In Summer 2014, the world's most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure "Godzilla." From visionary new director Gareth Edwards ("Monsters") comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless.
Sixty years after first destroying Tokyo, King of the Monsters roared onto cinema screens this summer for the second time as a Hollywood production. The first Americanized 'Godzilla' (or second if you count the Raymond Burr cut of the original film), was directed by Roland Emmerich and maligned for its unfaithful monster designs (among other flaws). For 2014, film financier Legendary Pictures brought in director Gareth Edwards, who had previously made the post-apocalyptic 'Monsters', to lead a team in rebooting the franchise in a much more reverential way.
This new version is a mash up of family drama, ultra serious tone, post-9/11 disaster-porn and devastation, an allegorical comment on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a Godzilla that looks equal parts real beast crossed with that classic man-in-suit Toho designs. In short, 'Godzilla' looks and sounds the part -- though I'm not a huge fan of G's cankles -- but what is the experience like on an emotional level? Does it achieve its cinematic intentions? Let's dive in and see what's under the hood.
1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), wife Sandra, and son Ford are Americans living and working in Japan. The Brodys are a tight-nit family, with young Ford idolizing his obsessively busy father. While, trying to figure out if an unusual series of seismic events pose a threat to the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, a catastrophic earthquake breaches the reactor, forcing Joe to manually shut the safety doors while Sandra is still inside. As Joe's heart is breaking, we see Ford watching in the distance as his school evacuates the area. Off the terrified eyes of a little boy who doesn't know if his parents are still alive, we cut to --
Present day. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is now a father of his own, married to wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and a US Navy explosive ordinance disposal officer. In the years since the Janjira incident, Joe has gone off the rails, consumed by the idea that there is a conspiracy covering up what really happened. What really killed his wife. Joe's relationship with Ford is nonexistent, until Ford bails Joe out of jail for trespassing inside the Janjira quarantine zone while searching for evidence he needs to prove whatever happened in 1999 seems to be happening again.
When Joe convinces Ford to help, father and son are both arrested in the quarantine zone. Luckily, the arresting soldiers take the Brodys directly into the heart of a top secret military operation overseen by the mysterious Project Monarch and its scientists, Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) and Vivienne Graham. The Jajira plant has become home to what looks like a massive cocoon where the creature inside is revealed to not only have caused the 1999 "earthquake," but has also been feeding off the plant's nuclear materials.
Serizawa and Graham have been studying the creature in this hibernation for years, but when it's clear it's about to wake up, they try to kill it. Bad idea. The cocoon rips open, revealing a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, or MUTO. The 200-foot-tall monster tears out of the facility, killing and maiming, and heads out to sea searching for more food -- more nuclear materials. What is it? Where's it going exactly? What can we do to stop it?
Serizawa turns to Joe and Ford Brody for help (since Joe seemed to know more that the Project Monarch folks about the creature's less-than-dormant state). When Serizawa uses Joe's echolocation information to analyse the scientific data, he realizes the situation's about to get even worse. There are actually TWO MUTOs, one heading east across the Pacific ocean, the other walking west from Las Vegas. Both on a collision course with San Francisco, where Ford's wife and son are trapped, and there's nothing the world can do to stop them.
What follows is Ford's desperate attempt to get back to his family, while Project Monarch and the military plans to defend the people of San Francisco against nuclear powered monsters (the war hawks in charge have the grand idea of using a nuclear bomb against MUTOs that feed off of, and are drawn to, radioactive materials).
But nature has a way of maintaining its own balance. A force to restore order. A monster that hunts monsters.
Godzilla may be mankind's only hope.
'Godzilla (2014)' is just as much a faithful re-imagining of the man-in-suit monster legend as it is an homage to Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws'. That is, 'Godzilla' aims to provide monster smashing mayhem with a sense of wonder and awe and terror as told through the lens of one small, family story. This is a pretty common structure for disaster films, many of which use melodramatic archetypes that can sometimes feel cliched or thin. I've heard the "thin" comment to describe 'Godzilla' as well, but I don't actually think that's the case. I'm not sure if the movie works as well as it possibly can all the time, character-wise, but I would not describe the characters as thin.
