Giant monsters - Kaiju dig it?
I’ve always said you can’t beat a monster movie - be they good, or bad. And let’s face it, a lot of them are so damn bad, they’re unintentional works of comedy genius.
For me, I guess it all boils down to having seen the mighty Kong scale the heights of the Empire State Building at a young age, having already trashed his way through Manhattan. What better indoctrination to the world of giant monsters could a kid possibly have. Especially when it was reinforced by the works of Ray Harryhausen whose six tentacled stop motion octopus... sixtaupus, whatever - trashed the Golden Gate bridge, or when his Beast from 20,000 Fathoms trod its way through a by then monster weary Manhattan before being dispatched with an expert shot from a very young Lee Van Cleef.
Then, there were the Toho movies, imported from Japan. Loud, colourful, brash, badly dubbed in to English. Godzilla was King of the Monsters and with him came a whole cast of giant monsters as what started as a sombre metaphor for the atom bombs that laid waste Hiroshima and Nagasaki became a semi comedic excuse for men in incredibly cumbersome monster suits to do some all-in wrestling amid miniature models of Tokyo as Godzilla would defend the Japanese homeland he had once razed with his radioactive breath against three headed monsters (King Ghidorah), giant moths (Mothra), a robotic version of himself (Mecha-Godzilla), smog monsters and at least one, whose name escapes me, which looked like a slithering turd. These became known as the kaiju films. The Japanese word "kaiju" literally translates to "strange monster" in English, but these days is more universally accepted as "giant monster". Kaiju films are Japan’s biggest film export.
But, fun as they are and Steve and I love watching them - there’s no doubt that kaiju films aren’t to everybody’s taste. Basically, they’re the marmite of movies- you either love them or you hate them, and if you’re in the hate camp, you’re never going to be dissuaded. You either get 'em or you don’t. It’s that simple.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Guillermo Del Toro was working on Pacific Rim. Well, that’s not actually true. When I first heard the title, I had no idea what it was about. As the mystery of what Del Toro was up to started to clear up, THAT was what I could hardly believe. A director of his calibre - the man who gave us art-movie horror and fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos stepping back from high concept films to kaiju? And not only that, but when the teasers and trailers started to pop up online, it was obvious he was doing so with full hearted gusto?
Essentially, what we have here is probably the best kaiju film since the original Gojira. (Not, not Godzilla King of the Monsters - that was the dubbed and heavily recut version for the U.S Market. I’m talking about the classic original serious as a heart attack Japanese version with subtitles which was released more than a year earlier.
We are told in the opening sequence that the world is under attack from a race of giant monsters called the Kaiju, but that the attack didn’t come from outer space (as had been supposed ever since H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds in 1898,) but from a dimensional rift deep within the Pacific Ocean. The only way we puny and small humans could defend ourselves was by building similarly sized battle robots called Jaegers, operated by a two person team.
So basically, from that and in a completely spoiler-free way, I can encapsulate the plot by quoting three film titles - think Top Gun, Transformers and Godzilla (not the 1998 version).
But, hey - who ever went into a giant monster movie looking for insight, plot nuance and intellectual depth? That would be like going to McDonalds and buying a salad, or walking into a brothel looking for a hug. We go for the effects, we go for a good time, we go to leave our real lives behind and enjoy property damage on a catastrophic scale - and from that point of view, this movie delivers exactly what it says on the box. The effects are just simply put, a visual treat and the battle sequences weren’t as long, drawn out and frantically edited as they were in Man of Steel, where as soon as one fight was over, another one began which was too damn soon.
Another noticeable thing is that this is the type of film that benefits the best from 3D. There were certain shots in Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, last year’s Avengers and looking back further, Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark of the Moon that looked great in 3D and there are others like Tron: Legacy and Thor where the 3D adds absolutely nothing at all. Up to this point, the best quality and use of the 3D medium was in Avatar. Whatever can be said about the story - the fact the film looked astounding just can’t be argued - this is exactly the same, from the very first, opening shot where we see the dimensional rift opening up on the sea floor as some fish swim between us and the crack between worlds.
The sheer visual spectacle of the film is something I’m looking forward to experiencing again on DVD. I don’t have a 3D set-up at home, but the lushness of the photography and the thundering sound mix is something that I think will be used by a lot of people to showcase their home systems.
So, in conclusion, if you want a great time, leaving reality at the door while watching super sized robot fight towering monsters on land and at sea - don’t waste a moment and if possible, do yourself a favour and see it in 3D. This movie, along with the reports I’ve read from the San Diego Comic Con, has served very well to whet my appetite for next year’s Godzilla reboot.
Bring it on.
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