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Tag Archive: Godzilla


Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Greg Keyes is back again after his smartly written novels War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm with the newly released novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Keyes takes what is a convoluted and overstuffed story on film and fleshes out the details of character motivations and plot points, revealing the film really had enough content to be released over two movies.  Keyes’ novel is based on the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, and a story by those men along with Max Borenstein.  Of course a story credit goes to the many Japanese creators’ works over the past 65 years that the film’s kaiju monsters were mined from.  If you can get past the family of humans that the plot of the latest film revolves around, there is a good story of monsters rising from the ashes that should appeal to any Godzilla fan.

Each chapter begins by pulling the reader into the in-universe historicity of the giant antagonists by quoting myths, historical works, hymns, native poems, and notable stories that make reference to large creatures, ancient gods, and the end of days.  It’s a clever tool, citing works including Yeats’ The Second Coming, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bacon’s Novum Organum, The Popul Vuh, Tennyson’s The Kraken, Hesiod, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Job.  It all provides some minimal justification for the constant character references to the monsters as Earth’s ancient gods, as opposed to any attempted sourcing in the scientific record with something like dinosaurs or some kind of Michael Crichton-esque twisted re-creation.

In his novelization Keyes follows the film substantially verbatim, adding some improvements along the way, like specific references to Kong at Skull Island, which merits only an end-credit montage sequence in the film.  This is good preparation for the next film in the series coming next year, Godzilla vs. Kong.  He also provides information that is glossed over in the movie–who are the people affected by the monsters that don’t get the spotlight, those outside Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan?  We learned in the film there were at least seventeen Titans creatures guarded by gated, Monarch outposts, many via names on monitors audiences could blink and miss.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the benefits of behind-the-scenes and making of/art books for major studio movies is that anyone diving into the production process for the first time can usually learn plenty about the stages of filmmaking from pre-production to final product.  Just pick a film you like and jump right in.  Abbie Bernstein′s The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no exception, but it will be particularly fun for anyone who is a fan of concept art and mega-monsters.  It’s also weighted toward pre-production and the pre-visualization process.  Readers wouldn’t expect a film with giant creatures to be filmed with practical sets, but with a modern studio Godzilla movie filmed in the U.S., you automatically expect a predominantly CGI movie.  The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is filled with trial pieces from artists showcasing the process of turning the classic Japanese kaiju characters into something new and different.

Fans of Scott Chambliss will want to read what guided him to make the choices and decisions for the look of the film.  Chambliss has his own style, and when watching the film my reaction was how many sets, and specifically the color and lighting choices, felt like Star Trek 2009, a film in which Chambliss also served as production designer.  Chambliss discusses the visual tricks he used to make Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorra appear to have immense scale, but also appear real.  Several effects companies worked on components of this film, each trying to make their creations the best of the pack without competing against each other–the goal being to create the best final product they could.  Some artists worked on familiar software programs, combining photographs and 3D imaging of locations like San Francisco’s Union Square to combine with actors in Atlanta.   Others made sculptures of each creature–in a variety of materials–and then those sculptures were scanned and manipulated into what the audience sees on screen by others, after even more creators contributed their colors, texture, lighting, and other touches.

The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a great companion book to Mark Cotta Vaz’s Godzilla: The Art of Destruction, the behind the scenes look at Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla film that was the starting point for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Simon Ward’s The Art of Kong: Skull IslandAll of these massive monsters will come together soon in Godzilla vs. King, so it’s a good time to be a fan of kaiju.  For fans of the new Legendary Pictures movie, it’s a good opportunity to understand the characters better from those who created them, and learn more from actors about their experiences on set, including Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, and Bradley Whitford.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you have made as many movies as have been in the Godzilla franchise (31, more than James Bond movies), you run the risk of making a sequel or reboot that ends up like Independence Day: Resurgence, or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, or Man of Steel, or Alien: Covenant.  For some moviegoers, a quick fix with lots of CGI in one of their favorite universes is good enough.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters has many things in common with these movies, without quite being as good as any of them, or Godzillas of the past.  Inasmuch as moviegoers will see the great effort taken to be faithful to its predecessors, by bringing more than just Godzilla to the picture, by bringing in a significant number of character actors that will be familiar to audiences, and by trying to create more spectacular visuals than came before, the latest Godzilla movie, opening today, doesn’t match either the monster mayhem or the humor of its 20th century predecessors.

