‘Godzilla’ Blu-ray Review: Singular Filmmaking
Godzilla is a well done and confident vision from a singular filmmaker. This is no doubt exactly the movie Gareth Edwards wanted to make, and he succeeds 100% in his intentions. Whether you agree with the direction he was going is a matter of personal preference. I like it overall, with only a few regrets.
A pair of monsters are sighted that tie in to some disasters 15 years ago. A pair of scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) helps the army devise a plan to stop these MUTOs, while the Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes to Japan to bail out his father (Bryan Cranston), who’s still obsessed with the collapse of his power plant 15 years ago. When the MUTOS start attacking, a third monster emerges to battle them.
You may feel the human story does little to set up Godzilla fighting MUTOs, and you’d be right, but the plot is a very effective buildup to the monster battle. There is some great destruction early on, and some cool sets of the aftermath of the Japanese quarantine site 15 years later. We see a single claw, and a different monster before the headliner we came to see.
When Godzilla finally appears, he enters like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. The disaster sequences are layered so the subway leads to the airport leads to more stomping. Seeing a number of monster battles as news reports on television is a clever touch, and Edwards has fun with Las Vegas. It is nice to see a stampeding crowd of Americans, or rather mixed ethnicity crowds, but doing the same run away from giant monsters that is usually reserved exclusively for Japanese citizens.
The MUTOs are great but they are unfortunately in more of the movie than Godzilla. I appreciate the “shark from Jaws” approach to using Godzilla sparingly, but Edwards may have gone overboard and missed some fun opportunities in the middle. We do get to see Godzilla’s hands fully articulated, which is something they couldn’t do with rubber suits, although I’d bet animatronics could pull it off.
The visual effects may be a lot more sophisticated in the big Hollywood version, but the principals are still the same as the Japanese series. Edwards is blending green screen backgrounds and visual effects with foreground characters, finding ways for them to interact to sell the whole sequence. It works, as giant cranes cut bridges in half and take carloads of people down with them. By the time the monsters fight in the city, it might as well be a miniature set they’re stomping on, but it’s probably some elaborate computer model. Then they cut to a reaction from people inside a shaking building, just like old times.
As many interesting actors are in the movie, most of them aren’t in it as much as you’d like them to be. Ford has to be the generic hero onto whom anyone can project their sympathies, and I was relieved he wasn’t shoehorned into more scenes. There’s a good amount of Watanabe and Hawkins, but not enough Cranston and not nearly enough Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen. You get it. It’s “and Bryan Cranston,” and most of the actors do their bits so they can say they were in a Godzilla movie. Taylor-Johnson probably had to do the long haul, a thankless job when he’s not the one we came to see, but I’m sure they could have done a little bit more with Olsen than just reaction shots.
The film looks great on 2D Blu-ray. The quality of high definition darkness allows us to view the full impact of the creatures at night or underground. It looks like David Fincher made a Godzilla movie (which is not a bad idea either). The perfect clarity allows you to see all the magnificent detail of the creatures and destruction during the many well-lit daytime shots. Sequences like the bridge attack make one marvel how so many separate elements – rain, practical locations, visual effects – can be unified in a seamless complete scene.
The bonus features give a really good context for the necessities of the scale of Godzilla so we can really understand the aesthetic considerations that went into this take on the film. They’ve included the “Monarch” files which are the fake documentary reference movies on the early discoveries of Gojira and MUTOS from the film, and I guess one pseudo YouTube homage “assembled” after the movie’s events. They don’t take up too much time or space, but they don’t add anything either.
If you still have more Godzilla cravings, last week Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released another wave of Toho Godzilla movies. A double feature of Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla are a solid double feature of modern Japanese Godzilla movies. Godzilla 2000 on its own Blu-ray is an odd transitional one. Don’t get too excited about the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy like I did. The promise of a ‘90s era Mothra series is unfulfilled as they are largely derivative, cheap knockoffs pandering to children by two directors who never made any movies outside of the Rebirth of Mothra series. However, Rebirth of Mothra II is kind of fun intercutting between kids running around a booby trapped temple while Mothra battles the smog monster Hedorah.