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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/25/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 8
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
Because of the various spin-offs, we have decided to move the mailing list administration for the MT VOID to eGroups, a mailing list hosting service.
Some time in September, you will get a piece of mail saying you have been added to the mtvoid group at eGroups. No action is required unless you want to unsubscribe or change your email address, in which case it's probably easier if you do this ahead of time by sending email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. [-ecl]
GOJIRA (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
With the release of GODZILLA 2000, there have been a number of reviewers mentioning the first Godzilla film, both the Japanese version GOJIRA and the re-cut American version GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The web has, however, very few reviews of the original film.
GODZILLA really has to be seen as two very different films. You have to see the film as it was released in the United States, and you have to see through that to the original Japanese film. The Japanese film, made as an imitation of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, turned into a fairly serious allegory of the close of the Second World War and the fear of nuclear weapons. This was in part because of timing. The film was made just after a Japanese fishing boat had strayed into the waters where the hydrogen bomb had been tested. The fish they caught were radioactive but were still allowed to be sold in Japan. When the Japanese found out that dangerous radioactive fish had been sold to unsuspecting citizens they blamed the United States and they called the incident Americas third atomic attack on Japan. The script is also is an exploration of the theme of the responsibility of the scientist to the world and an indictment of the developers of the atomic bomb. So the plot of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, the indignity over the fishing incident, and festering anger over the use of nuclear weapons in the war all came together into a story of a primordial evil coming out of the sea.
The American version crudely interpolates American reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) into the story. The scenes with Burr are obviously of a different film stock and have no overlapping characters whose faces are seen. Actually the characters of Emiko Yamane is both in scenes with Martin and without, but when she is with Martin her back is to the camera and her blouse is a different plaid. Clearly another woman stood in and the filmmakers could not quite match the blouse material. Martin appears to be in several of the key points of activity as the Japanese react to the attack of the monster, without ever really participating much in the action except to throw in occasional comments like "I can't believe what just happened."
For the plot here I will describe the American version, though there are some differences in order of events. (For example, the Japanese version is not told in flashback like the American version is.) The film opens looking at the destruction that has been wrought on Tokyo. It looks like it was intended to suggest that a nuclear blast has taken place. That was probably not the intent of the original film, since it does not have this opening sequence. Journalist Martin was on his way by plane to cover another story. During a layover in Japan to visit a school friend, Dr. Serizawa, he is called in and questioned if he saw any anything unusual from his plane. Ships from the Japanese fishing fleet have been disappearing. Sometimes they get off distress calls that say mysterious things like the "ocean has exploded." (That is actually a very powerful image, by the way.)
Soon the mystery seems to be centering around Odo Island, near to all the disasters. There the natives have worshiped a terrible god who has lived in the sea. They call him Godzilla. Scientists go to Odo Island to discover if there could be some connection between the island and the disasters. While they are there something very like a storm destroys half the island. But it is a funny kind of a storm that is oddly destructive. It destroys their helicopter as if it were a toy (which with the low-budget special effects is exactly what it looks like). The natives think the island was attacked by their deity.
A ship full of scientists, headed by Emiko's father, paleontologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), comes to investigate the island and discover radioactive remains from the storm. Finally the island deity shows himself in clear weather, a four-hundred-foot dinosaur, a survivor from two million [sic] years ago. (The Japanese version says he is two hundred feet.) He has lived in the sea for all human memory, but now nuclear testing has goosed him up, made him radioactive, and he wants to wreak revenge on the world.
Godzilla dodges the depth charges of the Japanese fleet and makes his way to Tokyo harbor. Then he comes ashore twice, laying waste to the city in two very nicely filmed sequences. Up to these sequences we have seen little of the monster and after we will see little, but these two sequences are supremely powerfully filmed.
Meanwhile we learn that Emiko has been promised to Dr. Serizawa but is actually in love with Ogata, a young navy officer. Serizawa has his own problems and is not very interested in Emiko. He has developed a powerful weapon that could kill Godzilla, but to use it would mean revealing it to the world. Being a moral Japanese, unlike immoral American scientists, he believes that the discoverer has responsibility to be certain that his discoveries are not used for evil purposes. Serizawa has revealed the weapon to Emiko and she has told Ogata. Serizawa must weigh his fears against what Godzilla is already doing to Tokyo. (Ogata argues that Serizawa should use the weapon. You have your fears, which may become reality. And you have Godzilla, which is reality.) Serizawa must resolve his moral dilemma.
