It's getting harder to stay ignorant. In the mid-80s it was possible
to see films like ET or GREMLINS without knowing what the
effects-generated critters looked like beforehand. It was a luxury
that imbued these films with a sense of mystery and event. Godzilla
(the monster, not the movie) has been a different matter. Toy
catalogues, film reviews, television advertisements, and every other
medium have been spewing out images of the Scaly One with such
prevalence that sneak previews of the lizard itself are almost
unavoidable. And if it's not pics of Godzilla then it's the gossipy
giveaways of the storyline, or the reviews that get released even
before the movie makes it to the local multiplex.
I generally shut myself off from such spoilers, but this time around
the tone of the local reviews has made itself quite clear: The lizard
is a turkey; GODZILLA bites; the movie is a bomb. So it was hardly
surprising by the time I got to the cinema that the non-expectations I
usually try to maintain had given way to very low expectations indeed.
It was after seeing GODZILLA for myself, however, and thinking "This
isn't that bad…actually it's fun", that I suddenly realized I had been
missing the point all along: GODZILLA had been made specifically for
an audience of middle-aged film critics! Not the teenagers and
families and SF/Fantasy/FX fans that filled the screening I had
attended. They're not the target audience. Obviously: they're not
the ones writing the reviews. How could I have been so blind?
I'm aware that this is an old argument, and that sarcasm is a shoddy
platform on which to build it, but I don't see that it is any less
true. Reviewing the reviewers, I discovered that every last grumpy
reptile-hating one of them had been over the age of 45. I would
propose from this sample that this age henceforth be the point at
which all critics in the public domain are reassessed, in much the
same fashion that drivers licenses are renewed at certain age limits.
It's clear to me that there are quite a few current reviewers licenses
that need serious re-examination, if not revoking.
It's clear also that the writing-directing-producing team of Roland
Emmerich and Dean Devlin knew the kind of critical reception their
popcorn movie would get, which explains why the film's most
ineffectual character is a non-too-subtle lampoon of critic Roger
Ebert, who had panned Emmerich and Devlin's earlier collaborations
INDEPENDENCE DAY and STARGATE. I wouldn't think they are singling
Ebert out personally; it's just that he represents a critical
homogeneity they resent. The collective hostility of this faction
will, I guess, be mainly directed to the contrast of two films,
JURASSIC PARK and the 1956 GODZILLA. It's true that GODZILLA poaches
a lot of imagery from JURASSIC PARK and then simply amplifies it under
its self-promoted precept 'Size Does Matter', but if you view it in
terms of how Spielberg's film would look under the influence of a
couple of bennies then I don't see how you can miss the trippy,
demented fun of it all. If it's not a rush, it's still a ride.
It's the original GODZILLA, a cult movie with a huge following, that
provides the more challenging comparison. It was a landmark film of
its type which established a new export market for Japanese films, but
at the risk of offending all Gojira fanatics, I have never understood
the appeal of the Toho-produced Godzilla films. It was only when the
momentum of the series reached DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, in which every
available rubber suit was brought out of mothballs for one last
free-for-all scrap, that I could appreciate the divine absurdity of it
all. Also going for the original was the large-scale destruction of
Tokyo (Godzilla's a lot meaner in his first appearance) which, again,
must have been impressive in 1956 - but isn't the destruction just as
impressive in 1998, even taking into account the current
sophistication of CGI? And even the appeal of seeing cities flattened
was lost in the original series when the studios realized it was a lot
cheaper for Gojira and his cronies to slug it out in open countryside.
From this point on it simply became men in costumes wrestling each
other, a trend which has still, mystifyingly, remained popular today
with such shows as POWER RANGERS.
But finally, I suppose, it is the allegorical connection that critics
will play as their trump card. The original GODZILLA meant something:
it was a national psyche which watched itself being destroyed over and
over again, still smarting from the humiliation and disenfranchisement
of losing the war and the traumatisation of genbaku-sho and other
effects of the Holocaust. How can the 1998 version compete with that?
It can't, and it doesn't try. Instead, it's a calculated,
hypermarketed cash cow. If Godzilla allegorizes anything , then it is
the seemingly unstoppable power of the Hollywood money machine,
trampling merry hell over all those who have grown out of its
demographic. GODZILLA becomes a battle of beasts; not just Ebert
versus a lizard, but the Godzilla of film critics against the Godzilla
of summer blockbusters.
At the end it appears I have not said one thing, good nor bad, about
GODZILLA itself. But that's okay. It may leave you free to see it
for yourself without any expectations. And if you still have no idea
what the monster looks like, I take my hat off to you. By this stage
that would be no mean feat. But I should point out, however, that I
still do not know what happens in the final episode of SEINFELD. Beat
that if you can.
Copyright © 1998 Shane Burridge