Personally, I think the any character "flaw" isn't about thinness or complexity, but about point of view (whose story are we trying to tell and why), early resolution of character arcs, and the relative ease with with the characters overcome obstacles.
First, POV. The movie opens from Joe's perspective. We ache with him when he loses his wife, but 'Godzilla' is actually Ford's movie and his journey to reunite and reconnect with his own family. But, Ford's family life isn't nearly as dramatic as Joe's. There are parallels with Ford being a distant father (in the military, he travels a lot) for sure, but his home life is pretty great. Ford's trying to be a good husband and father. So maybe the key to a strong character arc is Ford repairing his relationship with Joe, who he blames for his mother's death. Good stuff, but the filmmakers resolve this arc before the movie is half over. This leaves the Ford Must Get Home plot, which is fine. Being away too much is his established character flaw, but I would argue the journey and obstacles don't test Ford's weaknesses, or to say the complications in Ford's journey don't reveal anything new about Ford, or change him.
What the hell am I talking about, you say? This is a simple popcorn movie. We don't need to care about that other crap. Fair enough. As I've said before, stories and characters aren't check lists, so I don't mean to imply that this film needs to be like any other. But let's look at the film's cinematic ancestor. In 'Jaws', Chief Brody hates the ocean, but in order to destroy the beast, in order to keep his family safe, Brody must face his fears of the open ocean to battle a creature in its own environment. That right there is what makes Chief Brody's journey resonate. It's not just about story, or getting from place to place, it's about using story, character, and theme in harmony. With 'Godzilla', Ford's only dramatic tension is based in his father-relationship, but that ends pretty quickly, which makes me wonder if that arc should have been extended, or if Joe should have been the main character.
Next, 'Godzilla', like 'Jaws', makes the choice to keep Godzilla off screen for most of the movie. To grow our anticipation for that big reveal. To basically to tell a story that's the opposite of 'Pacific Rim', which was wall-to-wall monster wrestling. I love the notion of this intention. On the surface, it's really smart to go against the trend of showing things too much. Maybe making us wait is what improves the overall experience. That anticipation and release. Don't show the monster. Create tension. Build suspense. Evoke that feeling of being in the water and not really being able to see what's about to eat you.
Only Godzilla isn't a mystery thriller.
Godzilla isn't actually supposed to be scary. He's the hero.
Sure, the characters need to stay the hell out of his way because we're basically ants to him, but I would argue there's no story-reason to hold Godzilla back. We're just not allowed to see him yet because, Jaws but not Jaws. And, sure, the late reveals -- the first visual, the first roar, the first radiation breath -- all end up being Audience Cheering moments in a grand sense, but it all feels like a missed opportunity to build story-based anticipation rather than forced anticipation. Instead, we get Project Monarch exposition dumps and then Godzilla just shows up. No warning signals implying that He's coming soon. No radar detection. The characters haven't even been trying to find him. Nope, he just shows up, roars, and then we break main character POV to keep him hidden longer because, I dunno, the filmmakers don't want to blow their monster-fight load.
Look, too much Godzilla would probably have been a bad idea (this is all so subjective anyway), but on repeat viewings, the first hour ends up being a bit of a slog.
Finally, let's talk about Ford's journey home. A father trying to get home to his family is always a compelling disaster trope, but to me it felt as though Ford's journey home was, despite the danger, too convenient. He stumbles onto Project Monarch, he's chosen to help, he's sent to Hawaii, he stumbles onto a departing military transport, then happens to be an expert that can help a military train heading for San Francisco. It's all too easy. I wonder if Ford's character would have been helped with overcoming challenges in getting around, or to see him almost getting to his wife and son, but failing more and being pushed further away. Stuff like that.
At this point, it probably sounds like I absolutely hated 'Godzilla (2014)', but that's not really the case. I just wanted to explore, from an audience perspective, some story and character choices that seem to be working against the film because there's a lot to admire in the movie.
Director Gareth Edwards, in every interview I've seen, comes off as intelligent and enthusiastic, and you can really tell in the final project. Every inch of the movie, from overall tone to specific shots to music choices bristles with energy. And not in the relentless disconnect of something like 'Transfomers' where individual shots are dynamic, but fail to build any sense of tension and release. Edwards is an extremely talented visual filmmaker, never losing sense of character and story while painting epic vistas with a perfect sense of scale. There's a real sense of building set-pieces and by "grounding" most of the monster sequences from human perspectives, you can't help but marvel at the creatures' godlike proportions and their titanic powers. 'Godzilla' stuns, visually, each image building up to fun sequence.
