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Videodrome, Or How David Cronenberg Foresaw Internet Culture, and the “Deep Web”.


Way back in 1983, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s Videodrome was released to mixed reviews. Most negative takes on the film cite how, while it initially delivers a intriguing premise, the film ultimately relents into a series of gory set pieces that barely manage to resolve its plot. This is most likely due to the fact that due to a narrow production window, Cronenberg began the shooting of the film with only a rough draft, and literally wrote the script as it progressed. While the result is pretty much as it has been reviewed, it remains a remarkable film, filled with intense, disturbing imagery and concepts.

For the unwashed, Videodrome is the tale of one Max Renn (James Woods), a UHF television company president. Back before cable television, there were two types of television stations — VHF channels, which were usually affiliates of the “big three” networks (those at the time being ABC, CBS and NBC) — and UHF channels, who were primarily independent and privately owned. In order to attract viewership from the major stations, these channels often provided a steady diet of reruns of older shows and movie marathons. The two best known survivors of this period are WGN in Chicago and TBS (originally WTBS, formerly WTCG) in Atlanta. Probably since the film takes place in Canada, Max Renn’s fictitious CIVIC-TV is able to draw viewers in with the likes of softcore porn and other sensationalist fare.

What ultimately grabs his attention is a pirated satellite broadcast called Videodrome, a plotless and extremely violent exhibition of torture. The mystery of why and how Videodrome exists is the premise of the film, and leads Renn on a darkly surreal journey, punctuated with everything from pulsating videocassettes to televisions disemboweling (with real bowels). Neither of these are at the heart of the matter, but rather that which finds itself at the center of Cronenberg’s early efforts — the human condition. Videodrome is about how the aforementioned condition has been extended into technology, for better or worse. Well, okay — in Renn’s case it’s definitely for the worse. But what’s really eerie about it is the way Cronenberg in many ways anticipates that then upcoming technological venue — the internet.

One of the many characters Renn meets on his descent to the seventh ring of technological hell is Professor Brian O’Blivion (based on philosopher Marshall McLuhan) who admits that O’Blivion is not his real name, but rather a “television name”, and asserts that the battle for North America will be fought in a “video arena”. Anyone who has donned a “handle” in a multiplayer game or online chatroom, or are even slightly informed about the WikiLeaks scandal or the doings of hacktivists in recent years may find the coincidence a bit chilling.

But the most disturbing parallel the is object of Renn’s obsession. According to Cronenberg, Videodrome was first inspired by his experiences as a child, hunting from UHF signals from the United States after all the Canadian stations had signed off. He did so with trepidation, afraid that what he might see would be more than he could handle. Anyone familiar with recent attention brought to the “deep web” or “dark web” may find these feelings familiar. While what is most commonly termed the deep web is simply that area of the internet that has yet to be indexed by current search engines, the dark web is that portion of the deep web which can only be accessed with particular forms of software (such as that could function on a TOR network), and possibly then after some sort of additional key is given.

Honestly, I’m not even sure if that is the case, seeing as how I myself have never ventured to such areas — but that isn’t the point of this blog. Whether it is purely myth, hoax, or yet another form of internet prank, a persistent legend is that of the Red Room, which features actual human torture and murder. Some allude the myth has its basis with a Japanese pop-up software which ultimately curses its victims with a violent death, but it seems more likely that these supposed sites would appear like the picture at the top of this article. The consideration that what occurs in Videodrome the film (depicted as Videodrome the signal) could actually exist is beyond disturbing, but ultimately would be a grim tip of the hat to Mr. Cronenberg for being all too familiar with the darker side of humanity.


