“It’s not the end of the world.”
Just in time for the delayed release of Godzilla vs. Kong, we get a look back to the very beginning of this particular string of films. Of course it all really started back in 1954, but for our purposes this was the beginning of the current Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures franchise featuring the true king of the monsters. Now Warner has released the film on UHD Blu-ray and in glorious 4K. So before you head to the cinemas or (God forbid) your phone screens for the latest battle, check in here to relive round one.
I still remember the night I walked out of the screening of the Roland Emmerich version of Godzilla. I can’t remember a time I had ever been so angry at a film. It was a film that was an insult to the monster that I had held in such high regard right alongside King Kong. Sure, I had seen the trailers, but when I saw that first reveal of their “Godzilla”, I cringed. I hated it. Had the film been called anything else, perhaps my loathing towards it would have been different, but it was a film that was foolish enough to hold the name of Godzilla. Now it’s been over 15 years and Hollywood is taking another stab at presenting us with an Americanized version of Godzilla. And this time they nailed it.
Let me just start off by saying Godzilla is meant to be seen on the IMAX and on the biggest screen you can catch it on. This is an experience to see on the giant screen where you can take in the King of All Monsters and the destruction and chaos he brings.
Its 1999 when our film begins, a team from Monarch arrives in the Philippines where they make perhaps one of the grandest discoveries in archeological history. Monarch isn’t just your average team of scientists, but instead they are a team that specializes in the history and research of giant beasts like Godzilla. It’s at this first site where we get a glimpse at the scale of the creatures that will be in the film as they discover the skeletal remains deep within a crater. Here is also where they find an egg to something you just know you don’t want to be around for when this thing hatches.
At the same time, but in Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is in the middle of a panic, as he is getting readings that seem to imply that something massive is about to occur, and he wants to have the nuclear power plant where he works shut down. He’s in such a hurry he doesn’t notice his son, who simply wanted to tell his dad Happy Birthday before having to go off to school. The guilt of missing this hurts Brody, but he knows there are more urgent matters at play. He and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work together at the plant, and it’s his wife who suits up to investigate things for her husband. Something of course goes wrong that results in the death of his wife as well as the destruction of the plant.
All this isn’t just a simple hook to kick this film off. Instead it is a welltold and executed sequence that helps set up the heart of the film, because as the film jumps ahead to present day, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a man who carries the scar of losing his mother so tragically and in a large part his father as well. While Ford has joined the military and specializes in bombs (this comes in handy later), Joe has become obsessed with uncovering the mystery behind what happened that disastrous day in Japan. For he has a family of his own now and wants nothing more than to be the loving and supportive dad as well as tend to his loving wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olson), but all that changes when Ford gets a call when his father is arrested, and it takes him back to Japan.
Not nearly enough time is shared between Joe and Ford; this story is what had me hooked, and seeing the two venture out into the quarantine zone that has been untouched by man for 15 years is just a thing of movie magic. This is a world where director Gareth Edwards shone in his first feature film Monsters, but now he’s been given millions to simply just go crazy, and he delivers so well.
It’s also in the quarantine zone where Joe and Ford come face to face with what is responsible for the death of their wife/mother. Overseeing the quarantine zone is Monarch official Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). But before Dr. Serizawa and Joe can talk, things are getting bad. The egg from 15 years ago is about to hatch, and what comes out no one should be around for. This first monster reveal is just perfect and damn near terrifying in the chaos it is responsible for.
From this point on the film asks you to take a leap and ignore how coincidental everything gets. One thing is for certain; you want to avoid Ford Brody and his family at all costs, because it seems anywhere they go, monsters and disasters occur.
When Ford makes a stop in Hawaii on his way home, this just so happens to be where the first Muto arrives to cause some giant monster mischief. But it is here that Godzilla makes his amazing reveal and where we first see these giant monsters collide. Last year I went a bit crazy over the film Pacific Rim and its giant monster vs. jaeger battles. Well, here Edwards delivers a confrontation that is on par with those and still continues to tease the audience of more to come. It’s the way he teases us with the monsters and their altercations that builds the anticipation to what we can only expect to be epic.
As for Godzilla and how he is executed this time around, we are well beyond the days of Claymation and having a man in a suit. This is also not the iguana-looking thing that Emmerich gave us either. What we have is THE Godzilla, a godlike creature that has been around since before the dinosaurs and is the world’s protector whenever the world seems to have gone out of balance. What I did notice and appreciated was the look of awe that comes from the children in the film when they see these giant godlike creatures. For so long I imagined these creatures with that childlike wonder, and that is just what this film sparked inside me. The wonder, hope, and fear that these creatures could one day walk the earth and do battle in our metropolises is the stuff dreams are made of, and Gareth Edwards has now realized it for the big screen.
