Godzilla – A Writer’s Worst Nightmare?

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Badassery personified.

Godzilla and I have a little bit of history. The 1998 Hollywood version was the first film I ever saw in a cinema – it made a pretty big (no pun intended) impact. I haven’t seen it for years, so it was with a bit of sadness that I realised, when the new one was released, that apparently everyone hates the Matthew Broderick version. The weight of opinion is such that I guess everyone’s right and it is a Bad Film ™ but it did mean that, rosy nostalgia being what it is, I was looking forward to seeing the new Gojira in action. 

Following yesterday’s viewing I was neither disappointed nor blown away. I’d rate it A for Acceptable, score it 2.8 out of 5 and commit to seeing the sequel, even if I wouldn’t pay to watch this one in the cinema a second time. But what struck me most of all, again and again, was just how hellishly difficult the whole thing must have been to write. 

Mild spoilers below. 

Let’s begin with the basic premise – you’re trying to write a film about a huge monster battling other huge monsters. That creates two immediate problems. How do you create character empathy for these titanic prehistoric beasts and, secondly, how do you shoehorn the human element in?

The sub-difficulties attached to these twin issues are manifold. In Godzilla you have an inherent problem. It is unable to provide an immediate, edge-of-your-seat threat because it is a) big and b) relatively slow. Having it constantly appear in the vicinity of your main characters, who are jetting all over the Pacific, runs a very real risk of stretching credulity. 

The threat factor was further diminished by the fact that none of the monsters were actually out to eat, kill or otherwise destroy anyone. The MUTO were simply seeking radioactive sites to feed on, and Godzilla was simply trying to kill the MUTO. All the damage done throughout the film was accidental collateral. This created a disjointedness and again means it doesn’t really feel like anyone, let alone the main characters, are in real danger. Other films like the previous Gozilla or Cloverfield successfully circumvented this when they introduced a cast of smaller supporting beasties which were more than capable of pursuing the cast through streets and sewers – the new Godzilla missed out on this trick by having the baby MUTOs obliterated en-mass at the first opportunity. 

Finally, there was the problem of having the human cast interacting with the “villain” monsters. At several points the MUTOs stooped down to shriek in the protagonist’s face, an act that would have made about as much sense as us screaming at an ant. Whilst attempting to create a dynamic bond between hero and villain is understandable, the whole concept fell a bit flat considering said villain was a 500-foot high dino-parasite. In terms of Godzilla itself the film made some good calls – there were certainly the beginnings of an empathetic bond between man and beast. I was hoping he/she survived, and there was a small cheer from the cinema audience at both the big guy’s/gal’s finishing moves vs the MUTOs. I think this could have been played up more. The beast was certainly a badass. 

There were other more niggling issues – the female lead did literally nothing plot-wise and seemed to only exist to provide the love interest and not an ounce more. Ken Watanabe gave an uncommonly sterile performance consisting of him having little to do outside of Exposition and Looking Shocked and Awed, but I suspect this was more to do with him being given very little, if anything, to work with. 

Overall I still enjoyed it. I have big respect for the writer for managing to create something reasonably acceptable – faced with the above challenges, I know I couldn’t have pulled it off. It must have been a massive headache shoehorning it all into a believable piece of work, and I’ll be intrigued to see if the same writer takes up the challenge once more with the already-announced sequel. 

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“I’m ready for my closeup”

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