A few tidbits for the month. The big news involves the Doctor Strange movie.
Jem and the Holograms comic due in March.
The new design for the characters has been released. The art is updated while still keeping to the original looks of the dolls and TV series. The hair is outrageous, as to be expected, but either hair spray or holographic display can explain it.
Benedict Cumberbatch to start as Doctor Strange.
Marvel has confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the title role in Doctor Strange, the first of the Phase 3 movies. All Marvel needs to do now is get Loki in the movie.
JK Rowling releasing new Harry Potter.
The releases started on December 12. Among the works are stories about the Malfoy family, Prof. McGonigle before Hogwarts, and how Floo Powder is made.
TOHO announces first Godzilla movie since hiatus.
TOHO will be ending the fallowing of Godzilla movies in 2016. The success of the 2014 American Godzilla has encouraged TOHO in bringing back the iconic kaiju.
Archie Comics restarting at #1.
Mark Waid and Fiona Stevens will helm the title after the reboot. Archie Comics, the publisher, has been on a rejuvenation spree of late, adding darker elements while still being family friendly.
SyFy picks up Krypton.
Air date is still unknown, but SyFy will air the Superman prequel series, Krypton, which will follow Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman. As with the other DC properties airing on television, there is no connection to the cinematic releases.
Titans pilot to shoot in 2015.
Geoff Johns confirmed that Titans, the live-action version of the follow-up to /Teen Titans/, will have a pilot filmed in 2015. Nightwing, aka Dick Greyson, has been confirmed as one of the characters and rumours have added Starfire and Raven. The show will draw influence from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s New Teen Titans.
Over the course of writing Lost in Translation, I’ve seen movies that caught the core of works perfectly and I’ve seen movies that missed the target to the degree of not even being in the same ballpark. It’s easy enough in the latter case to point out just what went so horribly wrong. Is it possible to redeem those movies, to take what went wrong and put it right? With some movies, it is, and the Fix-It Shop will explore those possibilities. With this inaugural entry, I will go back to the 1998 Godzilla.
The 1998 Godzilla had many problems, but only really went off the rails when Zilla reached New York City. Prior to that point, the movie played out as the original Gojira had, with the monster being hinted at instead of shown. When Zilla appears, then problems start. The obvious fixes were done in the 2014 Godzilla, keeping the focus on Godzilla. Even with the human element being front and centre, Godzilla’s battle with the MUTOs were still the central conflict. With that fixed, what can be done with the rest of the 1998 film?
The core problem with the latter half of the ’98 Godzilla was the shift in tone and genre. The first half was a kaiju movie. The second half added action and comedy, taking focus away from Zilla. Yet, that element could work in its own movie, away from Godzilla. Having the most famous kaiju off the poster frees up expectations. The entire subplot involving the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure* is now available on its own. Jean Reno is too good to waste.
In Godzilla, the French Directorate had a division set up for the research and containment of kaiju and was more prepared for Zilla than either the Japanese or the Americans. The agent in charge, Philippe Roaché, played by Reno, managed to protray himself as an insurance investigator and as an American soldier**. Let’s take him and his team and change their approach just a little. After the events in New York, the existance of giant monsters is no longer a secret. When a major American metropolis with several media headquarters, from television to print, gets trashed and evacuated, it’s news. Even in 1998, the twenty-four hour news cycle existed, with CNN being the major outlet. Roaché needs a new way to research while keeping his connections to the Directorate hidden. Anyone who sees him or his team may remember him from New York.
The solution? A front company, funded by the Directorate, that investigates kaiju sightings. The company can’t be Fortune 500; monster hunting has never been portrayed as profitable in TV or movies. Sam and Dean of Supernatural make money through credit card scams. The Ghostbusters put all their earnings into maintenance and paying fines. Roaché’s company, thus, is a small one, using grants for the most part as it develops anti-kaiju weaponry and hunts giant monsters. Having no official government status means the team must get into sites under attack through subterfuge, allowing Roaché to be an insurance investigator, a military officer, a university researcher, and anything else needed.
