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Friday, May 23, 2014 12:06 PM
On the Viewer - Godzilla (2014)
 by Fëanor

There's nothing like a good giant monster movie. Godzilla is of course the most famous of the breed, and hails from Japan, where he's the star of a popular franchise. Hollywood, never one to sit by while there's money to be made, tried to make the story its own pretty much immediately, releasing a version of the original 1954 film with a completely new subplot starring American actors inserted into it. Many years later, in 1998, a wholly American reboot of the franchise was attempted, and the result was an awful, nonsensical disaster. But sixteen years have passed since then, and Hollywood decided to try to adopt the Japanese monster again, this time with director Gareth Edwards at the helm, and Dave Callaham and Max Borenstein sharing writing duties. I'm happy to report that this attempt has been a success. Godzilla is that rare and precious beast: an exciting monster movie that's also actually a good film.

The movie succeeds where others of its type have failed by taking its time and helping us get to know the tiny people who are going to be running around under the monsters' feet before actually introducing the monsters. (And yes, spoiler alert, there's not just one monster!) But don't worry, plenty of weird and exciting stuff starts happening pretty much right away. We open on Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his partner Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) arriving at a mine where a cave-in has occurred. The disaster has revealed a hidden cave where they discover an impossibly huge and ancient skeleton, and something worse: evidence that the things that killed that tremendous monster might still be alive.

Then our perspective jumps to Japan where an American named Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are worried about strange seismic activity that could seriously endanger the nuclear power plant where they work. We soon see that their fears are well founded, but the cause of the seismic activity remains a mystery. A dozen years later, Joe's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has tried to put the tragedy behind him, but Joe cannot. He's obsessed with what happened at the power plant and convinced that whatever happened then will happen again, and soon, if something isn't done about it. He drags his son away from his own family - a little boy named Sam (Carson Bolde) and a doctor named Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) - to help him sneak into the quarantine zone around the old plant and find the information he needs to prove his theory correct. But they both end up finding a lot more than they bargained for.

"That's all very well," you're probably saying, "but what about the giant monsters! Are they... cool?" Yes, yes they are. The creatures are literally breath-taking, the special effects stunning. I saw the movie in 3D IMAX, and I can't recommend the experience enough. Multiple times I found myself actually almost hyperventilating as I became enveloped in the titanic action. Not only that, the imagery in this film is horrifically beautiful and awesome in the old, jaw-dropping sense of the word. Occasionally the movie will pull back to give you a bird's eye view of the destruction and chaos, but more often it wisely sticks you right in the middle of things, sharing the perspective of the people on the ground, running for their lives. It's thrilling.

There are two levels to the atmospheric terror that the film produces. The first level is a kind of existential one which you feel when you realize that these gigantic beasts take no more notice of humans than we do of insects. Sure, they're destroying our cities and our lives, but that's purely coincidental. Those big buildings and crowds just happen to be in the way as they're going about their own, completely unrelated, instinctual, giant animal business. They couldn't be less interested in us and our entire civilization. Even scarier, the humans in the film only once succeed in actually affecting the monsters at all. So when the next level of terror kicks in, and the monsters actually do notice people - even at one point becoming aware of our main character as an adversary and staring straight into his eyes - it's a whole new kind of terrifying.

Another thing the movie does well is to eschew dialog and allow the viewer to work out what's going on purely from the images on the screen. Sure, there are some of those classic monster movie scenes where the scientist explains to the military guys (David Strathairn and Richard T. Jones) or the main character what's going on and why the monsters are doing what they're doing. But mercifully not many.

The acting is also a lot better than you might expect from a Godzilla movie. Elizabeth Olsen really makes you feel how it's tearing her apart to send her child off to what she hopes is safety. Bryan Cranston might get a tad melodramatic at times, but after all, his character is going through some pretty melodramatic stuff. Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford isn't a particularly complex character, but he's easy to sympathize with and understand.

But one thing I really didn't understand about the movie was why Sally Hawkins' character was treated the way she was. The IMDb page for the movie lists the character's name as Vivienne Graham, but if her name was said aloud during the movie, I don't remember it. She has a good amount of dialog, and is clearly knowledgeable and smart, but she's rarely spoken to herself, or given much respect. Almost all the other characters direct their questions and comments to her partner, Dr. Serizawa, despite the fact that most of the time all he does is stand around looking concerned. It was a puzzling dynamic that really stood out to me, and I couldn't work out what the point of it was, unless it was meant to be a subtle commentary on sexism in the military and in STEM fields.

This is not to say that Dr. Serizawa's character is completely without merit. The scene where he shows the Admiral his grandfather's watch is particularly moving.