Stuffed with every over-used creature and action trope, some used repeatedly, Godzilla: King of the Monsters suffers from taking itself too seriously.  Its single attempt at levity is Get Out’s Bradley Whitford as a wise-cracking scientist who seems to be channeling Brent Spiner in the Independence Day movies.  But beyond that, this is a family drama, more talk and human family in-fighting than Godzilla screen-time, between Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown as Madison and her separated parents played by Kyle Chandler (Super 8) and Vera Farmiga (The Commuter) (in that way it suffers the flaws of the 2014 Godzilla).  For some credibility we get Oscar-nominated actor Ken Watanabe (Isle of Dogs, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) to remind us of the creature’s 65 years as a Japanese kaijū icon.  Other than that, the production skipped Japanese actors for this installment.  The best character and performance comes from Charles Dance (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Bleak House, Gosford Park), who plays a terrorist.  His character is the lone voice who speaks sense in a film that only makes sense if you also believe ocean drillers are the best choice to pilot a space shuttle to save the world from an oncoming asteroid.  Armageddon, War of the Worlds, Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, Pacific Rim and every other disaster movie is rolled up into a single package here.  Direction and decisions are all over the place.  Even in a crazy, kooky, over-the-top monster movie, audiences deserve a plot with a foundation with a smidge of reality, especially if the talking heads scenes get equal time with the clashing creatures.  So if you decide to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the theater, you’ll need to throw all logic and reason aside and try to enjoy the ride.

Although this wasn’t clear in the trailers, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is more than another franchise installment, it’s a direct sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla movie.  Five years later the world is learning how to live as 17 titans (monsters like Godzilla) surface across the globe.  Watanabe joins other returning cast members, including Oscar-nominated actress Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Blue Jasmine, Layer Cake), Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn (Sneakers, The Firm, Eight Men Out, Memphis Belle), as they attempt to cause the titans to join forces in support of Godzilla instead of his three-headed dragon competition Ghidorah.  The best of the encounters finds the flying Rodan taking on a convoy of jet fighters, in a sweeping, well-choreographed scene that you’d expect from a Godzilla movie, although this scene and the rest of the monster scenes are mostly fuzzy and don’t make the most of high-definition camera capabilities or CGI.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

These days most movies translate just fine from the big screen to a home high definition television.  Late December’s release from Warner Brothers, DC’s Aquaman, is a surprisingly good transfer, showcasing the film’s epic fantasy seascapes and truly unique otherworld sea creatures without the sound contrast and lighting issues that plague recent action film releases.  Aquaman is available now on 4D, Blu-ray, DVD, and in digital formats, and it’s available both on Vudu and Amazon Prime.  A single word to describe this rare, solid entry in the DC franchise?  Epic.  Throughout the film viewers will see concepts from the history of fantasy films absorbed into its plot, from the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, to Ray Harryhausen fantasy classics, King Solomon’s Mines and Tomb Raider, and even Harry Potter and Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories.