To preface this, there’s something I’m wanting to try out. Starting with this post and possibly with future ones, I’m going to hyperlink the out-of-the-way movies that I reference in my posts (that is, if a version of them has been uploaded online). After all, the main reason I blog about them is out of love, so why not share them with my readers? Now I know it’s not exactly legal that someone has uploaded some movie to YouTube, but seeing as how I didn’t do it (nor would I ever), I personally don’t see the harm. Besides, a lot of times I’m sure some of you (like myself) will often endeavor to find DVDs or Blu-Rays of said films after seeing crappy versions of them online. Prepare to be disappointed though, as many of the VHS rips uploaded are the only copies known, that is until the likes of Shout Factory or Blue Underground manage to get them remastered.

From the Don’t Get Me Started department: It’s 4:30 in the morning, I happen to wake up and guess what’s playing on cable? Only my all-time fave underwater Alien rip-off — Leviathan. See kids, way back in the late 1980s (1989, to be exact), there was this weird trifecta of “underwater action thrillers”, all being an offshoot of the rampant Alien ripoffs of the 1980s, but reset in the equally alien setting of the deep ocean. They were (by popularity) James Cameron’s The AbyssLeviathan and Sean (Friday the 13th) Cunningham’s Deepstar Six. Don’t get me wrong — I dearly love The Abyss (the scene where Ed Harris resuscitates Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gets me every time), and Deepstar Six ranks high among my favorite Alien clones (which include Corman classics like Forbidden World — see here for my thoughts on that), but Leviathan will always be my favorite of this peculiar sub-genre.

But why? Is it the late, great Jerry Goldsmith’s score? Maybe, although he sort of seems to be phoning it in (compared to even his Hollow Man or Deep Rising scores, which have comparably much more bang for the buck. I mean who doesn’t want to take a power boat out on the waves blasting the Deep Rising theme — unfortunately not until about 1:30 on this video –? Am I really alone in this?). Is it David Peoples and Jeb Stuart’s script? Not really, since it’s an unabashed Alien retread: a schlubby bunch of deep-sea miners encounter a foreign (as opposed to alien) wreck, which is explored with ultimately less than desired results. Instead of a xenomorph we end up with a Stan Winston-ized metamutant, whose death the late Roy Scheider might find amusing. The screenplay is clever when it wants to be, but for the most part stays safe in shallow waters (nyuk).

What about the acting on this voyage? This is where things get interesting. We’ve got none other than Buckaroo Banzai himself, Peter Weller as the lead, doing what Peter Weller does best — offer a stoic, if somewhat wooden performance, punctuated with wry delivery and tired expression. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy, but it’s no coincidence he got cast as the lead in RoboCop. It oddly enough works in this case, since he’s the one most everyone’s looking to for some sense of order when it hits the fan. Calm and reserved, until driven to shout in less than quiet moments, Weller holds his own in Leviathan. As for the rest of the cast, there’s veteran actors like Richard Crenna (best known to most as Rambo’s ally Trautman, but I love him best in Wait Until Dark and the cheesefest horror flick The Evil) and Hector Elizondo, personal fave Daniel Stern (desperately summoning his inner redneck five years after his seminal role as “The Reverend” in the schlock masterpiece C.H.U.D.), the adorable Amanda Pays (who starred in The Kindred) and the foxy Lisa Eilbacher (check her out in This House Possessed from her early TV days, with *zoinks* Parker Stevenson!). Then there’s Michael Carmine, who I mainly know from this film as DeJesus, the beans and rice gourmet who has a serious skiing fetish. Oh wait, there’s Meg Foster, who plays the same ice-cold bitch she did a year earlier in John Carpenter’s anti-fascist manifesto They Live (which I will blog about soon, for sure). They all do an admirable enough job with the crappy script, making the best of their amiable (except in Foster’s case) but stereotypical characters.

But the star of this film, outside the conventional limitations of role and script, is Ernie Hudson as Justin Jones, this film’s answer to Yaphet Kotto’s Parker in Alien. See what I mean about a retread? But no matter. Hudson (best known from the two Ghostbusters films, which he was between at this point in his career) knows what he really is within the scope of the movie — he is the Voice of the Audience, our prickly representative in this doomed underwater scenario, and he works his position to the forefront with ease. His performance gives an otherwise predictable movie a satiric edge, imbuing the Angry Black Guy stereotype with a sly intelligence and wit. Mind you, the script does have a few of its better moments with his character, like the following which takes place just before the film’s climax:

MARTIN (on monitor, communicating from the surface): I know you’ve all gone through hell —

JONES: Gone? Bitch, we’re still here!