Godzilla is also treated in an interesting way in the film, as an almost mystical force. It seems apparent that he doesn't attack the other creatures out of a desire for food, but rather, as Serizawa says, out of a need to "restore balance."

As I was driving home from the movie, I imagined any moment some enormous, prehistoric thing might loom out of the clouds ahead of me and begin stomping down the street, shattering my conception of the world. It gave me a cold, delicious shiver deep down in my guts.
Tagged (?): Godzilla (Not), Kaiju (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Monday, May 28, 2012 08:28 AM
(Last updated on Monday, May 28, 2012 10:04 AM)
On the Board - Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars
 by Fëanor

I must sadly report that Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars is not a very good game. Which is really too bad because it's a great concept for a game, just very poorly executed. The idea is that you play out your favorite giant monster movies as a board game. The board is a simple grid pattern laid over an illustration of a city that's clearly already been through at least the beginning of a monster invasion. You pick one of four famous monsters (Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Gigan, and Rodan - each represented by a pretty cool color, plastic figure), and one of four game scenarios, then set up the board as the scenario describes, positioning various plastic and cardboard tiles which represent tanks, personnel carriers, buildings, ponds, gardens, fire, and rubble. Then you start destroying! Most of the scenarios require specific monsters to face off against each other, on a board where things are laid out in a specific fashion, but the first scenario (recommended for first-time players) is a more vague, open-ended affair that's just about destroying more than your opponent, and/or being the last monster standing.

As instructed, my brother and I chose to play the first scenario, entitled "Monster Law!" Our problems started right away. The rules tell you: "Evenly divide buildings, ponds, gardens, fire and rubble amongst each player. Roll to determine which player gets to place the special Restaurant buildings. Then take turns placing 4 markers on the board at a time." First of all, what do they mean by buildings, exactly? There are 90 thick, plastic, stackable building tiles, with a building looking thing on one side, and a rubble-looking thing on the other with big monster footprints in it. So clearly we split these. But there are also cardboard building tiles, a couple of which are clearly labeled with "food," so we know they're the special restaurant tiles. But then there's another tile that says something about a restaurant on it, but doesn't say food, and we weren't sure if that was a restaurant or not. And what is the difference between the cardboard building tiles and the plastic ones? Are they basically interchangeable, you just can't stack the cardboard ones? The rules do not explain. And does one person place all the restaurant tiles, as the rules seem to suggest? That doesn't seem fair. As far the ponds and gardens, these are all two-sided, but some of the ponds have gardens on the other side (and vice versa), and some of them have a fiery building on the other side, so these apparently were doing double-duty as pond/garden tiles and fire tiles. So... do we place them down as ponds, or as fire? There are not an even number of them, so how do we split them up? Do we put down all the fire tiles before the game even begins? If we do, then how do we indicate that another building has been set on fire later in the game (which can sometimes happen)? Do we pick up a garden we've already placed and flip it over and move it somewhere else? The rules also mention rubble, but rubble is only represented on the opposite side of the building tiles. Again, are we allowed to just place rubble down on the board during the setup phase, or what? This scenario also tells you to place down some military units (we at first thought it meant ALL the military units, until we realized how insane that would be), but the military units are also two-sided and some of them are different colors and have different numbers on them, and it's not clear at first that most of these differences are meaningless.

It's all very confusing. Basically, even though "Monster Law!" is described as a good first-time scenario, it's actually the exact opposite of that, as the setup phase requires you to know everything about the way the game and the tiles work in order to know which to put down where, and even whether you should put them down at all.

After we finally agreed to just give up on the incredibly long, frustrating, and confusing setup process and get started, we ran into further confusion. There are a ton of cards to sort through, some of which you don't even need if you're playing with Basic combat rules (which we definitely were; after the setup, we did not feel at all ready to tackle anything that the game itself described as Advanced). So first you have to work out what actually applies to you and what does not, and remove anything that does not. The way you take your turn is by expending energy points to perform various actions. You can perform as many actions as you want, until you run out of energy, which refreshes at the beginning of your next turn (although apparently you might want to hold onto some for defensive actions between turns - this never came up during our game). Although you have a handful of cards that describe the actions you can take, you don't really "play" the cards to perform the actions; the cards are just there as reminders of what you can do, and how much energy you have to pay to do it. In fact, there are piles of info cards that you have to have spread out in front of you throughout to remember all the point values and fiddly rules for movement and line of sight.