Where the big payoff comes is in the final thirty minutes of the film when Godzilla and the Muto creatures collide in San Francisco. This just happens to be where Ford’s family lives. The fight is the spectacle that it should be. The audience I saw this with cheered in all the right spots, and there are plenty of those moments. The scene, though, that has haunted my thoughts since leaving the theater is the Halo drop sequence. The perspective from behind the oxygen mask as they descend through the clouds and into the heat of battle between Godzilla in Muto is simply stunning and beautiful and accompanied by a rousing score by Alexandre Desplat. It’s been a while since a score has jumped out at me, but this one delivers the impact and resonates in such a way that I see it becoming one of those classics that gets attached to other trailers for years.
I’m a little disappointed with the decision to bring in a non-ToHo character for this first Godzilla outing. I think all of us longtime fans have our own favorite monster we would have rather have seen go head to head with Godzilla. Thankfully, though, I’m just about certain this film will be a massive success, and we can plan on seeing a sequel in the next couple of years. When it comes to summer movies, I can’t really think of what more to ask; this movie delivers and exceeded my expectations. Already I’m ready to get in line and watch this again. “…Let them fight.”
Godzilla is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with a monster average bitrate of 80 mbps. This is certainly one of those best- of-times/worst-of-times affairs. The image is a huge upgrade to the previous Blu-ray and 3D releases of the movie. The HDR provides enhanced contrast levels here that are a marked improvement. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough. The film is too dark. The monster fights happen in such a dark space that it’s not as easy to appreciate the work done here to bring our favorite city-stomper to life. Black levels are indeed very deep and impressive, but even with the lift of the HDR work here, there still isn’t enough shadow definition. I know it’s pretty much the way the film was shot, and it must certainly be the intention of the powers that be. That doesn’t have to mean I’m going to like it. There are some really good things to say here. Explosions and fireballs against that dark background are awesome. It’s HDR at its best providing enhanced depth to the bright colors and just as impressive contrast with no light leaks from bright to dark. The icy-blue radioactive breath weapon is breathtaking, to be sure. It’s actually beautiful. Wish there had been more of it. Textures and details are vast improvements over the Blu-ray release. The establishment shots show the brightest colors and are inviting to be sure.
The Dolby Atmos track defaults to a pretty solid 7.1 mix. The thing that reaches out and grabs you is the incredible sub levels. Long before you even see a hint of a monster, the subs are delivering ground-shaking experiences that rock your room to the core. You’re never going to experience anything like this on your phone. Trust me on that. When the monster mash does begin, it’s wall-to-wall immersion at its finest. Godzilla’s somewhat altered growl pierces through any of the mayhem that abounds and strikes perfectly into your screening environment. The subs accent everything from monsters to score to ordinance to even dialog. Throughout this audio presentation it provides a depth to everything it touches, and that’s pretty much everything on the screen. Dialog cuts through most of the time with just a few obvious moments where it likely wasn’t intended to be the dominating sound. The surrounds are aggressive and provide you with a fully encompassing experience.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film.
Monarch Declassified: Here we get three mini-features coming in at just about 15 minutes. Where it may not be the pithy bonus you would hope for, it is a fun collection of “classified” footage concerning Godzilla and the Mutos. I had fun with these, and I can appreciate the time and detail that went into making these seem time-period appropriate.
Godzilla Force of Nature (19:18): A fairly standard behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
A Whole New Level of Destruction (8:24): A look into the effects that went into the making of the film.
Into the Void: The Halo Jump (5:00): An all too brief look at some of the work that went into the Halo jump sequence.
Ancient Enemy: The Muto (6:49): A look behind the creation of Godzilla’s nemesis in the film.
Though this may not be the greatest film of all time, for me this goes down as one of my all-time favorite experiences on the big screen. Despite my love for the film, I couldn’t help but feel some of that love just didn’t translate to the home theater. The film is still a solid good time, and at this date I’ve seen the film four times and I’m still loving it. This is how reboots should be done; this is a film that works on many levels and continues to maintain a balance of having a little bit of heart while mixing in giant monsters going head to head. This is a film I’ll be watching many times down the road, and I’d imagine I’m not the only one.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani