Godzilla Review Part 2: Direction

 Let’s talk direction.

Critic’s disdain for the amount of Godzilla in the film is understandable. Forget the aesthetic Edwards utilized. From a business/enjoyment factor (the balancing act between business and art is in itself an art for the summer blockbuster to master), showing only 15 minutes of Godzilla in a movie which (take away the end credits) is two minutes shy of two hours is not the best choice. Except for Japan, Taiwan, and Germany, Godzilla is truly the “event” film which blockbuster films – specifically claimed by Legendary as their brand – try to achieve the feeling of. A feeling of a rare happening. Japan had had all 29 (yes, counting the 1998 film which is legally called a “Godzilla” film) Godzilla films theatrically released, Taiwan had every Godzilla film leading up to GODZILLA 2000 released in theatres, and Germany got up to GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH in 1991. For Americans, after the theatrical release of TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA in 1978, it was a 7 year wait for GODZILLA 1985, followed by a 13 year wait for the first American Godzilla paired with GODZILLA 2000, and then another 14 years since the film being reviewed. So business wise, it is not the smartest. Most countries in the world has not seen Godzilla’s light flicker on the sliver screen in over a decade and before that, two decades. But Edwards chose an approach which has also been praised.

First thing to consider is whether the approach makes sense. Edward’s approach of “wait for it” along with “lets ravel in build up” is Spielbergian in a sense. This aesthetic is usually seen in horror films, which Steven Spielberg did have a hat in with JAWS. Ridley Scott did the same with ALIEN, and arguably James Cameron with ALIENS. Part of what made it work well with those films was that through budgetary restriction predating Roger Corman with 1932’s CAT PEOPLE, such an approach was expected. If a filmmaker decided to show the monster in its full before the halfway mark – such as John Carpenter’s THE THING – the filmmakers are ridiculed. Not to mention, JAWS is just a shark, just a shark. A shark whose life has given it the know how to survive, but just a shark. ALIENS was less horror, but has a device working for it – the big surprise isn’t the xenomorphs, rather their queen. The surprise in Cameron’s Terminator isn’t the Terminator himself, but the exhibition of what the Terminator actually is. James Cameron’s evolution of such is to hold off just a little, not as much, as your predecessors, and then when you got this one creature running amok in the film, present the real antagonist at the end. This is where a sequel to GODZILLA could work. In the TERMINATOR, the differing look of THE TERMINATOR offered a device within the film which dread can continue to build.

Again, the aesthetic borrowed from these films has you wait for the monster, making any time the monster is on screen enjoyable and not redundant, while also building in a building suspense that the audience can really revel in. Does it work? To a large degree, it does. One thing audiences and critics have to understand that the scenes, such as the tidal wave and the dorsal fins cutting the surface of the ocean – suspense building scenes though they may be – are indeed Godzilla scenes. Just because Godzilla is not on camera, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a Godzilla scene. The presence is there. In the Hawaii scene, which lasts five minutes, Godzilla is on screen for about a minute, but the sequence is five minutes long and the audience feels it. In fact, Godzilla’s presence is transferred to the water. When you see a runway worker crouch down to hide only to have tidal wave water pool around him, that’s Godzilla’s presence being alluded to. When we finally see Godzilla roar, his presence accompanied by the first roar is all we get, and for good reason. That panning up shot of Godzilla, and the whole sequence, is given the respect to be its own source of awe. If Gareth had shown the fight, then our attention would be switched from the opening to a fight scene where audiences would start gaining imput as far as Godzilla’s presence while fighting, his abilities, ect. Audiences need to allow their response to Godzilla’s coming ashore and first roar to resonate, like a fine dish, savor on the palate.

Latter on, the second time Godzilla rises up (at the Golden Gate Bridge), Edwards plays with audience expectations. Edwards paints a wide shot of Godzilla’s dorsal fins coming towards a naval vehicle. While Godzilla fans can probably identify which section of dorsal fins are being shown in frame, the regular audience member cannot. Audiences can think that it is Godzilla’s back, but using the element of surprise (not to make the audience jump, but attain a sense of awe), Gareth shows it is actually Godzilla’s tail, and the camera pans up as the tail does. 

