The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the category “Monster Movies”

New On The Shelf – Godzilla (2014)

When Ishiro Honda was working on the groundbreaking 1953 monster film Gojira, I doubt that he ever considered that his prehistoric monster would become a worldwide pop culture icon. He was simply creating a movie that was a metaphor for the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as a lesser known incident involving the ship called Lucky Dragon 5. This was during a time when Japan was unable to directly criticize the bombings of World War II, so the destruction is caused by the enormous dinosaur with atomic breath that the world would come to know as “Godzilla”.

Gojira

While somewhat elementary by today’s standards, the costuming, puppetry and model effects used to create Godzilla and the damage he caused were revolutionary in the 1950’s; Gojira is perhaps the most important monster movie other than King Kong in terms of impact on the genre. It was a commercial success in Japan and made it to American shores as the heavily edited Godzilla; King of the Monsters, which helped to raise the stock of the monster. Over the next six decades, the Toho Company would produce twenty-eight Godzilla films. Hollywood also tried to adapt Godzilla for American audiences with the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich with less than stellar results.

Fortunately, this article is about the 2014 Godzilla movie directed by Gareth Edwards.

2014

This American reboot of the Godzilla franchise was one of my favorite movies of 2014, a movie that stayed remarkably close to the original interpretation of the monster while also playing to his status as a revered icon of cinema. While the titular monster is obviously the star attraction of the film, the majority of the film is told from the human perspective of Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Brody is a lieutenant in the Unites States Navy, returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their young son, but is immediately pulled away from home to chase after his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) who has been arrested in Japan. Joe was a lead engineer at a nuclear plant in Janjira, Japan where his wife was killed in an accident, and he has spent his life trying to prove that it wasn’t just a mechanical failing.

Sure enough, Joe is correct; a prehistoric monster that feeds on nuclear energy caused the disaster at the plant, and now it is done feeding and wishes to mate with the female of its species. The Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) will converge in San Francisco and their children will spell doom for the human race. With these monsters roaming the earth again, their ancient predator resurfaces to hunt his prey. Unsurprisingly, that predator is Godzilla. While the military’s efforts to kill both the MUTOs and Godzilla fail to work, scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has studied the creature for decades and believes that if he is allowed to hunt his prey, Godzilla will kill the beasts and then return to the ocean.

Humans

Godzilla is, in my opinion anyway, a good but not necessarily great movie. I have a lot of affection for it, but I can also see some of the flaws and I understand that very few people will enjoy it as much as I do. I appreciate that the film takes its source material seriously; the film understands that Godzilla is a metaphor for atomic weapons and knows that this shouldn’t be taken lightly. That can make the film a bit dry as there is rarely a moment of humor, but the bleak atmosphere and the world-ending stakes do make for a lot off tension. The human characters could have used some more fleshing out to make them stand out more as individuals (only Cranston’s character seems to have a defined personality), the film effectively portrays the disaster elements of the film and I think most viewers will want them to survive. That’s all I ask for in a monster movie really; as long as we aren’t wanting the monsters to kill the humans because they annoy us, then the movie is doing an effective job.

Aww

While the movie does pay ample respect to the tone of the original Gojira, it also deals well with the fact that sixty years have passed and Godzilla has as much of a legacy as a hero and defender of mankind as he does as a destructive monster. So Godzilla is not the antagonist monster in this film; those are the MUTOs, and they are suitably impressive without overshadowing Godzilla. I greatly appreciated the primitive nature of these beasts; they are not particularly intelligent and are are motivated by food and reproduction. There’s even a few moments where we can feel a bit of affection for the MUTOs while understanding that it is either them or the humans who will survive.

But let’s get down to what you really want to know about: Godzilla is absolutely magnificent in this film. The CGI creature actually looks like the Godzilla we know and love with some tweaks. He is mostly black, as the film pays tribute to the original film by using mostly shades of gray in the final scene, and he is a bit thicker and more like a dinosaur than previous incarnations. He is also by far the largest Godzilla to date. In fact, perhaps the only complaint anyone had about Godzilla in this movie is that there was not enough of him.

Roar

While I can understand this argument, I also understand Edwards’ “less is more” approach; Godzilla is teased but never overused for the bulk of the film. When he shows up, we aren’t bored by him, we are still in awe. The final battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs is an incredible spectacle, and all big moments such as Godzilla’s roars and his impossibly cool atomic breath are given suitable build up. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the final kill in this film is quite possibly the most impressive idea ever in a monster movie. The payoffs work remarkably well.

