It’s always a mistake to enter a movie theater with high expectations. Who’s going to get you high in a movie theater? (Cue rimshot drummer.) But seriously, folks. I hadn’t seen a flick in the theater since Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as the money and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the ball. That was a boring movie, but at least I got to see it with my parents, so it was quality time with the family misspent. And the last movie I’d seen in the theater before that was The Artist, which was brilliant. Like anything else, going to the movies is always hit or miss. There’s an Elliot Rodger joke buried in there somewhere in that last phrase, but that cat is already yesterday’s news. At least he reminded everyone that America has a serious gun problem, and that men are pathetic losers, especially when we take ourselves too seriously.
To return to Mr. Godzilla. I was swayed to see the movie by a review I’d read by Andrew O’Hehir, who writes for Salon, as it was reproduced on Alternet. He(hir) promised in the title that Godzilla was the greatest action movie since Jaws. Now I don’t know about you, but Jaws scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and did make swimming in the ocean a harrowing experience for several summers thereafter, not that that stopped me from seeing it three times and continuing to immerse myself in the briny depths on a regular, masochistic, paranoid basis.
I now lament Jaws‘ power, not on account of hydrophobia but because the movie and the Peter Benchley book it was based on compelled a lot of people to hate and fear sharks, and now there aren’t many of them left. Our species turns out to be a lot scarier than theirs, especially from their points of view.
One nice thing about living in Seoul is you can see movies in the morning. I had a few hours to slaughter after teaching my first class, and I was curious to see if Godzilla lived up to its promise. I hadn’t seen the director’s first film, Monsters, which I’ve heard cats describe as their pajamas. And I wouldn’t be caught dead swimming in the Pajama Canal, unless I somehow ended up in the maw of a finless Great White shark (whose mother suffered from low self-esteem and considered herself merely a Pretty Good White shark, while she felt her husband was Not Bad and her other son was No Great Shakes).
(Did you see the story on Yahoo News about a month ago about some yahoo in Florida who caught a mako shark whose carcass got photographed in the bed of his pickup truck while he was filling up for gas? This isn’t called the Anthropocene Era for nothing. Pretty soon we’ll be the only species left, but not for long. . .)
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t have much to say about the goddamned Godzilla movie except that it was far from the greatest action movie since Jaws. I wish I’d read Anthony Lane’s review of it for the New Yorker beforehand, then I wouldn’t have bothered seeing it. Then again, I’m kind of glad I did, because it’s good to keep at least one finger on the cultural pulse so you can see what all the hoopla’s all about, or at least try to.
The talented actors in the film were forced to deliver cardboard performances (although Bryan Cranston really hammed it up, reprising Walter White at his most emotional moments), letting the monsters have all the fun. The “bad” critters reminded me of the Geiger-generated space reptiles in the Alien series, although they were more bug-like, and of course a lot larger.
Godzilla himself was charismatic and he read his lines well.
There was very little humor in the film and few surprises.
Okay, SPOILER ALERT time. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens at the end of the movie. Predictably, the military man played by David Strathairn orders his men to blow up the creatures with the most powerful nuclear weapon at their disposal against the advice of wise pagan Ken Watanabe. Happily, Godzilla, after dispatching the bad critters, survives the blast, despite a rough hangover, and lumbers back into the ocean, his work completed for the time being. Ho hum, just another catastrophic nuclear blast; nothing to text home about. There’s a scene near the end of Roland Emmerich’s movie True Lies in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and his girlfriend (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, if I’m not mistaken) embrace while watching a mushroom cloud bloom on the horizon. How quaint. And how harmless. Just a little fireworks display to keep the children happy.
I’ve never watched the show 24, but I saw a series of clips in which Jack Bauer, the character portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland, tortured his captured terrorist antagonist to get him to cough up where he’d hidden the ticking time bomb. It was a gut-wrenching display. Nonetheless, too many Americans consider torture a price worth paying in order to defend ourselves (even though the real terrorists are usually too elusive to get caught until after they’ve done their dirty work). Torture has been practiced in various unseemly situations, probably since the beginning of human history. But this is the first time in a long time where it’s gotten the thumbs-up from a large percentage of U.S. citizens. Could they have been brainwashed by the riveting Fox TV series? Or Dubya’s charm offensive?
The reason I mention it is I’m queasy about casual displays of nuclear explosions in Hollywood films. There are few survivors left of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I doubt they’d qualify such inflammable fare as entertainment. Legitimizing the use of nukes in a fictional setting numbs people to the consequences of their use in real life, and makes such use that much more likely.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
By the way, I did a Google search yesterday on whether it was necessary for the U.S. to nuke Japan in order to end the war and came up with some illuminating facts. It turns out that Japan was already pretty well wiped out, especially from the incendiary bombs used on Tokyo that roasted 100,000 people in six hours, along with all the other devastated cities. Their air force and navy were toast. The only real excuse Truman had to use the bomb was Japan’s unwillingness to accept his terms of unconditional surrender, since they didn’t want Emperor Hirohito to lose his post as a divine figurehead. (Too bad they didn’t decide to give him the old heave-ho instead; not that I’m blaming them for my country’s doubtful role as a pioneer in the field of nuclear terrorism.) The irony was that the U.S. decided to keep the emperor in place after taking a nuclear dump on the two cities after all (make that two dumps–the first from the tail of the Enola Gay, a cuddly, genocidal fellow named Little Boy; his successor was designated Fat Man–gotta love those euphemistic military nicknames) in order to keep the natives from getting restless.
I was disappointed to read in Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, an otherwise excellent account of the history of the Manhattan Project with some invaluable insights into the mind of J. Robert Oppenheimer, that “the Japanese showed no willingness to surrender.” (That’s actually a paraphrase; I put it in quotes to distance the words from my own view, based on the evidence alluded to in the previous paragraph.) To be fair, they did refuse to bite the bullet, although one online source claims the emperor himself beseeched the Truman administration for a truce back in January 1945, as long as he could hang onto his gig. But because Fetter-Vorm doesn’t take any time to delve into the nuances of the matter, he lends the bombings an air of inevitability they evidently didn’t have. Who said the truth wasn’t complicated?
We need to get rid of all the nukes right away, before they get rid of us.
And we will, just as soon as we finish watching this really cool movie (christened by both the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force, whose cooperation in providing high-tech props is much appreciated by the deep-pocketed producers).
By the way, despite its tired predictability and dazzling special effects, Godzilla did have a nice message, which was to be nice to nature for a change.