This post isn’t about a movie review of the 1998 American Godzilla movie, its more about the personal reason why I like the 1998 Godzilla monster and the design along with enjoying the movie. One of the reasons for this post is that last week there were a couple of Godzilla related groups that were once again bashing the movie and the creature. So this is an answer to the frequent Godzilla 1998 bashing.
Some background information. I have been a Godzilla fan since I was about 5 years old back in 1968 or so. I remember seeing “Destroy All Monsters” in the theaters. I watched Godzilla in my youth and young teens. But between Godzilla’s hiatus between 1975 and 84 I didn’t see a lot of Godzilla as many TV stations that I liked on cable didn’t show them as often as they did when I was younger.
I have always loved the many different designs of Godzilla and like the Starship Enterprise creative people can take that simple design and reinterpret the beast in many different ways. Godzilla had always been a lumbering slow creature acted by a man in a suit. I never disliked that approach and I still do not. I love the old films.
Then came Jurassic Park in 1993. For the first time I saw CGI dinosaurs rendered in a very life-like manner. Therefore long before Godzilla 1998 was on the big screen my mind was thinking about the possibilities for Godzilla. In my view the need for the lumbering walk and stance and for a man-in-the-suit portrayal of the character was no longer necessary. From that viewpoint I began to desire to see Godzilla in a more traditional dinosaur stance and animal like depiction. He no longer had to be a slow lumbering behemoth.
So low and behold when I saw the 1998 movie it gave me exactly what I wanted to see…a more dinosaur like depiction of Godzilla! To my eyes this new portrayal of the monster was more naturally animal like than any depiction prior to this incarnation. and since they went the way I was thinking how I would like to see Godzilla, I was happy with the results. It was different and something new. I also enjoyed the movie..although I do think the part with the raptor-like baby Godzilla’s slows the movie way down. But overall I was/am happy with the depiction and the movie.
I finally saw Shin Godzilla, the new Japanese Godzilla film from Toho Studios. What follows is a review with minor spoilers.
This really is a very different Godzilla film! One could argue that there are many Godzilla films which are different from one another and you would have a valid point. In the case of Shin Godzilla you would have an even greater point for this movie is unlike any that have followed before it. To begin to understand this movie one needs to comprehend that this truly is a Japanese movie made for a Japanese audience to provide both commentary and satire unique to the Japanese culture. Having said that, it doesn’t mean these elements of the film are not beyond the reach of a non-Japanese audience.
If you have heard or read the rumor that this movie has many scenes where people are in government conferences as they debate and discuss what to do when this giant morphing creature threatens Japan. These rumors are true and therein lies the heart of this story which is commentary and satire focused at the government of Japan. If you think Godzilla is the central focus of this movie then you will miss that point and may not walk away with understanding this film. Although commentary and satire toward the Japanese government is the focus that doesn’t mean this movie lacks the proper elements that we Godzilla fans and fans of Kaiju movies.
Therefore, the simple plot of this movie is, after an unexplained creature attacks boats in Tokyo Bay the top government officials focus on military strategy and civilian safety, while Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi is put in charge of a task force to research the creature. Due to high radiation readings, the creature is theorized to be energized through nuclear fission. The US sends a special envoy, Kayoko Ann Patterson, who reveals that a disgraced zoology professor, Goro Maki, had been studying mutations due to radioactive contamination and theorized the appearance of the creature but the US covered it up. As the creature, The creature, now named Godzilla, reappears, now twice its original size, and makes landfall near Kamakura en route for Tokyo. The Japanese Self Defense Forces are mobilized, but their attacks have no effect on Godzilla and they suffer major casualties. Yaguchi’s team discovers that Godzilla’s fins and blood work as a cooling system, allowing them to theorize that through the use of a coagulating agent, they could trigger a reaction and cause Godzilla to freeze.
Generally in my reviews I offer both the Pros and Cons of a film. For every film whether I enjoyed it or not will have varying degrees of Pros and Cons. In the case of this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the Con are not outweighed by the Pros in the first place.
