Saturday, December 9, 2023

G Watch Take 2: Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Watched:  12/7/2023
Format:  Alamo
Viewing:  Second

This is the first time in years I've seen a movie twice in the theater.  I intended to see Marvels again, but, hasn't happened.  

My reasons for returning to the cinema were two:
  1. I could tell that when I effused about the movie, Jamie was like "yeah, you'll watch anything with Godzilla in it.  Stop telling me it's a good movie." so I wanted to just get her in a seat.  Thus, I lured her there with Alamo's chicken nuggets.*
  2. I wanted to see everything again so I wasn't just dealing with the audio and visual input being shoved in my eyes on a first viewing and see how the movie sat with me when I knew what was coming.
I am happy to report that, much as I'd been told by Stuart who had already seen it twice, the movie may work even better on a second viewing.  

That's not to dismiss the impact of the first viewing, but I can say my first watch was pretty visceral in nature.  There's a lot going on.  World War II, after-World War II, subtitles, grief, a 15-story atomic monster...  So I was curious how it would hold up, and how it would feel different knowing how the movie works and ends.


Before proceeding, I'll assume you've read my prior post and have seen Godzilla Minus One (2023) at least once.

Well, Stuart was right.  This movie is even better on a second viewing.

Mostly and firstly, the themes of making a choice to fight for life itself, and the future of others, and *why* those things are the right thing to fight for - versus an abstraction like honor or glory - and that maybe choosing to fight for those things, in the end, discounts life itself is a hell of a message for a movie about an amphibious atomic lizard.  But here we are.

Like it or not, we're all a bit trained for what to expect in a film, and I'll confess that my patterns of bias impacted my first viewing, making the movie a bit more of a surprise than maybe it should have been. 
  • I was surprised that a move that was clearly taking itself seriously decided to *not* have our hero choose noble sacrifice - which a lot of scripts would have done so the movie would ensure we understood narrative tools like closure and symmetry had been deployed in a certain way.  But in the end, allowing our hero to survive with the possibility of thriving wasn't just some narrative reward for making it to the end of the picture, it was an earned pardon and was why this is a *character* movie.  Growth through experience.
  • Shikishima's inability to accept he wasn't dreaming as a corpse was...  haunting as hell.  The weight of what he's going through was it's own movie, that just happened to manifest itself in a giant monster.
  • I was surprised that Noriko lived instead of being fridged to provide a motivation for our hero.  Again - we're very trained to have characters sacrifice themselves to compliment the heroes journey and we remember them wistfully at the end.  And it works.  I wouldn't take that away from movies I very much like (see: Avengers: Endgame).  But it almost feels *edgy* to have the children's movie ending of everyone back together and happy.  Because-
  • The whole fleet that goes to take Godzilla back in comes back alive.  I don't know that I've *ever* seen a movie where the characters took pride in making sure every man came back  - not at this scale.  Usually a few dozen nameless characters get dumped in the ocean or a rock falls on them or whatever so we can understand the sacrifice and stakes.  But survival and fighting for the future is what the movie was going for - and it's kind of sad that we think of that as "naive."  
I was also struck by the pacing on this go-round.  It would be interesting to map the story with a stop watch or timer.   There's such a good balance of the deep character stuff and then the punctuation of G appearances that drive the next segment.  Like, one minute you're deeply invested in Shikishima rejecting Akkiko as his daughter (I mean, all in on that scene) and then the next you're dealing with Ginza getting leveled.  That is hard stuff, and there's something to be said for the abruptness of the G attacks and their incredible violence that itself is part of the narrative of what it means to live in a world that will drop horrors upon you without your permission.  (Which, of course, is why the last act works so well for me).

It's also of note how the movie was framed, literally.  Like, credit where it's due - this movie actually makes Godzilla terrifying from where it places the lens and how it frames the people.  Like, we're used to people running, but we don't know them.  We're not used to looking up in the same way - even (or especially) in the American-made Monsterverse stuff.**  The framing has been to create awe in Godzilla being a big dude smashing buildings and then using miniatures as a playground in which to wreak havoc.  Arguably, Gojira and Shin Godzilla get this a lot better, but this movie places characters you care about in the middle of everything, running on the street.  You actually care about the chance of people getting crushed and it seems like a problem instead of a feature.  

And one really can't say enough about the sound design and use of music.  This has been a feature of Godzilla movies, East and West, for a while, but holy cow is the sound in this noteworthy and something everyone short of the Star Wars folks should take note of.  And, man, we're all pretty familiar with the score of the original Godzilla March, but this uses that music to the best effect since 1954.

Anyway, it was really fun taking my dad to a movie he hadn't expected to like very much, and just as much fun to take Jamie and hear her involuntary and audible responses to the action on screen.  
  • She jumped at G's first appearance
  • There was a gasp when G nuked the first Japanese battleship
  • She said "oh no...!" when G started charging up in Ginza
  • And did similar when Godzilla chucked the battleship at the port at the end
There were a few other moments, but it was great to hear her get into it - and when we left, she was bubbling over, so I figured I'd done right getting her to the movie.  And I quote "That! Was! Awesome!"

*technically, I'll at least give anything with G in it a "try".  
**With the very notable exception of the first minutes of Monarch, which is the only good part of that dumb show


Simon MacDonald said...

That was a hell of a movie. I saw the black and white cut last night and it really helped to ground the movie in a post World War II setting. You could forget that it wasn't some sort of found footage documentary.

I was really impressed by the acting and storyline. I too admit to getting a bit choked up during parts of the movie where folks were earnestly risking their lives so others could have a chance at having a future.

Sadly, the three dum dums who apparently were there to do their own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn't see it the same way. They were cracking jokes and laughing at parts of the movie that did not warrant that type of abuse.

Then on the other hand the folks next to me were visibly crying at the end of the movie so it wasn't an all bad crowd.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the color version next.

The League said...

One of the fascinating but weird things about something like Godzilla is that people walk in with certain expectations, and will not be phased or changed by what's actually unspooling in front of them. It's unconscionable to riff in a theater with other people. Anyway, I'm sorry that was the experience.

But I am glad you got to see it on the big screen! Word is that it's due for digital release in the coming weeks, which is why they're pulling it from cinemas - it was never expected to run this long. We just got back from seeing one of the last shows in town ourselves! So I managed to catch this version.

Simon MacDonald said...

Regardless of the yahoos behind us I was able to shut them out for the most part so I still had a great time at the movies. I eagerly await it showing up on one of the 42 streaming services I seem to be subscribing to.

The League said...

I'm coming to Canada to sit behind you and riff while you try to watch

Simon MacDonald said...

Sounds good, I'll make up the guest room.