Godzilla- The Review

Slow pacing and subtlety aren’t normally associated with huge-budget, seat shaking giant monster films, but Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla brings a new age of monster movies crashing into our cinemas. Godzilla is a loud, brash and yet smart movie that stays true to the roots of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original, while also delivering enough thrills and tension to please both casual and fanatic viewers alike. It may not be perfect, but the director of indie-hit Monsters has managed to bring real smarts to a genre that after such bright but boring hits like Pacific Rim seemed like a lost cause. When, after huge amounts of slow reveal and build up, Godzilla’s foot finally stomps down on the ground, I didn’t just feel my seat shake, but the genre too.

Following the story from a necessarily human point of view, Godzilla follows Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has to go and release his father from a Japanese jail after another one of his attempts to uncover his conspiracy theory goes awry. His wife and Ford’s mother was killed in a nuclear plant accident, and the father, played superbly by Bryan Cranston, believes that the Government are covering up the truth as to what really caused his wife’s death. The best emotion we experience from the human characters are undoubtedly from Bryan Cranston, who puts his finest acting into gear as he is haunted by the tragedy of his wife’s death, and the lies that have been fed to him about it. The rest of the cast does a solid enough job, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson doing the best he can with a pretty simplistic and stereotypical ‘cold soldier’ character development. Ken Watanabe, playing a scientist who is obsessed with the old reports of Godzilla and the struggle to once again find him is probably the weakest of all the cast, standing around and looking either befuddled or in total awe of what will soon be shown to the audience. Although the writing isn’t terrible, the characters too often fall into stereotypes, and this can diminish the emotion and impact of the events somewhat. Then again, Edwards is probably aware that although the development of the human characters is very important, a sense of dread and fear incorporated into the audience is equally vital for the film, and the movie nails this tone time and time again.

The now infamous skydiving scene is an example of how director Gareth Edwards can create beauty from terror.

The opening pace is extremely slow, with the story of both Ford Brody and Joe Brody being explored pretty vigorously, while also giving us tantalising hints of what is to come; teasing the audience with glimpses of the main monster himself. As each brief sighting is revealed, the tension grows enormously, and one particular glimpse with red flares shooting up his scaly belly is absolutely jaw-dropping. When the camera finally pans up, revealing the big man in all his glory, and he lets out that famous roar, you feel like it has been worth the wait. Gasps were audible around me, the whole cinema shook with the deafening noise of Godzilla’s cry; it really is a spectacle to rival any other in this year’s cinema. Although Edwards’ is concerned with the human element, at the crux of his movie is the pure spectacle involved in the latter stages, and this delivers better than any other monster movie is recent times. This is coupled with the redesign of the classic Godzilla foe ‘MUTO’, who serves as the main antagonist for the human race, while Godzilla himself is presented as a misunderstood hero figure. Although this has served as a theme throughout all of the Godzilla movies (besides the unspeakable 1998 reboot), it sometimes feels like Edwards is trying too hard to present Godzilla as a good guy, and certain moments at the end seem rather contrived and forced onto the audience. This point and the problem of some undeveloped human characters are noticeable flaws, but overall minor faults in a movie that lives up to the iconic legend of Godzilla and subtly reinvents him for a modern audience. Its valid efforts to create an emotional story are very much appreciated, but the real thrill of the movie comes in its incredible final scenes, where chaos and anarchic spectacle are kings of the screen. Sometimes, Godzilla isn’t as clever as it wants to be, but when a film can be this much fun, that doesn’t matter as much as it should.

Best Bit

A brief reveal of Godzilla himself, with military soldiers shooting red flares in the sky to illuminate his enormous chest is an unquestionably beautiful moment, giving a real sense of the monster’s size and power. Clever direction from this only leads to the tension rising, which eventually makes the big reveal all the more exciting.

Worst Bit

Although Edwards tries his hardest Although Edwards does try his hardest to create three-dimensional, interesting characters, too many of them fall flat in the process of developing them, and this is a problem that leads to a lot of the emotion being diminished, in favour of big budget action scenes. The ambition is there to create a more meaningful set of characters effected by this crisis, but the movie just can’t find that extra spark which would have turned it from great into spectacular.

Overall

Godzilla is a great new entry into the classic franchise, and one that perhaps signals a new age for a smarter, subtler wave of monster movies. As long as Gareth Edwards stays around the genre has a chance; his smart pacing and memorable tributes harking back to the original film make Godzilla worthy of stomping all over its box-office rivals. Some may be put off by its slow pace and its hesitancy at showing the title star too early, but if you stick with it you’ll find a monster movie that will pound your ears and occasionally even install genuine fear into you. If this is the future of big, loud monster movies, I want to be a part of it.