Pro: Great Monster destruction. Isn’t this what most Godzilla and Kaiju fans come to see? Gone are the model miniature sets..which is sad…but in its place is a real world setting and real world destruction with great CGI. Godzilla’s atomic breath just has to be seen and the amount of power and destruction it delivers is the best of the entire franchise in my opinion.
Godzilla’s three forms. I really enjoy the many different designs of Godzilla. While this Godzilla isn’t actually a traditional design it really works for this movie. This is the largest Godzilla ever seen!
Great depiction of scale and Size of Godzilla. Although I have always loved the man-in-the suit approach coupled with model building one never really did get a sense of size and scale in a Godzilla movie…until now. With Godzilla 2014 and Pacific Rim (Godzilla 1998 to some extent) those movie were able to really demonstrate the massive scale and size of the creatures within the movie. Shin Godzilla finally achieves that sense massive scale and size and to me it is awesome!!
An interesting story. Once you understand what the movie is trying to say, it really becomes interesting to watch these government officials stumble and bumble their way through the bureaucracy until they reach a point of action.
Con: An uninteresting story. I will contradict myself. Yes, I do like the story and I understand the commentary on the ineptitude of bureaucracy, however, there are times that it is too much and goes on a little too long.
Lumbering Godzilla…or shall I say… Zombie Godzilla? While I do like this design and despite the epic destruction this Godzilla brings, there are times when all he does is walk… very…very …slowly.
While Shin Godzilla will not go down as my very favorite it is up there in my top 10. Once the DVD/Blu-Ray comes out this film will have many viewings in my home. The destruction scenes alone are worth the price of admission. A very different and still enjoyable Godzilla film!
As many of you know I do frequent a few science fiction related message baords. I have learned that there are many individuals who are not fans of CGI and often complain about its usage or over usage. I am a fan of CGI so I wonder what is exactly the criticism of this tool? I beleive that CGI has come a long way in looking realistic, it still has a way to go in looking exactly realistic. I have heard this complaint with the recent Man of Steel movie and some have lodged the same complaint about not only Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movie but also about his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A Facebook friend and great musician Chris Bannister said this recently about CGI…
Watching The Hobbit I realised that I’m totally bored with huge, CGI set pieces and that these kind of movies look terrible in super high def, the makeup looked rubbish and the aforementioned special effects looked laughably unrealistic.
I do admit there are times when CGI loses some warmth that other special effects can deliver.
In 1993 Jurassic Park really raised the bar for CGI when some of the depictions of the dinosaurs in that movie were done solely on computer. It is ironic then that director Steven Spielberg has claimed that an audience can always tell the difference between CGI and real-life action. He even went on to say that had he been directing Jaws today he would have done the Shark in CGI but says that the success of that film was due to the model fo the shark looking realistic.
I am reminded of what the late great Ray Harryhausen said about his own work. He said that when doing his creatures he felt there needed to be some degree of being unrealistic to let the audience know these movies are fantasies. I don’t think anyone ever accused Ray Harryhausen’s work looking fake! There is a concpet in literature called verisimilitude which refers to the believability of a narrative—the extent to which a narrative appears realistic, likely, or plausible (regardless of whether it is actually fictional or non-fictional). In film verisimilitude refers to the believability realism as reflected in the over all tone of the film. So lets take Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films (Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit). These are fantasy films loaded with CGI. The creatures do look life-like yet the verisimilitude of the film clearly is adapted to show that we are in a fantasy world.
Let me take another CGI laden film…Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the use of CGI. The movie, set in 1933, has the verisimilitude of a fantasy. We are not in the real world. In that sense the CGI works to create that sense of fantasy. I also think Kong looks spectacular in this film. In the previous incarnations of Kong he has been depicted using stop-motion animation and a guy in a suit. This is the very first depiction of Kong where he truly looks and acts like a giant gorilla. Let me contrast this with the 1976 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the special effects. The setting in this movie are real and look good for the most part. The wall on the island where Kong lives was done very well. The problem with the effects? Kong himself looks terrible! The man in a suit look just doesn’t work well for this movie. I much prefer the CGI kong.
Persoanlly I don’t have aproblem with CGI and there are times I really like the fantasy worlds they can create. Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films and Zack Snyder’s films are good examples of fantasy worlds come to life with CGI. Next year Godzilla comes to theaters once again I am looking forawd to how Double Negative, the special effects company that will render Godzilla, in a realistic and life-like manner! I also still like more conventional special effects and they work well.
