Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Defending GODZILLA (2014) from the "flaws"

The latest Godzilla film has hit theaters and its managed to make a monstrous amount of money at the box office. I’m thrilled since I loved the film a great deal.

Interestingly despite the critical acclaim and the high box office take some people have not liked the film and even some people who have loved the film have picked at the film and what they perceive as flaws. I’m not too sure that what people are going after really are flaws.

The first thing you notice when you see the film is that it’s not really about Godzilla. Yes the film is called Godzilla, but the film isn’t really about him. The film is about the human characters, both named and unnamed. This focus on the people in the story is the source of much of the niggling and criticism of the film. Because the film is about “us” and not the monsters how we see the creatures is instantly limited. We don’t get huge takes on Godzilla and the monsters fighting unless there is a way for the characters we are following to see it, if that means seeing the battles on TV or fleetingly through a shelter door as it closes, so be it. Only at the end of the film, when Ford is at ground zero do we see the battle in all its glory. We see it because that’s where our focus is- the battle is happening around the character who is essentially our eyes.

If you read any criticism of the film you’re going to discover that most writer takes the film to task for not doing things as if they were expecting a different film. It sees that the vast majority of writers regardless of the film were expecting some sort of film that they had in their head. Many people are unhappy that the film isn't a balls to the wall all out action film. The complaints, such as the limited view of the monsters for the first hour, are always worded in such a way that they are not taking the film on its terms, they want to see the monsters fight not be told a story. Going in I was willing to go with the film where ever it was going to go, if I was going to be critical I would take the film to task on its own terms.

One of the complaints with the film is that the human characters are rather bland. Most of the name actors are either given nothing to do or are given early exits from the film. The spoilers of the film was not the addition of monsters but that some of the name actors die rather quickly. The nominal leads of Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are in the eyes of many rather dull. To be perfectly honest they are kind of dull, but to be fair other than recasting the roles with more charismatic actors what could you have done? Edwards could have added additional scenes where he built the characters but because of the construction of the plot where would you have put the scenes. Any character building sequences would have driven the film into a cul de sac storywise. The main plot doesn’t allow for it. For me there is enough there to both know that there is more to the characters off the screen as well as to be able to reflect ourselves upon Ford. For all intents and purposes that could be us up there. (Stop and consider how you would be in the same situations? Shell shocked, broken, frantic, bland and not your snappy best)

By keeping the characters low key and not showy the film remains real, had the film gone on for super characters and super heroics the characters remain in the realm of possible. The monsters there for remain in the realm of possible. Without it the darkness in the story would have been lost because a movie action hero would make it all right and tha'ts not the point of the film.

And lets face it even if Edwards had swung the other way and just went for more monster fighting the film would have taken brickbats for that as well, I mean you all probably saw last years Pacific Rim which went for monsters over people.

As for anyone claiming that the earlier films had characters and monsters I’m forced to ask have you seen any of the films lately? I mean have you really sat down and watched many of the films? i'm not going to go film by film but trust me the characters aren’t that well drawn. Even in the original film, the human story is pure over baked melodrama, the central non-monster story is a broken love triangle that belongs on a soap opera. Yes, the melodrama drives the destruction of Godzilla, but it’s not a deep and meaningful plot. The deep and meaningful stuff is everything away from the human plot line.

Equally questionable is the argument that the earlier films were better in handling the battle scenes. On a spectacle level we did get to see the fights and the destruction, but other than the original two films every time we do see the battles, or monsters in the the earlier films everything stops. Everything focuses on the fights largely to detriment of the plot. The stories stop for the fights (I mean one of the films main plot is a robbery tale that they've shoe horned the monsters into). Here, as in the original film, the plot continues even through the battles.

Actually the seriousness of this film is only matched by the seriousness of the original Godzilla film (and maybe to a lesser extent Godzilla Raids Again).  Everything that followed, even the films from the 1980’s and 90’s are simply excuses to bring in new monsters and then manipulate them until they can fight Godzilla. None of the films really was a serious attempt at story telling (Okay the 1984 film was) they were the cinematic equivalent of professional wrestling with monsters. Don’t forget at a certain point the films became kids films.

This is a throwback Godzilla film. Its a throwback to 1954 when Japan was wrestling with it's demons. The new film is the same thing, though instead of radiation, the film is ultimately about nature fighting back and trying to reset itself, human's be damned.

I love that the film never cheats and shows us things that our characters can’t see or in the case of the final fight don’t put us where the characters are. For example the fight in Hawaii- we see it live since that’s where Ford is, but once he becomes concerned with getting out of the way and getting the kid to safety the film shifts back to Elizabeth Olsen who is seeing it on TV, it never shifts back because non- of the main characters are there. Edwards isn’t cheating, he’s not being a bastard by not showing us things we can’t see. (And even if you argue about a fleeting sequence like the Nevada escape of the Muto not being in the realm of one of our characters, it is fleeting and is used as set up for what follows.)

I’m ecstatic about the new Godzilla film. I think it’s a great film. I love that everything flows together. I think it maybe one of the best of the year and I'm certain it's one of the best films in it's genre.

If you're one of the people quibbling or hating the film I suggest you take a second look at the film. Throw away your pre-conceived notions and take the film head on. Look, really look at what Gareth Edwards is doing. Look at the construction of the film and how it works with the real story and the underlying themes. Look at whats there and think about it all on its own terms. I think if you look at it you'll find its a better film than you first thought and much less flawed then it seems.

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