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  • Lizard with 'tude

  • "Godzilla" is a monster movie. Big time.
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    • Godzilla
      123 min
      Rated PG-13
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      Godzilla
      123 min

      Rated PG-13
  • "Godzilla" is a monster movie. Big time. The creature is a mutant lizard (a scaly Komodo dragon) that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a 1954 atomic bomb atoll test. Result: one morphed, humongous lizard with attitude. Interesting, but not that interesting. Simply suspending your disbelief doesn't quite get you there.
    The problems with the "Godzilla" franchise, in all its incarnations, are multiple. But let's begin with the most egregious mistake that most filmmakers make regarding this particular monster. What the studios should have required is that prospective scriptwriters watch what is perhaps one of the best monster films ever made and should be the go-to template: Steven Spielberg's "Jaws." It is brilliant for a number of reasons, the most important being that Spielberg understood one fundamental truth about fright flicks: wait as long as possible to show the critter/thing. He, like all successful creators of horror tales, knows that the filmgoer's imagination is a far better engine of fear than is the explicit. Don't show. Imply. Hence the opening set up of "Jaws" has a young, vulnerable young woman swimming, oblivious in all of her innocence, just a few yards from the beach and at night. If you've ever been swimming in the ocean at night, it can be a disconcerting experience as you slide down the food chain ladder.
    All the audience is given in this particular scene is ominous music and a point of view of something swimming under the surface. Nothing more. Until suddenly the girl is pushed, then tugged, now terrified, and then pulled under the surface in a moment of sheer blood-swirling panic. It's a chilling moment.
    During the first act, not even a dorsal fin is revealed. What the great white looks like is left up to each person in the audience to imagine, and clearly millions of viewers manage to do a remarkably splendid job.
    The No. 1 rule of monster movies: less is more; create an overwhelming sense of dread and tension and jeopardy without giving up causation. Don't reveal what's under the bed or in the closet. Simply allow the victim to be pulled into the closet by a force the origin of which is not disclosed. Recall the moment in "Jurassic Park" (also by Spielberg) when all that is shown is a tight shot of a glass of water that begins to vibrate, the surface of the water rippling ever so slightly. It was a taut and amazing moment.
    The problem with "Godzilla" is that a lizard is a lizard is a lizard, no matter how big or genuinely ticked off it is. And the big reveal generally takes place too early and too often. In the case of this new release, the writers up the ante a bit and create two new creatures called "MUTOS," meaning "Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms." They feed on radioactivity and crunch cities and people with the same aplomb as does Godzilla. Mayhem is what they're all about.
    The only problem with the film is that no one seems to be in real jeopardy and yet so many are in jeopardy, and there is little emotional investment in any singular character (OK, the opening first 30 minutes with Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binochet are nicely done).
    The rest of the film is formulaic and even tedious. Like so many of these blockbusters, the reality is that CGI cannot lift all boats alone. There has to be a story that the audience can invest in. Destruction of personal and public property by the gross is just not enough. It all comes down to good storytelling, which is hard to do when you're working with a lizard as the lead antagonist.
    People go to such movies to be terrified. It's part of the experience and part of the good-faith pact they make with the filmmakers. Scare me. Really, really scare me because, like riding a roller coaster, it is just so much fun. But don't commit the sin of boredom: been there, done that. "Godzilla" seems all too familiar. Even with all those dorsal fins sliding through the water.
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