Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Before I start this post, I’d like to say that I am not a big Godzilla fan, only familiar with the monster from some of the movies I caught on television in my youth.  I really can’t remember which ones I saw—I’m not even sure if I’ve seen the first one introduced to America with Raymond Burr placed in the mix of things—but I do realize the iconic status the character has with a lot of fans.  However, for me, that creature was exactly what it was in real life: a dude in some rubber suit stomping around miniature cars and buildings. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love monster movies and enjoy watching a good giant-creature flick.  I still admire the 1933 version of King Kong, as well as the 1976 and 2005 versions, Jurassic Park was definitely a milestone in dinosaur films, Cloverfield was excellent, Pacific Rim was kick-ass, and I totally loved Super 8 (from what little I’d seen of the creature in that one).  But what most of those latter films had in common is that they used CGI to render the monster/monsters featured.  Take the 1976 and 2005 King Kong films and compare them.  Both films have their problems, but you’ve got to admit that the 2005 film’s representation of the giant ape takes the cake.  Why?  When it comes to giant monsters on film, the CGI’d creatures will always look better than the ones featuring the man-in-a-costume variety.

With that reason alone, I understood why the 1998 version of Godzilla went the way they did, with a completely CGI’d creature resembling what a giant reptile would look like.  I personally liked the Godzilla design of the dreaded Emmerich film, fascinated by the giant iguana/kangaroo hybrid look of it.  I was excited by the teaser they showed in the first trailer, with Godzilla stomping on the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the dinosaur exhibit.  But, alas, it all died down after watching the film and hearing the consensus by fans and critics on how bad it was.  I still like it for what it is, but the human situations didn’t jibe with the fact that there was a gigantic lizard on the loose in the city.

Also, even though I wasn’t very familiar with the character creature, I’m pretty sure I remembered Godzilla being a hero and protecting humans from other monsters.  In the Matthew Broderick starrer, the creature was running amok and had no regard for human life.  Basically, Godzilla was a giant dinosaur on a rampage and the story could’ve been another chapter in the Jurassic Park series of movies.  So if Hollywood were to try again at that point in time, they needed to get the mythological creature right.

Now, with 2008’s Cloverfield and last year’s Pacific Rim, it was proof positive that Hollywood needed to try again with an American version of the iconic Japanese monster.  According to the fan backlash of the 1998 version, the design had to be similar to the traditional look of the creature, yet keeping it from looking like a guy in a monster costume.  So, fifteen years or so after the Roland Emmerich debacle, director Gareth Edwards gave us…Godzilla.

The film opens with a lot of old atom bomb footage mixed with vintage films of researchers conducting studies on an elusive monster that occasionally surfaces from the depths of the ocean.  Cut to 1999, at a discovered cavern in the Phillipines, and a Japanese researcher, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), finds a cocoon that may have hatched a giant creature, later called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), found to feed on radiation and able to blast EMPs.  It ends up at a Japanese power plant, causing a nuclear meltdown that destroys the facility.  Fifteen years later, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), former lead of the nuclear plant, is still trying to find out what instigated the destruction that caused the death of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche).  Joe’s son, Ford (AaronTaylor-Johnson), now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, comes to his father’s aid in Japan, thinking he’s paranoid with unfounded conspiracies.  But he soon realizes his father was right as two MUTOs emerge and Ford, along with the military, engages in an all-out battle to try and stop the monsters.  However, the military isn’t enough, but a monster rises from the depths of the ocean to help mankind deal with this threat.

Man, this just conjures up memories of watching monster movies when I was a kid and it turned it up one-hundred-fold.  Godzilla is far from the 50s era of monster movies, this is the beginning of an epic tome that will reverberate around the world.  Seeing the creature effects with the scope of land- and cityscapes makes me regret not seeing this in IMAX.  I sat in my seat when the end credits started rolling and just wanted more of everything I had just witnessed on screen, making a mental note to myself to make sure that I pick this up on Blu-Ray four to five months from now. 

The story is well-told, basically a human-driven narrative of a man who lost his wife because of something behind the nuclear plant disaster and spends years to prove the subversion that’s been done and how he comes to find out—as well as the world—that monsters were behind it.  So the whole movie isn’t about Godzilla rising up to cast destruction upon the city or fighting the threatening monsters while humans simply stand by and watch.  No, it has a lot to do with humanity and how we persevere—or try to anyway—against a threat no matter how impossible the odds are.  But, the bottom line, it’s a human interest story first with Godzilla coming in to be the protector of humankind.

See, this time around, and unlike the Emmerich version, Godzilla is a hero, just like how the old Japanese films represented the character.  Although not always identified throughout the film, there were a few evident intimations that Godzilla was there to defend the humans.  From purposely  taking the hits of missiles that were heading towards the Golden gate bridge in error to dropping a beat-down on the MUTOs, Godzilla was there as the guardian of the human race.

