Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster movie Godzilla isn’t scary now. Maybe it wasn’t scary then. It possesses a certain eerie power, though, because of what’s outside the frame: its context. You’re watching two of Japan’s deep cultural fears (the deep ocean, and nuclear weapons) collide on the screen, in the form of a huge mutated creature rising from the sea, destroying city.
Forty years later Roland Emmerich resurrected the franchise and shot it full of steroids.
The good part is that there’s no phoned in “humans are the REAL monsters!” subtext, a’la every other monster movie from the period.
The bad parts can be generally defined as “the rest of the film”. The CGI Godzilla is never even slightly believable. There’s never the sense that it’s a skyscraper-sized colossus that weighs a hundred thousand tons. It dives into the sea and makes a tiny splash. It sneaks around New York as inaudibly as Solid Snake.
The film’s best moments are the ones where the monster is outside the shot, or barely seen. This is an effective touch. It gives the impression that we’re looking at a beast of uncontainable size, a beast too big to film. But that’s also an indictment of how shitty Godzilla looks in this. His every appearance does to our faith in the film what the monster does to buildings.
The movie is badly cast and written. About half the cast is from the Simpsons, and there’s comedic moments (such as the Roger Ebert mayor) that ruin the tension and aren’t even theoretically funny. The characters are extremely stupid – deciding to lure the monster to one of the world’s most densely populated urban metropolises, where mass civilian casualties are almost guaranteed. It’s also one of those movies full of shots of marines firing magazine after magazine at a monster that we’ve long-since established isn’t hurt by gunfire.
I was into kaiju shit when this movie came out. Godzilla caused me to go out of it again.