It all begins with the cast, and in particular the chemistry between the always cool and confident actor who looks born to play superheroes, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, and Amber Heard as a beautiful grown-up Ariel turned badass named Mera, who may be the best realized heroine from the comics in the DC universe.  Aquaman director James Wan (Furious 7) does something rare for the superhero genre and forms his film around a romance between the two as they embark on a quest across the planet for the legendary trident of King Atlan, first king of the earliest water-breathers living under the sea.  Wan makes that happen more successfully than other DC romances of the past, including even Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  What is not lost on the small screen is the CGI-heavy undersea universe, but this time a film is CGI-heavy in a good, exciting way (Aquaman knocks the much lauded CGI film Avatar out of the water in every way).  Atlanteans riding sea horses, sharks, whales, and turtles.  Aquaman and Mera hiding out inside a whale, Pinocchio-style.  The film hits its visual zenith with a giant Kraken-like beast with an appearance as awesome as seeing Godzilla for the first time.  The visuals have all the imagination and colorful execution that makes for a rewatchable film, and the score has a pounding synth feel, with a mixed vibe of Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy and Queen from Flash Gordon.

The home release is accompanied by 15 behind-the-scenes features.  The best has Dolph Lundgren explaining the connections between key characters and concepts in the comic books with the portrayal in the film, in Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman.  You get a feel for how energetic and how fun Jason Momoa is in real life in Becoming Aquaman and A Match Made in Atlantis.  Details of how the director expanded on the comics and where he mixed Kaiju and historical sea stories can be found in James Wan: World Builder.  Heroines of Atlantis will leave viewers convinced future films in the series need more women characters, with only two to speak of in this film.  Other features include Aqua Tech, Atlantis Warfare, Black Manta, Villainous Training, Kingdoms of the Seven Seas, Creating Undersea Creatures, three Scene Study Breakdowns (the Sicily battle, the early submarine attack, and the underwater trench climax), and a sneak preview of Shazam.

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Warner Brothers released a great new trailer for the next Godzilla movie this week–Godzilla: King of the Monsters–and followed up with posters featuring clear images of Godzilla’s three gigantic foes–the “Titans.”  Directed by Michael Dougherty (X-Men 2, Superman Returns, X-Men: Apocalypse), the film stars Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, CCH Pounder, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, and Ziyi Zhang.

The new story follows a secret agency called Monarch as humanity faces off against the classic monster foes of Godzilla’s past–myths in the new story, which come to life, meaning certain doom for humanity.  Godzilla will face Titans Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.  These are monsters that first saw the screen in Japanese films more than 50 years ago.

Who will win?

  

All of the original monsters can be seen beginning Saturday, December 22, on the El Rey Network’s Kaiju Christmas Marathon, screening 13 classic films including all four of these Titans.

Take a look at the new posters and these trailers for the film Godzilla: King of the Monsters:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers didn’t lie.  With only a month to go, The Meg might be the most fun movie you’ll see this summer.  The Meg has everything: a stellar international cast with plenty of chemistry, big action scenes, great sets, and even some drama.  For Jason Statham fans, look for another must-see Statham movie with his tough-as-nails deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor getting in and out of some big crises.  For fans of underwater adventure movies like The Abyss, Leviathan, and Sphere, a better movie has arrived.  A combined production from China and the U.S., it also pushes past last year’s much bigger budget action film The Great Wall–the combination of the two cultures from these films is setting up the future of action films.  If you liked the Pacific Rim franchise, recent Godzilla movies or Battleship, you’ll probably find The Meg a better all around production.  For an only PG-13 rating, it’s loaded with blood, chum, and other viscera (the newfound terror gobbles up plenty of characters both major and minor), but it balances that out with some good worldbuilding, likeable characters, and plenty of humor along the way.

