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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The TV veteran, who will quit CNN's Larry King Live later this year (10), became the star guest as business tycoon Trump stepped in to interview the newsman about his 25-year stint on the show.
A slew of King's former interviewees, including Al Pacino, Quentin Tarantino and Snoop Dogg, also paid tribute to the legendary TV host and asked their own probing questions in special video messages.
Opening the show, Trump told the audience, "I'm Donald Trump and I'm turning the tables on Larry on his 25th anniversary at CNN."
He then asked King to name his favourite ever guest - and the interviewer picked iconic actor Marlon Brando.
King revealed, "If I had to pick one - well, there's so many. It would probably be Brando... He entertained the entire crew. He was sweet. He was funny. At the end of the interview, he kissed me. He was responsive. He was an incredible guest. I never forgot Marlon Brando."
A string of celebrities also picked the 1994 Brando interview as the show's most memorable, thanks to the infamous smooch.
Filmmaker Michael Moore and actor Sean Penn both pinpointed the Brando clip, while Glee's Matthew Morrison said in a video message, "My favourite Larry King memory was when Marlon Brando kissed him on the lips. Leaned over and gave him a big old smooch."
During the show, Celine Dion, Pamela Anderson, Aretha Franklin, Hilary Clinton and Betty White all gave video tributes, while Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and former U.S. vice president Al Gore made jokes about King's love of suspenders (braces).
Tarantino asked King who his sexiest ever female star guest was, to which he replied Charlize Theron, while Lionel Richie praised King's coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
As the show drew to an end, Pacino gave a touching anniversary message, saying, "Hi, Larry. It's me, Al, and I am here to congratulate you on your 25 years of working for CNN, Larry KIng Live. You still have the same energy, the same commitment, the same interest in other people and what they think and how they are feeling and what they got to say, and I think that is pretty amazing. So congratulations from me to you."
And King was delighted with the special edition show, telling Trump at the end: "Thanks for everything. I will never forget this, Donald."