Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Monster Movies Are Not All The Same

I'm a Godzilla fan.  I make no apologies.  I enjoyed David Kalat's Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series because I think just about any sort of entertainment that stands up to being taken apart has worth. 

I've just watched Godzilla vs King Ghidorah for, I think, the third time.  It's not one of the great Godzilla films, and that's partially because there's so much of the human plot going on.  The fights are dissappointingly short. 

When the monster is the draw of the film, that monster should be front and center.  When I buy a Godzilla film, I'm buying it for the Godzilla action.  I want to see Godzilla blasting away at giant monsters in the middle of a city that's getting massively trashed.  Some monster films, and I'll pick zombie films as an example, aren't really about the monsters.  Night of the Living Dead was not so much about zombies, as it was people under pressure.  And that's how a zombie film should be.  As a monster, zombies aren't that interesting, unless they're given a twist.  They're just dead people.  They're interesting in the fear they produce in living people, and how people react in difficult circumstances, similar to the now little-seen disaster film.     

Big monster films, in which the monster is usually in the title, are about the monster.  Godzilla, for example. The actions of the humans should revolve around the monsters.  This was, in part, a major failing of the American Godzilla.  The audience came to see a monster film.  Instead, they got a number of small personal dramas that had nothing to do with the monster.  Which could have been fascinating (but wasn't), but I wanted to see the monster.  And while the monster sequences, whether suit animated or CG, are expensive, they're what bring the audience in.  Why was GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack the highest grossing film of the Millennium series?  Because the last half hour of the film is devoted to the monster battle.  Godzilla is shown kicking the shit out of monsters, buildings, and the military.  In few other films is he portrayed as so relentless, monstrous, or invulnerable. 

The only film to succesfully straddle these two approaches, to balance the monster with the human drama is The Host.  This was hugely successful due in part to director Bong Joon-ho's decision to make his film more a drama with monster than a film about a monster. 

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