Gadzooks! A Godzilla for Malick Fans?

Change my mind, moviegoers.

I’ve made clear that I’m done with movies that turn urban devastation into entertainment. I still haven’t given two hours of my life to watch Man of Steel, thank God. But the more I read about Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, the more intrigued I become. Might this film actually give me food for thought? Or are film reviewers simply showing signs of desperation, clutching at straws in order to find something to say while yet another blockbuster comes in like a wrecking ball to bust up city blocks?

Here are some of the more intriguing paragraphs I’ve read about Godzilla…

Matt Zoller Seitz on Godzilla:

While “Godzilla” is less a satisfying drama than an immense, sometimes terrifying sound-and-light show, it’s got a good heart. It’s tough but never glib or cruel. Even when its titular amphibian is rising from the sea to flood and crush major cities, the film never becomes a mere display of special effects prowess. We’re aware that Godzilla and his foes are animals—parts of a long gone, pre-prehistoric ecosystem, like the real creatures that dot the movie’s margins: bats, birds, iguanas, dogs, wolves, beetles. There’s a bit of H.P. Lovecraft in how the script (credited to Max Borenstein) turns the kaiju into mythic reminders of humanity’s arrogance and youth, and an unexpected (but delightful) touch of Terrence Malick’s Transcendentalist humility in how the director lavishes attention on meadows and forests and rolling waves. (The movie’s final shot evokes “The Thin Red Line.” Yes, really.)

At The Dissolve, David Ehrlich writes:

In Godzilla, almost all human action is futile and/or fatal…. Godzilla is both humanity’s reckoning and its salvation, a response to our unchecked parasitic relationship with the planet and a reminder of our ultimately supporting role as stewards rather than beneficiaries. Steven Spielberg exerts an undeniable influence on the way the film moves, but Hayao Miyazaki’s work best anticipates where it goes. If Jurassic Park is about the perils of playing God, Godzilla responds that just being ourselves is bad enough.

Godzilla isn’t an action movie, it’s a spectacle of humility.

This is a story about exposing the myopia of the human perspective and then humiliating our inherently egocentric POV.  We’re just another part of the equation Godzilla has come back to balance, an urgent reorientation that Edwards turns into a story by gradually disempowering his human characters, conflating us with the bad guys until Godzilla can emerge as an aspirational figure.

The film’s evocative closing shot serves as a resonant reminder that just because we’re the planet’s predominant storytellers doesn’t mean that the story is necessarily about us.

Meanwhile, thanks to Josh Larsen at Think Christian for bringing Elijah Davidson’s brilliant Godzilla-meets-Job piece to my attention:

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks of Job when watching Godzilla.

Elijah Davidson, co-director of Reel Spirituality, recently watched the older version for the first time and afterwards put together this frame-by-frame comparison of the 1954 Godzilla and descriptions of Leviathan from Job 41. Eyes like the rays of dawn? Breaking iron as if it was straw? Causing the depths to churn like a boiling pot? Certainly sounds like Godzilla, and Davidson has the pictures to prove it.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet departed the Patheos network in order to escape click-bait advertisements that were offending him and his readers. He will re-launch Looking Closer at lookingcloser.org soon. He is the author of The Auralia Thread, a four-volume fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors, and a memoir of "dangerous moviegoing" called Through a Screen Darkly. He teaches creative writing and film studies; speaks internationally about art and faith; served as Writer-in-Residence at Covenant College; and is employed by Seattle Pacific University as a project manager, copyeditor, and writer.

  • http://chrisphoto.com csinclair

    The most impressive thing is that it’s Director Edwards’ second feature ever. He went from a 100k budget with Monsters to a 100 million budget with Godzilla. I went just to see how he would make the transition. Plot-wise, meh. But film tone and shot-wise, there were some interesting directoral decisions I found interesting.

  • Christopher Williams

    I didn’t think “Malick” when I saw this, but I definitely thought of Spielberg. I’m far from the first person to mention this, but the way Edwards slowly reveals Godzilla in bits and pieces is very “Jaws”-esque, and really adds to the film’s scale and sense of awe. The monster scenes are genuinely thrilling, as remarkable as any big special effects sequences have been in years.

    But yeah, those characters. Once again, there’s a “Jaws” homage by giving them the last name of Brody, but Spielberg wouldn’t have let characters this thin get anywhere near the Orca. The most interesting character is only around for a short while, and everyone else just kind of goes where Godzilla does. And the women in this film are horribly treated. I have no idea why, given the paper-thin roles they play, talented actresses like Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen signed on here.

    But Godzilla’s about the spectacle and, as the The Dissolve noted, the movie’s kind of about how the humans are irrelevant here. It’s fun and one of the more enjoyable popcorn movies I’ve seen; but I think critics wanting to hail it as art are stretching a bit too much.

  • Alex

    The movie is ok if not great. It didn’t thrill me even for a moment, I enjoyed the whole. The most immediate comparison would be the somewhat exhausting Pacific Rim, but I liked Godzilla simpler approach better. It seems more human and less desperate to please, which works for and against it. The movie’s confidence in itself is evident, which is good. The action is more interesting than in Pacific Rim, but the characters become less and less interesting which is rarely good (while those in Pacific Rim become more fun but remain thin throughout, which might be worse given the longer air time they get) but the diminishing characters against nature’s increasing spectacle also works somewhat in the way David Ehrlich says. I love, for this type of movie, that there are few cringe-worthy lines (apart from almost every line that the Japanese scientist utters, though he’s still somehow likable). Sally Hawkins is a frustrating waste in the movie, could have not appeared at all and have her lines given to some other character to make it insignificantly weightier, but weightier still. I think the movie could have learned from Spielberg’s characters or even Emmerich’s character dynamics as seen in The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day. This movie isn’t better than any of those, but is special in its own way, somehow manages to feel different even in its contentedness with certain formulas. The quite slight Malick influence which differentiates it, does work though. When it comes to disaster movies, it is a great genre movie that won’t compete with more ambitious homages like Super 8 (which goes way beyond just a disaster flick) or with solid but pure summer extravaganzas like Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow.

  • Tyrone Barnes

    I saw it twice. I really think you’ll enjoy it, Jeff.


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