Movie Doubles – ‘Pacific Rim’ & ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’

Smash Those Buildings!

This is the first Movie Double in quite a while so apologies if I’m a a bit rusty. It’s difficult to find good pairing of movies and sometimes you see a pairing but you’ve already sort of done a crit on one makes it harder to do. The totally random pairing of two films has its limits because the further apart they are thematically, the more general the observations become and really who needs an ever increasing cavalcade of general observations about cinema? No, we just like movies, right?

Anyway, today’s Movie Double came about because I’d been meaning to catch up with Ryuhei Kitamura’s Godzilla movie for quite some time and FetchTV threw it up as an option a little while ago so that prompted me to download and watch the damn thing at long last. I’d only heard about the thing where in a series of building smash ups, ‘Zilla (from the 1996 travesty Hollywood Godzilla) makes an appearance in Sydney.

‘Pacific Rim’, of course, is one of those films that people tell you with loaded enthusiasm, “the story is crap but the effects are great.” But once again, there it was a choice from FetchTV, so here we are.

Oh, ah, spoiler alert as usual.

The Allure Of Gulliver

It might not seem like much of a tradition but there is a tradition of stories to do with scale. Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ works the angle of scale at both extremes, while countless accounts of giants are scattered in fairy tales and conspiracy theories. We’re into big things whether it be ‘King Kong’ or the ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’. The sense of distorted scale and miniature cities getting stomped on has the quality of a fevered imagination unlike the sort of naturalist drama that wins Oscars, but there we are; the giant monster stalking the city is one of those staples of fiction.

As the 50th anniversary film, ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ comes at the end of a long line of Godzilla movies that feature the traditional rubber suit and miniatures being smashed in slow motion. It’s actually a house-style of these ‘Kaiju‘ movies that is slowly going out of style. The film manages an All-Star cast of villains with both Gaigan and King Ghidorah getting major scenes while Mothra enters the fray to help Godzilla with the heavy lifting.

‘Pacific Rim’ comes replete with a gigantic robot controlled by pilots to combat the Kaiju monsters sent from another dimension so the film is at once an homage to the Kaiju genre while bravely trying to transplant the underlying insane logic to the Hollywood mimesis. In doing so both films have hit upon the exact same solution for what motivates the monsters’ attacks. Aliens from another world are using the Kaiju monsters to further their plans for conquest. It’s actually quite surprising how this idea basically underpins both films. It is as if in reaching for somekind of plausible explanation, both productions reached the conclusion that the only rational explanation for gigantic monsters smashing  buildings is if it was part of an alien invasion.

You’d think the aliens would just nuke cities instead, but there you have it.

The Meaning Of Godzilla

From the very beginning, Godzilla was meant to be an irrational force. The various ret-conned story lines about Godzilla’s origins notwithstanding, the point of Godzilla is that it emerges from the fall out from nuclear testing at the Bikini atoll, and then emerges from the sea to stomp on miniature set cities. All the other monsters in the series were even thinner in story and mostly there for something for Godzilla to tangle with instead of simply knocking down attack planes with his breath weapon.

The worst thing about the Emmerich Godzilla movie in the 1990s was that it cast Godzilla as this giant mutant iguana that dies when it’s pumped full of American military missiles. That is not the monster we were led to believe it was from the title. That’s just a giant angry Iguana. The real/original Godzilla just absorbs the damage and continues to smash buildings.

The sad thing is that the traditional rubber suit on sound stage technique just can’t generate the kind of verisimilitude that CGI can produce so the action is much more compelling in ‘Pacific Rim’. Everything smashes and collapses so convincingly in ‘Pacific Rim’, it’s actually a technological wonder they can do all that.

Sydney Gets A Spanking

What makes a world class city? If a Kaiju turns up in a movie to smash landmarks,you know your city has made the list of top world cities. The Emmerich ‘Zilla (the giant Iguana) turns up in Sydney in ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ and starts menacing cars on Darling Harbour overpass. It even pulls down the AMP Centrepoint Tower. It seems to turn left towards her Majesty’s Theatre down by Chinatown where it puts the scare into some good Aussie extras who do some cheesey monster movie acting, and when Godzilla turns up for the showdown, ‘Zilla ends up thrown down against the Sydney Opera House , caving it in.

Sydney gets a much shorter snippet in ‘Pacific Rim’. A Kaiju comes ashore and moves down towards Martin Place but a giant robot kills it somewhere around Elizabeth Street. The Sydney Opera House is saved. I guess if you were going to smash Sydney, that’s just about all of what is worth smashing. In some ways, they’re the most fun bits for an Australian audience.

Neither film would get much approval from Australia’s film cogniscenti, but that’s probably symptomatic of the film industry in this country. It might be a better industry if it could do crowd-pleasers like these movies.

Something Odd About These Aliens

The reason why aliens want to invade Earth never seems to change. In’ Independence Day’ Roland Emmerich posited that the aliens were like locusts, going from mound of resource to the next. This same story got recycled for ‘Pacific Rim’. The aliens in ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ are also here for living room, but there seems to be a lot more squabbling amongst the aliens as to just how destructive they need to be with the humans.

I’m not exactly reworking the joke line “Stop I want to get off this planet” but you do sort of wonder why aliens would want to colonise Earth given how difficult the task is made by the presence of humans. The use of Kaiju hardly seems like the ideal method to create the living space and they do make such an awful mess as they smash stuff. If you had the technology to travel across dimensions, unleash Kaiju monsters at will, you’d think they had something basic like a neutron bomb instead.

We don’t really get to find out a whole lot about the aliens in ‘Pacific Rim’; we get a glimpse of them, and then we nuke them. We get to find out a little bit of the politicking in the ranks of the aliens in ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’. The inner squabble ends up putting in charge a bullying teenager type as the leader of the aliens. The lack of emotional maturity clearly leads to their plans being foiled by Godzilla, who characteristically smashes everything and then kills all the monsters it faces.

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