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A Couch Potato’s Review of Godzilla (2014)

09/17/2014

A Couch Potato’s Review of Godzilla (2014)

I know that it’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and written a review on anything, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been watching the good, the bad, the ugly, the awful and the truly toxic Hollywood (and various independent productions) have to offer. No, it just meant that I haven’t had the want, the desire, the panache or the gumption to critique them publicly. There’s been a couple of movies and even a book that I tore into in my journal, I decided as a sort of “return” I was going to sit and give a go with the American Re-Remake of a B-Movie Japanese Cult classic. While I might not go into the blow-by-blow details of the movie as I used to, there will be some spoilers based on the scenes that I had issues with.

The long and the short of it is that American Directors and Producers just don’t quite get it. They came close in this movie – certainly infinitely closer than the abortion of a Roland Emmerich film at the turn of the century. The problem is that there’s too much cultural differences between Japan and America that makes it near to impossible for Americans to truly get it. That and of course, Americans suffer a really bad problem with what I like to call the “wouldn’t it be cool, if…” Syndrome in trying to one up everything that they want to touch. This movie is of course no exception to that syndrome as this movie tried to also pile in way too healthy heapings of American Heroism (otherwise known as Individual Heroism), a Love story, and the usual hippy like fervor against all things military.

So I’ll admit that I didn’t actually buy this DVD. I decided on taking advantage of The Pirate Bay with the exclusive intent that if this movie was good enough, I’d actually spend the money on getting it from my local Wal*Mart or cheapskate store that sells them when they reach bargain bin. The first thing I noticed of course – besides the glowing praise of a good DVD rip – as the anger (and disgust) form leechers from around the world that Americans were once again trying their hand at a Japanese Monster Movie once again. One of the most comical comments I read was the one that said, “Bryan Cranston’s in it, and any movie that has Bryan Cranston in it can’t be bad…” The response to that was, “[Cranston] dies within 15 minutes of the film, and after that it blows chunks…”

I chuckled at it while I picked up the magnet for it and while watching it, realized it wasn’t entirely true. Cranston’s character was pronounced dead at 42 minutes into it.

Sure there were some names in this film after Cranston dies – the scientist played by Ken Watanabe, the Navy Admiral played by David Strathairn – but on the whole, it was a film of mostly unknown and untried actors. So far, that’s about right given that Sony (then Toho) Studios but I think the true reason was because anyone that remembers the names that worked in the Emmerich Abomination™ (Reno, Savant and Broderick) would run away from the thought of doing a remake for the sake of their careers and unborn children. Or as an agent would tell the actor they represent, “Take my advice and if anyone asks why you didn’t audition for the role, tell them… you weren’t available…”

Unlike the Emmerich Abomination™, it was decided to have two different monsters in this film: Godzilla and a male (and female) MUTO (Massive Unknown Terrestrial Organism). Americans missed the mark here, but this is because of a cultural difference more than anything else. The Japanese love giving everything a label or a name that stands out. Mothra, Gyaos, Gamera, Hedora and on and on and on. Americans love their acronyms. So instead of giving it a name – usually done by the scientist – they gave it an acronym clearly indicating that they’re not going to last.

One of the points American Producers and Director seem to have finally clued into was that Godzilla wasn’t actually the villain. Barring the original 1954 release that was more a warning of the hubris of man that caused a creature to make the potential extinction of mankind – like they did in the Emmerich Abortion™ – Godzilla was there mucking up the US Navy and San Francisco to get at the MUTO to “restore balance” to the planet. While this message was more than a bit heavy-handed – something only Americans seem to love to do – at least the scale, fire-breathing monster didn’t go all hating on the silly Homosapiens that often were in its path.

Another thing that seemed to have been missed is how the scientist was pretty much ignored by the military. While it’s not entirely surprising given that a majority of Hollywood’s producers, directors and productions houses absolutely abhor the military (by making them appear as tank-brained, war mongers) at least it seemed that the military was out for the common good of the people. While this might come close to what I remember of the military in the tons of monster movies I’ve been watching since I was a child, it still gets a mark against it as Americans don’t seem to entirely understand how the military still deferred to the scientists that had been studying the monster(s). Then again this is definitely a cultural difference that doesn’t translate well to American Individualism.

I find myself torn on the level of panic and the amount of focus TPTB had on the “little people” in this film. What I mean is the hero’s medical wife, his son and the people that were being evacuated from the epicenter of monster destruction. This also includes the Golden Gate Bridge and Levi’s Stadium (or was it supposed to be AT&T Park? I don’t know and frankly I didn’t care to stick around to check it in the credits) where the survivors collected in the aftermath. While I understand the importance of showing panicking humans when it comes to a rampaging set of monsters destroying the town you’re living in, there seemed to have way too much focus on the twanging of the good old heart-strings of family reunions. While it has always existed in the monster movies I’ve watched, at the same time it seemed too focus on the individualism of the panicked instead of simply using them to show the orderly evacuation of the affected people from the epicenter.

And finally, the TPTB missed the “magic” of Godzilla. While they did a good job trying to show how unstoppable Godzilla was, they seemed to have spent too much time trying to establish the reality of an atomic mutated, unstoppable, fire-breathing monster from the prehistoric past, they missed the point that Godzilla was never really… well, real. Making him real was too surreal. And in doing that it ruined any magic we might have remembered of Godzilla from our childhood.

Bottom Line: While my vitriol went down as the movie progressed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that while this was a better attempt at an Americanized version of the Japanese icon, Americans still aren’t quite getting it because of a combination of cultural differences and what I’ve seen of my generation trying to make what they grew up with… well grow up with them. They miss the biggest point in that some things don’t need to be matured: and this was one of them. It’s worth a one-watch, but “owning” it? No, it’s really not worth it.

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