As for the performances throughout the film, Bryan Cranston shined as the lead with such an array of emotions.  He truly is a great thespian as most of us had seen during the “Breaking Bad” television series (if you haven’t seen that show, you need to jump on Netflix and watch it!).  I was a little surprised by Aaron Kick-Ass films, but he truly has quite a career in front of him.  He has the looks and acting chops for a leading man—I’m looking forward to his role as Quicksilver in the Avengers sequel.  Overall, you won’t see any ridiculous scenes like you had in the Emmerich version—no “Singing in the Rain” performance, no look-a-like movie critics, and definitely no French guys imitating Elvis Presley.
Taylor-Johnson’s appearance, being used to his thinner frame in the

The monster designs of the MUTOs and Godzilla are remarkable.  The MUTOs kind of reminded me of the Cloverfield monster, being unable to distinguish where the orifices are or how many legs they have as they kind of resemble giant mantises or locusts.  Whatever the case, they’re truly terrifying.  Now, with Godzilla’s design, I had my reservations that going with the look of the old Japanese appearance would work, thinking it would just look like a guy in a suit.  But I was wrong in having any doubts whatsoever, because it worked so well.  Godzilla looks so bad-ass and fearsome, the filmmakers made the right choice to appease the fans and stay with the traditional look of the monster.  I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that he does expel his fire breath a few times that sent chills up my spine with the way they revealed it in the movie.  It wasn’t fire, but a blue-white beam of irradiated energy that just looked perfect as it was used during a climactic battle.

If there’s one complaint I can make about this film is the screen time Godzilla gets in this film.  After watching this movie last weekend, I’d noticed that was the one criticism everyone had made and I agree.  It doesn’t take anything away from the story; in fact, in a funny way it helps the human side of the story.  To just show the people of Earth being threatened by these monsters, only to have Godzilla come in to save the day, would make man look helpless, so it works to have the two sides of this film’s exposition.  Godzilla is certainly a movie about what mankind would do against a monstrous threat like the MUTOs, but at the same time it’s a film about an ancient creature that rises from the depths of the ocean to help civilization when called for.  Even though that’s what I had gathered from the story, I still wanted more Godzilla!

So, my final “bit” on Godzilla?

The film is a great human story that you can stand by and enjoy and, of course, seeing the monsters going at it—the battles between them are pretty breathtaking.  Godzilla finally has a great American adaptation made and we can finally stop complaining about Emmerich’s 1998 version…or maybe not.  While Godzilla is still out in theaters, you should go watch it.  Heck, I might go again, just to see it in IMAX.

That’s it for now…I just got back from watching X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Be on the look-out for a post from me regarding that one.

Thanks for reading!

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The Thing (2011)

Before commencing on my analysis of this film, I have to say that my absolute favorite film directed by John Carpenter is 1982’s The Thing.  Now I sometimes get a little flak for saying that because most movie buffs—especially Carpenter fans—cite Halloween as the Master of Horror’s magnum opus—and I do agree it is a work of art.  But I once read that he himself has said that he believes The Thing is his objet d'art in his composition of films, so I feel confident when raising this subject.  The original film has such an eerie atmosphere, tangible and surreal, and the performances Carpenter was able to get out of the group of actors was phenomenal.  Once more, the original film was not original at all, but in fact, a remake of a 1951 film.  But that’s one of two reasons why remakes were done well back then—they were made with a whole different look and story.  The other reason?  They weren’t churned out on a conveyor belt like they are today.

With all that out of the way, and before I start ranting and raving about remakes again, let’s look into the prequel (although some would argue it’s just a remake disguised as one) of John Carpenter’s classic, 2011’s The Thing.

So, right from the get-go, before the film was released but the title was announced, I had a problem with just that—the title of the film.  What was told to us by the filmmakers of this movie was that this was to be a prelude to the 1982 film.  Good.  It was said that they were going to painstakingly go over the first film—especially the scenes when the Norwegian camp is visited—to tie both films together seamlessly.  Great.  We were also informed that they were going to make sure the movie was filmed in the same way to make it look like a film from the 80s.  Awesome.  Then the title was announced that it was going to be The Thing.  What?  The same title as the 1982 film?  Why?  The filmmakers were quoted as saying that they couldn’t think of a subtitle (like The Thing: Begins) that sounded good.  What?!  Are you telling me that with all the time spent on this film and everybody they had working on this, they couldn’t think of a subtitle for it?  How about The Thing: Genesis?  Or The Thing: Origin?  That’s why it’s believed the film was a remake with exploratory tones to it.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t rant, so let’s get into the film, which was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

The film opens in Antarctica in 1982, with three Norwegian scientists in a snowcap, following a signal in the ice.  The vehicle suddenly falls through an opening fissure and lodges into it many feet below, discovering a UFO in a cavity underneath them.  We then meet Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist who’s approached by a former colleague, Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen), and a Dr. Sander Halvorson
(Ulrich Thomsen), to ask for her help in Antarctica.  Although she isn’t given much information besides that a discovery was made, Kate agrees to go.  Once there, she learns about the found extraterrestrial spacecraft and that an alien life form was located as well.  Soon, the Norwegian team of scientists cut a block out of the ice containing the specimen and brings it back to their camp.  They drill a hole into it to obtain a sample of tissue from the body and celebrate their discovery, but the alien is still alive and breaks out of the ice later that night.  Soon, Kate discovers the alien can imitate anyone it chooses, leaving her—and anyone left who is human—not knowing who to trust.

