This weekend marks the release of Gareth Edwards' reboot of Godzilla. The film is a spectacle of the highest order and is rooted in a long tradition of monster movies of the past. We have a list of movies you should check out after seeing the King of the Monsters in his new film.
Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein ground the film from the perspective of us itty bitty humans in the wake of the destroyer (or is it protector?) of worlds. Though the character aspects of the film leave something to be desired; given a first-rate cast that is never fully utilized, the film never forgets the awe of Godzilla himself. Presented below are a list of some movies to keep in mind or maybe watch again after seeing Godzilla. Some are obvious, others more obscure.
SPOILERS will be mentioned, not of the narrative but the visual choices of the film so if you’re very eager to go in fresh, wait until after you’re seen the movie.
Well, did you really expect this not to be on the list? The original and its American spliced & dubbed version Godzilla: King of the Monsters were instrumental in setting up the foundation of all monster movies to come. The mayhem, the destruction, the monster itself, all stem from the guidelines constructed by director Ishiro Honda and his crew. What followed was an entire franchise of sequels with various degrees of quality. The original also celebrated its 60th anniversary this year with a brand new transfer and road-show theatrical presentation.
Gojira is still a chilling allegory of the nuclear age, filled with melancholy. The Japanese were fresh off the Atomic bomb attacks of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and even in a film with a guy in a big rubber suit crushing miniature landscapes, the paranoia and sense of loss was never more evident than in the original. It was a definite influence for Edwards when staging many of the action set-ups with underlying moments of loss.
Edwards’ Godzilla keeps the humans at the forefront; always close by and bordering the frame. Even in large action scenes, the camera is never too far away from showing us a lead character or innocent onlookers. Both Honda and Edwards’ films of Godzilla are testaments to the folly of man, when nature hits back and we are left helpless but never defeated.
During the third act of Godzilla, a military bomb disposal team HALO jump into the destroyed city of San Francisco. During the sequence beneath the depths of the destroyed ruins, many will be reminded of James Cameron’s seminal action/horror classic, Aliens.
Ridley Scott’s Alien could also draw comparison as that film decides to unveil its monster rather than show it. Edwards’ and his team decide to unveil Godzilla in similar fashion. Holding back on showing the entirety of the creature up until the third act. It’s in the tension of these action set-pieces that Godzilla and Aliens share their uniformity.
After seeing Godzilla, many will be discussing the M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that appear in the film. These Kaiju are some sort of crustacean/insectoid combination and are very similar to the Cloverfield monster. However, where the creature in Cloverfield was meant as an unidentified force through a shaky viewfinder, the monsters in Godzilla have character and a sense of understanding beyond that of a mindless creature.
The choice of having Cloverfield as a found-footage movie creates a sense of urgency and realism that another more objective narrative device would take away from. This does not hinder Godzilla‘s ability to convey a sense of reality and matter-of-fact nature. Both films share the sense of reality even when displaying something surreal and implausible.
Note how Edwards and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey set up shots based on where a physical camera crew could be present. Sure, there are artistic flourishes — helicopter and overview shots of destruction — but the majority of the film shoots from an ‘over-the-shoulder’ style, scaling the human aspect to the enormity of the film’s monsters. Cloverfield is another film in which this was used to good effect.
The Host (2006)
South Korean director Joon-ho Bong directed this horror-comedy hybrid, which came from a news story in 2000 involving a U.S. military facility located in the center of Seoul, which disposed some formaldehyde by dumping it into the sewer system that led to the Han River. Also, the original Gojira was based on a fishing vessel being contaminated with nuclear fall-out off the shores of Japan. This long tradition of allegory among monster movies has been present since their inception.
In Godzilla, we have less of a ‘ripped from the headlines’ approach and more of a universal allegory. There is less of a nuclear cautionary tale and more of a nature-in-revolt parable for this version of Godzilla. We are merely ants in the path of mother nature. Whether she wishes to crush us or simply ignore, it’s not in our hands. Watching The Host and Godzilla are great companion pieces of artistically directed pop-art tales of monsters wreaking havoc on our misdoings.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Yes. The transcendental direction of Terrence Malick makes his way onto this list. This 3-hour war epic is at once introspective and grand yet shares its poetic sense of nature in Gareth Edwards’ film. Malick’s other film, The Tree Of Life, with it’s elongated sequences of the birth of the universe and the evolution of life on this planet could also be a great film to see but the point of view of a military campaign in Godzilla and The Thin Red Line is more appropriate.
The picture above is the final shot of Malick’s film and this exact shot is so in tune with the final shot of Godzilla that putting them side-by-side (audio included) would feel eerily alike.
The Birds (1963)
There was no film about “nature in revolt” quite like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The idea that the laws of nature are not in our control and could lash out, often violently, at the drop of a pin was terrifying and is still an incredibly untapped aspect of horror film making today.
Godzilla features a creature older than recorded time lashing out against the human race. Ken Watanabe’s character Dr. Serizawa (playing the character – or is it son of? – Akihiko Hirata played in the original Gojira) says it best:
The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.
Seeing The Birds before of after Godzilla is an interesting exercise in the visual representation of nature striking back. Edward’s chooses to unveil rather than show his creatures over and over again. Panning up in magnificent steady shots, holding back the reveal until the last moment, creating a climax in almost every sequence and yet never losing sight of the loss and destruction of human life.
Where such other large budgeted films like last year’s Man of Steel lost sight of the cost of life and destruction of cityscape, Godzilla mourns and often only show the aftermath of destruction; the film dwells on the damage disasters (both natural and man-made) bring. Godzilla shares more in common with The Birds than other lazier blockbuster productions. Is it completely successful? Not all the way through, but what a breath of fresh air to see confidence in its creative and directorial choices.
Jurassic Park (1993)
See Jaws, see War of the Worlds, see Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Any of these Spielberg films can be digested along with Godzilla. Gareth Edwards is definitely a child of this monumental director but no movie draws more comparison and feels closer than Spielberg’s 1993 adventure spectacle, Jurassic Park. Much of Godzilla‘s structure in the first act feels borrowed – lovingly – from Jurassic Park. One sequence in particular feels almost identical (especially auditory) to the T-Rex sequence on the bridge, the rain billowing down, the sound of suspension chords snapping and the roar of a very old, very large dinosaur..
Additionally, Godzilla continues to hold back its monsters until the third act. Choosing to show bits and pieces often obscured by ground-level destruction which mirrors the budgetary concerns Spielberg faced when wanting to show the shark in Jaws. The absence of a family member(s) in many of Spielberg’s film are also very evident even to the point where Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody is basically Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with the wonderful video of George Carlin’s “Save The Planet”. It perfectly encapsulates Godzilla and is also a great piece of video to watch after seeing the movie.
The film pays tribute, borrows and lovingly flaunts all of these films and more to superior effect and though the movie has both tonal and character faults, Godzilla is a fascinating spectacle that is ultimately better in parts than its sum. Ironically enough, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures released Pacific Rim last summer too.Have they become the “Kaiju” studio? Don’t see anything slated for next year that would fit in this vein but the films seem like two-sides of the same coin.
Images: Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Toho, Showbox Entertainment, Paramount Pictures