But it’s Hudson’s delivery that aces even these lines with the same hint of incredulity that we as the viewers are experiencing, without an obvious breaking of the fourth wall. It’s like a bad movie with its own built-in MST3K episode. Really, what could be better than that?

As mentioned before, the late Stan Winston, best known for his work on James Cameron’s Aliens and Terminator films, as well as Jurassic Park (and whose influence was sorely missed in the recent Jurassic World) provides the special prosthetic and animatronic effects for Leviathan, and honestly I wasn’t impressed. I don’t know what possible budget and time constraints he and his team might’ve been under, but what would usually be an exciting element of fantasy films from this era is ultimately a disappointment here. One of the films Leviathan is often compared to is Carpenter’s magnificent 1982 remake of The Thing (on which Winston assisted effects lead Rob Bottin), and such a comparison is very unfair. While Bottin’s work on that movie was wildly creative and imaginative (in my opinion the only other effects artist to come close to Bottin’s extreme genius is Joji Tani, otherwise known as Screaming Mad George), Winston’s work in Leviathan is merely adequate. We get a lurking rump roast which manages to sprout a tentacle at one point, and a final monster that looks like it could’ve come out of an early Roger Corman flick. Mind you that’s not an insult, but certainly not what should’ve come from the likes of Winston.

One avenue of excitement for me was the production design work of Ron Cobb. Cobb is best known as a artist and cartoonist, but his design work on Star WarsAlien, Conan the Barbarian and Total Recall (not to mention John Carpenter’s first film, Dark Star) has its own legion of fans, yours truly included. His unmistakable influence was present both within and without the fictional Tri-Oceanic deep-sea mining installation Shack 7 — right down to the underwater basketball goal.

Finally, the glue which holds all the disparate elements together was the late director George Cosmatos. Best known for Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cosmatos’ prowess with action is matched by a keen eye for drama. One standout scene is that of Eilbacher’s character Bowman realizing her mutagenic fate, and committing suicide.

As could be discerned from above, Leviathan tries to be several things at once, but still manages to define itself. It’s awareness of being an adjunct to superior films is notable, in particular with Hudson’s performance and overall with the script and direction. By no means as sly as the collaborations of director Joe Dante and scribe John Sayles earlier in the decade, it regardless finds a middle ground between straight-up parody and self promotion. While visually it could’ve been more, the overall production is slick enough, and the cast is memorable. Not great cinema by any standards, but Leviathan is one of those movies that manages to entertain in ways that such films cannot, like the consolatory joy one gets from a microwaved burrito as opposed to a steak dinner. It may not be for everyone, but in the right situation, and at the right time (like 4:30 in the morning), it surely satisfies.


Sir Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015).

To my nephews he was Saruman the White and Count Dooku, to me, the Prince of Darkness. In between there was the heroic Duc du Richleau in The Devil Rides Out, the wacky, yet sinister Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, and the goose-stepping Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt in Spielberg’s 1941. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II (and was supposedly attached to the elite Special Air Service in its beginnings) and fronted a symphonic metal band as lead vocalist. How someone could not possibly be more awesome without bursting into pure energy is truly beyond me. One of the greats.

Rick Baker: Monster Maker.


Three days ago (Thursday, the 28th), Rick Baker announced his retirement. If there ever was an “end to an era” moment in the realm of fantastic cinema, this was one of them. I just found out yesterday, seeing as how Thursday I was out seeing the new Mad Max movie (OMG go see it, BTW. Don’t really want to blog about it since most reviews out there currently are spot-on) and have been back to work since. But this to me is like the steam engine bowing its head to internal combustion. “First of all,” says the man himself, “the CG stuff definitely took away the animatronics part of what I do. It’s also starting to take away the makeup part. The time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now. I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time to get out. I would consider designing and consulting on something, but I don’t think I will have a huge working studio anymore.” Just as his mentor Dick Smith passed earlier last year (July 30th, at the age of 92), I’m sure Baker noted a change in the technological wind. Insert heavy sigh here.

