Godzilla - Jurassic Park, Not Gojira
There is so much to gawk at in Godzilla, both in what you see onscreen and how it’s being displayed. Director Gareth Edwards hasn’t taken just a single leaf out of Steven Spielberg’s handbook, but the structure, tone and idiosyncratic touches of his entire blockbuster catalogue. For those who were weaned onto big-budget cinema with Jurassic Park or Jaws, Godzilla boasts all the essential touchstones. Walking a fine line between foreshadowing and straight-up tease, Edwards drip feeds the audience spectacle, doling out snippets of his gloriously rendered beasts like a disgruntled prison lunch lady. Unashamedly reminiscent of the biggest Spielberg, he gives you joyous reveals of his monsters, and they’re truly the best parts of this film. They’re actually the best parts of any CGI spectacle since, well, Jurassic Park. And you can find that film’s intimate touches - raptors tapping the kitchen floor with their claws, or a T-rex toying with an overturned jeep like a playful dog - all over Godzilla. The bizarre way the MUTOs share a gigantic monster kiss, or Godzilla resting wearily against the Golden Gate bridge without destroying it; these are moments that elevate the film from its peers. The bigger and more gargantuan your movie monster is, the more exciting these little details are.
There are more parallels between both films than the approach, that is, apart from the blatant references and homages that litter the film*. The defining hallmark of the Spielberg blockbuster approach is in how much respect and awe it can muster from an audience. For him, the approach may boil down to the shitty animatronic shark that coerced certain creative choices in 1975, but, 21 years previously, the original Gojira was building this tact from scratch.
And in a way, it’s a shame that the latest in the Godzilla franchise has drawn so much from Spielberg, rather than its originator. Where the latest film is an American spectacle that revels in the destruction wreaked onscreen, Gojira is entirely a meditative speculation on a nation on the verge of oblivion. Gojira’s rubber-suited mayhem is framed through the tragic lens of Hiroshima and Lucky Dragon No. 5, and the 1954 Godzilla is a villain borne of nuclear testing; the anthropomorphised degradation of Japanese morale. Admittedly, seeing the monster clumsily clomp around Tokyo is a true B-movie delight, however, its actions are so brutally inhumane that the film’s widespread scenes of destruction are depressing, more than thrilling. Honda’s film has earned the badge of popularising a certain strain of B-grade monster movies; Roger Ebert once labelled Gojira as idiotic as Roland Emmerich’s attempt in 1998. And sure, the veneer is campy by today’s standards, but Honda’s fears of a coming apocalypse remain as real and poignant as ever.**
Kyohei Yamane-hakase: I can't believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species... But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it's possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.
More than simply namesakes, Godzilla, Gojira and Jurassic Park’s monsters have to function as the films’ thematic metaphors. In 2014, Godzilla represents nature’s wrath, woken up by our pillaging for its resources - the MUTOs. The clash between these kaiju is an enormous nod towards climate change, and though humans are the perpetrators, they’re mostly milling about amongst themselves, unable to do anything about the destruction they’ve wrought. So too does Jurassic Park’s creator, Hammond, simply watch and fret as his family is torn apart by the prehistoric predators he brought to life. Humans are the inventors of the carnage onscreen, but once the action kicks off, they’re unable to repair, prevent or really have any impact on the damage at all. Spielberg took that as an indication of the dangers of scientific hubris, whereas Edwards made it much less platitudinal. We’ve brought about the almighty wrath of planet earth, but the sheer size of our fuck-up makes it utterly uncontrollable. At this point, we need help.
This is a far cry from Honda’s script, which puts the onus on the Japanese people to find a solution. They’re alone in their struggle and, as such, they lean heavily on the cycloptic radical scientist Serizawa to utilise a weapon much more dangerous than the nuclear bomb: the Oxygen Destroyer. The extremity of a gargantuan beast decimating your city justifies its use, he’s told, but Serizawa hesitates still. The back and forth of weapons escalation seems perpetual, and the ramifications of using his creation would only bring about more death. Now, that’s meaty stuff for the supposed grandaddy of B-movie spectacle. But, by removing the human impact from anything that happens in Godzilla, Edwards has neglected these origins, and the point, of Honda’s King of Monsters.
And that goes double for the current blockbuster climate. We’re saturated by senseless and misguided blockbuster treatments of established franchises that eschew the human drama in favour of spectacle. Albeit, Godzilla is spectacle done so well that it’s hard to be truly outraged at what’s (not) going on underneath, but there’s the nagging feeling we’re all missing out on the things that made these pop culture heroes so great in the first place.
*The introductory archaeological excavation, to the bus driver wiping mist from a windscreen, there’s a drinking game to be had here, guys. **Sadder still is the industrial context surrounding the Gojira's eventual release in the US, whose critics panned it for attempting a form the Americans had supposedly pioneered. The special effects extravaganza was a realm lorded over by Hollywood, and this fledgling gem from the Pacific faced an uphill battle. Still, just like the indestructible nature of its titular character, the film blew the box-office wide open, paving the way for some 30+ films to follow and forever ingraining this beast into the pop culture psyche. The story of Godzilla seems to be one of battling the US, rather than assimilating with it.