But here's one of the game's biggest problems: the rules are different depending on if you're reading the cards or the rule book!! How many destruction points is a tank worth? Three or two, depending on what you're reading. How many destruction points is a building worth? 1, 2, 3, or 6 points, depending on how many floors it has... or maybe it's 2, 4, 6, or 10 points depending on how many floors... but then it's actually 5 or 8 points if you set it on fire, which you can only do if it's three or four floors high... Also, even though your attack cards tell you to roll a die to determine whether you actually hit your target or not, the rule book says you don't need to roll a die if your target is a building or a military unit. Also, the rule book is very clear about the fact that the military units only move on the most destructive monster's turn, but the cards say military units move toward any monster in their line of sight whenever that monster moves, and the most destructive monster just breaks ties. Working out who the military units can see, which way they should move, and whether they should fire or not, is ridiculously fiddly and complex, making each step a monster takes a bit of an ordeal.

During your turn, you can also spend energy to buy a card on the event track, if it's purchasable (most are not). Once each player has taken a turn, the round ends, and you roll a die and activate the event card that's in that numbered slot, doing what it says - which could be setting a bunch of buildings on fire, or healing a monster, or taking a bunch of energy away from a monster. Events often affect a random monster, and the game suggests no method for selecting a random monster, so we just made up one. These events are actually a pretty fun idea, although again there can be confusion, as the text on the cards is pretty brief and there's not always enough details for you to know exactly how to handle them.

After you're done with the event, you discard the event card, fill the empty event card slot with a new card from the deck, reset everybody's energy, and determine which is the most destructive monster, as he gets to go first next round (which seems to me like a mistake - why should the player who's winning always get to go first? Doesn't that make it harder for anybody who's losing to catch up?).

You need markers to track health and energy for all monsters, but they seem to have included only four markers total, even though if you're playing with four players, you'd need eight markers. Also at least one of the actions requires you to roll four dice. They include only two dice in the box. Sure, you can just roll those two twice, or dig out some other dice from some other game, but man. Cheap!

One final complaint, and it's in the classic "this food was so bad, and such small portions" format. After all the confusing set up, and all the confusion of our first couple turns, we actually only ended up each taking two full turns, and activating two event cards, before I took half another turn and met the victory conditions for the scenario (35 destruction points). That was it, it was all over, just like that. We had never even gotten close enough on the board to fight each other; we just stomped a couple buildings and tanks and it was all over. Of course, maybe this was because of the way we'd set the board up - with tons of high point value four-story buildings all over the place - but how were we supposed to know that was a mistake, since this was our first time playing?? Why tell first-time players to design the game board? That's a terrible idea.

I feel like this could be a good game, maybe even with the pieces included, but the rules need to be almost entirely rewritten - and, most importantly, they have to be consistent!
Tagged (?): Board games (Not), Gaming (Not), Godzilla (Not), Kaiju (Not), On the Board (Not)
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Friday, July 15, 2011 11:25 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Art (Not), Batman (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Godzilla (Not), Harry Potter (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), LOLCats (Not), Mario (Not), Movies (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Friday, June 17, 2011 12:10 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Advertising (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Automobiles (Not), Awards (Not), Books (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Commercials (Not), Craft (Not), Food (Not), Gadgets (Not), Godzilla (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Harry Potter (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Oscars (Not), Phones (Not), Photography (Not), Products (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Song of Ice and Fire (Not), Star Wars (Not), Technology (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), Twitter (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not), Wolverine (Not), Zelda (Not)
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:44 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Business (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Dinosaurs (Not), Green Lantern (Not), James Bond (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Nintendo (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Tattoos (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), TV (Not), Twitter (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Wii (Not), X-Files (Not)
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011 02:47 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Ancient Egypt (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Batman (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Food (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Harry Potter (Not), History (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Mario (Not), Mortal Kombat (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Trek (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not)
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Monday, January 31, 2011 10:41 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Advertising (Not), Art (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), Godzilla (Not), Kaiju (Not), Kurosawa (Not), Links (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), Mythology (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), Toys (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Monday, January 10, 2011 01:33 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Captain America (Not), Cartoons (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), Food (Not), Godzilla (Not), Hayao Miyazaki (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), LOLCats (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Products (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Shirts (Not), Star Wars (Not), Terminator (Not), Tolkien (Not), Toys (Not), Video (Not)
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010 10:38 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), Cartoons (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Fighting (Not), Godzilla (Not), Harry Potter (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Mashups (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Shirts (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Technology (Not), Tron Legacy (Not), Video (Not)
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Friday, May 7, 2010 10:26 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), Avatar (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), Godzilla (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Mario (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Wars (Not), Street Fighter (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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