Overview: An ancient monster rises from the sea. Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures; 2014; Rated PG-13; 123 Minutes.
Size Scale Matters: Yes, size matters. For sure. But scale matters even more. Director Gareth Edwards, with the help of what must be a crack special effects team, utilizes scale to create perspective in inventive, exciting, and disorienting ways. Edwards leaves no tools hanging in the film technique shed- utilizing frame, frames within frames, peripheral capture, line of sight, shifting perspective, first person point of view, etc. Shots of the setting are applied to supplement where needed. Towering architecture, dizzying mountains, vast ocean surfaces all work to measure the size of Godzilla and his M.U.T.O. comrades. The monster presentation in this movie is distinctly improved from Guillermo del Toro’s work in last year’s Pacific Rim (which I loved immensely and thought of as an impressive achievement). But “scale” is a word with layers of meaning, and Edwards isn’t content with scaling just the visuals. This Godzilla is prefaced with an opening sequence that folds the traditional Godzilla interpretation onto the table and then wipes it away, and the movie is all the better for it. Yes, the classic Godzilla can be seen as an allegory for nuclear anxieties. We’ve had sixty years to discuss that. Our science has moved forward, and we can too. In general and sometimes generic terms, the newest Godzilla‘s script nods in the direction of physics, geology, ecology, meteorology, history, and biology to present a much greater human vulnerability, a smallness equally impressive as the largeness of the beasts. In Edwards’ re-imagining, human civilization is is at the mercy of all the sciences, not just those of our own pilot and creation. We are a few scattered ants crawling on the wall of the universe.
The Cinematic World: The world in which Godzilla rises from the ocean and clomp tromps all over civilization is a world built out of uninhibited and joyful cinematic dreams. It’s a world of cartoon-like simplicity, where scientists and military officials alike talk in chunks of explanatory exposition, where the actors only need a single facial expression. Ken Wantanabe as (as Dr. Ichiro Serizawa) exhibits a perpetual state of intense befuddlement, while Aaron Taylor Johnson (as Lt. Ford Brody) advertises unbroken quizzical focus. In this world, science bends and stops to narrative convenience, anyone taking center in the hero frame is never going to get closer than three inches from real danger (no matter what massive structures fall in their direction), and a-million-to-one odds are overcome multiple times in every scene. But most importantly, it’s a world where behemoth beasts who have managed to survive without human detection for millions of years apply fight techniques invented in the golden era of the World Wrestling Federation. In terms of storytelling for entertainment, no medium in history has chased human imagination as closely as film. So why don’t we go to this world more often? We should applaud this much in a theater at least once a month.
Overall: I go to so many movies, I sometimes forget how impressive a spectator set-up is offered by the movie theater. This film is a perfect reminder. Godzilla is the reason we make the movie screen so big, the speakers so loud. And Gareth Edwards doesn’t waste an inch of it.