Sometimes the lack of a budget can work in the favor of a film. GODZILLA certainly benefits from the low budget of some of its production. The scenes of the attacks on Tokyo have a sort of crudeness that in black and white, a little fuzzy, gives them an almost documentary quality. Scenes of the great beast are almost always shot from a low angle, looking upward. Why this approach was abandoned in later Godzilla films is unclear, but the size of the creature is emphasized in a way that would be difficult in a color film. Filming in color at eye level just does not convey the threat and no other film has ever made a giant monster as frightening.
Some of the best effects were found by chance. The model steel towers melted under the hot studio lights. They were remade and the effect of their melting was combined with an aerosol spray in Godzilla's mouth to create the effect that his fiery breath was causing the damage. The sound of the great beast's heavy footfalls were created by a drum. I personally never associated the drumbeats as being anything but mood music, but the sound works that way. On the other hand, the sound of stroking the strings of a large cello-like instrument with a leather glove, then slowing it down and playing it backwards, acts as the groans of Godzilla. It sounds like steel girders giving way in hell. The effect is just about perfect. The musical score is crude with its military marches, but somehow they seem to work.
When the effects work they are terrific, when they do not work, they do not work. All too often the effects are just a bit on the cheesy side. There are scenes when we are obviously looking at a hand-puppet. Even that would not be so bad, but we then see what is supposedly a photograph of what we had just seen and it looks nothing like the puppet version. There was a similar problem in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. Another problem is with the Godzilla suit itself. Godzilla has what can best be described as an A-line figure. He has very heavy massive legs and gargantuan feet, but his trunk is not commensurately large. His legs also have and unfortunate tendency to have folds on a way that a jacket might but an arm would not. The crudeness of the filming conceals the fact that Godzilla has external ears in a way that reptiles do not. The producers at Toho thought that people would assume Godzilla was deaf if they did not give him obvious external ears. Of course a parrot has no external ears and hears well enough to repeat sounds he hears. The film also features a traveling matte of a view directly into the face of the beast as seen from Tokyo tower. It is one of the worst jobs of matting I ever remember seeing. Some of Bert I. Gordon's matte jobs look good by comparison. In most scenes the beast is shown moving in slow motion to accentuate his size, but when he bats away missiles, he moves at normal speed and spoils much of the illusion. However, it should be remembered many of Universal's classic films have their moments when they do not show consummate visual craftsmanship. DRACULA, for example, has some very silly scenes including a silly scene of a bee coming out of a bee-size coffin. In some ways we cannot be really sure where some of the errors crept in. We are told a disaster at sea occurred at 3:30 AM, but when we saw it earlier the crew was on the deck and the sun was shining.
Where THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS had just showed its monster in the streets and people running from it, GOJIRA looks more at the emotional effect on people. What made it to the American version is fairly effective, but what was cut out are some very impressive scenes. In one scene of the Japanese film only, a mother sits at the base of a building near where the monster is rampaging. She sadly tells her children that they will all be with their father soon. This tone is surprisingly bleak for a monster movie. The whole population of Tokyo seems to mourn the great losses wrought by Godzilla. Themes of sacrifice, honor, and suicide seem to accent the bleak tone of this film. Other imaginative scenes include a view of the monster ravaging Tokyo with a cage of birds seen in silhouette in the foreground. In other scenes we see Godzilla walking and the dust his huge feet kick up.
It is never easy to judge acting ability of someone who is speaking in a language you do not know. This film does have the second- best-known international actor from Japanese film. Dr. Yamane is played by Takashi Shimura, the star of films like IKIRU and THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Unfortunately the actor who dubs his lines in the American version is not very good. Particularly noticeable is his inability to pronounce the word "phenomenon" which he says "phenonemon." To have such an educated man making that silly mistake is unintentionally humorous.
This is a film with some very nice visual imagery and it has become a favorite film. It is not so much a good film as a weak film with some very good moments. The American version I would have to give only a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. The Japanese version is probably a high +2 film.
It should be noted that also that this is the most influential film ever made in Japan. It was Japan's first international cinematic success. It spawned the Japanese genre of "kaiju" films. "Kaiju" is Japanese for "monster" and the continuing Godzilla series, Japanese anime, and even Pokemon are direct descendents of this film. [-mrl]
GOJIRA NI-SEN MIRENIAMU (a.k.a. GODZILLA 2000) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This is the first Godzilla movie to get a wide American release since GODZILLA '85. And it is no bargain. The plot is poorly constructed and things happen for no apparent reason. The effects are better than in the past, but still occasionally cheesy. Godzilla has a new look that makes him resemble more a martial arts weapon than a giant dinosaur. Still this film is fun for Godzilla fans who rarely get a chance to see the big guy on the big screen. Non-fans are unlikely find much to enjoy. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
What can I say? For the sort of viewer who enjoys seeing two men in rubber monster suits battle over a city that looks like cardboard boxes, this might be the film for you. I liked it. Godzilla got to me at an early age and I am too old to become objective about Godzilla films now. As I said in the capsule, there is not a lot done really well in this film, but it is a lot of fun for people who like Godzilla films. There is a certain thrill of anticipation in seeing the Toho Films banner at the beginning. Even the best are crudely made and often a little incoherent, but they are also a good time. Non-fans can be assured that they will not be much impressed by GODZILLA 2000 and can tune out of this review at this point.
