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Doin' the Godzilla stomp with Pacific Rim

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2013-07-03


For the last 50 or so years, gigantic monster movies (GMMs) like King Kong or Godzilla have been ignored at best and derided at worst. The only thing worse than their “dude in a rubber suit” level of special effects were stories they told that seemed only to exist in order to get the monster from point A to point B where it could stomp some unsuspecting city and its citizens to smithereens. Though there were a few gems here and there in the genera, most GMMs were simply dopy movies designed for kids to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon.

However, I get the feeling that this "dopey movie" attitude might change with the release of the movie Pacific Rim on July, 12. But first, a little GMM history.

The genre was born with the movies Lost World in 1925 and, more importantly, King Kong in 1933. King Kong is quite good and the miniature special effects used in the film stand the test of time to this day. I remember watching parts of the movie with my grandma who originally saw it in theaters when it was first released. She said that back then, to her and the people in the audience, Kong "looked real" and she really thought that he was some gigantic ape.

One of my favorite GMMs after King Kong is the movie Them! (1954) about gigantic irradiated ants that threaten Los Angeles. The most famous of the GMMs is Godzilla, also 1954. Like Them!, Godzilla featured a monster created by a-bomb testing, here a lizard-dinosaur thing that attacks Tokyo. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the first Godzilla — it's oddly slow for a GMM — but some of the nightmarish scenes of Godzilla's destruction of Tokyo resonate to this day.

After Godzilla there would be dozens of GMMs that would cover everything from gigantic shrews, rabbits, blobs and insects. Heck, since the first Godzilla there have been over 30 Gojira flicks in that series to date. The one thing these films have in common, other than the monsters, are that most of the movies are mediocre at best and terrible at worst.

Even the advent of modern special effects haven't helped the genre that much. The re-remake King Kong (2005) featured a realistic looking giant gorilla fighting dinosaurs in some amazing scenes that could in no way shape or form make up for a script that couldn't settle on a tone. And while the Cloverfield (2008) monster attacking New York looked cool enough, the script of the movie relied on cliches and unbelievable coincidences in order to propel the story forward.
I think that's where most modern GMMs still fall flat; visually they look good but story wise are still pretty cruddy.

Enter to the GMM fray Pacific Rim. It's being directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro who directed Pan's Labrynth and the Hellboy movies, so he's no stranger to bringing some interesting stories to special effects driven films. And the look and feel of Pacific Rim in the trailers at least gives me the sense that this might be the first GMM in memory to get the genre right.

Pacific Rim deals with a rift that opens between our world and another. And this other world is full of skyscraper sized monsters, some of which spill over onto our planet. Nothing we have in our military arsenals is any defense against these baddies, until the governments of the planet band together to create colossal mechanized robotic Jaegers who can go toe-to-toe with the invading creatures.

From what I've seen of Pacific Rim all looks great and I'm really excited about this movie. But honestly, what do I know? I remember feeling the same way about the King Kong re-remake and Cloverfield too, and those turned out to be stinkers.

Still, I love monster movies. I was the kid who'd watch any and every Godzilla movie that I'd catch on TV, loved the TV cartoon Voltron and collected Shogun Warrior comic books and toys. Heck, as I look around my office as I type this I see a toy Godzilla, Rodan, King Kong as well as both the Voltron robots so apparently not much has changed in the last 30+years. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

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