GODZILLA delivers big time audio and video in this highly recommended release.
In a 2014 Summer season filled with flashy effects and slow-motion action set pieces, director Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA pushed brainless convention aside to deliver a mostly smart kaiju film that takes a little too long to show our favorite big guy. Luckily, its arrival onto home media gives us a chance to crank up the monster jams, with exceptional video and decent supplements to boot.
After nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses a team of scientists — including his wife (Juliette Binoche) — to a nuclear meltdown in Japan, he discovers that the event was caused by a huge dinosaur-age creature called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). This beast feeds on radiation, consuming and tearing down buildings at the same time. But as the mystery continues 15-years into the future and the MUTO asserts itself, the world realizes this isn’t the only problem they face. Apparently, the top of the dinosaur food chain featured the king of all monsters: a 350-foot behemoth which the Japanese call Godzilla is hunting another newly-hatched MUTO as part of its prehistoric DNA. Soon. Brody’s Bomb Disposal Army son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) becomes involved when his now crackpot father finally exposes the government conspiracy about the events back at the powerplant, while scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) attempts to uncover Godzilla’s real intentions. As the MUTOs descend upon San Francisco, Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son become caught in the middle of a much larger scheme that only he and Godzilla can stop.
Perhaps one of the first film franchises ever, the original GODZILLA steeped in social commentary about nuclear testing. That message later devolved into silly and frankly odd directions, as men in rubber suits and strange Asian women were joined by giant mechanical Godzillas and a universe of frankly forgettable allies and villains. Luckily, Edwards returns to the scientific realm to tell his story, surrounding our stars with great — if sometimes overly heavy — dialogue about nuclear tests in the fifties which were targeted at Godzilla, and the philosophical reasons why we should allow three large beasts to wreck city after city. Smartly, writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham spend just enough time to provide audiences with the kaiju’s intentions — rather than take too long with the science — reminding us that such simple efforts can help to connect a film rather than break it apart (are you listening THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2?).
Some have bitterly complained about the full hour it takes for audiences to finally see Godzilla in his full glory, but when that happens — along with his atomic breath — that moment is nothing short of spectacular. Godzilla looks like he might need some time at the gym, but Edwards paints him as both the ultimate bruiser and an intelligent creature, almost aware of the human plight which the MUTOs bring, but absolutely unwilling to see them exist alongside him. Edwards’ desire to make it communicate in non-standard ways (pushing ships out of the way rather than running them over, protecting people during a pivotal bridge scene) creates a bond with the audience who can’t wait for him to bring on the pain. Godzilla’s exhibit of such emotions might seem like silly transposition, but Edwards’ efforts make for far better theater than mindless beasts playing Super Smash Brothers on another. Similarly, the MUTO has a story to tell ala MAN OF STEEL’s General Zod, and Edwards treats the organisms as almost sympathetic. We’d be naughty to tell you why, but you’ll understand when you see it. Finally, the high stakes city-smashing felt like such a tip to PACIFIC RIM, as the beasts battle so effectively throughout San Francisco, reducing it to rubble in the process.
What’s only mildly disappointing is that Toho — the company that owns Godzilla — refused to lease out the other MUTOs, leaving Edwards to craft an entirely new monster that looks like a cross between Cloverfield and a Recognizer ship from TRON. But as we mentioned, it takes too long to get to the payoff, making us wonder if Edwards and his team are thinking of this story as more of a novel, complete with multiple chapters where the kaiju remain shadowy figures until the explosive final. Based on recent news, we know that a sequel has been greenlit, which should tell a deeper story, while also giving audiences a longer look at Godzilla and other classic monsters.
Olsen is underutilized, relegated as a pleading and powerless mother. Her chemistry with Johnson is good enough, as is he and Cranston. Both Olsen and Johnson are soon to star in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and their work in GODZILLA gives us good clues to their next project. Taylor-Johnson is good enough, but I would have liked to have seen more between him and father Cranston — his early exit doesn’t give us enough time to enjoy their great chemistry. Watanabe waxes poetic throughout, a fact I know frustrated some moviegoers but which I found totally acceptable given the plot.
