Thursday, May 22, 2014

So, I Saw Godzilla.

And it was a huge disappointment. I won't go into details, since I could easily do a scene-by-scene analysis explaining why the film is something of a train wreck in spots, but I will point out some of the bits that most annoyed me.

First, Aaron Taylor Johnson is a human potato. Whenever he is on screen the film drags to a near stop. I don't know whether it was him or the director, but a damp rag would have put in a better performance.

His leaden performance was exacerbated by all of the best actors either being killed or given nothing to work with. Bryan Cranston gets offed early on; Juliette Binoche was hired to deliver four lines before also dying; and Ken Watanabe spends the movie doing his best facial impression of a person who is terrified that the fart he just pushed out may have included some poop.

Strange then, you might say, that Cranston is killed fifteen minutes into the movie but appears to be the star in the trailers. That's because the people making the trailers knew full well that Bryan Cranston is the only thing of interest in the film and they damn well better use everything they have.

I'm not kidding. They used everything. Combined with the clips online and the trailers, most people have seen Cranston's entire contribution to the movie.

Second, Aaron Taylor Johnston's character is unnecessary... as are the characters of most of the military, the young boy that Taylor Johnson meets on the commuter rail in Hawaii, Bryan Cranston's wife, Ken Watanabe's side-kick... really, anyone who isn't Watanabe, Cranston, or David Strathairn could easily be dumped from the script.

Third, as with Nolan's Batman films, this is a stupid movie that takes itself waaaaaay too seriously. Pacific Rim was leagues better than this film if for no other reason than because it recognized that it was silly.

And while talking about Nolan's Batman films, I thought the hydrogen bomb run at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, where Batman takes the bomb out to sea to save Gotham, was stupid. He would have never gotten the bomb far enough away in time.

Godzilla does Nolan one better. Instead of having the bomb on a high-speed, flying Bat-Thing, the bomb is on a clunky tug boat!

In the film, the military men describe the Hiroshima bomb as being like a firecracker in comparison to the bomb they're using, so let's assume that it is similar to Ivy Mike, the first full-yield hydrogen bomb that the US tested. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here.
The blast created a crater 6,240 feet (1.9 km) in diameter and 164 feet (50 m) deep where Elugelab had once been; the blast and water waves from the explosion (some waves up to twenty feet high) stripped the test islands clean of vegetation, as observed by a helicopter survey within 60 minutes after the test, by which time the mushroom cloud and steam were blown away. Radioactive coral debris fell upon ships positioned 35 miles (48 km) from the blast, and the immediate area around the atoll was heavily contaminated for some time.
There is no way that San Francisco would have survived. None. Unless that tugboat was doing four-hundred miles per hour, San Francisco, Oakland, and basically all of the Bay Area would been turned into an atomic wasteland.

Again, none of this would matter if the movie didn't take itself seriously. Pacific Rim also ends with a stupidly-wrong atomic bomb solution, but who cares?! It's a movie about giant robots punching monsters! Godzilla desperately wants us to take it seriously, to experience the movie as though it were possible, and it falls on its face because of this.

Fourth, the premise of the movie is entirely wrong. In the original Godzilla, Godzilla is an ancient creature that is released by an atomic blast. In the 1998 Godzilla, Godzilla is a lizard that is mutated. I like the latter explanation, but that's not what's important. In this Godzilla, the creatures "eat" radiation. They evolved over a billion years ago, when the Earth was much more radioactive than today. Alright. Fine. But they have the creatures eating atomic bombs.

That's ridiculously stupid. Let's ignore that you don't just "get" radiation by eating a bomb. Let's ignore that there is no way to digest the bombs. Let's just focus on the fact that the creatures would not be able to tell that the bombs were radioactive. Bombs are completely shielded. They emit little-to-no radiation.

And even if we assume that the bombs emitted TONS of radiation, at the distances that these creatures are detecting the bombs, they would be unable to tell the difference between a radioactive block of Uranium and the radiation coming from the Sun. And if these things are hunting radiation, why aren't they congregating around Chernobyl? Or the Bikini Islands? Or the Yucca Mountain storage facility.

They actually have one of the creatures leave Yucca Mountain! Why the hell would it leave?!

Fifth, Gareth Edwards seemd to understand that this sort of movie must be a game of anticipation. You can't simply throw all your monsters on screen early in the film. This is a calculated, skillful philosophy that should, in this era of Michael Bay-style movies, be commended.

Unfortunately, that meditative philosophy does not extend to his direction and editing. Cuts are short, dialog is perfunctory, and camera angles and movement are basic. The actual craft of the movie is amateurish. Still, I would rather have good philosophy and poor craft than the opposite... which is Michael Bay.

Sixth, filmmakers don't seem to understand the physics of tsunamis. As Godzilla is approaching the shoreline in Hawaii, the water recedes before coming back in a wave. When that actually happens in tsunamis, that only happens because a large section of ocean floor suddenly dropped three feet relative to some other bit of the sea floor. If a giant object — like, say, Godzilla — is heading toward land, that water is just gonna' come at 'ya. It's not leaving, before. In his defense, Edwards isn't the first one to do this. For example, Deep Impact has it happen.

You know what doesn't precede a massive shock wave? A vacuum. But Hollywood seems set on believing otherwise. This is absolutely nitpicking, but it's just one of those things that annoys me.

I don't like to bash things that people have obviously put a lot of work into, but this was such a large disappointment that I'm angry. They should have hired whoever did the trailers to do the movie, because the trailers were awesome. They made the movie appear far more epic than it really was.

What they really did was make it appear like it was going to treat Godzilla in a mythic, almost 2001: A Space Odyssey sort of way. The actual usage of 2001 music in the trailer reinforced this. That's what I was expecting. That's what I wanted. Instead, I got a pretender. Godzilla is a very simple film that thinks its message is far more profound than it really is.

Godzilla deserved better. Whether it would have gotten better is up for debate, since Hollywood is mostly talentless. In that sense, we're lucky. Lord knows, we could have gotten another 1998, and that would have been painful for all involved, especially the audience.

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