This part of the Golden Gate Bridge scene would not have worked if the fight in Hawaii was focused on any more than it already had been. This scene uses the Hawaii scene as a reference point, whether the audience is conscious of it or not. With only so much Godzilla footage being present thus far – particularly a good set of shots of Godzilla’s dorsal fins piercing the ocean – the audience has no other reference point. The audience is made to savor, the audience is made to be in awe, and then be in awe based on a set up which changes your perception of what you were initially at awe with, ect.

Another element of Edward’s direction is the long take. If utilizing the Ridley Scott meathod – using or seem to be using multiple cameras to film one take, you can get a bunch of takes where you can choose it leave the scene as one long take or splice two or three of the takes from different cameras together to form a small scene. Edwards sometimes opts for the long take. Such as the shot below:

Multiple photographic techniques are used. Smoke. Silhouette. A juxtaposition of camera movement – the camera moves smoothly up, but then in rough increments the closer Godzilla comes towards the camera. Not to mention it is a POV shot ultimately. The shot is 23 seconds long. Don’t forget the long wide shot of the flooded Hawaiian streets, which pans right and then up to reveal some of Godzilla. That shot lasts 31 seconds. The average shot length for a blockbuster is around 10 seconds. These longer shots, which start wide in composition and tighten around a subject play a dangerous game. A reason why the normal shot length in a blockbuster film is 10 seconds is because of the average human attention span. Inspiring a sense of awe is harder and harder than it seems.

Putting these great images in context though shows how great some of the SFX directors of the Japanese films cinematographed their shots and scenes. With computer graphics, filmmaking has become a much more painterly medium, making humanity’s ability to replicate what he sees come full circle. Within the context of CG’s limitless possibilities, the thought that say Shinji Higuchi is quoted throughout the film seems natural. With binding stipulation of having to depict fantastic happenings after quantifying the quantum mechanics of such on Earth shows suitamation and analogue effects were not that far off as long as the artists involved knew how to use the tools given to them, were able to conceptualize new kinds of shots, and use the tools given to come up with newer tools to make their new concepts a reality. 

CG has given Edward’s (who is tackling both the monster action and the human drama) an ability to find new spins on old shots. If looking at a kaiju from a vehicle window, the shot can have the kaiju closer to the vehicle, meaning tighter composition meaning a better sense of scale). The clip above of Godzilla roaring for an extended time is an interesting spin – Gamera was only 80 meters in GAMERA 3: INCOMPLETE STRUGGLE while Godzilla in this new GODZILLA film is 107 meters among slightly different infrastructure. Use of lines and the alleyway is similar though.

Yes, I know about the oragami bird's placing being foreshadowing.

Directing the human drama is a bit different though. Often times, there is nothing completely mind blowing about the human direction. Brian Cranston’s monologue from the second theatrical trailer and the tracking shot introducing David Stratharin’s character are among the more artful. Edward’s knows rhythm though, when to go from shot to reserve shot to a shot showing what a character is talking about. What’s important is noticing when the camera looks like it is on a cameraman’s shoulders, when it is a steadicam, and when the camera is completely still. There is rhythm and a methodology to such, but Edwards could use some improvement here. Such as the phone call scene – there is no pattern here. The lack of pattern isn’t commenting on the chaos of the situation. The camera is moving like its handheld, but that is about it. The use of chaotic/mismatching composition as expressionism would be obvious. Rather, the phone call scene looks like a failed attempt at framing the characters, lining them up with the vertical center of the frame. Wes Anderson has mastered this, but not Gareth. Its not bad, but could be better.

Ever notice how the composition of this shot could be very similar similar to a shot of Godzilla dragging his tail?

Monster Action Gets an A while human drama gets a B-. 

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