Tone will be key. As mentioned above, the latter half of Godzilla changed genre without a clutch, becoming an action comedy. The change was dissonant in the ’98 film, but if the new movie – let’s give it the working title Kaiju Hunters – starts as such, with the team in action against a lawyer-friendly version of a known giant monster, then the audience won’t have a problem with the approach. Ideally, the tone of Kaiju Hunters should be along the lines of Ghostbusters, Arachnophobia, and Tremors; a bit of horror, a bit of comedy, a bit of action, and monsters.
Casting will be important. Matthew Broderick was an odd choice and looked out of place in the 1998 film. Broderick is better known for comedies, not action. Given the change in tone above, he might fit in better, the field researcher brought into the company at the end thanks to the events during Kaiju Hunters. This will give the audience the outsider viewpoint to follow to learn about the company and its secrets. The rest of the cast are company employees, either hired on as staff or assigned by the Directorate.
Will Kaiju Hunters be successful? The ultimate question, with no easy answer. There’s no real built-in draw, unlike Godzilla of any year. Reno and Broderick aren’t household names. It may come down to budget. Is Kaiju Hunters blockbuster material? No. A lower budget may make the movie profitable, though. It will be a balancing act, finding a way to draw in audiences without needing an Avengers-sized number of people watching. What do you think? What would you do to fix the 98 Godzilla?
Next week, the December news round up.
* The French intelligence service, literally, the General Directorate for External Security
** Albeit, based on Elvis Presley.
Four weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at the 1998 adaptation of Godzilla. To summarize the previous review, the 1998 adaptation had a good start, mirroring the original Gojira but fell apart with the monster reached Manhattan. The other issue the adaptation had was that the titular monster didn’t look like the iconic Godzilla. The planned reboot/remake trilogy turned into a short-lived animated series. GINO* wasn’t disavowed, but Toho renamed the monster to “Zilla”.
Time passes, as it is wont to do. Godzilla is too iconic to leave fallow. Toho released a Godzilla movie a year from 1999 until 2004, then left the franchise to fallow for a decade. A second wholly American production was started, becoming the 2014 adaptation, Godzilla. To demonstrate that lessons were learned with the 1998 adaptation, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. released a theatrical poster with their Godzilla, looking like an update on the classic instead of a rebuild.
The adaptations starts with a montage of classified files, a mix of actual historical footage from the atomic tests and film from the fictional group, Monarch, implying that the testing at Bikini Atoll was to destroy a giant monster, code named “Godzilla”. The film then picks up in the Philippines in 1999 as scientists converge on a pit mine collapse. The bottom of the mine fell into a cavern. Exploring the cave, the scientists, led by Ishiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe, find fossils and two large spore-like objects. One is dormant, possibly dead. The other, though, has broken open. A trail from the cavern, burrowing to the surface, leads to the ocean.
In Japan, at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, seismic sensors start going off, each event larger than the previous. The plant prepares for a massive earthquake, but Joe Brody thinks the seismic readings are something else. By the time the order to shut down the reactor is given, it’s too late. The reactor enters meltdown. In the depths of the reactor, Joe’s wife, Sandra was leading a team of technicians to try to shut the reactor down gracefully when the reactor core is breached. Sandra’s team is unable to escape and is trapped when access to the core has to be shut to prevent a new Chernobyl.
Fifteen years later, US Navy Lieutenant Ford Brody, son of Joe and Sandra, returns from the Middle East to his family in San Francisco. After the joyous reunion, Ford receives a call from the American consulate in Japan, informing him that his father has been arrested for violating the Janjira quarantine zone. Ford flies to Tokyo to bail his father out. Since Sandra’s death, Joe has been convinced that the cause of the reactor breech and meltdown was something other than an earthquake. His proof, in the form of disks and papers, lies in his old home inside the quarentine zone. Joe convinces Ford to go with him into the zone.
Inside the quarantine zone, nature is well on its way to retaking the abandoned city. Plants overgrow cars and houses. Two dogs run past Joe and Ford. Joe checks his Geiger counter; there’s no appreciable radiation, contrary to official reports. Joe removes his breathing mask and promptly fails to die an agonizing death. At their old home, Joe recovers his proof, in time for him and his son to be arrested again. Instead of going to jail, the Brodies are taken to the power plant. Monarch scientists, including Serizawa, are on site. Serizawa compares the seismic readings he’s getting from the plant with the results Joe has, confirming one of the scientist’s suspicions. With the increased seismic activity, the secret kept within the Janjira facility emerges from the reactor core. A giant monster, a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism or MUTO, crawls out, destroying its containment and causing havoc as it releases an electromagnetic pulse. The MUTO escapes, leaving Ford injured and Joe dying.
In the aftermath, Ford is brought up to speed, including the Monarch information shown at the start of the movie and the existence of a monster, Gojira, codenamed Godzilla, that the atomic bomb testing was meant to destroy. The MUTO had caused the mine collapse in 1999 and had burrowed its way to the Janjira plant, where it chrysalized and fed off the radiation from the reactor core. Serizawa postulates that both Gojira and the MUTO were from a previous age where the radiation levels were much higher. With the use of atomic energy since the middle of the Twentieth Century, the MUTO was awakened and attracted by the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant. Ford explains his father’s findings, that Joe believed that the odd seismic readings were a form of echolocation, sending a ping of sorts, and receiving an answer.
The US Navy, taking over from Monarch, tracks the MUTO to Hawaii. The problem the Navy is having stems from the EMP disruption the MUTO puts out. Too close, and all electronic circuits get fried. It makes locating the MUTO difficult. What does help is the loss of a Russian submarine whose beacon is picked up off Hawaii. Ford is sent off the aircraft carrier to go home when the carrier is fifty kilometres off-shore from Honolulu. A special forces team is sent to recover the Russian beacon on one of the islands. The team, instead, finds the sub in the middle of the island’s jungle, along with the MUTO chewing on the sub’s nuclear reactor.
A new object appears on the carrier’s sonar. Its arrival in Hawaii is preceded by a tsunami, flooding the streets of Honolulu. The Navy engages the MUTO, but it sends out an EMP burst that not only disables fighter jets but shuts down Hololulu. The second contact swims into visual range and under of the US fleet. The alpha predator himself has arrived – Godzilla. American troops try shooting Godzilla after he makes landfall, doing less damage than a mosquito does to a human.
The fight in Honolulu between Godzilla and the MUTO is short and indecisive, with the MUTO flying away. The destruction in their wake, though, is on the scale of major earthquakes. Ford finds an US Army unit to hook up with. Godzilla returns to swimming after the MUTO, now with the US fleet as escorts. A third contact is detected in the western US. A question comes up, why would the MUTO call Godzilla if the latter is a predator. The answer is, the MUTO wasn’t. A check of the American nuclear waste storage in the deserts of Nevada discovers that what was once an underground vault is now open to the sky. A second MUTO, wingless but similar to the first, walks through Las Vegas, leaving more destruction. The difference in appearance leads Serizawa to hypothesize that the two MUTOs are the same species, just different sexes. The seismic activity was the mating call and return of the monsters. Tracking of both MUTOs and Godzilla shows a convergence in San Francisco.
The movie builds up to the battle royale, Godzilla against the two MUTOs. At the same time, the movie remembers the human element. Godzilla and the MUTOs are treated as acts of nature, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and destructive. Through Serizawa, the idea of Godzilla as the defender of the Earth is brought up. While Godzilla is the defender, humanity isn’t necessarily considered to be part of the balance. It is human acts that awaken the MUTOs, the use of nuclear energy and the disposal of atomic waste attract the MUTOs. It is only when Godzilla steps in as a force of nature on his own are the MUTOs defeated.
Viewers who want to see a monster versus monster battle will be disappointed in the movie. The conflict is built over time, giving the audience glimpses of what the fight will be like at the end. The filmmakers focus on the human element, the people affected by the destruction wrought. While Godzilla in the adaptation isn’t a symbol of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he is symbolic of the damage being done to the planet, of the extreme weather causing powerful storms that leave coastal cities and even some inland cities powerless.
As an adaptation, the 2014 Godzilla calls back to the themes of the original Gojira, with the changes mentioned above. The filmmakers add touches throughout the movie, harkening to other Godzilla movies. The monster is referred to by Serizawa as Gojira, a TV news broadcast has the label “King of Monsters” below Godzilla as he swims back into the Pacific Ocean. Godzilla looked like Godzilla, and several scenes had him standing in iconic poses, including when he used his atomic breath. Just as important, Godzilla sounded like Godzilla; the improvement of sound effects augmented the monster’s voice. The MUTOs, created for the adaptation, still fit within the Godzilla mythos.
Helping the adaptation is the avoidance of having the story set solely in the US. The movie acknowledges the Japanese heritage of Godzilla, setting the first portion of the film in Japan. Both Hawaii and San Francisco have large Japanese populations. Care was taken to keep Godzilla in a heroic mold, even with the swath of destruction he left behind. The biggest drawback, if it can be called such, is how long it takes to get a good view of the star attraction. The movie acts as an origin story, introducing the audience to the director’s vision of Godzilla.
While success of a movie isn’t indicative of the success of adapting**, the age of the character, sixty years old as of 2014, is key in whether the audience accepts or disdains an adaptation. In the case of the 2014 Godzilla, audiences accepted the character in the movie and, indeed, the movie itself, making the adaptation popular enough to justify a sequel. The movie wasn’t written with a sequel hook, but Legendary Pictures has licensed several more characters from Toho, including King Ghidorah and Rodan.
Next week, Jack the Giant Slayer.
* GINO – Godzilla In Name Only.
** See also, Scott Pilgrim vs the World.
The atomic bomb has been used just twice in war, both times on Japan. The destruction the bomb wrought led to nuclear escalation between the US and the USSR, and a permanent change in the Japanese psyche. Post-war atomic testing on uninhabited islands still had fallout. Even now, nuclear energy isn’t trusted fully. In science fiction, atomic radiation leads to mutations. Marvel Comics’ X-Men are specifically called the Children of the Atom. Spider-Man gained his powers from a irradiated arachnid. Going back further, though, leads to the grandfather of atomic changes.
Gojira first hit Japanese movie theatres in 1954 and featured a monster that had been reawakened by nuclear weapons testing. The monster symbolized the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, something Japan had experienced first hand. Although not the first kaiju*, Gojira became the example of what giant monsters, daikaiju are. The movie starts with ships being attacked at sea near Odo Island by an unknown vessel, one that disappears as quick as it appears. The investigators discover that the islanders used to sacrifice girls to a monster called Gojira to appease it. During a storm that wracks the island, more destruction occurs, far worse than accountable by the storm. This time, there is a witness who can identify the cause – Gojira!
An archaeologist discovers large radioactive footprints and a trilobite that is normally found in the depths of the sea. An alarm sounds, and the archaeologist, along with the villagers, run to the hills, only to meet Gojira himself, towering over the island. A short, desperate skirmish breaks out long enough for the villagers to get to safety. Gojira returns to the ocean.
In Tokyo, the findings are given over to a commission. Nuclear explosions are responsible for reawakening and freeing the daikaiju. A discussion about whether to reveal the monster’s existance or not later, the public is informed. The Japanese Self-Defense Force sends ships to drop depth charges. Instead of killing Gojira as planned, the charges merely attract his attention to the ships and Japan. Gojira attacks Tokyo, emerging from Tokyo Bay, leaving a trail of destruction not seen since the Allied bombing of the city. Emergency measures are put in place, including a fence of electrical towers that will give off a 50 000 volt shock when walked through and the evacuation of Tokyo. Gojira returns. The electric fence does little to slow the monster down; Gojira destroys the wires with his atomic breath. Tanks fire but can’t penetrate Gojira’s hide. Once again, Tokyo suffers under the rage of the daikaiju until he leaves in the morning.
However, Tokyo may have a chance at surviving. Daisuke Serizawa has developed the Oxygen Destroyer, a side effect of his research into cleaner energy. The Oxygen Destroyer does exactly what it says on the tin – it destroys oxygen atoms. Anything needing to breathe oxygen is left asphyxiating. Serizawa is well aware of the potential misuse of his invention, though, and is hesitant to use it. Once he sees the extent of Gojira’s destruction, he changes his mind. To be safe, he burns his notes on the Oxygen Destroyer so that they can’t be used to create more. Serizawa is taken by ship to the last known location of Gojira. Finding the monster, Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destroyer, then cuts his own oxygen cable. Both he and Gojira perish.
The implications of Gojira, that the monster is more an unstoppable act of nature caused by nuclear radiation, is woven through the movie. The military is helpless as Gojira rampages through Tokyo. The destruction is immense. Nuclear weapons testing led to Gojira’s reawakening, which in turn led to Tokyo’s destruction.
In 1956, the movie was retitled Godzilla: King of Monsters and brought over to North America. New scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr were added to reduce the amount of dubbing needed. Burr played an American reporter who was on the scene when Godzilla first attacked Tokyo, telling the story as a flashback. This Godzilla was then released in Japan in 1957 and was popular like the original.
Despite being an actor in a rubber suit, Godzilla moved like the giant monster he was supposed to be. Part of this came from the sheer mass of the original suit. The added verisimulitude helped win popularity, which led to Toho producing /Godzilla/ movies through to 2004. Along the way, other daikaiju either fought or teamed up with Godzilla, inluding King Kong, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla. Godzilla also served as inspiration for other giant monsters, including Gorgo and Gamera. As mentioned, Godzilla wasn’t the first giant monster, but he was the most influential. Few other daikaiju had songs written about them. Over the years, Godzilla became less a danger and more the protector of Earth, defending the planet against would-be destroyers and conquerors, including humans.
In 1992, Tri-Star picked up the rights to Godzilla with an eye on making a trilogy. The first, Godzilla, was released in 1998. It starts much the same as the original, a fish canning ship is attacked by an unknown creature and is found washed ashore, this time in the Atlantic. The US sends the military to investigate, pulling in experts in biology and paleontology, including Nick Tatopoulos. Nick, played by Matthew Broderick, was pulled from his investigation of the effects of radiation on worms in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Meanwhile, Philippe Roaché, a French insurance investigator, is also looking into the attack on the canning ship, ostensibly for purposes of insurance payout. He tracks down a survivor of the attack, who is only able to say one word, “Gojira.”
Early appearances of Godzilla are brief; the most seen of the monster are the spikes along his back. It’s only when Godzilla arrives in New York City that the audience sees him fully. Instead of being an actor in a rubber suit, the new Godzilla is rendered with CGI. Jurassic Park, originally released in 1993, helped make great strides in rendering dinosaurs with CG, and the new Godzilla benefited. However, the new Godzilla was based on iguanas and lizards, creating a new look for the giant monster. Still, New York suffered the same fate Tokyo did in the original Gojira, with massive damage to streets and buildings. And, just like the original, the military was helpless to stop the monster.
As New York is evacuated to New Jersey, Mayor Ebert tries to stay on top of matters, more to help get re-elected than anything else. During the chaos, the military loses sight of Godzilla. As blame gets thrown about, the civilian specialists work out what happened just as an Army recon squad reports that one building they checked had no more floor. Godzilla went underground. Nick comes up with an idea to get the monster back above ground to give the Army another go at him – fish. A large pile of fish is dumped near Times Square and manhole covers removed to let Godzilla smell the bait. The plan works; Godzilla breaks through the street from underneath and goes after the fish, giving time for the squadron of Apache helicopters to move in and attack. The helicopters’ missiles are useless, missing Godzilla and destroying the Chrysler Building instead. The reason – the missiles carried are heat seekers and have nothing to lock on. Being cold-blooded, Godzilla is the same temperature as his surroundings. Switching to miniguns, the Apaches pursue Godzilla through the ruins of mid-town Manhattan. The tall buildings become a maze, and the pilots lose the monster. The monster, however, did not lose the helicopters, and prey becomes predator again. Hemmed in by the towers, the helicopter pilots aren’t able to pull away* from Godzilla and are made a snack. Godzilla disappears again.
Nick makes a few calculations and realizes that the amount of fish from the canning ship, from three fishing ships that disappeared, and from the pile he had the Army make was far more food than needed. He grabs a sample of Godzilla’s blood, then finds an open pharmacy where he buys every pregnancy test available. While in the pharmacy, he runs into an old girlfriend, one who had rejected his marriage proposal. He takes her back to his tent, doubling as a lab, catching up on old times along the way. Nick finds out that his ex works at a TV station, then finds out that Godzilla may very well be pregnant, either about to lay eggs or has just laid them. The biologist runs off to warn the Army of his discovery and to perform proper tests to confirm his results.
With Nick gone, his ex, Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo, takes a tape showing the path Godzilla has taken, including footage of the survivor saying, “Gojira,” to her station. The tape is immediately placed on the air, right as Nick is trying to explain the pregnancy. Nick is kicked off the investigation. As he leaves, he meets Philippe. Nick explains the problem and gets Philippe, played by Jean Reno, on his side. Turns out, Philippe isn’t an insurance investigator; he works for the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure, or the French Secret Service. Philippe has been tracking the destruction from French Guyana to New York with an eye on stopping the monster. Nick, Philippe, and Philippe’s small team head into New York to look for the eggs.
Back in New Jersey, the collective armed forces of the US come up with a new plan to kill Godzilla. Once again luring him out, the Air Force directs Godzilla towards the ocean, where two submarines wait. Torpedoes are fired, but Godzilla is not only able to out-swim them, he lures them into one of the subs, destroying it. A second brace of torpedoes is fired and this time, Godzilla is hit. Mayor Ebert hears the news and starts insisting on having the evacuees returned to their homes in Manhattan. Colonel Hicks, played by Kevin Dunn, wants to confirm the death of Godzilla.
Back on the island, Nick and the French spies discover Godzilla’s nest. All of seats in the stands of Madison Square Garden have an egg, each one on the verge of hatching. As the Godzilla-lings emerge, hungry, they go after the fish and anything that smells like fish, including Nick and the French. The group makes the only rational decision possible – to run, blocking the doors to the arena. However, they’re still stuck inside the building. Fortunately, Audrey and her cameraman, Animal, were following him and know where the broadcast room is. Philippe, the sole French survivor of his team, assists in unlocking the door to the broadcast room. Audrey forces a break into the TV station’s live feed, letting the Army know where the offspring are. Nick joins her and explains the problem; Godzilla’s offspring are asexual, born pregnant, and are hungry; basically, they’re less fluffy tribbles.
Colonel Hicks calls for an air strike, giving the survivors inside Madison Square Garden six minutes to escape. It’s close, but they do get out. The baby Godzillas are derstroyed, but Godzilla returns. During the chase, where the heroes have borrowed a taxi to try to outrun a monster that can hit 80mph, Nick gets a message through to Colonel Hicks about Godzilla. A last ditch plan is made; draw out the monster to a bridge so that the Air Force can use missiles without buildings being locked on instead. The first missile strike staggers the monster; the second kills it.
The first half of the movie does a good job recreating the events of the original Gojira. The problem begins when the tone of the movie switches from “giant monster” to “action”. The original Godzilla took extreme efforts to stop; the subsequent films either have Godzilla as an act of nature, impossible to stop, or a protector, one who inflicts a lot of collateral damage. The design of the new Godzilla is closer to Repitilicus and The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, with a touch of The Giant Gila Monster. Toho, the company that created the Godzilla franchise, has renamed the monster in the movie “Zilla”, but hasn’t completely disavowed the film.
The scene involving Zilla chasing the Apache helicopters had an odd special effects failure. Nothing wrong with Zilla’s CG. New York just looked like it was a model, as did the helicopters. Given the nature of the movie, was it an error or was it deliberate, a callback to the use of a model Tokyo and model military vehicles in Gojira? Given that the rest of the movie didn’t show any problems, the choice seems deliberate.
Godzilla has issues as an adaptation, as pointed out above. The issues, though, do really start after Zilla reaches Manhattan. Until then, it does feel like a proper adaptation of Gojira.
* Apparently, the pilots forgot that they could go in three dimensions, specifically up. The Apache has a service ceiling of about 21 000 feet, much higher than even the tallest building in New York City.