Plot? Well, truth be known, there is not a whole lot of plot. Scientist Yuji Shinoda left the employ of the Japanese government and formed the minuscule Godzilla Prediction Network, a startup that predicts where and when Godzilla will show up and strike next. Yuji does the science and Yuji's ten-year-old daughter does the financial work. They are joined on a Godzilla hunt by Yuki Ichinose, a photojournalist looking for a story. Together they discover that finding Godzilla can be a big mistake.
At the same time some scientists have found an odd rock, 600 feet across, in the ocean of Japan. Because it shows some intriguing abnormalities they decide to bring the rock to the surface where it can be studied, lifting it with floats. Oddly the rock seems more enthusiastic about reaching the surface than can be explained as it rises up past the floats. It then hangs over the water and waits for sunshine to activate it. It seems under the stone shell is an alien craft that has been waiting 60 million years to come back to life so it can complete its mission. It would be telling to say what its mission is, except that logical or not, there will of course be another monster for Godzilla to fight. (And of course it will be just roughly Godzilla's height. Godzilla never has any fifty-foot monsters to fight.)
Word on the street has been that the new film is intended to come right after the original Godzilla film in its own new series. That was true of the film we call GODZILLA '85, which did spawn its own separate series of Godzilla films in the 1980s and 1990s. (To save confusion I will use American titles.) That second series repeated many of the same mistakes that the first series did, but it was aimed at a higher level. The rumor has been that like GODZILLA '85 (and of course the film we call GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER), GODZILLA 2000 is a direct successor to the original GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. However, a cursory look at the film tells us this is simply not true. Godzilla died in the first film and all other films are supposed to feature a second very similar Godzilla beast. Yet in GODZILLA 2000, attacks by Godzilla are taken to be a periodic phenomenon. There is even a Godzilla Prediction Network. At the end of the film there is a comment about all of Godzilla's attacks in the past have taught lessons. None of this would make sense if only the events of the first film and this one had taken place. The second series apparently ended with the death of the second Godzilla and his replacement by his son, just reaching maturity. Logically it would make sense to say that the new Godzilla is really the son from the second series. But so much logic is probably more than the series can reasonably be expected to bear.
Godzilla is like James Bond. His looks change but the character himself is timeless. His face had a very lumpy appearance and buck teeth in the earliest film and then became more dinosaur-like for KING KONG VRS. GODZILLA. As the series became more childish and aimed at younger children his features became rounder and less frightening. In the second series he looked a lot better and consistent from to film, but just a bit rubbery. His looks never changed. For GODZILLA 2000 again his looks have been modified to please the younger set. This time, however, it is a younger set brought up on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH. The new Godzilla has sharper teeth with four canines regularly spaced on each side. His back fins are more jagged, sharp, and vicious- looking. It looks like they crossed the traditional Godzilla with a punk rocker.
Toho Studios from the beginning did excellent work with labor- intensive special effects. But not every effects problem could be solved with inexpensive labor. Visually their films were always very nice, but their special effects were not always very convincing. As time went by their visual effects got better. This film really represents a big jump in the quality of their effects. There are many very nice images. And what attracts people to a Godzilla film has got to be the visuals. It certainly is not the writing. Toho films can usually be counted on for nicely composed scenes with good use of color. Where possible in the new film Godzilla is shown from a low angle to accentuate the height. A low angle camera was used in the first film and then abandoned for most of the first series. It was used sparingly in the second series. Here again the camera creates an illusion of great size by shooting upward, in fact he looks larger than he ever has before. Several new compositions of shots give this film a look that is unique for the series. For those who like to just stare in awe of the size the mega-saurian, this is the film.
The writing however, is not the best of the series and has some strange touches. There are some half-hearted attempts at humor that seem thrown in as an after-thought. There is one short sequence of slapstick comedy, in this case almost literally slapstick, and it seems like it belonged in another movie. There are some allusions to JURASSIC PARK, DR. STRANGELOVE, and perhaps a few other films. (By the way, the film scene someone is watching on TV when we can hear only the dialog is Morris Ankrum being interrogated by aliens in EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. I wonder what film was used in the Japanese-language version.) I have never been quite able to make out if the writing in these films is out of kilter or if it just works better in Japanese. But the final scene, like the writing in several of the situations, just does not work. It almost seems to be rooting for Godzilla as he destroys Tokyo.
