The Bigger They Come Part 14 (Godzilla 2000, 1999)

Godzilla_2000_posterRight on the heels of the failed American-Zilla Toho answered back with…well, the most Traditional Godzilla they could imagine.  No computer generated lizard here (though, there are plenty of digital effects).  Just a good old man in a suit.  Unlike Godzilla 84, this is much lighter fare.

Godzilla 2000 follows a young photo-journalist who is forced by her editor to ride along with a father daughter team who run the GPN, or the Godzilla Prediction Network.  Apparently, Godzilla is as sort of predictable as thunderstorms.

Elsewhere, scientists are researching a large meteor found deep in the Japan Trench.  It turns out to be a spaceship which, once, raised to the surface comes back to life.  This culminates in a massive battle between Godzilla and the alien within.

After Godzilla 1984, the franchise went back to the more popular “Godzilla Fights Other Big Monsters” approach.  This pretty much works here.  The overall tone is light, with characters being over the top to silliness.  Generally, the effects work.  There are some moments that seem simple errors were made.  One specific example is as the GPN are fleeing Godzilla and the green screen effect makes it appear that Godzilla is growing larger and larger.

For what it is, Godzilla 2000 is a perfectly entertaining diversion.

Lost to An Alternate Universe?

So, the day Sony and Disney drop the new Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer (which was met with a pretty positive response) producer Amy Pascal drops the bomb.

One of the things that I think is so amazing about this experience is that you don’t have studios deciding to work together to make a film very often.

In fact, it may never happen again–after we do the sequel.

It appears Sony is hoping to pull Peter back into their fold-out of the Marvel  Cinematic Universe.  We probably should have seen this coming, after Sony announced plans for their own Spider-Verse, starting with an ‘R’ rated Venom movie.  Sony and Pascal seem to be misreading this situation.

Sony had some success in 2002 and 2004 with the Spider-Man franchise when it was headed by Sam Raimi.  But after the mess of Spider-Man 3 and then a somewhat lackluster reboot…Sony was floundering.  They made the deal with Disney after the big hack two years ago humiliated the studio.

Marvel Studios, on the other hand, won praise for Peter Parker’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War.  The previous incarnations of Spider-Man tended to get aspects right, but Marvel’s team pretty much got it all right.

And I suspect that everything that looks so good about Spider-Man: Homecoming is from the Marvel Studio’s side.  Backing out and taking him out after the next sequel and Avengers: Infinity War would be a mistake.  Sony will, no doubt, mess up their progress.  To remove him from the MCU just to start their own Marvel Universe?  Not a wise decision.

If Sony insists on starting their own Spider-Verse.  I propose the following…

Leave Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper.  Let Marvel continue to handle him.  Instead, create your Sony MCU around Miles Morales from Ultimate Spider-Man.  Sony can double their money and have their alternate Spider-Man themed MCU.  And fans get to see Spider-Man remain in the MCU.

The Bigger They Come Part 13 (Godzilla, 1998)

godzilla_1998_posterInstead of  just re-editing existing films, American  studios got the rights to produce an actual American Godzilla feature.  And so, being an American feature, they thought they should rebuild Godzilla from the ground up.  So we get a totally new look for Godzilla.  But in the end, we get something that kind of looks like Godzilla, but not really.

The film tells us that Godzilla is the result of nuclear irradiated iguana eggs.  Which, takes away the epic nature of the monster.  And while the original Godzilla feasted on atomic power?  Our American monster desires fish.  Lots and lots of fish.

The film focuses on Mathew Broderick’s Nico a scientist called in to try and determine what Godzilla is for the American military.  There are a ridiculously large amount of ongoing plots competing with each other (failed romance, french spies, government ignorance, giant eggs!).

Everything in the film is big, as this is the dawn of the “event film” as we now know them.  I get not going with a “man in a suit” approach, but the redesign feels unnecessarily extreme.  They so reduce Godzilla to a typical animal, much is lost.  There is no atomic fire breathing, because this Godzilla is just a mutated lizard.  By keeping it so “down to earth”, it keeps the film from having to much fun with this crazy notion of a giant lizard wandering New York.  When all is said and done, this is an uninspired remake that finds a way to make Godzilla a bit boring.