In conclusion I really do not have a problem with CGI. I think it goes a long way in setting the tone of a film and taking the viewer to another world, place and time. While I also recognize that there is different levels of quality in CGI there is nothing wrong with using it. If people could enjoy and accept some of the cheesy special effects from science-fiction fantasy films of the 50s-60s and beyond, I really do not understand why they object to the usage of CGI today.
iiContinuing on my examination of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy films of Steven Spielberg I want to examine the Jurassic Park franchise. Although Spielberg only directed the first two he did serve as executive producer on Jurassic Park III. The series is based on a book by Michael Crichton. Universal Studios, with the help of Spielberg, bought the film rights to the book even before it was published. Many studios were also vying the the film rights. As I said in another blog I am not a novel reader. Even though I love the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy I only watch those genres and do not read those types of books. When it comes to reading I am strictly non-fiction. Even though Michael Crichton was hired to write the screen play (for $500,000) many fans of the book complained that the first movie deviated too far from the book. Not having read the book I don’t have the problem of comparing the two works.
I know in the future I want to review these movies in their entirety so for the sake of this blog entry I will just hit the highlight of the three films.
1. Jurassic Park. 1993 I cannot believe that this movie is almost 20 years old!! I think the state-of-the-art special effects do not look dated today. The movie was not entirely done with CGI although this movie was the first to use CGI to such a large extent. Spielberg also used Animatronics and other models for the special effects. I have a good friend, George Cheatle, who came to get me one day in 1993 and took me to the movie saying I had to see this on the large screen. Boy was he ever so right! I felt such awe and wonder seeing the large Brachiosaurus on the big screen for the first time. It is so lifelike and real looking. Even nearly 20 years later it still looks lifelike and doesn’t cease to create a sense of wonder. I would love to go back in a time machine and show this film to Willis H. O’Brien the man who did the stop motion effects on the original 1933 version of King Kong. I think he too would have been amazed at how life like special effects would become 60 years later.
I also like the story. All the characters are likable and eccentric in their own way. I like Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant the best and was glad to see him return for the third movie. I also think the great Sir Richard Attenborough as John Hammond brings a great richness, pun intended, to his role as the eccentric billionaire. One last thing to say about the original movie is the brilliant score by John Williams. Sometimes I see film scores as the new classical music and the main Jurassic Park theme (linked below) is one of my all times pieces of instrumental music…I think it is just simply…brilliant! One pet peeve of mine: As a militant anti-smoking advocate I find the incessant smoking of Samuel L. Jackson’s character disgusting and unnecessary.
2. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
I have to admit that I was let down with this movie. It isn’t bad, I do own it and I do watch it on DVD. It just loses a sense of wonder the first film had. While I like Jeff Goldblum as an actor, the portrayal of Dr. Ian Malcolm in this second offering is a bit annoying. He wails and complains almost the entire film. Also the scene when they are all hanging on over the cliff inside the truck as the two T-Rex are trying to pull them up just goes on too long. I love all the dinosaurs in this movie, some we did not see in the previous film. The plot is pretty good with two rival teams exploring the island only to have to work together just to survive.
3. Jurassic Park III
Although the first film will always have a special place in my heart…it was my first love. I have to admit I enjoy watching the third movie much more. It is just pure dino-action and adventure. This was not directed by Spielberg but Joe Johnston with Spielberg as executive producer. The movie features a new dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, which makes quick work of the T-Rex to let everyone know there is new big man on campus. I also liked the addition of William H. Macy another fine actor. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It has great special effects and a fun story that is a roller coaster ride.
Spielberg said that we can expect Jurassic Park IV within the next couple of years and the movie is in the script writing phase. I didn’t focus too much on Spielberg in this entry but for me there is a simple lesson. These movies appeal to the kid inside all of us…and as an adult I feel that it is vitally important to stay in touch with that inner child-like part of ourselves that keeps me in touch with a sense of creative, curiosity and sense of wonder about the world and the universe in which we live. Next week I will examine the Indiana Jones franchise.