Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Monday, May 26, 2014

O, Godzilla!

The new "Godzilla" offers all the pleasures and warnings which the old Godzilla offered, spun neatly to speak to the same concerns and anxieties that drove the original: atomic energy and the environment. Yet it turns out to be not so much a parable about eco-crisis, but another recruitment film for the Armed Forces. Godzilla 2014 is deeply suffused (is that the right word?) by images of military competence. Men in camo running around urgently speaking the language of “sitrep,” which in Hollywood parlance has become the new “we’ve got a situation here.” But “Godzilla” is not quite so obvious or egregious as “Battleground LA.” It’s not just another allegory about Iraqistan, even if some of the most impressive shots are ones where giant naval warships flank Godzilla’s even more enormous dorsal sails as though it were the latest weapon in some bizarre biogenetic arsenal. This odd alliance – American naval might with an ancient alpha predator – manages to both deplore and celebrate post-9/11 American hegemony.

The director, Gareth Edwards, pays homage to the original in other ways by returning Godzilla to his ponderous suitmation-style, digitally rendered of course, but its lumbering movements make it appear both more organic and vulnerable to the attacks of the MUTOs, which themselves are nice nods to the King of the Monster’s old foes like Mothra and Rhodan. There’s a weird pleasure to be had, too, in watching superb actors like Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Sally Hawkins gape in simple astonishment or horror at green screen spectacle. It’s like being present at a master actor’s workshop. Their reaction shots show that the greatest cinematic special effect is still the close up.

There are, for a summer blockbuster about colossal scale, moments of odd grace. Juliette Binoche is one of them, of course, but she dies in a noble self-sacrifice before the end of the first act and it's our loss. It’s in the third act that Edwards stages something very unusual for a disaster film. In the midst of the carnage the monsters inflict on San Francisco (for once, New York is not the target) an elite squad of soldiers performs a HALO drop. As they fall in slow-motion through a burning sky the camera cuts to a long shot – tiny specks hurtling down through fire and smoke – accompanied by Ligeti’s “Lux Eterna.” It’s another homage, of course, to a master even greater than Godzilla. Startling and eerie, it’s as though the film jump-cut from blockbuster to art house – a moment of pure audiovisual beauty. No monsters. Just a very lovely end of the world.

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