Yesterday was the first day of summer, and Alice and I celebrated by going to see Godzilla: Final Wars, supposedly the last Godzilla movie ever. I think I've heard that once or twice before, though. Why would anyone want to stop making Godzilla movies? I think they should take a break, five years or so, just to recharge the batteries. 2003's Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. was rather lackluster and, as I recall, didn't have a single thing in it that hadn't been copied from other Godzilla movies.
2004's Godzilla: Final Wars also doesn't have much new material. It's a remake of Destroy All Monsters, a genuine classic which should have been left alone. (I feel much the same way about King Kong, but I've loved all of Peter Jackson's movies and I'm trying to keep an open mind.)
Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of Godzilla: Final Wars, has many admirers, but I'm not one of them. I'd seen an early movie of his, Versus (2000), which had an excellent premise yakuza vs. zombies but was boring and unpleasant to look at. Okay, it was made on a shoestring budget, so it doesn't look or sound like much, but in addition to its chintzy qualities, just about everything in Versus came from cartoons, video games, kids' television shows and music videos. I got the impression that Kitamura has no feel for drama, narrative, pacing, etc., at least as practiced in long-form narratives.
Godzilla: Final Wars is, unfortunately, a lot like Versus. Kitamura combines his Mortal Kombat-influenced style with the plot of Destroy All Monsters and scenes from The Matrix, Star Wars, They Live, and so on. We get ceaselessly pounding house music, constantly swirling camera movements, hyper-haphazard editing, and dull fight scenes with too many special effects. And it turns out that budget doesn't matter: a lot of money was spent on Godzilla: Final Wars and it still looks cheap and drab.
I was particularly disppointed by Kitamura's fumbling of what should have been the film's best moment, Godzilla's reappearance on the scene, ready to take on all the monsters destroying Earth. It was practically edited out of the movie, resulting in only moderate applause from an otherwise very engaged audience.
Speaking of the audience, we were lucky to see this movie with the die-hard fans at the New York Asian Film Festival. If you listened to the pre-movie conversation going on around you, you might hear reminiscences about such things as the time so-and-so saw Atragon by adjusting his television antennae in such a way as to pick up a Philadelphia UHF station from his Brooklyn apartment.
We had a great time last night, due more to the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the people around us than to the quality of the movie itself. If I'd been watching Godzilla: Final Wars on video at home alone, I probably would have been as unmoved as I'd been watching Versus. Another viewing of the original, great Destroy All Monsters is in the near future for me.
The gentleman with the glasses in the picture is my brother Edward. The other gentleman? Well, let's just say you can call me Uncle Rob.