The musical score by Takayuki Hattori is a little too polished and Western for a Godzilla film. Godzilla films usually have Japanese military marches and brash brassy music. Much of that feel is missing here. The film is released by Tristar who hopefully have learned to leave Godzilla films to the experts after their own attempt to make a Godzilla film ended up with something of a monstrosity. (Though rumor has it that their own attempt to make a Godzilla film failed in large part because of constraints placed on them by Toho executives.)
Even for Godzilla fans, this could have been a better film. It is only mid-range in the quality of films in the second series. Still as he approaches fifty years old, it is good to know the big guy still looks good on the silver screen and in some ways better than ever before. I rate this GODZILLA 2000 a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. It will be interesting to see if its sequels will get an American theatrical release. [-mrl]
THE CELL (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Yet another serial killer plot, but one with some difference. This one becomes a sort of FANTASTIC VOYAGE of the mind crossed with NATURAL BORN KILLERS. A psychologist travels within the mind and visions of the serial killer (and vice versa) in a race to save a victim from a deathtrap. The film has some remarkable visions in an otherwise pedestrian plot. There are lots of intriguing ideas floating in this film of psychology made visual. Be warned that the visuals and even the dialog are a harrowing experience. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
THE CELL is one more story of the FBI trying to catch a serial killer and free his captives. But when it seemed that there was not much more that could be done with that tired plot, this film has some refreshing new ideas. It is the premise that some unspecified technological advance allows psychotic and psychologist to enter the other's dreams and walk around in that surreal landscape. Similar ideas have been tried before in films. In SPELLBOUND, Alfred Hitchcock took us through the mind of a neurotic's nightmare in a symbolic surreal world designed by Salvador Dali. The concepts of actually visiting inside another person's mind or dreams were explored in DREAMSCAPE and BRAINSTORM. The latter film even suggested that there was a particular danger being inside a psychotic's mind. NATURAL BORN KILLERS suggests a natural disorder to a psychotic's mind, though it explores that disorder without use of science fictional devices. All these ideas come together in an otherwise simplistic violent serial killer plot.
Catherine Deane (played by Jennifer Lopez) is a psychologist trying to get into the mind of her young patient, Edward. A new device allows her to do it in a much more direct fashion than what we see used today. The invention lets her visualize his mind and dreams and actually become a character inside of them. It is a tremendous leap toward understanding her patient. And the vistas within his mind are strange even if the boy has a rather standard normal mind. Then Deane is given an opportunity to enter a most unusual mind. The FBI has captured a serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio), and has him under sedation. But his most recent target is still alive in a death trap somewhere.
FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) would like Deane to go into Stargher's twisted, violent mind and retrieve a clue as to where he is hiding and torturing his current victim. That said, there is not much more plot to the film. The serial killer plot is abbreviated and for the most part predictable. The real story goes on inside the heads of Deane and Stargher and we see it as fantasy worlds.
The success of THE CELL becomes very much the property of production designer Tom Foden (of cable TV's "The Hunger") and art directors Guy Dyas and Michael Manson. Dyas is debuting as an art director, but he has been a production illustrator on several major films including MEN IN BLACK, MIMIC, ARMAGEDDON, and GALAXY QUEST. The worlds this team created in Stargher's mind are dank and forbidding, twisted, dark and bloody. Religion is an important aspect of both Deane's and Stargher's mindscapes but it has very different roles in each of those worlds. Each uses religion in a different way. There are many other tantalizing ideas floating around. There is a strong hint that two different people seeing the same subconscious world will see it quite differently yet each will find the others actions consistent with the world they see.
First-time film director Tarsem Singh directs a script by first- time writer Mark Protosevich. Singh intentionally mutes the colors of the film to heighten the oppressive effect. So much of the film is taken up with the fantasy world action, the real world story is somewhat shorted. How Stargher was able to build his ornate torture device leaves many unanswered questions. Other writing problems are obvious. The film had a nearly perfect ending very shortly after the action ends. Unfortunately the film keeps going to tie things up more pleasantly and warmly and out of keeping with the cold style of the best of what had preceded it.
The viewing public hardly needed another serial killer film. But if another must be made, at least this is the way to do it. Combine it with something fresh and creative with ideas. I rate THE CELL a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Quote of the Week:The Believer is happy; the doubter is wise. -- Hungarian Proverb