When my most-anticipated sci-fi re-imagined remake of the summer proved to be a dud (sorry, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, you kind of sucked), I understandably wasn’t rushing to plunk down good money for the other old-but-new marquee name at the multiplex: Godzilla. I wasn’t sure why, yet again, this film was being remade, especially after the Matthew Broderick stink-bomb from 1998. But catching this surprisingly entertaining monster flick on Blu-ray makes me kind of wish I saw it on the big screen.
With a somber tone reflected from its mood, to its palate of greys, to its cloaking of action in darkness and rain, this new Godzilla takes itself quite seriously. Rather than playing its hand all at once and culminating with two hours of seemingly endless battles, this new Godzilla gives us the background on how such a beast may not only exist, but may have been here for a long time. Those nuclear “tests” at Bikini Atoll in the 1950s, for instance, were not tests at all, but were an attempt to eliminate the giant dinosaur-like beast that the Japanese dubbed “Gojira”. Where did it come from? Where did it go? Years later, in 1999, there is a cover up by a mysterious organization called MONARCH, hiding the truth about a collapsed radioactive mine in the Philippines, and a nuclear reactor accident in Japan. Cut again to 15 years later, and there is a pattern of earthquakes that one of the survivors of the nuclear “accident” recognizes. Something seems to be waking up…
Don’t get too attached to the talented humans involved in the film, like Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and Ken Watanabe. Before you can say, “It was nice to meet y…” or “Tell me a little about yourself…” attention is diverted as disasters start to pile up as first one beast, then another, then another emerges to wreak havoc (beyond Godzilla, we meet a couple of giant insect/bat-like hybrids called MUTOs–Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Let’s just say, if Honolulu has ever felt like they have gotten the short shrift in disaster flicks, why, that little piece of paradise gets its turn this time, along with Las Vegas and San Francisco.
If the film skimps on offering human characters of any real depth, it still manages to stir an emotional reaction by reaching into the audience’s collective memory of recent natural and man-made disasters. It may seem cheap to tap into our fears by conjuring chilling images of tsunamis, collapsing buildings, crumbling nuclear reactors, and other horrors that are very real. But, in a way, throwing a giant dinosaury-lizard into such a cocktail of very relatable fears almost makes the King of Monsters a little more plausible. Godzilla and his ilk are just another thing (that very well may be our own fault) that nature tosses our way as a reminder that our days of dominating this planet may be coming to an end. The casualties in Godzilla are not just crumbling buildings and human victims, but a loss of innocence–humanity’s realization that decisions of the past and present may have had much worse repercussions to nature than ever imagined.
There are, as expected, a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes grouped as “The Legendary Godzilla”, offering tidbits like the fact that Godzilla’s skin was made to look like it had the texture of hardened lava, that the scene of the H.A.L.O. jump of paratroopers had been imagined shot by shot from the start by director Gareth Edwards before he even got the job, and some fun bits of the foley editor explaining how he created the unique sounds of the monsters. There are also a set of shorts called “MONARCH: Declassified”, describing the extermination attempts of Gojira in the 1950s (“Operation: Lucky Dragon”), a debriefing on the MUTOs for new employees of MONARCH, and a collection of the news footage of the monsters a week after they destroyed the major cities.