Could Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla banish thoughts of Roland Emmerich’s god-awful 1998 reboot?
Ah, 1998. What a year for cinema that was: Saving Private Ryan, American History X, The Big Lebowski and, of course, Godzilla. Wait – no, Godzilla was utterly shit, and it’s not just me who thought that the 1998 reboot was a stain on the reputation of the King of Monsters; IMDb has it rated at a lowly 5.2, Rotten Tomatoes gave it an apt 25% and Metacritic, just 32 out of 100. To put it bluntly, Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla was big, stupid and overwhelmingly dull. Which is why I was surprised to find myself genuinely excited for the 2014 addition to the franchise after watching last week’s teaser trailer.
The body count in one particular shot from Godzilla 2014’s trailer surpasses the entire death toll of Emmerich’s 1998 film
The film, which is set for release in May of next year, will be the first big budget feature film from Monsters director Gareth Edwards. Given that Monsters was a film that managed to tell a compelling story alongside all the tentacles and mass devastation, Edwards’s involvement is surely something to be hopeful about. Moreover, the upcoming film certainly has a more capable cast than that of Emmerich’s, with names like Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Juliette Binoche set to easily trump the numb delivery of Matthew Broderick.
What’s much more interesting, however, is the dark tone that seems to encompass the whole trailer. Unlike Emmerich’s Jurassic Park approach, Edwards’s film appears to possess a similar tone to the bleak 1954 original, with the body count in one particular shot easily surpassing the entire death toll of the 1998 film. Characters appear to be genuinely fearful, and there is a sense of urgency that was desperately lacking from Emmerich’s film, where characters were more interested in romance and career progression than surviving.
That tone is reflected in the cinematography. The trailer sees a group of nervous soldiers drop from far above the cloud line, red flares lighting up their paths. From there we see a number of jaw-dropping widescreen shots, followed by some point-of-view angles that lead to the initial reveal of the behemoth they’re about to face. Not only are these shots visually stunning, they’re varied, and most importantly, they’re relevant. The imagery used in that initial sequence is biblical, with apocalyptic spires of smoke rising out of an infernal city, and in the midst of it all is a chthonic leviathan that’s seemingly unstoppable. That tone is exactly what Ishirō Honda had worked towards in the original, and it’s a far cry from Emmerich’s blockbuster.
Godzilla 2014 seems to up the significance of nuclear weaponry, which was central to the 1954 allegorical classic
If you hunted down the leaked Comic-Con footage from earlier this year, then you’d have picked up on another potential dimension of this film that was toned down in the 1998 version. Because played over that early teaser trailer was the infamous recollection of Robert J. Oppenheimer, in which he discusses the significance of nuclear weaponry. That theme was central to the 1954 classic, which was essentially an allegory for the horrific results of nuclear technology. As Godzilla films continued to be churned out, Godzilla was made into a humanoid anti-hero, a characterisation that culminated in films like Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla.
Emmerich’s version touched on the topic of nuclear fallout, but gave it little more than the odd mention, despite it being central to Godzilla’s earliest incarnations. That quote from Oppenheimer, and the many shots of panicky scientists, potentially show that Edwards is planning to incorporate it as a significant theme rather than a convenient plot device. Prometheus arguably was the last film to supply a trailer that was so exciting, and we all know how that turned out. So maybe this is just history repeating itself; after all, what the trailer hasn’t shown far outweighs what is has, so for all the positives I’ve drawn from, there could still be a steaming pile of negatives yet to discuss. Either way, we’ll have to wait until May to really find out.
All images: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros