Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The League's Favorite/ Least Favorite Monsters Part 1

So now its up to me, I guess.

Let's start with the obvious.

1)  Frankenstein and his Monster - favorite

"What's up, party people?"
Shelley's Frankenstein hit me over the head like a ton of bricks when I read it as assigned reading in high school, and the character of Victor Frankenstein and his unbridled ambition, followed by his inability to take responsibility for what he'd created...  pretty good stuff.

While there's no question the Monster is murderous, Shelley also infuses him with a craving for understanding and a humanity that Frankenstein himself may have set aside.

The movies, of course, turn the monster into an invulnerable, inarticulate beast, but the first three in particular explore much of the same themes, and are a lot of fun in their own right.

Is The Monster actually scary?  Well... yeah.  I mean, he's a hodgepodge of parts of various people sewn together and brought to life through artificial means.  He also kills folks both accidentally and intentionally (and just to make a point - that's gangster).  In the movies the Monster is more or less a superhuman, immortal walking weapon with quite a different personality.  However, I think we can look at Victor/ Henry* Frankenstein as us, and he, of course, is far scarier than the Monster.  After all, he dreamed the creature into being, and he failed to contain what he'd made.

but for my dollar, I'll take The Bride...

Baby, you can re-animate for me anytime
Of course, the portion of the novel featuring The Bride and the movie follow two entirely different trajectories.  I think the pursuit of The Bride (or a mate or whatever) for The Monster is so terribly tragic and part of what makes the story so haunting, that longing for contact and love that humans can grasp, and the lengths the Monster will go to for fulfillment of that need can read as the horrible act of a murderer, but that's a pretty dim reading of the characters.

Of all the monsters, its the understanding forged between The Monster and his creator that's the most fascinating aspect to me (more so in the novel than in the movie, but the movie doesn't shy away from this, either).  Having to face down the monster you've created and abandoned, who you've rejected and whose one dream you've torn apart?  Well, that's a pretty tough conversation to have.  In the sequel, Dr. Pretorious certainly adds a whole new aspect to the proceedings as Whale was making a movie completely separate from the novel.

Curiously, its Young Frankenstein that seems to be the one version of the story we can see that bridges the gap between the monster and its creator. 

The original novel is the template for a thousand more stories, movies, comics, whatever... but in my book, the original is still the best in both novel and the first two movies, and its a template for a reason.  The story says something very interesting about us as a creative species, and its a lesson you hear reflected and rebounded throughout science-fiction. 

As per The Monster, he's the avatar of that creation, and one that is entwined hopelessly with its creator.

*that's what he's called in the movies

2) American Remake Godzilla - Least Favorite

I like a good Godzilla movie from Toho studios.  Man in Suit is where its at, if you ask me.  And I love how Toho always makes sure there's some reason Godzilla is rampaging across Japan, be it an anti-nukes warning, people not loving one another enough, or as a reminder to recycle.  Whatever.  Godzilla is sort of a nation's conscience and psychic backlash stemming from guilt writ large and with atomic breath.

With total sincerity, I contend that this is a metaphor.  Also, its @#$%ing awesome.
In the summer of 1998, Roland Emmerich (I assume, I can't remember) got his hands on a high-grade CGI crew (well, 1998 good) and went about making an American version of Godzilla.  I went opening day, popcorn and Diet Coke in hand, and was naively quite excited to see what a couple hundred million thrown at a Godzilla movie would get me.  The answer: an absolutely horrendous movie featuring a CGI Godzilla that made me long for the days of Man in Suit.  And it featured a complete waste of Vicki Lewis.

This version of Godzilla is so reviled by true-blue Godzilla fans that the creature and the movie is referred to online as "GINO" or "Godzilla in Name Only", which I fully support.

While Godzilla in this movie was also created by nuclear tests, Americans get off guilt free as the tests were French atom bomb tests.  And, of course, we were just hapless victims in our version of the story, which...

Anyway, there's my social commentary quota for the month.

Yes, the monster looks a little like a squatting mime playing dinosaur
The monster-as-emblem-of-psychic-punishment-for-national-shame angle is completely missing from this Godzilla, but...  that's of course not quite enough.

The creature just looks stupid and does stupid things.  Its a 30-story monster that sneaks around between sky scrapers, runs so quickly in the middle of Manhattan that it ditches military helicopters, and slithers through the New York subway line.  It has a bizarre and almost lithe body for something of its scale, including oddly human limbs.  Its just really perplexing to see on something of that scale that's just so off that your brain knows it and sort of sends you signals about how this just doesn't look right at all.

Godzilla has really been hitting the gym
American Godzilla is supposed to be a mutant iguana, I think, so the filmmakers decided that while a 30 story iguana with shoulders* isn't a stretch, apparently giving us some nuclear-fueled fire breath is just getting silly (although they do give it a sort of "air blast" thing, which...   @#$% you, American Godzilla.  Your dumb fake fire breath via exploding gas line isn't going to cut it here!).

I recently watched this movie in its entirety, by the way, convinced it couldn't be as awful as I'd remembered (I took Jason to see the movie because he wouldn't believe it was as bad as I'd said).   It may have been worse.  Just.... truly...  an horrendous movie in so many ways, from scripting to acting to derivative creatures and scenarios to the worst love interest in a movie I can remember...  and it will make you very glad we escaped 90's big-budget movie-making alive and intact.

What's stunning is that so many people had to have worked on that GD iguana, and apparently nobody pointed out that this thing just made no sense, and wouldn't it just be better to redesign based upon the Japanese version rather than start from scratch?  And didn't anybody talk to a biologist or even a high school anatomy student while figuring out what a 30-story animal would look like if they were going to walk away from Gozilla classic?

Anyhow, this movie has largely been forgotten, and gladly so.  I wouldn't mind another American remake or Japanese/ American remake where it seemed like everyone wasn't so busy patting themselves on the back and second guessing 50 years of awesome movies that they wound up with a boorish movie with a crummy looking monster.  Sure, go CGI and do some mild redesign, just so long as Man in Suit never goes away...

UT is hosting an informational seminar on the bio-mechanics of  Kaiju (Giant Monsters) on Wednesday.  Be there or be square.

*btw: an anatomical difference between lizards and dinosaurs?  Lizards have splayed legs vs. how dinosaurs have hips that place the legs under them.  Think how monitor lizards get around versus how triceratops stands.  See, you learn important stuff here all the time.


Matt A. said...

I absolutely agree with the bad American iguana thing. Unfortunately, the real Godzilla movies recognized in the film Godzilla: Final Wars, but fortunately only called it Zilla.

The League said...

I had never watched "Final Wars", so I went ahead and did so tonight and cackled my way through the "Zilla" sequences.

By the way, "Final Wars" totally lived up to the hype.

Anonymous said...

Final Wars is awesome. It's everything I love about Japanese entertainment.

We need to get a group together and play Monsterpocalypse!