I'd also argue that the movie succeeds in achieving most of its genre aspirations. It is faithful while refreshing. It's Americanized, but still feels international. The monster fight sequences are beyond epic, and I really loved the way Godzilla appears in and out of shadows or clouds or lightning like each new appearance was as important as his first reveal.
Bottom line, if you loved kaiju mayhem as a kid, you're going to enjoy the last half of 'Godzilla' -- the only question is, will you be able to wait that long to fall in love?
Vital Stats: The Blu-ray Disc
'Godzilla' (2014) debuts on Blu-ray as part of a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. The Blu-ray is a dual-layer BD50, of which 36.28 GB have been used for the movie, soundtracks, and special features. Trailers include an ad for Ultra Violet and 'Edge of Tomorrow'.
'Godzilla' (2014) stomps onto Blu-ray with an excellent AVC-MPEG 4 encode framed in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
While the film's palette grows increasingly monotone (and grim), color reproduction and skin tones remain vibrant and accurate. Detail and resolution are available in spades -- you can see every spec of dirt and debris. And though I might argue some of the film's visual effects looked more realistic in cinemas than they do on home video, the monster designs are pretty wicked from Godzilla's scales to the MUTOs glowing red eyes.
There is one potential issue, a thing our readers might be arguing about for some time. Overall light levels. Key sequences in Hawaii and San Francisco are exceptionally dark. I don't know how it will look in 3D Blu-ray, but those with improperly calibrated displays, or those with displays prone to reflecting too much light, might mistake the darkness for bad image quality. However, it seems like an intentional choice to me (one of the film's rules is that the MUTOs knock out power with natural EMPs), but could be a problem for some viewers in certain lighting conditions. I started watching during the late afternoon on my Panny plasma, but had to wait until after dark to finish the climax.
At this point, it's hard to determine if this is a mistake worth knocking off points, or just a movie that you should not watch during the day (or with too much ambient light). I was personally able to enjoy the film without having to adjust my display, and the amount of depth within black levels is damned impressive. This might be the darkest Blu-ray I own next to something like 'The Descent', and even in these scenes where CGI monsters keep flickering into view via lightning strikes or partially hidden by digital debris clouds, I couldn't see any errors. Some lesser displays will band heavily, but other than one or two minor instances, this is a strong encode with little-to-no digital errors.
So let's see what some other reviewers, and you readers, have to say. Let us know in the comments. Best dark scenes ever, or Warners totally messed it up?
While the video quality might have an issue, 'Godzilla' (2014) roars onto Blu-ray with a reference quality 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix.
It's no surprise sound designer Erik Aadahl worked on this impressive soundtrack. From Alexander Desplate's ominous musical score to the aggressively panned auditory carnage of flying debris and destruction to the thunderous LFE of monstrous creatures colliding in a fight to the death, this is a track that delivers on all levels. One that will wake up any native 7.1 system and push you to keep turning the volume as close to reference as your ears can stand it.
My only complaint with this track is that it's not the first Dolby Atmos Blu-ray, because 'Godzilla' sounded even better theatrically with extensive use of the overhead speakers to widen the soundstage (I felt chills when the King roared for the first time). While that mix was incredible, and will be missed, audiophiles are going to love this Blu-ray.
All of the Bonus Material are HD Exclusives. Please see below.
'Godzilla' (2014) is a fun monster movie with glorious kaiju battles, tons of disaster porn, and breathtaking visuals. I was less impressed with some of the story and character choices upon repeat viewings, but that's okay. As a Blu-ray, the image quality is sharp and dynamic, but with certain displays (like plasmas) you won't be able to watch key sequences in brighter lighting environments. The 7.1 audio mix is robust and immersive, but the Special Features are a little lackluster.
If you haven't seen 'Godzilla' yet, you may want to rent it before you buy it.
For fans, this title is Recommended unless you also enjoy 3D, in which case you might want to consider the Blu-ray 3D combo pack.
Overall, Worth a Look.