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Exclusive film preview review: Godzilla 2014

The Larrikin Post bring you an exclusive preview of the most widely anticipated action film for 2014. Paul Campbell has been afforded a private showing of the soon-to-be-released blockbuster, and can reveal that it's worth the hype.

It is 1954 and a team of scientists and military personnel near the Bikini Atoll are preparing a nuclear detonation. But there is no countdown; one of the solemn figures announces “Target acquired,” as a bomber in the sky above hones in. From the plane’s viewpoint, we see the long-deserted, nuclear contaminated islands far below, and an immense shadowy something emerge onto the beach as the bomb doors open. Back on the ground we catch a glimpse of a hulking reptilian giant, before a blinding flash of light erupts to Godzilla's agonised roar.

Thus starts the new Godzilla film, quickly establishing its thematic concerns: the consequences of destructive militarism, of nuclear weapons, of our arrogance and hubris in flying too close to the sun. Godzilla begins with a quick history of America's nuclear weapons program, from the initial tests in New Mexico to the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the numerous detonations in the Pacific that followed the war. But it turns out that the first tests were careless; a run-off of nuclear waste into the ocean was noticed too late, by which point it had mutated sea-life beyond recognition and created Godzilla. Every subsequent test was actually an attempt to destroy the monster that only succeeded in increasing his size and his resistance to nuclear radiation. In fact, we are told America staged the Korean War in order to set up North Korea as a rogue state in their control that could, under guise of a new nuclear weapons program, continue to bomb Godzilla back into the sea whenever he popped up. That they failed and still haven't developed nuclear weapons is put down to the fact, according to the narrator, that “They got carried away with it all and actually made a real totalitarian state.” The film then skips the intervening sixty years or so to the present day (oddly never explaining this significant gap) when Godzilla reappears and lays waste to a number of cities across the Pacific. The authorities cover it up by blaming natural disasters until Godzilla eats the Philippines and proceeds to Japan.

An impressive cast lends gravity to the film, led by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as a nuclear physicist who discovers the secret to defeating Godzilla. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina) plays the commander of a special task force deployed to contain the threat, while Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Macy May Marlene) appears as a herpetologist with the ability to hear lizards talk which means that, yes, Godzilla speaks for the first time ever, voiced by Ken Watanabe (Inception). Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) plays a nuclear power lobbyist who tries to convince the public that Godzilla was actually created by excess energy from wind farms and hydroelectric power stations across the Pacific.

As with all examples of good science fiction, there is more to the film than special effects, with the film using Godzilla as a metaphor for the unintended results of humanity's attempts to harness nature. Amid ongoing debate over the extent of the irreversible damage we have already caused to the environment, this adds topicality to the film, only once coming across as forced. When Goldblum's character Teddy Conway is confronted over selling the public nuclear power without warning of its risks, he snaps “The public be damned! I get my paycheck and sleep like a baby at night. I say leave today's problems for tomorrow.” Trite dialogue notwithstanding, it should be noted that Goldblum's hapless lobbyist is one the highlights of the film – gone is the strange honey-smooth charm he is renowned for. However, it's thanks to a thoughtful script that the film is otherwise subtle and nuanced in its examination of man's complex relationship with nature.

That said, the film is undeniably a blockbuster whose main aim is to fleece the cinema-going public of every penny it has. Had Warner Bros. not invested so much money in the film that it was absolutely essential it be a crowd pleaser, director Gareth Edwards could have made it somewhat less on the nose. But this is partly his fault. Although funding of the film was originally reasonable, it skyrocketed after Edwards insisted on creating a life-size 150-metre tall model of Godzilla to get genuine reactions from his actors during filming. Unfortunately, the model was stolen by a group of local Japanese, and upon its completion, the replacement model was stolen as well. This happened several more times before the studio stepped in and stopped Edwards from building another at enormous expense, but the film ended up costing $600 million anyway.

The design of Godzilla himself is faithful to the old films, resembling a muscular komodo dragon on its hind legs. His roar has been updated, this time created from mixing the bellow of a walrus, the growl of a crocodile and the neigh of a horse falling down a well. The film interestingly adds some new radioactive monstrosities that weren't featured in the original films - creatures such as the Muto, scaly flying cats addicted to uranium, and the Suponji, mutated whales that stand up on their tails and shuffle along the Japanese coastline looking for fishing villages to terrorise. Godzilla fans will welcome these imaginative beasts into the canon of Godzilla monsters, alongside the giant moths and three-headed space dragons that populated the old films.

Surprisingly, there is depth to this film that makes it more than just special effects and catastrophes. It suggests that our environmental plundering and rapacious exploitation of natural resources really gain us little when at any moment angry sea creatures might come up on land and trample all over our infrastructure. And, according to Godzilla, they really will cause an awful lot of damage. Many, many times what the film cost to make, which is a distressing amount for a film about a lizard that attacks Japan.

Godzilla will be in cinemas on the 16th of May.

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