The Bigger They Come Part 12 (The Return of Godzilla, 1984)

godzilla_1984_poster_2This Godzilla film was released with a few different titles.  Return of Godzilla, Godzilla 1984, Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 (The American Edit).  The American Godzilla 1985 brings back Raymond Burr’s Steve Martin.  But if you watch the original version of the film (Godzilla 1984 or Return of Godzilla) you will  not deal Burr at all.  This review is of the original Japanese version of the film.

The 1984 film is notable for a return to a more serious treatment of Godzilla that we had seen for many years, where Godzilla became more of a kid’s hero.  This film has no monsters.  Ignoring thirty years of films, Return of Godzilla features no monsters outside of Godzilla himself, and a more dramatic tone.  The film is meant as a direct sequel to the 1954 original.  When it is discovered that Godzilla is back, the Japanese Government tries to keep it a secret.  Only when the world is on the verge of nuclear war do they confess the truth.godzilla_1984_poster

The story works quite well.  Godzilla’s motive is simple, he is seeking food and, well, he eats nuclear power.  There is political intrigue as a reporter tries to expose the truth about the return of the giant beast.By and large, most of the characters are likable, if rather simplistic in motivations.

Visually, while the budget is larger, the studio sticks with what works.  By 1984, they had improved some of the technology greatly.  Godzilla’s face is a bit more emotive in the film.  Overall, this is a rather successful sequel that appeals to those who appreciate the charms of the original classic.

The Bigger They Come Part 11 (King Kong Escapes, 1967)

king_kong_escapes_posterKing Kong Escapes features King Kong fighting a robot version of himself created by an evil organization bent on taking over the world.  The leaders of this plot are Madame Piranha (Japanese Version)/Madame X (the American version) and a guy named Dr. Who.  While the evil organization perfects Mechakong, an American/Japanese team is hunting for the real Kong, seeking him on Mondo Island.

In the Toho Studio world of Kong, he lives on two different islands.  In King Kong vs Godzilla he is found on Faro Island…in this film it is Mondo Island.  Neither sound quite as good as  Skull Island.

King Kong Escapes is pretty much an embarrassment to watch, though it might be good fodder for MST3K.  The performances are standard for giant monster films, nothing unique there.  But even by “Rubber Suit” standards, the approach that can work so well for Godzilla just looks freakish here.  And the fact that they made this five years after King Kong Vs. Godzilla and the suit does not have any evidence of being updated…does not inspire much hope.  Ridiculously, anytime King Kong is holding on to someone,whenever it is not a close-up, the person is obviously a small action figure.  There is little effort to hide this.

The story just feels silly having a James Bond-like villain seeking to take over the world that Kong has to stop.    Really, movies like this depend mightily on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.  And the flaws are far to large to be able to ignore for that.

The Bigger They Come Part 10 (King Kong Lives, 1986)

King-Kong-Lives-PosterA direct sequel to 1976’s remake of King King, we discover that that Kong did not die from being shot up and falling from a tall building.  He merely went comatose.

Linda Hamilton plays a surgeon who was part of a team seeking to save Kong, but they need a blood transfusion before performing a heart transplant and it could only come from another giant ape.  Hamilton tells her boss that they need a miracle.  Queue Miracle as adventurer Brian Kerwin who discovers a giant female ape that is dubbed Lady Kong.

The heart transplant is successful and the two apes get free.  The Kongs run off together and the chase begins.  At least Kong is interested in a lady ape this time around.  The film has the typical adversarial relationship that grows to romance between Hamilton and Kerwin.  It kind of works, because it becomes clear that Kerwin is far less the craven opportunist he initially seems to be and is genuinely interested in protecting King and Lady Kong.

The film is, oddly, less exploitative and campy than the 1976 remake.  It’s tone is actually much more serious.  But this does not really serve the film in anyway.  It never really rises above mediocre.  The ape suits look okay, but this does not make for a good story.  And that is where the film falls flat.  The story becomes an extended “Capture of Kong” story in which he and the lady try and escape the military to make a happy home.

There is a scene ripped off from Jaws where drunk guys get in boats to try and catch Kong.  So, I guess that is something.

You Take the Good, Take the Bad (Life, 2017)

life_2017_posterA sci-fi thriller set aboard the International Space-station, Life is a competent film.  The effects are good enough to allow for suspension of disbelief.  The cast  is quite likeable.  The story is uncomplicated.

