The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Godzilla has had a long, uneven presence on the big screen. The original Japanese version, also known as Gojira, was a somber affair that used the titular giant lizard to address the country's post-atomic bomb fears. The American version famously cut a lot of the meat out of the plot and inserted a new Raymond Burr storyline, turning it into a more generic, if still entertaining, monster movie. Many sequels, more in this vein and of varying degrees of quality, were cranked out over the years, generally pitting Godzilla against some other massive creature. Then, in 1998, Roland Emmerich brought him to Hollywood with a big budget spectacle that went disastrously wrong, disappointing fans everywhere. Since then, the only other American release to showcase him was the import Godzilla 2000. Never intent to pass up a chance to revive a well-known franchise, Hollywood has once more set its sights on the character with the appropriately-titled Godzilla. And this time, they get it right.

The story is largely told from the perspective of Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a former explosives disposal expert in the Navy. His father Joe (Bryan Cranston) once worked at a nuclear facility in Japan that suffered a radiation leak after two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) discovered the massive skeleton of an unknown creature, as well as a couple of mysterious pods. Ford always thought his dad's obsession with what happened at the facility was a lot of malarkey, but after traveling to Japan to bail Joe out of jail following a trespassing arrest, he encounters a humongous winged creature and realizes that something strange really did happen, and may be happening again. Ford rejoins the Navy to help track the beast, which feeds on radiation. There's also another monster, whom they dub Godzilla, that reveals itself to be on the same course. As one monster chases another, and the military chases both of them, several cities are put in peril, including San Francisco, where Ford's wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son live.

The problem with Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla was that it envisioned itself as a disaster movie – an approach that pushed an already outsized idea too far over the top. This new movie, directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), does a very wise thing in staying truer to the spirit of the original. Aside from directly acknowledging the events of that 1954 picture, it references the aftermath of the atomic bomb drop. In so doing, the film elevates Godzilla into something more than just a huge lizard; the character represents Japan's history and its attempts to recover from a devastating event. This is not to say that there's a ton of relevance in Godzilla - there isn't – but to suggest that Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein have at least made a substantial nod to the intent of the original motion picture.

Godzilla delivers many thrilling, highly original set pieces. A sequence involving a couple of soldiers hiding from a creature on a train trestle is particularly tense. The final half-hour, meanwhile, offers an abundance of crazy monster-on-monster action, all of it done through beautifully designed CGI effects. But it's not just giant creatures that make the film fun, it's where Edwards puts the camera and the way he reveals them. One spectacular shot of Godzilla is taken through the windows of a moving school bus, and another is shown from inside the goggles of a soldier parachuting to the ground and passing the creature as he falls. Actually, many shots are composed so as to be seen through windows or other transparent surfaces, which helps convey the idea that humans are witnessing something frightening and difficult to reconcile. I was reminded of Jaws in that the film is not all Godzilla all the time. As Spielberg did with his shark, Edwards uses Godzilla sparingly and effectively, so that every second he's on screen counts.

It's also worth noting that Godzilla has one of the best 3D conversions I've seen. 3D not only accentuates the massive size of the creatures, it also allows for some “shock” moments that make you jump. While I wouldn't say 3D is essential here, it's a lot of fun and worth the extra couple of bucks if you're a fan of the format.

The performances are good, although some of the characters are a little underdeveloped. It's a shame, for example, that no one has figured out what to do with Elizabeth Olsen following her breakout role in Martha Marcy May Marlene. She's far too good to be playing the generic wife role she's given here. Beyond that, Godzilla gets most things right. It delivers plenty of action and excitement, while still maintaining a sense of intelligence. More importantly, it fundamentally feels like a Godzilla movie should. You get a rush off the visuals and action, while sensing that the title being isn't just cool set dressing, but a fully-formed character in his own right. There is a reason why he's maintained popularity over the decades. This incredibly entertaining picture should help ensure that popularity continues for years to come.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Own Godzilla on Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 2-Disc DVD Special Edition, and Digital HD on 9/16

Godzilla will be released on Sept. 16 in a 3D Blu-Ray combo pack, a 2D Blu-Ray combo pack, and a 2-disc special edition DVD. There is also a limited edition Blu-Ray MetalPak that includes exclusive embossed artwork and Godzilla's roar.

The bonus features are divided into two categories. MONARCH: Declassified purports to reveal “explosive new evidence not contained in the film that unravels the massive cover-up to keep Godzilla's existence a secret.” There are three shorts in this section. “Operation: Lucky Dragon” is a fake debriefing film explaining the discovery of – and search for – Godzilla. “The M.U.T.O. File” explains the origin of the story's creatures, while “The Godzilla Revelation” is an assemblage of fictitious news footage related to Godzilla.

The other section is called The Legendary Godzilla, and it contains more traditional behind-the-scenes material. “Godzilla: Force of Nature” is a look at the long history of this franchise and how the filmmakers attempted to bring a modern approach to it. “A Whole New Level of Destruction” explores the film's destruction scenes and how they were created. Director Gareth Edwards explains that, since monsters aren't real, he tried to incorporate things audiences would know are real: earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Use of practical locations in adding to the realism of these sequences is discussed, as well.

“Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump” looks at one of the most exciting scenes in the movie, in which a group of soldiers parachute from a plane and pass the giant monsters on their way down. Real aerial photography was used, with VFX artists manipulating the image to make it more menacing later on. “Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s” concentrates on the monsters, how they were designed, and how CGI effects brought them to life. Edwards also discusses his desire to try to give viewers something they haven't seen before. Interestingly, each creature was given its own specific sound.

The bonus materials add up to about forty minutes, and are all fun to watch. An UltraViolet copy of the movie is also included in the pack.

Godzilla is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.

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