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Movie Review: Godzilla

It’s summertime, and the movies are, generally, quite predictable. During this high-volume season of ticket sales, the major studios seem preoccupied with loading the schedule with masters of disaster. If it’s not a remake, reboot, retread, or sequel, then it’s not on their radar. Every so often, that’s not a bad thing, such as last summer’s hero-packed epic The Avengers, or this year’s second Captain America tale. But more often than not, the studios either sidestep or totally ignore what the vision should be for any given summertime movie.

Such is the case with Godzilla, the first atom age monster spawned in Japan in 1954 as a mournful cry against the surge of the uber weapons. The very first Godzilla film was not welcome in America in its original form, since it was against something we were promoting… nuclear weapons. It wasn’t released here until two years later in a badly cut version with added scenes of American actor Raymond Burr, just on the verge of becoming TV’s Perry Mason, as a reporter telling the story from a different perspective. And, of course, dubbed in English.

In the years since, the Big Lizard Guy has had his share of adventures primarily fighting against other monsters in defense of Earth. Some were quite good, while others drifted into nothing more than fodder for weekend kid’s matinees. But in 1998 came the most ignominious insult: a remake of Godzilla by director Roland Emmerich that starred Matthew Broderick. It was a bad idea badly executed, which no one liked and became the battle cry among those who are anti-remake in any form.

But even though that was a disaster, and not to let a sleeping lizard lie, here comes another remake of Godzilla for 2014. We were all hopeful. The producers hired director Gareth Edwards, who had won critical acclaim for his low budget (under a million dollars) film Monsters. The cast was to include Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the original Kick-Ass; Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen sister who gets all the good reviews for her acting; the always-welcome Juliette Binoche; and riding the crest of his popularity from the TV series Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston.

So what went wrong this time? Not necessarily everything. The CGI (Computer Generated Images) were quite spectacular. The score by acclaimed composer AlexandreDesplat was not only fitting, but also showed respect for the 1954 score by Japanese composer Akira Ifukube.

But mostly it was a big disappointment for me. For openers, it’s called Godzilla, which says it should be about him. He doesn’t make an appearance until after the first hour, and most of the action featuring him in battle with “bad monsters” is in the last fifteen minutes. In the interim, there are two terrestrial monsters freed from their underwater tomb that are bent on destroying earth. These things are called MUTOs and resemble H.R. Giger’sAlien creation after having been mated with Transformers. Granted, the final scene in which Godzilla vanquishes the second MUTO (yes, of course he does… I’m not giving away any surprises) is quite spectacular and worthy of a rousing “Yay, Lizard!” However, the pacing is turgid, the dialogue seriously silly, and the acting so wooden you’d think it was peopled by a cast of marionettes.

So much for another summer disaster movie, although instead of Tokyo, the fight is taken to San Francisco. We can only hope for something better from the next blockbuster to show up at the plexes.

But if you’re interested in catching up on the history of Godzilla and his films, there’s some good news for you. There’s a multi-disc DVD set called “The Godzilla Collection,” which features several of the best outings with our monster du jour. There’s a restored copy of the original Japanese version from 1954, and the hurriedly put together sequel, Godzilla Raids Aain from 1955. I really like Gidorah The Three-Headed Monster, in which Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan team up to defeat King Gidorah, a three-headed space dragon. And, although I’ve not seen this one yet, Mothra vs. Godzilla, which was released states side as Godzilla vs. The Thing, plus several other titles are included. The good thing about this collection is that each film includes both the American dubbed version and the original Japanese version with subtitles.

And if you want to spend a few more bucks to get the ultimate upgrade, the original Godzilla has just been re-issued by The Criterion Collection in a 60th anniversary Blu-Ray restoration. Yes, Godzilla is portrayed by a stunt man in a rubber lizard suit, but they are still more imaginative and entertaining than the current and previous remake that feature millions of dollars in special effects.

The word “kaiju” is “big monster” in Japanese. If you have fond memories of heading to the local Bijou in the era when monsters were monsters, any of these discs would be a welcome respite from the entire contemporary “overkill” (pun intended).

The PG-13 rated Godzilla is still playing everywhere. The DVDs can be found at your usual source for movies.