Rick Baker started out like most of his generation, raised on Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, along with the likes of John Landis (who Baker would later collaborate with on Schlock and An American Werewolf In London), Dan O’Bannon (AlienReturn of the Living Dead), Joe Dante (PiranhaThe HowlingGremlins), not to mention a little guy from Georgia who caught the monster bug from his cousin Eddie and has been a rabid fan ever since. A book published by the magazine, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, sent the young Baker (not to mention future protege Rob Bottin and current The Walking Dead producer and director Greg Nicotero) off and running. At the tender age of 10, “Rick Baker Monster-Maker (a title he has lovingly embraced ever since)” was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

At age 18 Baker would later write a letter to Smith about his own work (photographs included), and their initial long-distance conversation would lead to Baker assisting Smith on The Exorcist, the film that would forever change the conceptions of cinematic horror. Before then Baker had worked on the forgettable Octaman and Landis’ Schlock, one of my all-time faves:

After winning accolades for his work on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (with future Aliens and Jurassic Park maestro Stan Winston) and King Kong (1976, with Carlo Rimbaldi), not to mention a journeyman stint on a little flick about a galaxy far, far away:

Baker would reunite with Landis to break new ground in the fields of animatronic and prosthetic effects (and win the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup) with An American Werewolf In London:

From there he would create such myriad effects as the “living” television sets in David Cronenberg’s surreal media barrage Videodrome:

And a host of creepy monsters (including those portrayed by Jackson himself) suitable for Landis’ video (read: film short) for Michael Jackson’s landmark pop hit Thriller (Baker guest stars as the zombie opening the mausoleum door after the first graveyard shot):

Baker would best be known for his love of great apes, gorillas in particular. Beginning properly with Schlock, he initially sought out any work involving them, such as King Kong (where he would get to portray the eighth wonder himself) and The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), where he starred as Sydney the Gorilla. It was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) which would allow Baker and his crew to begin thinking outside the boundaries of the traditional ape suit. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) would further the advances of Baker’s animatronic puppetry, but with 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist, Michael Apted’s biopic about Dian Fossey’s time with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Baker’s creations truly stepped forward as supporting characters in a story. Along with the remake of my personal fave “ape amok” flick  Mighty Joe Young (1998) and amazing prosthetic work in Tim Burton’s otherwise misguided remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) Baker’s position as the definitive simian progenitor in current cinematic history has been founded.

Baker was also best known towards the latter end of his career for his relationship with comedian Eddie Murphy, beginning with the John Landis film (and my personal favorite Murphy film) Coming to America (1988):

With the Men in Black movies, Hellboy and, ultimately the Wolfman remake (where his makeup effects were the only highlight, and a tribute to the late, great Jack Pierce), Baker saw his role in modern film effects shrinking. While computer animation has given us such wonders as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and the truly amazing simian characters of the current Apes film series (thanks due in no small part to actors like Andy Serkis), the involvement of practical effects is now an afterthought, at best. While no less an artistic endeavor, the digital realization of creatures, while certainly expanded in scope and variety, has been removed from the immediate realm of experience. While technology continues to be developed to emulate realism (such as WETA Digital’s Tissue system and Manuka rendering engine), the days of practical artistry in special effects are seeing their last days.

Baker, ever the polite gentleman, bids this all with a tip of his hat and a bow. While I’m sure his influence, whether personal or inspirational, will continue to be a part of the coming era, he has now taken a seat from the active stage. To paraphrase Stephen King, gone are the days where you could be assured the monster would have a zipper down its back.



It Follows.

