What would you get if Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and Akira Kurosawa all made a movie—it would be Gareth Edwards new Godzilla film. That is not to say for a second that Edwards is a copy-cat filmmaker paying homage to his boyhood heroes. The 2014 Godzilla film released by Legendary Pictures is simply that good, and is sincere in its tip of the hat to those great filmmakers. While watching I kept thinking of films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Birds, Ran, Dreams without attempting for a second to show its superiority to the classic Godzilla movies—but rather being very respectful of them. If there is a tight rope of movie marketing, authenticity to a beloved character, and the necessity to navigate the needs of the movie industry, Gareth Edwards just propelled himself into one of the top filmmakers in the world forever by walking it cleanly. The new Godzilla film is simply astonishing. I have read the reviews and spoken to several people who had seen the movie and I have come to realize that the movie is so vast in its scale that most viewers can only grip one of the many plot lines of the film. Being spoiled spoon fed movie goers for so many years; they have forgotten the old Hitchcock films and likely didn’t bother with Kurosawa due to the subtitles. Well, Edwards didn’t have that problem and has simply made a masterpiece that will have a major impact on film history. I know good when I see it and this Godzilla film is great, incredible, astonishingly beautiful, captivating in virtually every way, and is simply a benchmark film redefining the genre of monster movies. This Godzilla movie is what Cloverfield wanted to be. It is simply jaw-dropping grand. It will take several viewings for everything to settle in and history will study this movie as a masterpiece of modern film.
While waiting in line to see the movie I wrote yesterday’s article about Godzilla. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW. So I am already a fan of the 60-year-old monster. I had to take a few hours after watching the movie to calm down and check my emotions to ensure that I wasn’t just being inflammatory with my enthusiasm. After rolling around in bed for about 10 hours unable to sleep still excited about this Godzilla film I have concluded that perhaps I haven’t been excited enough. Four key scenes will explain why without giving away the movie. The first is the birthday metaphor so carefully weaved into the Bryan Cranston portion of the story. It was remarkably powerful, and so subtle that most viewers appear to have missed it upon their first viewing. It was a touch of Steven Spielberg that I haven’t seen from a filmmaker since the film Always. Then there was the flaming train engine coming out of an intense fog at night across a railroad bridge. The film quality looked as though it belonged on the pages of National Geographic. The cinematic effort of that shot was simply mind-blowing. Then there was the airport scene where the power had gone out across an Hawaiian city then came back on to reveal a giant monster destroying everything—with the main characters rushing toward the devastation. There has been nothing like that done in movie since Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was over-the-top exciting, but never so much that it came out campy. Godzilla pays tribute to these beloved old films without insulting them with direct mimicry. Then there is the airdrop into the city of San Francisco during the monster fight. The only filmmaker who ever attempted portions of these kinds of visuals is Akira Kurosawa. The colors, the atmospheric conditions, the ceremonial aspect of the scene, the immensity of the whole enterprise culminated in that portion of the movie and was simply magnificent. Edwards was well aware of his geography during the entire film. The film went from extreme long shots of a storm over the city with the tiny troops falling toward their apparent doom with swirling cumulus nimbus clouds reaching into the upper atmosphere. Then there are the hand-held shots as they fall through the cloud layer and into the destruction of the city while Godzilla is fighting with the monsters. All these were cut together with the same level of continuity and it was seamless. The long view of existence right along with the human perspective was astonishing. I can’t say it has ever been done more effectively than what Edwards did in this movie. There was a scene from Close Encounters years ago where the shadow of the mother ship was cast against the ground at night over the unaware human drivers of a truck. That shot was incredibly difficult to pull off and came from the mind of a very young Steven Spielberg before he got old and stuffy. I can’t recall another filmmaker trying such a thing since then—until this Godzilla movie. It is hard to do such atmospheric scenes and Spielberg has given up on trying now that he is in his “mature” years. But the ambition of Edwards deserves recognition as film schools will study this scene for years attempting to break down its effectiveness.
Speaking of geography it was impressive to tie in events happening halfway around the globe in simultaneous bits of story. For instance, Las Vegas gets attacked by a monster as Godzilla is hunting the beast from the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Hawaii. The extra attention to little details like proximity of terrain to each other in a world shrunk by Google Earth was so refreshing that even smart people seeing the movie will be impressed that Edwards thought of them while staging scenes. The characters in this Godzilla film were intelligent, and cared about the circumstances around them. That was refreshing.
Then there was the soundtrack which was equally remarkable. I had never knowingly heard any of Alexandre Desplat’s work until this film, but it was quite powerful. Desplat certainly tapped into great film scores by John Williams, particularly Jaws because it was evident in the film score. The resemblance to that classic piece was unmistakable. I have listened to the soundtracks of Jurassic Park and The Lost World countless times, and the notes and cues from Godzilla are right in line with those pieces. It was yet another circumstance of welcomed surprise in a film full of them. There was a raw majestic energy included with the music that was as big as Godzilla and the story line itself.
The character of Godzilla unlike the past had a deep intelligence to him, a knowing alertness to the circumstances of civilization and his desire to advance it. That is a new element to these kinds of monster films, Godzilla was quite well aware of his ancient role as a kind of protector of man’s achievements. He wasn’t interested in the mindless toppling of buildings and power lines, but of hunting down and destroying the monsters which were destroying the cities of earth. There has been a lot of talk about Godzilla being a boon to nature—reminding mankind that it is not in charge. Yet if Godzilla were so interested in nature, he would have allowed the giant creatures—MUTOs (Massive Unidentified terrestrial Organisms) to breed and hatch their babies which are all they really wanted to do. From the vantage point of Godzilla mankind’s creations are pretty insignificant, yet he consciously made a decision to pick mankind over the MUTO creatures. Several times in Godzilla’s efforts were close-ups on his weary face as if he had been fighting this battle for several millennia. Edwards smartly captured this intelligence and made this Godzilla much less primal, and much more sophisticated. As strange as it sounds the creature seemed so smart that I wouldn’t have been shocked if he didn’t sit down with some tea and discuss James Joyce as a literary endeavor. He was what I described in my referred article written prior to seeing the film as a kind of overman.