by John Seedhouse
Friday night seems as good a night as any to unwind with some large scale nostalgio-destruction and so Mrs L and yours truly found ourselves at the Giant Screen with tickets for Godzilla.
This is a movie that has been teased, trailed and social media shared to the nth degree in recent weeks. Inevitably there has been backlash with a few decent memes flying around online. I watch teasers and I pay attention to the promo that the studios throw around (I mean market) online and to be honest I was starting to get a similar feeling of dread to the one that I have towards a defunct giraffe owned by a retail park toy merchant – a malaise shared by Emma Goddard on Bustle who was (SPOILER ALERTish) hoping for 123 minutes of Bryan Cranston.
For a generation of school-kids, Godzilla was the playground game of choice. I am sure some of you can remember running around terrifying buildings and soldiers with your arms pulled up to your elbows into the sleeves of that school jumper that mum or dad would berate you for stretching. You remember doing that, right? It was a really important game.
“Let me make you think that I am attacking your city as you shoot me, even though I am really saving you from a giant moth,” we would shout. “I am Gojira!”
We shouted that every single break. Except we didn’t. It wasn’t in the tellybox of the 1980s playground. What we got was watered down and re-dubbed versions of Japanese culture. Remember Battle of the Planets? Look it up. It’s pretty bad. It was once a great cartoon with some seriously screwy elements like cross-gender baddies and devious betrayal by the “hero”. We got a dodgy inserted pedal bin character and bemusement at re-used scenes.
During their recent Monster Season the guys at the Giant Screen played out the rebuilt original version of Gojira – the one that wasn’t screwed up by smart alec execs in Hollywood trying to hit an audience demographic by including audience pacifiers and characters. It’s a great film when you take out the excessive add-on crap.
I had been hurriedly revisiting the source material that was part of my childhood. This involved this thing from Hanna Barbera Studios.
Bundle this with some classic Marvel Comics pulp from random charity shops and you can see why this wasn’t a playground staple as far as break time games went.
The work of Toho Studios is very much a cultural element of Japanese entertainment. Couple this with the popularity of long book manga and the differences between East and West become glaringly obvious. Our dinosaurs are “realistic” – they don’t breathe fire. They don’t inhabit that semi-mystical ghost world that permeates Japanese pop culture.
This leads us to the movie itself. This is not Breaking Bad with a bloody great mutant nuclear lizard involved. I could tell that at least half the audience were hoping for this. Walter, I mean Bryan Cranston, makes a good stab at the role of concerned scientist/forgetful father and presents a pretty decent slightly mad, jailed for law breaking, broken man on a mission. I wonder if he has recently done a similar role? Juliette Binoche doesn’t trouble us overly with screen time and it does seem that she is largely wasted here with half a dozen lines, a bit of dramatic running and a tragic death.
We are left with Aaron Perry Johnson from Kick-Ass and High Wycombe (I didn’t know that) and younger Olsen, Elizabeth, who at least seems more competent on screen than her more monied sibling twins. Johnson runs around a lot from set piece to set piece whilst Olsen, who appears both too young to have the child they have and too young for her job, makes a series of perplexingly bad decisions.
Stand out part must be Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishiro Serizawa. The pain in his eyes underlines the schism between the cinema cultures. He is there and you feel that at times his character would rather not be. In probably the most meta moment of the film he mentions Hiroshima and shows a stopped pocket watch. It’s pretty poignant and kind of sums up just where Hollywood goes so badly wrong by attempting to “correct” perfectly good foreign cinema.
Director Gareth Edwards must have been a sure thing for this movie following on from his 2010 Monsters and again he uses the teasing snippet approach to his monster tension build-up. It seems that by reel 3, the studio must have grumbled as we get an awful lot of monster from that point on. It jars. It really jars. By the time we get the whole nuclear warhead egg impregnation monster semi porn-fest you start to worry that the ocean that Godzilla is swimming in might just have few airbourne sharks exiting it.
Is it bad?
In a word, no. It isn’t terrible. It isn’t great. It is what it is – a monster romp. It could have been awesome had it given us Japanimation with Hollywood whammo but instead we get far too much Planes, Trains and Automobiles without John Candy and with added lizard.
Should you wait for DVD? No. It’s made to be big screen and you should punt a few quid at the entry price. You won’t leave hating it. You might really enjoy it. Mrs L thought it was a decent flick for a Friday night. I wasn’t despairing either but I think that secretly I wanted something a bit more something else.
Some of the rows around us left markedly pointing out that they did not get 123 minutes of Bryan Cranston…
Result? Better than kiss chase but not as good as cops and robbers.
We saw Godzilla courtesy of The Giant Screen at Millennium Point.
John always took a distinct dislike to Godzooky but always secretly fancied owning a ship called the Calico with a big red button onboard. In between getting distracted from work and reminiscing unfondly about the 80s he can be found online at a number of places like here and here and also here…
This review was first published on 19 May 2014 on the Birmingham City University, Film Futures blog HERE.