What We Can Learn From 'Godzilla': A Lesson In Reboots
Something miraculous happened over Memorial Day weekend. I went to a local AMC theater with my brother in the afternoon to see Godzilla, because like everyone else, we were bewitched by the heart pounding trailers. And hey, who doesn’t love a well-done cinematic trailer that features Bryan Cranston? But I didn’t exactly have high hopes once the opening credits starting rolling out. I’ll be honest, I can be cynical and pessimistic towards reboots. Let’s face it, reboots of classic films have failed to capture the essence of the original film, often losing what made the classic so compelling in the first place.
The miraculous moment I’m getting at happened after the final scene of the movie, when a gigantic smile stretched across my face. Godzilla was awesome, and I left the theater with a bounce in my step.
Needless to say I was surprised that the film was so good. I couldn’t believe this reboot actually got it right.
Any future reboots of classic movies should follow Godzilla as an example of making a successful film, and here’s why: Godzilla respects the original source material. I know it sounds trivial, but it’s mind boggling how many reboots fail because they don’t stay true to original source material. Let’s look at the case of Robocop (2014). This movie pretty much neglected everything the original film had that made it great. Yes, the original 80’s Robocop is dated, and there’s nothing wrong with giving it an aesthetically fresh and modern take. Personally, I dig Robocop’s sleeker look. But the reboot completely lost the original’s sense of satire, making Murphy more of a shallow character for the sake of getting into the action more quickly.
Still, many critics feel Godzilla wasn’t the perfect example of a good reboot. A major point is that the characters in the new film aren’t really fleshed out and lean more towards the shallow side of character development (a la Robocop). But I see that as positive rather than a negative. The film is about Godzilla himself, not the human characters. What the film does successfully is treat the human characters secondary to the iconic monster. Humans serve as a vehicle for the movie’s plot as well as an embodiment of the tension and chaos brought about by the giant monsters in the film. They help us understand the world at Godzilla’s feet by placing us in their perspective. This fulfills the film’s purpose of trying to portray the monsters as terrifying figures.
Another claim against the film is that Godzilla doesn't get enough screen time, which results in less action. But in actuality, the decision to give Godzilla less screen time than the MUTOs and the humans is a clever use of movie magic. If you’ve seen the original Godzilla, you already know he wins. Therefore, this new film has to find a way to make us underestimate the magnitude of Godzilla’s menacing power. This is a challenge most reboots fail to overcome; they struggle to create suspense in a familiar story. Godzilla, on the other hand, succeeds: until we actually see the giant lizard, we don’t anticipate how big he really is in this new film nor do we know how terrifying he actually looks thanks to the impressive CGI work. We’re too distracted by everything else that’s going on in the first the place. And when we finally do see him duking it out with the MUTOs, it’s surprising effective how the film recreates the terror audiences felt back in 1954. In fact, the scene where the camera pans up Godzilla’s body and we first see his face and hear his iconic roar gave me goosebumps!
Godzilla isn’t about over-the-top action scenes that modern movies strive for. It’s about the terror and unnerving tension that a giant monster effortlessly destroying a helpless city begets. I won’t deny that action sells tickets, and it’s the hottest genre in the film industry today (for better or for worse). But Godzilla proves that you can have action while staying true to the ideas and themes of the original film that captivated audiences years ago. With all that being said, I hope other filmmakers will learn from Godzilla’s success when attempting to reboot a movie or entire franchise.