A research team discovers a life form in soil samples from Mars.  Eventually, the life form grows and as often happens, it gets free and starts killing people.  The scientists must find a way to keep the creature from reaching earth and…well, not die.

It might sound like I disliked Life.  But actually?  I enjoyed it just fine.  I never got bored and liked the characters.  But it was not nearly as risky, even the ending feels like an attempt to feel edgier than it is.

Again, I enjoyed the film, but it won’t be joining the pantheon of Sci-Fi monster movie classics.  But it was okay.

The Bigger They Come Part 9 (King Kong, 1976)

king_kong_1976_PosterIn 1976, we saw the first King Kong Remake.  Producer Dino De Laurentiis had this made amid legal hassles over who actually owned the rights to King Kong.  The setting is moved to the 1970’s and it is a new batch of characters.  Fred Wilson is an oil executive trying to reach the newly discovered Skull Island.  He is certain it will be a treasure trove of fossil fuels.  Jack Prescott is a primate paleontologist  who stows away.  He ends up being used as the staff photographer.  Finally, the freighter comes upon a raft with the unconscious Dwan, a beautiful young blonde.

The motives are different, but the results are the same.  The team discovers a giant wall (a surprise as it was assumed that the island had no native peoples).  The native chief is enthralled by Dwan and tries to trade girls for her.  They later kidnap Dwan  and offer her up to Kong.  Jack leads a team to save her, and then Fred decides to bring capture Kong.  It follows the original story pretty closely here (though substituting the World Trade Center for the Empire State Building).

One of the biggest changes is how Kong is a lot less sympathetic.  He is a bit of a creep, at one point practically molesting Dwan.  Fred Wilson is not like Carl Denham.  Denham was an obsessed dreamer as well as an opportunist.  Fred is simply a man of great greed.

The remake starts out serious, gets very campy and then ends with an attempt at being “powerfully dramatic”.

Of all the versions of the Kong story, this take on Skull Island is the dullest.  It has few creatures and there is little sense of danger.

Kong is clearly a guy in a suit, especially noticeable when he walks.  But the mechanics of the gorilla head are actually quite effective.  The face is especially effective.

Overall, the 1976 remake is a dud, in spite of a fairly strong cast.

The Bigger They Come Part 8 (Godzilla: King of Monsters, 1956)

Godzilla_1956_PosterFilmmakers wanted to bring Godzilla to American audiences, and what they thought Godzilla needed was a white guy’s perspective.  Godzilla: King of Monsters was not so much a remake as it was a revision of the original film.  Adding footage of Raymond Burr, the film becomes a narrated flash black.

Opening in the wake of Godzilla’s attack, Burr’s American journalist Steve Martin starts to recount the destruction.  The story is basically the same, except it is now all told through a white American’s eyes.  Suddenly, the human stories of the film feel less personal and more foreign than they should.

The atomic fears are not removed, but altered a bit by changing the perspective of the story to America’s eyes.  It is still an entertaining story, but it feels like the cliff notes version.

The Bigger They Come Part 7 (Godzilla, 1954)

Godzilla_1954_Japanese_posterIn 1954 with fears of nuclear annihilation feeding filmmakers hearts, it is no surprise Japan provided the most memorable monster of all.

The film begins with a series of mysterious freighter accidents.  As attempts to determine the cause turn up no answers, an unseen threat is creeping towards Tokyo.  This is, of course, our titular monster.  Godzilla makes land and starts to terrorize the locals.

A lot is made of what Godzilla himself represents in the fears of the atomic age.  Certainly, the dramatic images of Godzilla’s destruction evoke the horrors of Hiroshima.  But when it comes to the fears of atomic weaponry, we see it in the character Serizawa-hakase, a scientist who stumbles upon the creation of a weapon so horrible, he dare not share it with the world.  When it is discovered, he is called upon to provide it for stopping Godzilla…but is it worth the sacrifice?

While Godzilla is pretty obviously a man in a suit smashing miniatures, the storytelling is very effective and the characters compelling.  Ishirô Honda tells a tale that overcomes the limitations.  Which says a lot, considering this first incarnation of Godzilla is a bit bug eyed and flails like Donald Trump at a rally.

 

 

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