The trailers also didn’t give anything important away.  Beginning with a John Hammond-esque deep-sea research base, we meet a perfect set-up of international personalities, led by Chinese superstar Bingbing Li (Resident Evil, Transformers series) as a scientist working with her father (1911 and Eat Drink Man Woman’s Winston Chao) on breaking through a new-found barrier to the deep sea.  The movie is really two films–the first a slowly-building drama detailing the background and players in the research facility, and the second a 1980s/1990s Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Steven Seagal action-rescue movie (think Cliffhanger, Under Siege, Striking Distance, Executive Decision), sensibly swapping out the much younger Statham (who played Stallone’s #1 guy in The Expendables series), the modern incarnation of this brand of action star.  For the action, we learn Statham’s Taylor quit diving for a rescue operation five years past that didn’t go as planned.  He returns thanks to an old friend working at the facility (played by Fear the Walking Dead’s Cliff Curtis) when Taylor’s ex-wife, played by Australian actor Jessica McNamee, is piloting an exploratory vessel, along with scientists played by Japanese-American actor Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-O) and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, BFG), which runs aground with the help of a mysterious creature.  Rounding out the cast is The Office’s Rainn Wilson as the show’s Hammond, an Elon Musk-inspired exec who funded the facility, Rush Hour’s Page Kennedy as another scientist, and the new lead of the CW’s Batwoman, Ruby Rose, whose character designed the facility.  Rose proves in The Meg she’s got the right stuff to dawn that red cape.

Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction/horror book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, this fish tale is somewhat Michael Crichton-lite.  It’s surprisingly better than all the Jurassic sequels, as well as Crichton’s lesser action film adaptations like Congo and Sphere.  But the marketing may have set expectations off-kilter in one regard:  The shark–the megalodon–of the title may have you thinking Jaws or Sharknado.  It’s neither.  Think Godzilla and King Kong and you’ll be much closer.  The chemistry among the cast is what makes The Meg really stand out.  Statham and Bingbing Li (only six years apart in real life) make a great pair I’d love to see again.  Statham and Curtis seem like they really have been pals for years.  Young actor Sophia Cai may be the next best child actor, holding her own with both Statham, Li, Kennedy, and the rest of the crew.  The camaraderie of everyone involved and top-level production values (thanks to King Kong and The Lord of the Rings’ Oscar-winning production designer Grant Major) beg for a sequel or series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Director Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Godzilla and the mecha genre in 2013’s Pacific Rim continues with del Toro producing the sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, directed by Steven S. DeKnight.  As you’d expect, that means bigger and better Jaegers–those enormous fighting, armored machines initially only manned and newly created as flying drones to defend Earth–and some bigger and more terrifying Kaiju–humanity’s nemeses in the form of terrifying, alien, Godzilla-inspired monsters.  Fans of the franchise can see the development of the next generation of both creations, and how their development relied upon getting the right look and sound effects together, in the new book The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising.

Director DeKnight, showrunner of Marvel’s Daredevil, and producer of genre favorites Smallville, Angel, and Dollhouse, provides a foreword to the book and takes readers through each step of the development of the film from idea to fleshing out the look of the film’s giant-sized spectacles and its several new human characters.  Screenwriters T.S. Nowlin and Travis Beacham provide insight into the direction of the story, and DeKnight and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang (Star Trek Beyond, Godzilla, Total Recall, John Carter, The Chronicles of Riddick, Labyrinth, Highlander, Krull) explain the look and rationale for each element of the film.  Author Daniel Wallace incorporates interviews with cast members John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Charlie Day, and others, plus costume designer Lizz Wolf describes her concepts behind the signature look of each character.  We also meet the next generation of cadets, with a young slate of international performers: Wesley Wong, Rahart Adams, Karan Brar, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriguez, Ivanna Sakhno, and Levi Meaden–a group of up-and-coming actors that will be fun to watch emerge in films in the next few years.

But for most fans it will be the concept art for the Jaegers that are of key importance for a book like this, and they should be happy as most of the content is devoted to these designs, including discarded concepts and rejected variants.  Production designer Stefan Dechant (Kong: Skull Island, Alice in Wonderland, Minority Report) talks about his influences for design elements of each Jaeger (like F-16 Fighters for Guardian Bravo, the Millennium Falcon for Bracer Phoenix) and how the massive weaponry was developed.  Color was a key design factor for the Jaegers and the Kaiju, and the large icons were also defined by their sounds.  More so than most behind-the-scenes looks into films, The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising may provide the most attention to the incorporation of sound effects.  Supervising sound designer and editor Erik Aadahl (Transformers, Godzilla, Terminator Genisys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) shares many of his secrets to help create the foreboding presence of the monsters and machines.