While this film did make me want more Godzilla, it is in a “Let’s have an even better sequel!” way and not in a “Man, that movie really suffered from not enough Godzilla,” way. If you are a fan of Godzilla or monster movies, I definitely recommend checking this one out.

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Always On My Shelf – Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is a 1993 science fiction monster movie directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Michael Crichton’s book of the same name. The film stars Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough as the primary human characters, and the award winning animatronic and digitals effects team as the dinosaurs, which are the true stars of the film. And that’s not to take away from the actors and their work; Jurassic Park is a monster movie in the vein of King KongGodzilla and Steve Spielberg’s own Jaws; people are flocking to the movies to see larger than life creatures brought to the silver screen through movie magic.

For those who have not seen the film, the movie is about a theme park funded and designed by philanthropist John Hammond, whose scientists have been able to clone and genetically engineer living, breathing dinosaurs. Hammond intends to use these creatures as attractions at the theme park, but has several legal windows that he has to go through in order to get the park running. Hammond (Attenborough) asks paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Neil) and paleobotonist Dr. Ellie Sattler to the island where the park is being created to vouch for the park’s safety. Lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferraro) brings in mathematician Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) as his expert, and Hammond also invites his young grandchildren to the park in order to experience the dinosaurs first hand.

Park

As it turns out, the only person who ends up backing Hammond is “the bloodsucking lawyer” Gennaro, as everyone else argues that Hammond is dealing with forces he can’t control and the potential for a disaster is too great. Hammond insists on letting them experience the park so they know it is safe, but unfortunately things go awry in the middle of a storm. I won’t go into exact detail here for those who haven’t seen the film yet, but the ultimate consequence is that the dinosaurs get loose. This includes the very hungry carnivorous ones, such as the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex and the smaller, smarter and arguably deadlier velociraptors.

Before I get any further, I will acknowledge that the dinosaurs depicted in Jurassic Park are not always scientifically accurate. Some are fairly accurate based on the scientific evidence that was around at the time, while others are exaggerated for the sake of the movie magic. While some will be bothered by this, I am not one of them; this is not a documentary, it is a science fiction monster movie. Six-foot long velociraptors are much more interesting and threatening than small raptors, and in the context of this movie, that’s all I really care about.

Raptors

While the overall story of Jurassic Park is interesting and offers some interesting discussion about what we can do with technology and whether we should use it to “play God” or not, I think most people will agree that the dinosaurs are the reason we came to the theater. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t actually in the bulk of the film; the anticipation is carefully built and when they show up, they are given their proper due. The first time Alan Grant (and the audience) sees a brachiosaurus is given significant time in order for us to bask in the glory of the magnificent creature, and for the idea to settle in our minds. When the raptors show up they are legitimately terrifying in a way that many slasher horror pictures wish they could replicate. And the T-Rex? Yeah, pure concentrated awesome right there. So awesome I can’t even make an intelligent comment about how great he is. That’s a great payoff.

Spielberg is one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood history, and perhaps the most amazing thing is the wide range of material he has created. He has delivered well-crafted and beautifully acted dramas like Lincoln and Schindler’s List, but is also famous for his work on Jaws, Indiana Jones and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This is clearly a man who knows how to make entertaining movies in a wide variety of genres, and has been very successful because he knows how to deliver a film that will make audiences pay to go to the theater over and over again. Jurassic Park is never going to win any awards for its acting or the screenplay, but that isn’t really the point. All Spielberg wanted to do was give us a good time at the movie theater.

T-Rex

Jurassic Park does the one thing a monster movie should do very well. Monster movies are not horror movies in the traditional sense; we do not feel fear from a T-Rex the way we feel fear of a serial killer or a ghost. The terror that these enormous monsters like King Kong, Godzilla and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park is more akin to awe than fear; a healthy respect for the size and power for the creature and its potential to kill us. We are scared of the T-Rex for sure, but we still kind of want to sit down and watch it move because its beautiful. This is a tribute both to the effects team (who used a mixture of animatronic dinosaurs and digital effects that still hold up well today) and to Spielberg’s directing.

Spielberg is sort of like a Walt Disney for adults, and that isn’t a backhanded compliment. Both directors want to create a sense of wonder and “magic” in their audience than they can’t experience in the regular world. While Disney’s audience is primarily children who are receptive to the idea of fantasy, Spielberg’s audience is older and a bit more cynical. The fact that films like Jurassic Park are able to leave us in wonder is perhaps Spielberg’s greatest accomplishment; it truly is movie magic.

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