be in every TV show and movie shot in Hollywood North. Well, that’s because although the first part of the movie is set in Japan, it was actually filmed on the Canadian west coast. (That accounts for the casting of Garry Chalk and Hiro Tanagawa in bit roles.)
Flash forward fifteen years and Cranston-as-Brody looks as haggard as those recent photos of Gordon Lightfoot (but without Gord’s ‘stache). Joe has lost his wife, his son, Ford, now grown-up and played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (the lead character in Kick-Ass I & 2. I knew he looked familiar) thinks he is crazy and his compadres in the scientific community have turned their backs on his obsessive search for what he calls “the truth”.
What he doesn’t know is that Japanese researcher Serizawa (the mighty Ken Watanabe of Last Samurai fame) and his British assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins, Oscar-nominated star of Blue Jasmine, totally wasted in this role) have been studying the chrysalis of a creature in secret as part of an ongoing investigation dubbed The Monarch Project. (Can you spell “cover-up”?)
That cover is blown when a beast hatches in the lab, escapes from the slab and begins stomping all over Honolulu. Somehow the male monster finds a female mate and heads for San Francisco to make a booty call. That’s where Godzilla is waiting for them. The stage is set for an epic battle between the good monster (Godzilla) and the bad monsters (Shades of Godzilla vs. Mothra.) Guess who wins (and lumbers out to sea in search of a sequel.)
Gareth Edwards is a youthful British-born filmmaker with mad computer skills, He made his rep with the ultra low budget 2010 sleeper hit Monsters. He not only wrote and directed it but he crafted all the special effects on his home computer. Obviously, there were producers in Hollywood thinking “If he can do all this on a shoestring, imagine what he could do with real money.” So, with only one feature film to his credit, Edwards was given the megabudget Godzilla project and a dream cast which also includes Juliette Binoche (the luminous French beauty and Oscar winner), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene) and David Straithairn (Lincoln). Some critics thought there was a lack of character development. It’s a Godzilla movie, for Frank’s sake. The main character is a giant lizard and he looks fine.
A DVD extra explains that Edwards likes to shoot on location whenever possible and sketch in the f/x later, rather than doing all the FX against a green screen. Perhaps that is why the monsters (and the damage they do) look so eerily authentic. All I know is that there is an apocalyptic vibe to this film that I found both awe-inspiring and troubling. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what I want in a monster movie.
To quote a famous (or infamous) TV commercial, this movie teaches us “that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”
Speaking of DVD extras (collected on a second disc in this 2 disc set) there is also some authentic-looking footage from the early years of “The Monarch Project” (Seems those nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1950s were actually part of the cover-up.)