Now, I’ll say there are good and bad things about this film that I’ll get into.  For the most part, there’s a lot of good, so that’s already a plus.

The first thing was the promise that this film was actually going to be a prequel to the 1982 film and they delivered on that assurance.  It is and I feel they did a fine job relating that.  I think it’s always been a wonder what happened in that camp that MacReady and Copper found destroyed and in ruins.  What did the Norwegians go through?  How did they find the UFO?  And the alien life form in the ice…?  What happened when they brought it back to their camp?  The questions were answered, pretty much.  The second item promised was that the prequel would have the look and feel of the 1982 version and they delivered on that as well.  You can easily watch this film first and go into the second one feeling like they were filmed back-to-back—with the exception of the special effects.

Now, the special effects were promised to be mostly practical—not much CGI.  Well…they couldn’t deliver on that, probably because of studio interference or budgetary reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the CGI looked great, but still had that phoniness to it when compared to the 1982 film.  The good I can say about it is that they made sure to produce the monsters in live form that we see in dead and burnt form in Carpenter’s film, as well as the ax in the wall, the guy who opened up the veins in his wrists, and so on.  All great work in the effects department, so I really can’t complain.  I mean, we really couldn’t expect them to do everthing practical, right?  Some of the stuff in the first film looked a little cheesy by today’s standards (i.e., the remote control spider-head), so we really can’t criticize their decision to make the creature effects look as good as possible.

The one big complaint, which I feel is a big gaping hole of a mistake when trying to streamline both movies together, is the discovery of the spacecraft.  In the first film, MacReady and Copper find notes and VHS tapes showing and detailing the Norwegians’ exhuming of the UFO.  The film goes to great lengths to show us—the audience—that the Norwegians uncovered the spacecraft under a shallow thickness of ice, maybe fifty feet or so.  In Carpenter’s version, they actually show the men find the spot, which is a big crater in the ice, and we see them have to shimmy down on ropes to the ship.  In this prequel, for some reason, the filmmakers decided to show the ship being down under hundreds of feet of ice and that the scientists created a tunnel system to get to it.  I guess this oversight was brought up and that the director admitted to this change, citing that it was illogical for this spacecraft to be under such a thin layer of ice, that radar or sonar would’ve picked it up years ago.  Illogical???  We’re talking about a movie where an alien can imitate anyone it absorbs…I think we have the needed suspension of disbelief to get by the anomaly of the spacecraft.  Why, with all the careful planning to duplicate the camp’s interiors down to the tee and to make sure the creatures and characters are matching as well, would you make such a big change that completely ignores the Carpenter film?  It didn’t—and still doesn’t—make any sense at all.  The 1982 movie showed the footage on the VHS tape of the Norwegian scientists setting up charges and blowing the huge hole in the ice…that was a big reveal in that film.  It angers and baffles me.

When talk began to arise of making this prequel, I actually didn’t think it could be done.  It was well established in Carpenter’s film that the camp of scientists were Norwegian and didn’t speak English, as we find out when the shooter from the helicopter speaks.  I didn’t think a film with subtitles would work for this type of film and cheating the audience with the cast miraculously speaking English wouldn’t fare well with the fans.  So, including Americans into the mix was genius, I have to admit.  But Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the
prominent paleontologist that this lead scientist comes to for her expertise was a little doubtful, only because of how young she looked in this film.  But, all in all, she pulled off a good performance, as did the rest of the cast, which is what brings me to my original point of this paragraph.  The courage to include actually Norwegian actors was brilliant and gave the film credibility.  I’d really thought they were going to take the low road and cheat us with American actors speaking in phony Norwegian accents and try to pass it off that way.  However, the filmmakers didn’t go that route and I give them credit for their valor in sticking to their guns.

Well, there’s not much more I can say without getting into spoiler territory, so let me get into my final “bit” on 2011’s The Thing.

All said, this movie hits the tone and atmosphere that the 1982 version had, but it showed its cards a little too soon as the creatures are unveiled right away, not giving us the slow burn of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.  Unfortunately, it’s a retread of the other film with no new ideas or anything else to add to the film’s mythos.  But, then again, it can be perceived as a good thing, as Matthijs van Heijningen Jr was able to match the 1982 film’s properties in order to watch both films one after the other.  And if you do that, I highly recommend watching the prequel first…it makes Capenter’s version all the better.  I recommend The Thing fans to watch this film.  It’s not a perfect film—in fact, I really think there must’ve been a lot of studio interference—but it’s enjoyable and a good prelude into the 1982 movie.  Another thing I’d like to impart is be sure to stay throughout the end credits, as there are scenes cut in to show us how the film ties right into the 1982 classic.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  So thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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