Yes, spoilers inc for the latest Godzilla.
So, I saw Godzilla Open Paren 2014 Close Paren, in my usual effort to be caught up with modern geeky cinema, especially having heard mostly good things about it.
And, yes, it is very good. The action’s great, the cinematography impressive, the ideas and designs are creative, and even though we’ve got the usual “Scientist telling the Military not to act, and the Military acts anyway and they turn out to be wrong” stuff, it’s never malicious, and the military officers are always presented like people who are trying to save lives, aware of the risks but they’re using the best plan they’ve got that doesn’t involve watching people die.
And holy god those effects. Sure, it’s a lot of “Fight scenes at night and in the smoke to make the CGI cheaper”, but god DAMN are they not amazing to watch. So god damn many amazing looking shots, and it’s not just eye-candy. The moment when the two MUTO’s meet… it’s honestly a little romantic, and hard not to go “Awww…” a little. And, most of all, it made things seem real. As in, if these three giant monsters existed in our world, with these motivations, this is what it would really look like. Suspend your disbelief for the existence of those giant monsters, and you’ll make it through the film without a twitch of incredulity, and it’s so nice to see a movie take its ludicrous premise that seriously (see the Square-Cube Law for why all three monsters make physics teachers cry 😀 ).
It’s not perfect, of course. Nothing is. I’ve never liked the “Nature’s Wrath personified” concept. It always feels like a bit of a cheat, trying to invoke God without, well, bringing up Religion. The acting in some places is stiff and clumsy, and the blatant teases of “Ooooooh, giant monster showdown comi- PSYCH! But check out all the aftermath!” comes across as someone who knows why Jaws didn’t show the monster until the final act, but doesn’t understand how to pull that off. We should be anticipating the oncoming storm, not lamenting missing the fight that the filmmakers refused to let us see.
And that’s not counting the fact that the hero’s family is basically… it’s a young, attractive white male soldier (and not just a soldier: A soldier specialized in disarming bombs, so an even more heroic soldier!), with a very young, white son and a blonde haired, white wife who’s either a nurse or a doctor, but probably a Nurse, given what we see. The only way it could be more stereotypical of Hollywood action films would be for the wife to be pregnant with a baby girl too…
Compared to last year’s Pacific Rim? Without question, Godzilla is the superior film. Even though the humans in both films were about on par with each other in terms of dullness, Godzilla is better shot, better performed, and rarely ever made me question what the hell characters in the film were thinking, as opposed to once every few minutes in Pacific Rim.
But there’s one thing that I didn’t fully grasp until the drive home… and I think it’s one of the biggest problems with Godzilla (2014).
Where’s the Tragedy?
If you add up all the people killed throughout Godzilla? It’d probably hit six digits, not counting the amount that would be lost due to rioting, disease, disruption of basic services, hazardous debris from all the destroyed buildings, etc. And yet… we really don’t see much of a sign of how horrific this truly is.
There’s two parts of the attack on Hawaii that really serve to underline this. In one, a random little girl and her family are focused on, with Godzilla’s arrival, and they have to run away from the Tsunami that’s being caused by, well, giant monster coming out of the ocean. In the other, Ford Brody (aka our hero) is keeping an eye on a Japanese kid while on a monorail, which gets attacked by the male MUTO.
In both instances, people die. A lot of people. The Tsunami sweeps away streets full of people… but the little girl and her family make it out alive! On the monorail, the track gets damaged, and people start falling off… but Ford rescues the kid before he can plummet to his death!
I know, expecting them to show a dead kid in a summer blockbuster is… doubtful, to say the least. But this extends to the adults too. I racked my brain trying to think of anyone that received even the barest amount of characterization that we saw die, and the list…
- Bryan Cranston (well, Joe Brody), who dies from wounds suffered in the first monster attack. However, we do not exactly see him expire: We see EMT’s working on him, and later we’re shown his bodybag being zipped up, after being told that he died.
- Serizawa’s crew… probably. His assistant we know survives, but their deaths are not shown, and the only reason their deaths are implied is because Serizawa has no one else besides her and Cranston (and son) be brought along to the aircraft carrier.
- Several soldiers, who either die off-camera assuming they do, as, again, their deaths are only ever implied, not confirmed, or die on-camera… but as a speck of gunfire being snuffed out by one of the monsters, at least 10-15 minutes since you last saw their face.
The affect of all this is pretty simple: Godzilla (2014) doesn’t want the audience to feel sad. This is still Hollywood fare, and it feels like it. We get no real impression of any of the victims, there’s no connection to them. What we get is countless images of the brutal destruction, and it is seriously impressive… but that instills awe, not fear, not sorrow.
Because of that, we’re never in any real fear for the protagonists. They weren’t willing to kill off unnamed children, why would they kill off the generic love interest, let alone the hero?
…Godzilla, not the, you know, bomb-disposal American soldier.
Imagine if Ford hadn’t been able to save that Japanese kid on the monorail. That, after seeing the little girl escape to safety, he plummets to his family-friendly demise. A little boy, about the same age as Ford’s own son, a child that Ford had promised to return to his parents, befriended in a small way… and he’s just not fast enough to save him.
It’d give everything he does after to get to his family more weight. It’d give a face to the countless deaths in Hawaii a face. It’d give a bit more doubt to the fates of the major characters.
But, no, because this is a Hollywood film, and it wants the good guys to win, the audience to leave happy. And who would go to a film about San Francisco being destroyed (…again) willing to get kicked in the gut?