First, I need to preface with the fact that I haven’t posted in a while, and apologize to anyone who has been following my random thoughts and images. I’ve been doing a great deal of writing towards other projects (particularly a couple of novels), and that along with a few art projects and work has taken the majority of my free time, leaving little attention spent on this blog. I’m sure every blogger has run into this time and again, but in any case I apologize for the absence, and hope to continue my tirade in the future. So there’s that, and onward (yarr).

I first heard about this film a while back on a couple of movie-themed sites, as it stormed through the festival circuit. It was being hailed as the Next Big Thing In Horror, which immediately left me with a considerable amount of trepidation. As a rabid horror fan, I have seen these signs align many times and ultimately been disappointed. Then those sites had actual reviews, which mirrored the reactions of said festivals. This got me intrigued. These were guys whose opinions I’ve come to respect, who were considerate enough to not spoil the details of the film, but wholly endorsed the fact that It Follows was a refreshing take on the genre. Needless to say, by this time my curiosity was piqued.

Next thing I know Regal Theatres announces they will be showing It Follows at all of their locations, which was exciting. Living in East Tennessee, most independent films are typically only shown at one or two theatres, if at all. A fortunate trend is that most of these are now available through some form of video-on-demand, but for these titles — especially horror films — a great big screen and superior sound system (not to mention a group of others who are sharing the experience with you) make for a much more enjoyable experience. The fact that Regal had taken something of a leap of faith with It Follows further proved to me that it was unlikely to disappoint. I had to see it.

The film, which was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (whose only other credit has been The Myth of the American Sleepover, which I haven’t seen yet but will soon) concerns the plight of Jaime “Jay” Height (Maika Monroe, who so reminds me of Gwen Stefani — nothing wrong there), a young woman whose “one night stand” with her current beau Hugh (Jake Weary) ends up with her drugged, then bound to a chair in an isolated location. Hugh tells her he has actually done this to ensure her safety, as he has passed on a curse to her via sexual intercourse. Its inevitable end result is she will be stalked by a shape-shifting, unstoppable entity that will find her, and if it catches her, will kill her. Horribly.

The only fortunate feature of this curse is that the thing can only walk toward her, but while it may be slow, it is inexorable. She will have short periods of time make whatever plans she may, but eventually, it will find her. This in itself is the true horror of It Follows — run if you like, but the end is just around the corner.

Immediately any horror fan will think of John Carpenter’s Michael Myers (a.k.a. “The Shape”) from Halloween and George A. Romero’s zombies, and certainly this is the basic mechanic at work here. One can even allude to the Final Destination films, which tend to be more ham-handed (although wonderfully Rube Goldberg-esque) in their interpretation. It is death, which is inevitable for all. But in poor Jay’s case, it’s often staring her in the eyes as it slowly approaches.

The number of allusions to Carpenter’s work are many, such as the lead character’s name (Jaime Lee Curtis played Laurie Strode in Halloween), not to mention the amazing score (courtesy of Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland, who needs to shut up and take my money for that soundtrack) which certainly hearkens to the former filmmaker’s musical work alone or with Alan Howarth. There’s even a scene in a classroom that is highly reminiscent of one from Halloween, but while other reviewers have cut Mitchell as short shrift by stating that he is “copying Carpenter”, I saw it as an homage (there are themes and sequences that give a tip of the hat to the likes of Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and even Alfred Hitchcock), and if it’s enough to get the kids digging into their parent’s VHS collections, so be it. This is the guy’s first venture into the genre, and far be it from me to deny him moments to lay offerings at the altars of the great ones.

The whole transference of sex to death thing has certainly been done before, with Halloween into the Friday the 13th series, and on into celluloid oblivion. What makes Mitchell’s work stand out is the fact that he’s completely aware of this, and brings it to the forefront with aplomb. While most immediately interpret the device with venereal disease (again, a parallel to the “body horror” of Cronenberg’s early work), this misses the more archetypal functions at play (Mark Kermode, who I so wholly dig, played the ancient card of “The Hook”, that fireside jewel about a moment of sexual gratification gone horribly wrong, in his description of It Follows. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, drop everything right now and get Stephen King’s Danse Macabre in some form, and get learned. If you consider yourself a true fan of horror and fantasy, you’ll thank me later).

