Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With only a week and change having passed since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we no doubt feel the question living fresh in our minds: can we ever judge a remake without considering its predecessors? The conversation about the stark contrast in critical favor between Marc Webb's release and Sam Raimi's trilogy (the second installment of his franchise in particular) buzzed loudly, and we imagine the volume will keep in regards to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But it'll be a different sound altogether.
The original Godzilla, a Japanese film released in 1954, reinvented the identity of the monster movie, launched a 30-film legacy, and spoke legions about the political climate of its era. The most recent of these films — Roland Emmerich's 1998 American production — is universally bemoaned as a bigger disaster than anything to befall Tokyo at the hands of the giant reptile. With these two entries likely standing out as the most prominent in the minds of contemporary audiences, Edwards' Godzilla has some long shadows cast before it. And in approaching the new movie, one might not be able to avoid comparisons to either. It's fair — by taking on an existing property, a filmmaker knowingly takes on the connotations of that property. But the 2014 installment's great success is that it isn't much like any Godzilla movie we've seen before. In a great, great way.
This isn't 1954's Godzilla, a dire and occasionally dreary allegory that uses the supernatural to tell an important story about nuclear holocaust. A complete reversal, in fact, first and foremost Edwards' Godzilla is about its monsters. Any grand themes strewn throughout — the perseverence of nature, the follies of mankind, fatherhood, madness, faith — are all in service to the very simple mission to give us some cool, weighty, articulate sci-fi disaster. Elements of gravity are plotted all over the film's surface, with scientists, military men (kudos to Edwards for not going the typical "scientists = good/smart, military = bad/dumb" route in this film — everybody here is at least open to suggestion), doctors, police officers, and a compassionate bus driver all wrestling with options in the face of behemoth danger. The humanity is everpresent, but never especially intrusive. To reiterate, this isn't a film about any of these people, or what they do.
Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
The closest thing to a helping of thematic (or human) significance comes with Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa, who spouts awe-stricken maxims about cryptozoology, the Earth, and the inevitable powerlessness of man. He might not be supplying anything more substantial than our central heroes (soft-hearted soldier Aaron Taylor-Johnson, dutiful medic and mom Elizabeth Olsen, right-all-along conspiracy theorist Bryan Cranston), but Watanabe's bonkers performance as the harried scientist is so bizarrely good that you might actually believe, for a scene or two, that it all does mean something.
Ultimately, the beauty of our latest taste of Godzilla lies not in the commitment to a message that made the original so important nor in the commitment to levity that made Emmerich's so pointless, but in its commitment to imagination. Edwards' creature design is dazzling, his deus ex machina are riveting, and the ultimate payoff to which he treats his audience is the sort of gangbusters crowd-pleaser that your average contemporary monster movie is too afraid to consider.
In fairness, this year's Godzilla might not be considered an adequate remake, not quite reciprocating the ideals, tone, or importance of the original. Sure, anyone looking for a 2014 answer to 1954's game-changing paragon will find sincere philosophy traded for pulsing adventure... but they'd have a hard time ignoring the emphatic charm of this new lens for the 60-year-old lizard, both a highly original composition and a tribute in its way to the very history of monster movies (a history that owes so much to the creature in question). So does Godzilla '14 successfully fill the shoes of Godzilla '54? No — it rips them apart and dons a totally new pair... though it still has a lot of nice things to say about the first kicks.
Oh, and the '98 Godzilla? Yeah, it's better than that.
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Jonah is a computer-animated tale based on the Biblical story of the Hebrew prophet who spends three days in the belly of a great fish and eventually learns the meaning of compassion. In the VeggieTales version however the characters are played by garden-variety vegetables including peas carrots cucumbers and tomatoes. The movie begins in the modern-day as a group of vegetables led by Bob the Tomato crash their van on their way to a concert. As they wait in a seafood restaurant for a tow truck (guess they'd better look out for the chef) bickering over who caused the accident they run into three pirates who tell them a classic tale that teaches a lesson about compassion: Jonah--played by Archibald Asparagus--must go to the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh (which is inhabited by bad guys who slap each other with fish for no apparent reason) to deliver a message from God demanding they repent their evil ways. Although the story within the story starts off grandiosely with angry seas and a long desert trek to Nineveh it gets wrapped up rather quickly with the modern characters immediately understanding the message about the need for compassion and second chances.
Phil Vischer voices several characters in the film including Jonah Archibald Asparagus Bob the Tomato and the three pirates. Perhaps that's why male characters dominate the film. I can't help but be offended by the fact that the only female character is Laura Carrot seen in the modern-day setting. She is a bratty and terribly greedy vegetable whose selfish actions cause the family minivan to careen off the road. Another slightly offensive character in the film is the only non-vegetable Khalil. An Arab stereotype of some sort he is a dark-complexioned half-worm half-caterpillar with a thick accent a sharp contrast to the stuck up bespectacled Jonah who sports an uptight British accent. The only thing on Khalil's mind throughout the film is to sell things ("You deliver the message from the Lord and I sell the plush toys"). His character however does play an instrumental role at the end of the film in explaining the concept of second chances to Jonah.
Jonah was produced by Big Idea Productions whose founder Phil Vischer wrote directed voiced and even had a hand in the film's original score. The VeggieTales series actually began as 30-minute videos and included the titles such as Dave and the Giant Pickle (for David and Goliath) and Where's God When I'm S-Scared? While the animation is expressive and rich in detail there is something bizarre about watching limbless vegetables hobbling around. When the characters need to do things that require hands like playing cards for example the cards just magically float in place in front of their faces. If you are going to go so far as to make vegetables talk why not give them arms and legs too? The movie comes in at 84 minutes which is probably just enough: it's a constant hard-sell on biblical values complete with musical numbers including an angelic vegetable gospel choir inside the belly of the whale.