By Bill Arceneaux
I find that, often enough in movies, a busy story is confused with complexity, and an overabundance of computer graphics with depth. George Lucas famously mistook heavy use of digital effects in his Star Wars prequel trilogy as being “stylish” and “exciting.”
Sure, it looks pretty enough (well, the third movie did), and the characters look interesting, but all of this is superficial eye candy. It’s like when an independent filmmaker makes a horror or fantasy film, using clean HD cameras. Sure, the image is fine, but where’s the grit to match the action? Something has been lost in translation.
The latest Godzilla film, for lack of a better word, stomps this message into the heads of many a viewer, and hopefully some filmmakers too. But, will it stick?
The most obvious comparison to make would be to that OTHER American remake from the ’90s. You know, the one that tried wearing its metaphors on its sleeve, but didn’t pay attention when it fell to the floor? That was a movie whose grandiose and obnoxious marketing equally matched the story told and technique used. “He is as tall as this building,” one banner would say.
Sorry, but it isn’t the size of your monster that counts; it’s the motion of the tail – rather, the emotion of the tale.
This new Godzilla cares not for showing off – in fact, we don’t even see the monster until around the halfway point. He’s briefly mentioned here and there, and hyped up as a possible threat and potential savior.
When we do see him, he’s bigger and more massive than before. But it’s all shown from a human perspective, contrasting smaller objects to the bigger ones, all for the purpose of awe inspiring visuals. It’s simple in execution, but effective and engaging. It’s crystal clear that craftsmen are at work here, having fun with a large toolbox.
I did have some concern that the acting would get lost in the shuffle of directing such a large movie. Some moments, like Bryan Cranston’s opening performance, felt like an actor filling the void for an absent director; giving himself the motivation and insight needed to play. But, that’s sort of Cranston’s style – watch Drive and tell me he wasn’t doing some self-exploration.
In a way, what Cranston did for the time he was on screen represents all of the acting in the movie; fully engaged but never over the top. There is a subtlety present when a character screams for the truth, or when a military member has to make a hard decision. These humans are… human.
The only antagonistic nastiness needed comes from, you guessed it, the monsters. This focus is pretty refreshing, actually.
You could call Godzilla a contemporary classic. Both a throwback to how movies used to be presented and paced; also how movies are now shot and produced. I ought to (ok, will) write an essay on how this represents the brilliant cross section of retro without nostalgia and innocence without being childish. I would even go so far as to call it the King Kong (original) for a new era. Rarely does an audience applaud at all after a movie, and ever scarcer do they applaud at the moment they’re supposed to. Godzilla snatches you up and whisks you away.
As of this writing, Star Wars: Episode VII has started production. While I’m optimistic, I can’t help but worry that flashy “style” will outweigh effective storytelling. Of course, George Lucas did pass the torch. Maybe it just takes a generation a long time to learn from mistakes. Maybe we’ll realize and understand how special effects are meant to supplement a movie, not BE a movie. As one character puts it, Godzilla arrives to “restore the balance.” Man, do I agree with this.
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