Return of the monster blockbuster
Godzilla (M) National release I WAS surprised the other day when a sixyear-old of my acquaintance asked me about a film called Godzilly. At first I thought he’d said “God, it’s silly” — an astute judgment, you might think, from a critic of tender years, though it’s a judgment already emphatically rejected by global cinema audiences. Since its US opening last weekend, Hollywood’s latest blockbuster monster movie has been rampaging through cinemas around the world, trampling on attendance records and laying waste to formidable box-office rivals such as Bad Neighbors. Whether Australian audiences will consider Godzilly merely silly or an authentic cinema phenomenon remains to be seen. But make no mistake, we’re going for it. And why not? may be silly, but it’s also that rare thing in multiplexes: a grand entertainment, full of challenging ideas, believable characters and much breathtaking spectacle.
Of course there’s nothing really new about it. Godzilla is a joint creation of Hollywood and Japan’s Toho studios, and this year marks what might be called their diamond wedding anniversary. Godzilla first reared his ugly head in 1954 in a Japanese cult classic directed by Ishiro Honda, which was much influenced by Hollywood’s remake of King Kong two years earlier. Toho and Hollywood have had joint ownership of the creature since. No fewer than 28 Godzilla movies have been made in Japan since 1954, a longer string of sequels and remakes than for any other film I know of. Plus there have been the usual spinoff books, comics, television shows and video games.
The latest Godzilla is directed by an Englishman, Gareth Edwards, who has form. In 2010 he scored a modest success with a low-budget British film Monsters, which he wrote, directed and photographed. Since then, Godzilla the monster and Edwards’s budgetary resources have grown exponentially. It seems odd that only a week ago I was extolling Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish film Ida for the extreme austerity of its production values. Now I find myself praising Godzilla for everything Ida lacked — special effects, hordes of extras, big budget spectacle — which only goes to show that with movies, nothing is clear cut or predictable. And a good thing too.
Godzilla’s origins may be well known to most readers, but for the benefit of six-yearolds I should explain that the films were in-
Godzilla spired by a series of US nuclear tests in the Pacific. The world’s first thermonuclear device was detonated on a Pacific island in March 1954, an event that serves as a kind of prologue to Edwards’s film. But watch closely and you’ll see a huge shape rise from the ocean before the bomb explodes. The other point to remember is that Godzilla isn’t really a bad guy. In Japanese popular culture he evolved from being a predatory monster into a kind of anthropomorphic superhero: a sort Batman with black scaly skin and no cape.
In Godzilla (screenplay by Max Borenstein), the villain is a mutant creature hatched from an egg-shaped pod discovered by scientists in The Philippines in 1999. Muto, as he’s called, needs regular doses of radiation to survive and loses no time breaking into a nuclear power plant in Japan. Joe Brody, the plant supervisor (Bryan Cranston) manages to escape the meltdown. But to prevent radiation spreading he has to
Elizabeth Olsen in the latest incarnation of