By 1998 we were in an era where economic liberalization had more or less set in comfortably in India. Coca-Cola had made a re-entry into the country a few years earlier (1994) and more and more new MNC’s were entering India. On the entertainment front too things looked good as Hollywood films which earlier used to take months or even 1-2 years to reach India, now started seeing faster releases, settling down to same day releases with the U.S and U.K too, especially in case of the big films. Not just that with the success of sci-fi monster and disaster films in India like Jurassic Park, Independence Day etc, the Hollywood Studios knew that this was not a market to be ignored anymore. Hence in 1998 when Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla was ready to be released, the film was all around us. With it’s by now popular “Size Does Matter” tagline, Godzilla was literally shoved down our throats in a way. Its promotional campaign is still remembered today, starting with the teaser that was initially unleashed.
With all that brouhaha it was but natural to expect a terrific entertainer from Roland Emmerich but personally for me the film was way too disappointing. It held no emotional appeal to me and despite raking in money especially in International markets including India; the film was also dumbed down by critics Worldwide. TriStar Pictures who held the rights for the Godzilla franchise (under an agreement with TOHO Company of Japan) was initially planning to make a 3 film series but after the below par performance of the 1998 film, they did not pursue the concept further and let the rights expire in 2003. With new producers (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.) and a new director, Gareth Evans at the helm, a reboot of Godzilla got announced a couple of years ago.
Gareth Evans whose claim to fame being the indie hit sci-fi film Monsters (2010), was for me a surprise choice as the director but also an interesting choice as well. With the distribution and marketing muscle that Warner Bros. was capable of, it wasn’t a surprise that Godzilla was being projected as a big summer Hollywood release. But was it going to be a good entertainer as promised? Would this reboot be a far better attempt than the 1998 film? And how would this film appeal to people to at large and the Japanese in particular? All these and more such questions were on my mind when I set out to watch the special screening of the film at Imax-Wadala and over the 123 odd minutes of the film’s duration I experienced a range of emotions, but I’ll come to all that soon but to start with let’s talk about the basic premise of the film.
The film starts off on a note which sort of pays homage to the original 1954 film (again simply called Godzilla) as we get to see newsreel style clippings of nuclear tests of the 1950’s. We move forward to Japan in 1999 where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) a nuclear physicist lives with his wife Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) and son Ford. Joe and Sandra are both employed at the Janjira nuclear plant and one day a sudden mysterious disaster impacts the nuclear plant, causing the evacuation of the entire area. In the process Joe sees Sandra dying before his own eyes tragically (one of the better emotional moments in the film). Fifteen years later Ford Brody (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) is now a bomb disposal expert in the U.S Army, living with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) a nurse and their son. But back in Japan Joe is still trying to uncover what according to him is a major conspiracy. He is determined to prove that the authorities covered up the whole truth behind the Janjira disaster and in that process he is joined by his reluctant son Ford and scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his colleague Dr.Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins).
Dr.Ishiro and Dr.Vivienne are members of a secret organization called Monarch, which has been all along tracking the existence of Kaiju’s like Godzilla. Disaster strikes once again and no it is not Godzilla that mankind is pitted against right now. The Kaiju which the U.S Army and Monarch are now pitted against is what is simply known as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), a mammoth monster which resembles a super gigantic insect. The action shifts from Japan to Hawaii and then to the U.S mainland as we realize that MUTO is on a journey to find its mate (yes there are two of them). That’s when Godzilla makes its entry in spectacular fashion, from the sea.The U.S Army feels that the only way to save millions of human lives is to bomb the creatures, whereas Dr. Ishiro feels that Godzilla’s very arrival now is to probably eliminate the MUTO’s and restore the balance of nature. What happens from thereon is what the rest of the film is all about and it wouldn’t really tax your brain to guess the outcome :).
First things first this reboot of Godzilla is way better than Roland Emmerich’s film of the same name, no doubts about it. The film tries hard to stay reasonably true to the earlier Japanese films made by TOHO Company, with the result being an attempt that at least has a soul. Godzilla is visually stunning and has some really state of the art CGI work which brings alive before us destruction that sets in places like Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco etc giving us an almost realistic feel. The film also reminds you of the recent blockbuster Pacific Rim in more than one aspect. Be it the mood and visual treatment (especially the portions in the sea), the American-Japanese link, of giant beasts combating each other etc., the similarities are very clear however despite the same Godzilla still does have an identity of its own, thankfully.
The film starts off wonderfully and the title sequence is truly captivating, the first 30 odd minutes are remarkably engaging,setting up the base for the rest of the action to follow. Sadly the film does taper out later on, only to thankfully perk up again towards the latter half of the film. But more than the problem of the middle portion of the film losing steam what’s more of a bother is that most of the characters do not really win our attention, they are just made to flow with the motions. An exception for sure is Byran Cranston playing Joe Brody, who is very earnest and easily the pick of the lot. Sadly the character isn’t present for the entire duration of the film, leaving us to look at Ford Brody and Dr.Ishiro. Aaron-Taylor Johnson who’s otherwise a competent actor hardly impresses over here. Elizabeth Olsen as Elle looks endearing but has nothing much to do in the film, while Ken Watanabe gives that constant expression of “how did I get fooled into being a part of this” more or less throughout the film. Sally Hawkins as Dr.Vivienne has to only look puzzled, confused and surprised most of the time.
The film also isn’t an out and out Godzilla film as one might consider, far from it as the gigantic Kaiju has more of an “extended cameo” appearance in the film. But a lot of care has been taken to get the look right, a complaint from hard core fans in case of the 1998 film. Also the Godzilla’s roar that’s heard a few times in the film is pretty impressive (make sure you watch it in a multiplex/single screen with good acoustics), the original recording of the roar was provided by Toho which was later improved upon. Considering aspects like this, the kind of work that went in getting the look of Godzilla and the MUTO right, the kind of extensive research that went in, all prove that the film is certainly an ambitious attempt alright. Eventually we end up seeing a film which though wanting to appear global is still a lot more American in nature. After all they are the one’s fond of saving Planet Earth right? :)
But with an aim to look down upon nuclear wars and with the theme of nature trying to provide the balancing act, Gareth Edwards has come up with a tale that not just projects Godzilla as an anti-hero but also appeals in its own way. The film has its issues but thankfully they do not overshadow the merits, making it a worthwhile watch.
Note- On a parting note I must definitely add that the 3D element though is a little disappointing and you may end up feeling why couldn’t the makers have just limited themselves to 2D and IMAX versions, instead of pitching it as a 3D film mainly. Unless you are watching it on an IMAX screen, a good 2D screen may not be a bad option as well.