For those of you who missed GODZILLA on the big screen, your experience at home will be definitely less so, unless you own a projector. Still, the release from Warner Bros. will look amazing just about anywhere with an MPEG-4/AVC transfer that retains the epic scale and gorgeous CGI on the home platform. Detail on sets look great with rubble and other damage never looking cheap. Filmic grain is still present without giving up clarity or sense of depth, allowing the brighter tones of the first act to come out in beautiful detail and color. Greens and blues look realistic, while skintones have a lifelike aspect to them. As the film moves to a much darker third act, shadows and blacks never get lost or suffer from macroblocking or contrast blobs, giving us all the detail behind the monsters without robbing the background of the crumbling buildings or citywide fires. With such a diversity of authentic outdoor scenes, Warner absolutely succeeds in bringing GODZILLA home. It’s a pretty perfect transfer.
GODZILLA arrives with an absolutely remarkable DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio transfer that’s probably the star of the show. It goes far beyond that of most releases this year, setting itself as one of the top tracks I’ve ever experienced. And while the loudness of the track is totally enjoyable, it’s the nuances throughout that are worth mentioning. Individual sounds appear everywhere on this track, starting with the forwards which deliver a unie blend of music and other effects. It’s not like most 7.1s or 5’s for that matter, which throw down the trio of sounds in an unidentifiable block. Sounds travel not only left/right but front/back – helicopters, foot patterns, and vehicles all demand our attention. As Brody looks back at a destroyed Hawaii, we hear parents in the background searching for their children, while wind blows and surf meets sand. In the MUTO jungle scene, there’s the sound of birds in the dynamic rears, which sometimes sound louder than the forwards. With all of this aural sensation going on, it would be easy to dismiss the dialogue which is sharp and clear throughout. But when the action gets started, things begin to move significantly towards real life war. Gunfire is pushy, while the various explosions and MUTO/building impacts cause the LFE to pulse, pound, and roar throughout. The score by composer Alexandre Desplat is unique, reminding us during key sequences but never overwhelming things either. The effect is a reference-grade track that will easily go down as one of my favorites of 2014.
The only disappointment in the release are the supplements. Missing an audio commentary, viewers will have to make due with a series of inventive ‘declassified’ featurettes as well as your standard EPX marketing pieces. All items are presented in 1080p, with some vintage footage seeing an upgrade:
MONARCH – Declassified: This is a series of three vintage videos documenting the rise of the MUTO’s, Monarch’s first encounter with Godzilla, and a documentary-style review of the events depicted in the film. Features include Operation: Lucky Dragon (2:44), MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File (4:29), and The Godzilla Revelation (7:25). This is a rewarding set, if all a little repetitive.
The Legendary Godzilla: These vanilla features are your typical documentaries about shooting the film.
- Godzilla – Force of Nature (19:18): Cast and crew discuss several aspects such as the longevity of the franchise and importance of designing realistic creatures. There’s also some interesting discussions about shooting the effects from realistic perspectives using handhelds. We also learn why Edwards chose to tease Godzilla for so long before giving us the goods during Act 3. For me, these elements save us from a fairly standard featurette.
- A Whole New Level of Destruction (8:24): Using our unfortunate experiences of previous natural disasters, we learn how the filmmakers incorporated the aftermath of destruction into the shooting, as well as giving those scenes a realistic look.
- Into the Void – The H.A.L.O. Jump (5:00): One of the best (and perhaps creepy) scenes of the film, the creative team take us through the jump sequence, showing us how Edwards’s PreViz played a central role in the final product. By the way, we learn that the stunning music taken from 2001: A Space Odyssey was actually on his iPod – I love me some soundtracks, but who puts that kind of stuff on their player?
- Ancient Enemy – The M.U.T.O.s (6:49): This one takes a detailed look at the M.U.T.O.s and how the filmmakers attempted to craft their physical designs around realistic boundaries. We also learn how sound played such an integral part in every scene.
Luckily, the lack of detailed features was balanced by a series of enjoyable cases and collectible sets. The best of these was the raised FuturePak which included Godzilla’s roar courtesy of a button you push on the upper left front. The interior artwork is another enjoyable element of the FuturePak, and the BD/DVD/Digital Copy Combo is always appreciated. Target also released additional content in the form of a different slipcase and a 30-minute feature titled ‘Godzilla: Rebirth of an Icon’. So few US releases get the full treatment these days, so it’s rewarding to see Warner Bros. step up and deliver.
This is as far from Roland Emerich’s 1998 flop as one could get, both in style and substance. GODZILLA isn’t perfect and there’s not enough of him, but the film’s goal to tell an intelligent and longer tale mixes very well with the epic battle scenes and personal stories of people trying first to understand these beasts and then eventually learning to get out of their way.
GODZILLA is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence and has a runtime of 123 minutes.