Monster movies: Heading for extinction?

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After pallid reboots of Godzilla and King Kong, and the failure of Pacific Rim, monster movies could be on their way out.

Giant monsters punching other comically-sized things in the face is a surprisingly entertaining thing. Since the early 1930s, we’ve seen such films called cultural milestones. In some ways, these films were very early blueprints of the Hollywood blockbuster. From Godzilla to Kong, from Rodan to Kevin Bacon  those worms from Tremors, the B-movie creature feature is a genre audiences have always enjoyed watching. Until just a few years ago.

When the monster movie awoke in the 90s from a well-needed nap, it awoke to a world unfamiliar with it

The 90s as a decade marks the rise and prominence of CGI opposed to any other form of special or physical effects. Thus, when the monster movie awoke from its well-needed nap in the 80s, it awoke to a world that was unfamiliar with it. Sadly, it’s now unavoidable that we have to talk about one of the worst remakes ever conceived. A film whose name no-one dares say, from fear of Vietnam-style flashbacks. That film is Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla.

1998’s Godzilla was a cock-up of epic proportions. Sadly, that’s about the only epic quality it had. It’s hard to find a film that ticks every box for awful, but Godzilla somehow managed it, in a way that was almost genius. Roland Emmerich took a fearsome and somehow noble force of nature, and somehow turned it into a stupid fucking iguana. The supporting characters were hopeless. No vague facet of  human drama needed for a creature flick was there. Not to mention, the film ended with Godzilla DYING. In short, Godzilla was supposed to be a crowning glory of the monster genre; instead it was only another nail in the coffin.

godzilla 1998

It left the reputation of Godzilla somewhat damaged and the concept of giant monsters was left alone for a little while in US film. Meanwhile, Toho continued to churn out awful Godzilla features, which only continued to worsen the reputation of everyone’s favourite…dinosaur thing. In particular, Godzilla: Final Wars deserves a comfy spot among the worst films of all time. Meanwhile, Peter Jackson sought to revive a gigantic mammal from yesteryear in 2005.

There’s a different problem with Peter Jackson’s King Kong: it’s incredibly boring

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a lot more defensible than the other films mentioned thus far. It wasn’t awful, or fundamentally flawed. It also managed to kind of replicate what the 1933 classic established, too. But there’s a different problem with King Kong: it’s incredibly boring. Jackson’s Kong has an obese running time of 187 minutes, and fails to capture the audience’s attention. By the time we see King Kong, or any dinosaurs, it’s after an hour of Jack Black attempting to act.

The spectacle is there, and the special effects are probably the most authentic of any 21st century monster movie. Regardless, the film still failed the genre. There wasn’t enough of King Kong rampaging through the city, destroying buildings. The whole appeal was buried under too much soppy, oafish sentiment.

king kong 2005

After King Kong, the creature feature was left on the shelf once again in obscurity. Then Guillermo del Toro this year released his vision of kaiju fun, Pacific Rim. “Go big, or go extinct” was an apt tagline, considering some thought Pacific Rim would revive the genre.

Regardless of the criticism for Pacific Rim, there was a bigger problem: no-one wanted to see it

But as big as Pacific Rim went, extinction still seems probable. The buzz and anticipation for the film was pretty huge – it felt like a big event in cinema – but the finished product just didn’t have that atmosphere. Del Toro’s visuals definitely delivered in some sense, but for all the style it offered, Pacific Rim had less substance than a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Regardless of those criticisms, there was one bigger problem: no-one wanted to see it.

Even with all of the buzz, the hullabaloo, and the hype, audiences just didn’t show up. Not in the US anyway (in Asia that statement is more debatable). The credibility of the concept has just worn thin. The need for flashy, big spectacle has been angled towards pure sci-fi, and monster movies are pretty unheard of these days. Maybe it’s the lack of visionaries to drive it, like Ishiro Honda or Ray Harryhausen. Maybe the barrel’s been scraped so thin, it’s basically non-existent. If the genre isn’t currently dead, it’s certainly dying. There’s one film that’s still set to cause a splash though.

The upcoming 2014 reboot of Godzilla has fans of the old monster days riveted, and so far it looks to be the genuine article. Gareth Edwards proved he understood what the title needs with his aptly named 2010 film Monsters, while the cast, well-sculpted script, and production elements all seem set to produce quite a picture. Crucial resuscitation? Or last gasp of the monster movie genre? We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Featured image: Toho

Inset images: TriStar Pictures; Universal Pictures

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