The MovieEveryone’s favourite radioactive Japanese monster got another American outing earlier this year when Warners and Legendary Pictures' Godzilla stomped its way onto cinema screens. It’s not a follow-on from Sony's 1998 US film nor does it descend from any of the Toho pictures, it's basically a soft reboot that quickly recaps the origin of Godzilla and places him within with a story of a displaced family coming to terms with their personal demons, in the midst of an attack of actual monsters. Bryan Cranston stars as Joe Brody, a nuclear scientist widowed when his wife was caught in an accident at a power plant in 1999, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his estranged son Ford, now an explosive ordnance disposal officer in the US Navy. The two are reunited when Joe detects a seismic anomaly, just like one that occured at the time of the prior incident, and after convincing Ford to help him they investigate the quarantined accident zone in Janjira, Japan.
At the original reactor site they uncover the truth, that the 'accident' was a cover-up for a creature which attacked the plant and formed a cocoon around the reactor, which has been monitored ever since by the mysterious MONARCH organisation under the supervision of Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). Inside it is a winged creature of vast proportions - dubbed a 'Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism' or M.U.T.O. - that literally ingests radiation as a source of sustenance, hence it building its home on this reactor several years before. But the new anomaly that Joe recorded wasn't quite as identical as it first appeared, as it seems to be some sort of reply to the original event. Responding to this 'call', the M.U.T.O. emerges from its chrysalis and when it does so it triggers an even bigger threat as nature, seeking to redress the balance, rouses the greatest predator ever to have walked the planet: Godzilla.
Gareth Edwards’ film is a curious beast (so to speak) because we hardly get to see the titular character. It’s akin to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies in that it’s the human characters which occupy the bulk of the film because it’s far too expensive to show the CG-generated creations for anything more than a few minutes at a time, and in Godzilla’s case most Western moviegoers definitely wouldn’t accept a man in a suit anymore! While it’s fair to say that Godzilla’s characters are nothing like as shrill as those that populate Bay’s films (thankfully there's no goofy outlet for comic relief), they’re almost as thinly sketched in pure storytelling terms, with a Spielbergian cliché of ‘the broken family unit’ playing over and over in various forms and the actors all struggle to put their mark on such average material. We’re made to wait for the big showdown too, as just when we think we’re going to see some apocalyptic Godzilla-on-M.U.T.O. action in Las Vegas it cuts straight to someone watching the aftermath on TV, and the movie continues to keep its powder dry until the last reel when we finally get to see the big fella cut loose – and even then his battle with the M.U.T.O.s in San Francisco is swathed in darkness.
Comparisons to Pacific Rim (the other recent 'giant monster' movie to come from Warners and Legendary) can’t be avoided, and Guillermo del Toro’s movie is a heck of a lot more fun because it delights in showing us exactly what the Jaegers and the various Kaiju get up to when they're beating seven bells out of each other! Admittedly, Pacific Rim did have a bigger budget so they could afford to show rather than tell, and there is always something to be said for holding back the reveal of the monster until it really has an impact - Jaws comes to mind - so it was a genuine story conceit rather than just a budgetary one to keep Godzilla off-screen for so long in his own movie. And Edwards’ keen commitment to his aesthetic is admirable – deciding to show the warring monstrosities from a shaky, dark, messy human’s-eye POV as if they were being lensed for real – and the film has a lot of production value with various sets and locations, as well as the excellent CG for the creatures themselves and the destruction that they cause.
But without the candy-coloured fun of something like Pacific Rim it’s up to the human factor to bear more of the storytelling weight, and Godzilla struggles with this responsibility because Bryan Cranston’s Brody is nothing like as memorable as his Amity Island namesake, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is another in a long line of identikit Hollywood military men fighting to save the day and make it home to see their family. Ken Watanabe is particularly badly wasted with a near-catatonic performance as Serizawa, and the same sense of wastefulness applies to Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody, who has little more to do than to play the good wife to Ford and to flee open-mouthed from the advancing devastation. David Strathairn is also criminally underused as Admiral Stenz, who gets to issue orders while looking stern and doesn't do much of anything else.
