My friend Harry is teaching a college course about monsters. Yep, those frightening creatures that spawn nightmares. I guess final exams aren’t scary enough.
He asked me to help him think about monster movies that he might show during his Monsters 101.
I replied: “There are monster movies and there are monster movies. You have the classic monster movies from Universal – “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff, “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi,” “The Wolfman” with Lon Chaney, Jr. Then you have the Hammer horror films – “Dracula” with Christopher Lee, “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed,” “Twins of Evil,” etc. You have those silent monster movies like “Nosferatu” and “The Golem.” You have the animal monster movies like “King Kong,” “Mighty Joe Young,” even “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park.” Then you have those monster movies inspired by the Atomic Age – “Them!” with James Arness, “The Blob” with Steve McQueen, “The Beast From Twenty Thousand Fathoms,” “Tarantula,” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” You have those alien monsters like “The Thing” with James Arness,” “It Came From Outer Space” with Richard Carlson,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Kevin McCarthy, “Alien” with Sigourney Weaver,” and “Super 8.” You have those human-like monsters found in “Halloween,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “American Psycho,” and “Silence of the Lambs.” You have the zombie monsters seen in George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2,” Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” and “World War Z” with Brad Pitt. And importantly you have those Japanese tokusatsu movies like “Godzilla,” “Rodan,” and Mothra.” Plus movies about monsters’ offspring such as “Son of Godzilla,” and “Rebirth of Mothra III.” And those crossover films like “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” “Godzilla vs. Hedorah,” even that cute animated short titled “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”
I’m thinking about auditing Harry’s class. I like monster movies.
That’s why I went to see the new “Godzilla” movie.
Godzilla first appeared in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 “Gojira.” Produced by Toho Company Ltd., that studio has given us nearly 30 Godzilla movies so far.
This new film from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures is intended to be a reboot of the Godzilla franchise, promising a spate of monster films to come.
The Japanese name for the genre is Kaiju, meaning “strange creature.” Godzilla is surely that. The giant reptile was supposedly the result of the atomic bomb testing in the Pacific.
“Godzilla is definitely a representation of the wrath of nature,” says the new film’s director, Gareth Edwards. “The theme is man versus nature and Godzilla is certainly the nature side of it. You can’t win that fight. Nature’s always going to win and that’s what the subtext of our movie is about. He’s the punishment we deserve.”
As a doctor in the film says, “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control ... and not the other way around.”
This version seems to be a mashup between that little-seen monster in “Cloverfield” and the massive beasts rising from the sea in “Pacific Rim.” But with a dark “Prometheus” feel to this film.
Here Godzilla is essentially an anti-hero, pitted against malevolent creatures (MUTOs, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that threaten the world.
Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is terrific as a nuclear physicist trying to uncover a conspiracy at a testing site. Aaron Taylor Johnson plays his son, a bomb expert who gets pulled into his father’s crusade. Elizabeth Olsen is the son’s concerned wife. Ken Watanabe is the aforementioned doctor. And David Strathairn leads the military forces trying to nuke the monsters.
The straight-forward plot leads up to what one monster buff calls “the greatest movie monster battle of all time.”
A second fan proclaims: “Best Godzilla movie period.”
Another puts it simply: “Big G is back.”
But you probably have to love monster movies to agree.
I think I’ll take Harry to a screening and see if he gives it an A+ or B-.
Shirrel Rhoades is a film writer for Cooke Communications.