I went to see the new American ゴジラ film with some trepidation. This is a character that I have watched all my life on the little and big screen. It reminded me of going to the theater in 1985 when I dragged my cousin Paul to see the Ramond Burr cut of Return of Godzilla. I’ve seen other Godzilla films on the big screen at various film festivals. In those cases I’d seen the movie on TV several times already. I grew up watching Dr. Paul Bearer introduce a weekly Saturday double feature. Every Sunday I would raid the paper for the next Saturday’s channel 44 TV listings to see what movie was going to be on. Sometimes it was just another vampire or werewolf move. But sometimes it would be good.
I don’t count the Mathew Broderick film as Godzilla canon. There’s a line in the Godzilla 2000 movie where the actors in an obvious reference to the TriStar film say that the Americans thought they had seen Godzilla in New York but they were mistaken. I like that film but it’s no Godzilla film. It’s in the same category as other kaiju films like Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, Jurassic Park, and Gamera.
So going into this film I just had to be better than the 1998 film. Better in this case means that it would be truer to the 60-year-old character. There have been 30-some films and countless TV appearances by Godzilla over the years. The movies have followed short stints of continuity. They have often rebooted the series dismissing all the movies except for the original. This new movie follows that pattern. The 1954 movie could be considered one telling of the same events at the beginning of this new film.
Right off the bat you are treated to a glimpse of the big guy. We don’t get a good look until much later in the film. I think the filmmaker wanted to reassure the audience that this would be recognizable monster. Unlike last year’s Pacific Rim, this kaiju is not afraid to come out in the sunlight and be seen. The special effects artist must have been proud of their creations and did not hide them in the rain. Gareth Edwards got the look of Godzilla and the whole movie right. I saw it in IMAX 3-D. There was good sense of depth. At a couple of points I actually thought there was debris floating around inside the theater. The sound was good throughout the film. There were several points in the movie where you were about to see something and then a door closed and blocked your view. Edwards used the same trick in his movie Monsters to hide is small budget. Here it is intended to build the suspense. It left me wanting to see more. I wanted to see Godzilla and his foes duke it out on screen. If I were to actually count up all the screen time that the kaiju have and compare it to the Japanese predecessors, I would expect that those films easily feature double the kaiju screen time.
The story was mostly good. They told a multigenerational story. I was surprised how easily Edwards dispensed with major characters. Ultimate that decision steered the story and showed that this is a disaster movie in the Hollywood sense just as much as a kaiju genre film. I felt that the main character’s story arch was a little contrived to put him in the right place in the end.
The movie score is mostly forgettable. I was expecting at least hear the recurring melody of Akira Ifukube’s theme. I did not find anything redeemable in Alexandre Desplat’s score.
I was disappointed that Akira Takarada’s small scene was cut. This would have be an nice nod to the actor who co-starred in the 1954 film. Takarada was one of Toho’s new faces actors and has had cameos in several films since.
There are nods in this film to other genre films. Watch for references to Aliens and King Kong (1933). In classic kaiju film style we get to see other monsters. There are two others on the screen to fight with our green guy. Godzilla is neither a good guy or a bad guy. He is a force of nature. This movie does a good job of portraying that. We even get to see Ken Watanabe come right out and say it at one point.
If you have any inner 12-year-old left inside you then you will enjoy this film. The big screen does do it justice. And the 3-D is does sufficiently well to even recommend the up-sell.