I wouldn’t call Godzilla a total misfire as that would do a disservice to the amount of hard work and dedication that’s gone into it. For better or worse it‘s the film that Edwards set out to make, because the production wasn’t riven by behind-the-scenes interference (which is surprising considering how many fingers were in the pie) nor was it hacked up in the edit, and it does have some very memorable moments like the H.A.L.O. jump set to Györgi Ligeti’s chilling Requiem. But it gets bogged down with a bland set of characters playing out familial angst that we’ve seen many times before in movies like this, which ironically reduces the impact of the larger-scale destruction because it’s difficult to really care about these people and what’s happening to them.
The Blu-rayThis UK region-free 2D release starts with a plug for the Godzilla prequel comic book and a trailer for the Tom Cruise actioner Edge of Tomorrow. The disc comes with a UV copy and a slipcase.
Godzilla was shot digitally in anamorphic on the Arri Alexa and finished on a 2K DI, resulting in this 2.40 widescreen Blu-ray encode. Detail levels are exemplary, revealing every scale on Godzilla’s back or inch of stubble on Taylor-Johnson’s face. The colour has a downbeat desaturated look but it’s entirely intentional, as is the pall of darkness which covers the movie like a shroud. The blacks are incredibly deep and still yield lots of shadow detail should your display be up to the task or better yet, if it has been calibrated correctly in the first place. Correct gamma is essential for getting the most out of this movie in the home; too high and the image will come out of black far too slowly, crushing down all that shadow detail and making it look like a certain Spinal Tap album cover, but if it’s too low it’ll come out of black too quickly and wash out those astonishingly rich blacks. Thankfully the AVC encode is up to the task and it betrays no sign of overt blocking, banding or black crush. This 2D Blu-ray will be a TV torture test for many years to come, and although it’s not the prettiest movie I’ve ever seen I have no hesitation in giving the Blu-ray a perfect score for its impeccable presentation of extremely tricky source material.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is almost as big and imposing as Godzilla himself. Chunky, booming bass underpins the battle scenes and the almost whale-like calls of the M.U.T.O.s, while some brilliantly atmospheric effects are spread across the rear of the sound stage. The dialogue and music aren’t swamped by all this chaos and destruction, though there is a reason for this: everything in this mix has been mastered very, very LOUDLY. It substitutes genuine dynamic range for sheer volume and although that can still make for a raucous audio experience, it means that clipping can and does occur, and the louder this mix is pushed towards reference volume the more the issue becomes apparent. The screeching roar of fighter jets getting clipped is one thing, but it really shouldn’t occur when a character simply raises their voice. It’s a pity because it stops this monster mix from achieving greatness, although I should think that most people will still get a great deal of enjoyment from it, as did I.
The extras are divided into several small featurettes. MONARCH: Declassified is a set of three faux newsreel type videos running for a total of 14 minutes, one purporting to be from the US Military about the original Godzilla incident (called Operation: Lucky Dragon, a rather crass reference to the real-life incident which inspired the original film), another is presented like an induction video for MONARCH (The M.U.T.O File) and the third is a more modern ‘conspiracy theory’ type video (The Godzilla Revelation). Next is the 19-minute Godzilla: Force of Nature piece which has interviews with Edwards and various people involved in the production about what their aims were with the film and the reasoning behind them. A Whole New Level of Destruction is 8 minutes of looking at the ways that the filmmakers created the massive sense of destruction. Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump spends 5 minutes detailing the methods they used to create the film’s signature skydiving sequence. Lastly is Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s about the creation of Godzilla’s nemesis for this movie, running for 6 minutes.
OverallGodzilla attempts to tell a human story in the midst of carnage and mayhem but it falls short, which only serves to devalue the entertainment aspect of the big moments of destruction when we finally get them. But it's not a Bad Film and it may well grow on people over time as they get used to what the film does offer, instead of what it does not. This 2D Blu-ray has a peerless video presentation of very awkward source material, and although the 7.1 audio has some technical issues it’s still extremely boisterous. The extras amount to barely an hour of lightweight press-kit soundbites.
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