Another thing Mitchell brings to the table is outstanding cinematography and editing by Mike Gioulakis and Julio Perez IV, respectively. While I do feel that some shots linger a bit too long at points, the film’s atmosphere and deliberately methodical pace perfectly play to the concept and story. I absolutely love that the setting of It Follows is almost mythic, belonging to some alternate world where nothing but bad (and presumably royalty free) black-and-white movies play on television while one character has some some weird clam-shell digital book reader. I also give credit to the film’s supporting cast, such as Keir Gilchrist as the socially stunted Paul, who has been holding a torch for Jay since they were kids (which obviously becomes an plot development) and Lili Sepe as her (seriously cute, yes I checked IMDB, she’s 18 — still feel pervy) younger sister, who give refreshingly low key performances. No, they’re not clever and contrite but naturalistic and reactive — another plus for Mitchell’s writing and direction, in my book. But Monroe is the true star of the film, as she carries the proceedings with even more of the same. Jay does stupid things, like drive off alone in a car into a ditch by a cornfield, and daringly sleep on top of a car instead of within it, but we always sympathize with her desperation and cojones in such a horrific situation.

Finally, I must point out that a great deal of the film is given up to the viewer — from the initial concept, several points later in the film, and the ending. After watching the movie, I ran into a couple outside the theatre who were upset that things weren’t more “wrapped up”. I personally think this is a wonderful technique in horror if used appropriately (such as in The Blair Witch Project), where the filmmaker demands the viewer put themselves in the mindset of the characters, and further imprints the crux of the film’s experience upon them. It leaves one with questions, but usually really good ones. Bringing back Carpenter’s Halloween, what I found so horrific about Rob Zombie’s remake of the film is that he completely missed the point. “Why” Michael Myers is transformed into The Shape is irrelevant — the fact that he is is the stuff of nightmare. Even Sam Loomis would tell you this.


Robin Williams (1951-2014).

Along with everyone else in the world, I was shocked to hear about Robin Williams’ death last night. Shocked, but not surprised. Williams had fought depression — which for many is a condition, not an illness — for the majority of his adult life. It is perhaps because of that condition that he also was one of the greatest comedic talents known, a man possessed who raged against fear and personal doubt with before unimagined heights of manic genius. Comedians who ranked as contemporaries, such as Steve Martin and John Belushi, were like the Jimmy Pages and Eric Claptons of comedy — but Williams was Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, wrenching every last note and primal sound out of his instrument before setting it aflame. He among a generation of voices fashioned a new age of comedic commentary, one that was daringly political, surreal and disturbingly intimate.

I won’t go into detail about his career, other than to say many of his roles onscreen showed what the man behind the mania was like — a sensitive, poetic soul with a chillingly dark edge. Like the greatest of actors, one had an understanding when seeing him take on certain aspects of character that he knew them all too well. Most others were simply frail containers set up to fall away and let him fly free, like some sort of berserker warrior who is set into the fray of battle.

Those moments showed what Williams did best — furiously improvise and embody the most abstract of concepts in a way that made them both immediately familiar and hilariously obvious. The greatest of comedians are those who manage to reveal the human condition for what it is — a series of blunders and happenstance punctuated with fleeting moments of genius and beauty. That exposed truth is what makes us laugh, even if we never realized it before. And Robin Williams, a Joycean whirling dervish of a man, did that more than most.

Gojirra (2014).

When I saw the teaser trailer for this one, I knew I needed it. I was thrown back to the 1970s, when WTCG (now known as TBS, the “Superstation”, or Sitcom Gehenna) ran the magnificent monster marathons known as the “Friday Night Frights”. These would include everything from the Universal classics, the drive-in fare of the 1950s — and later in the evening, the Hammer features from the 1960s (Ingrid Pitt, rawr). Also included were the Toho canon classics, most of which featured the King of the Monsters himself.

