Whenever there is a news item about someone who is the oldest person in the world my first instinct is to think “My god, the stuff they’ve seen!” But as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown more skeptical about that idea. Sure, they probably remember what life was like before cars were commonplace, but that sort of everyday detail isn’t what you want from someone who has lived through a lot of world historical events. You want to know about what it was like living through World War Two and the JFK Assassination and so on, but for them to have first hand knowledge about those things they would have had to have been in France at one specific time and Dallas in another. What are their odds of that? They probably have more intimate stories about what mayoral politics were in their city fifty years ago than they do about man landing on the moon; that they probably only know about from watching it on the news, and hearing them recount watching tv isn’t that much more exciting than you watching the clips yourself.
One of the more divisive choices that this Godzilla reboot made was to adhere to that logic. When Godzilla and his giant insect foe first meet we see the fight mostly through the lens of how most people would see it: as news clips on CNN. It provides an element of realism to the story – after all, almost everyone’s memories about what 9/11 was like are about hearing about it from the news or from a friend, not about seeing it first hand. It would be the same thing if a giant monster came out of the ocean and attacked Hawaii.
The reason why that decision was so divisive should be obvious: that sort of realism is not what we really want from a movie about a skyscraper sized lizard punching a radioactive bug in the face. One of the most fundamental features of filmmaking is that it allows you to see through someone else’s perspective. The story is told about an American soldier who interacts with Godzilla and not about Godzilla himself for a reason: because we need a viewpoint that we can relate to as a framework to see these events for ourselves. By introducing that proxy and then abandoning him at the time we’d most want his perspective the movie is (in a way) shortchanging us.
But that decision actually worked quite well for me, in part because I was so indifferent to the concept of these two CGI monsters fighting. If it had been two guys in a suit fighting each other I would have definitely wanted to see it – but two CGI monsters pretending to hit each other? As long as the rest of the movie is entertaining on it’s own merits I can do without that part, because at this point I have a deep rooted feeling of “been there, seen that” about that sort of spectacle.
Fortunately, I think the rest of the movie mostly does work. At the very least it gave me two big laughs which is more than I can say about a lot of the big blockbusters from last year. The first was when someone opened up a locked door to reveal that one of the monsters had escaped by blowing out the back half of a mountain – something that somehow nobody noticed as they approached the mountain and which none of the locals had heard. I won’t spoil the second, because it involves a creative use for Godzilla’s flame breath. In fact I would say that my biggest complaint about the movie was that I was the only one in the theater who laughed when that happened; It deserved a bigger response than it got because that shit was funny.