Key for fans of the franchise will be the book’s incorporation of tipped-in scrapbook materials, reproductions of original artwork like unused Jaeger concept art, storyboards, a monster/machine size comparison chart, a glossy, full-color pull-out blueprint of Romeo Blue, and several other reproductions of the designers’ concept art.

Check out these images from The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising:

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colossal-creature

Many think kaiju movies–Asian giant monster flicks featuring Godzilla, Mothra, and the like–are comedic in their own right.  Right or wrong, at some point a worldwide disaster apparently brings along its own laughs.  Melodramas, rampaging monsters, usually devoid of a solid plot, kaiju still claims millions of loyal members in its fan base.

A new U.S. film with the look of a J.J. Abrams Cloverfield production or even Attack the Block is coming your way in 2017.  Colossal, screening at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, is a monster movie, but probably more of a parody of the giant beasty films.  It’s close enough that the company owning the right to the actual Godzilla movies sued the filmmakers of Colossal during production (a confidential settlement was reached in 2015).  Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway stars as a rather ordinary woman who happens to have a psychic connection with a giant monster ripping apart the streets of Seoul, South Korea.

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Is there an audience for a Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich mash-up?

Take a look at this trailer for Colossal:

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gojira

It’s probably fair to say that all we really need to know about Shin Gojira or Godzilla: Resurgence (with Shin meaning all or either of “rebirth,” “renew,” “reboot,” or even “God” and Gojira as the Japanese name for Godzilla) is in the trailers that have now been released.  The Japanese film appears to be more homage than reboot, using original music (at least in the trailers) and a style that looks like a modern director trying to merge classic giant Japanese monster movies with American 1970s Irwin Allen disaster films.  Fair warning:  This is not a sequel to the U.S. Godzilla movies.  It is a reboot of the Japanese 2004 version featuring the same giant monster that perennially wreaks havoc with Japan.

Advance reviews from Westerners confirm what it all looks like: bad acting, strange direction with much of the film consisting of office interiors with close-ups on the reactions of astonished citizens, and little screen-time for the title baddie.  The U.S. trailer, released this week, will be painful to most.  Yet there is something nostalgic about the retro sci-fi kaiju look, the cuts, the sound effects and music in the trailer.  Several Japanese trailers devote less time to office interiors and close-ups and give us a better look at Godzilla.  Will Japan audiences see this in a similar way to how American audiences have reacted to Netflix’s 1980s throwback show Stranger Things?

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As for the local response, Shin Gojira is already a hit in Japan, released there in late July, garnering high praise for being loyal to the character while offering a commentary on the current culture and politics of Japan.  One Godzilla fansite warns American audiences to view the film with that in mind.  It’s not targeted at international viewers and the message of the film may not translate, despite the subtitles.

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MonstersCover

Evoking the best of the classic Warner Bros. Merry Melodies cartoons, Brazilian artist Gustavo Duarte’s new book of comics is one of those works that you’d mistake for a classic you read as a kid, only maybe slightly a bit more twisted.  The pace and themes of Monsters! & Other Stories recalls Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit animated shorts, good company for this visual treat completely without words.

Duarte mixes humor and the askew in his first of three stories, “Có!” (the sound of a rooster) about a farmer about to relax with a drink, who suddenly finds himself thrust into a bizarre encounter with his pigs, a giant chicken and an alien spacecraft.  Something here evokes the strange tale of Bugs Bunny and his giant orange monster from the Looney Toons “Bugs the Beautician,” or maybe the other Loony Toons favorite, “A Sheep in the Deep,” with Ralph the wolf and Sam the sheepdog.

Monsters page art

“Birds” follows an anthropomorphic bird in suit on his day at the office who wages war against death itself, and a particularly bad pot of coffee.  The story quickly spirals into a morbid flight from death with the bird’s co-worker, resulting in a nasty–and gory–outcome for the pair.

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