Yeah, I knew it was a guy in a suit (I mean durr, I grew up on Ultraman and The Space Giants, kids — again, thanks WTCG), but that wasn’t important. What was important was the genuine sense of dread that came in his wake. As a child, I understood it emotionally, but didn’t intellectually — Gojirra (not “Godzilla”, since I believe the impetus for his existence is lost in the Anglicized context) represented the collective conscience of a nation, one ravaged by honest-to-God nuclear holocaust. I surely don’t have to point this out, but outside of the travesty of the Nazis, Hiroshima and Nagasaki rank supreme on the “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” top ten list. He wasn’t a bad guy, but the wish fulfillment of a people who had to make some sort of justification for what had befallen them. Gojirra was outrage, he was justice, he was emotional inevitability.  He was why we have movies in the first place.

The 1998 film made me sick. It was basically an drawn-out episode of The Love Boat with a giant lizard in the background. The film was made by people who apparently had no clue what Gojirra represented or stood for. Either that or they simply ignored it out of some opportunistic bid for replicating the success of Independence Day (which, taken for what it is, is a awesome popcorn flick) — I am inclined to think the latter. In any case, that sad outtake on an otherwise spirited series of films (dancing or “talking” Gojirra politely accepted).

In 2010 Monsters was released, and it was a marvel. I relate it most to Half-Life 2, Valve’s amazing storyline of one man (the ever capable Gordon Freeman)’s trek through a world ravaged by extra-dimensional invaders. In the case of Monsters, they are extraterrestrial, and titularly restricted to Mexico in an “Infected Zone” (a more succinct version of District 9, in my opinion), which makes for a fascinating travail in a world uprooted into the fantastic and brutally believable. Gareth Edwards was its writer and director, and when I found out he would be behind the latest iteration of Gojirra I gave a great sigh of relief — and waited patiently.

Then came the aforementioned teaser. Ligeti’s Requiem (best known for its use in Kubrick’s 2001) wails in sonic lament as a brave few plunge from on high by blood-red flare light. Beneath them, beyond a maelstrom of blackened clouds, lies a ravaged cityscape and the source of its undoing — a massive silhouette amid the floating detritus — an old friend. I’ll be honest, I teared up. Gojirra was back.

Godzilla is the tale of one family (headed by the beloved Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston) that bares witness to a global catastrophe, and its ultimate champion. The film is wonderfully paced, cautiously informing the viewer of Gojirra’s dark heritage — if anything upping the ante towards the Western world considerably (and understandably) — and playfully teasing the audience towards what would surely come: a showdown among giants. The supporting cast, which includes Ken (Letters from Iwo Jima) Watanabe, Elizabeth (Martha Marcy May Marlene) Olsen and Aaron (Kick-Ass) Taylor-Johnson, is magnificent — but we all know who the stars are here. The enormous MUTOs (or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are highly reminiscent of the beast from Cloverfield (another big stompy monster movie — along with del Toro’s brilliant Pacific Rim being the best of the genre in recent memory), and are a capable pair of foes for our scaled hero.

But the hero is indeed the setpiece of the film. The biggest Gojirra on film (scaling at 355 feet), the keloid scarred behemoth is a astounding sight. Yeah, he’s a little heavy, but when you’re so much a badass, you gotta back it up. And this Gojirra is one beautiful badass. Replete with killer finishing moves and nuclear (not fire, as represented elsewhere) breath, this King of the Monsters is one complete package. He shows up, takes care of business, then makes his leave (no spoilers here, just what is expected of the King of Kaiju).

This film represents an anomaly to its detractors in the way it is true to its singular sub-genre. Those expecting something like the aforementioned films may actually be left wanting. But this is a Gojirra movie through and through. The looming dread, the vast expanses of debris — and the nightmarish heritage behind all of it. Edwards has scored a major victory in my book, and I look very much forward to the two sequels he is set to create.




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