4/5

What Studio Ghibli Means To Me: A Tribute To Hayao Miyazaki

Very soon, The Wind Rises will be released, marking both Studio Ghibli’s 18th feature film and the inevitable end to Hayao Miyazaki’s career. The co-founder of animation company Studio Ghibli has become an icon in the word of modern animation, influencing and shaping the industry with a remarkable career spanning six decades, and his 11th film as a director for Studio Ghibli will be his last. The quality of The Wind Rises barely matters at this point; his career, with its countless films of pure genius and unrelenting wonder, has given us quality that begs to be watched for years and years, generations and generations. In my journey to be the film fanatic that I am today, Miyazaki’s work has had an immeasurable effect on me. My appreciation for both foreign cinema and animation would not be as strong as they are today without the influence of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the worlds he conjures up for the audience. I got lost in the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki a long time ago, and I haven’t found the way out yet.

I remember watching my first Studio Ghibli film, back when I was twelve years old. It was the then mega-hit Spirited Away, a remarkable, confusing, hallucinogenic example of animation which captured both the animation and the heart. I’d never seen a Japanese film before, but the beautiful visuals and the engrossing tale made the need for subtitles unimportant. Hayao Miyazaki’s work reaches beyond language, transcending cultural boundaries to become almost universally acclaimed in a way which many foreign films can only dream of achieving. The pure magic of Miyazaki was deep in Spirited Away, and it grabbed me almost instantly with my first taste of his work. This extraordinary tale of a little girl who has to work in a bathhouse for spirits to save her parents is the typical ‘masterpiece’ of Miyazaki’s collection; the one film everybody seems to know, without knowing who made it or how they’ve only really experienced the tip of the iceberg. It’s akin to watching Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and not then going off to experience his other works, like E.T, Saving Private Ryan or Jurassic Park; a whole collection of masterpieces is just in your reach, if only you’d stretch a little further. Later on, I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle on television a year or so later, not at that moment realising the connection. Although considered by some as a weaker entry into Miyazaki’s legacy, I instantly fell in love with its incredible style, its bonkers storyline and the sheer imagination that stemmed right through the roots of the film. For me, it went beyond the charms of Disney, or the beauty of Pixar; it seemed to have more substance and more style than any other animated film I had ever seen. Studio Ghibli draw up worlds that you never want to leave, whether they be the mystic bathhouses of Spirited Away, the walking house of a wizard in Howl’s Moving Castle or, as I experienced next, the underwater haven of Ponyo. They may all be very different films, but the charm and the wonder that Studio Ghibli can create sticks hard and true from film to film.

[07.jpeg]

After the aquatic charms that Ponyo so sweetly provided, I searched out and experienced what is perhaps my favourite of all of Miyazaki’s work; My Neighbour Totoro. This story of young sisters who find forest spirits in the woods behind their house is a simply remarkable piece of work, a film that goes above and beyond the standards set for animation in film. It taught me that action, violence and even just general peril were not necessary pieces of the puzzle in terms of filmmaking, and Miyazaki deliberately stays clear of that. The characters develop, the mystery deepens, and you as the audience will simply enjoy the film through sharing company with these wonderful characters. The mystical forest creature, Totoro, has become the symbol of Studio Ghibli, and besides from that he also represents what is so brilliant about the studio itself. Totoro represents the innocence and the beauty of Miyazaki’s animation, the avoidance of general, boring Hollywood contrivances, proof that films can do remarkable things without resorting to conflict, explosions, big guns, and half-naked women. I would argue that My Neighbour Totoro is a vital part of anyone’s education on film, as it was in mine.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what captivates me, what moves me and what inspires me when I watch one of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, but it always does without fail, regardless of the film. They are quite simply perfect examples of cinema, sucking the audience into a fantastical world that holds the power to excite, sadden, amuse and scare. Studio Ghibli’s marvellous films introduced me to another world of cinema, left me breathless in ways few other pieces of cinema have, or ever will do. Miyazaki’s retirement marks the end of an era for animation, a glorious age that spans all the way from 1986 to 2014, an age where the wonder and imagination of his films have lit the world alight. Cinema is losing a master of his craft, a man who redefined in the western world the very concept of anime and foreign language film. He passes the torch on to his son, Goro Miyazaki, but it is hard to see the old magic ever getting rediscovered by the studio, even though the 2011 film From up on Poppy Hill was an encouraging example of what we can expect to come from Hayao’s protégée. Overall though, Miyazaki’s work has encouraged and influenced me to learn more about animation, taught me to appreciate foreign cinema, and showed me what can happen when you break the boundaries and limits set by Hollywood. His films are not only magical, breathtaking or jaw-dropping; they are also important. They are cinema at its very finest.