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What does ‘Godzilla Minus One’ have that Hollywood doesn’t?

“Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color” is only showing in theaters this week, which I’m glad about. A remastered black-and-white version of the 2023 color film, the latest in Godzilla’s 70-year story. It is also one of the peaks.

Per our headline above: What does “Godzilla Minus One” have that Hollywood doesn’t? Overall: It has a clear and satisfying ability to make something new out of something that is 70 years old. It’s a very good monster movie, both serious and exciting, where you really care about the human characters.

It was also made on a relatively modest budget. Although the figure generally attributed to production costs is fifteen million dollars, the film’s writer-director Takashi Yamazaki, who also co-designed the visual effects that were at least visually effective, recently disputed that figure, saying: “I wish it was that much.”

Even if $15 million is falsely high, it’s still surprisingly low in the context of recent English-language “MonsterVerse” franchise efforts. These include 2014’s “Godzilla” (budget: $160 million; quality, very good), the less popular “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019, budgeted close to $200 million) and the pandemic release “Godzilla vs Kong” (produced in the same $170-$200 million range). Legendary Entertainment’s latest offering to keep the big man afloat, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” arrives in April.

Most of these English-language movies are entertaining, even if a sea monster born of mankind’s desire for atomic death can make the entertainment a little stingy. But recent Legendary Studios “Godzillas,” even the best ones, have come at a creative price tag. They cost at least 10 times what Toho International’s “Godzilla Minus One” needed to do the job. It’s hard to tap into your strongest creative instincts when you’re making nine figures as a filmmaker.

In the blockbuster context, Yamazaki’s international triumph — the third biggest non-English-language film to conquer America, after “Life is Beautiful” (No. 2 in more ways than one) and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — represents a clever representation of what you’ve got and the triumph of spending eloquently on a show devoid of tedious grandiloquence.

“Godzilla Minus One” works because you genuinely care about the human characters, and filmmaker Yamazaki’s focus on the role of a World War II Japanese kamikaze pilot, a disgraced deserter whose first, shocking encounter with Godzilla leaves him broken. (Kamiki Ryunosuke) is a seriously handled story. man after the war.

Soon the US devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left much of what we saw in late 1945 and post-war scenes in ruins. Then comes another nightmare: Godzilla devastating Tokyo. Joining a citizen brigade determined to end the massacre, the pilot tries to save himself by staying alive for the sake of the orphan girl in his care. A possible casualty of Godzilla’s sudden urban renewal project leaves his daughter’s stepmother (Minami Hamabe) in ashen emotional peril.

Usually my guards shoot high up with stuff like this. But it works here, there’s no trace of emotional sadism. Amidst the protective, carefully spaced and satisfying mayhem, the scenes become so much more than what we endured to get back to destruction.

The film was a huge success in the US; This, I think, suggests that audiences of different ages will tune in to their internal, endlessly distracted movie hours for a movie that doesn’t jump up and down every second. 2014’s English-language “Godzilla” worked that way at best.

What remains of the Hollywood studio system has lessons to be learned here. The less you spend, the more a movie like this (familiar intellectual property that’s been endlessly rebooted for 70 years) can become something of a human creation. And they can be important, if what happens between rounds of destruction is treated as if it were important.

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By February 1, a black and white print of “Godzilla Minus One” will be available for your perusal, sporting the cheeky title “Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color.” A welcome visual throwback to the 1954 Toho original, “Minus Color” is beautifully mastered with its monochromatic presentation, but the results rarely look as interesting as a film designed and lit for black and white from the start. I love it though; Black and white remains, for many, the poetic and expressive feature of cinematic visions. We’ve seen many similar projects derived from films shot in color, including Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film, “Nightmare Alley.”

It’s a nice way to catch up on “Godzilla Minus One.” The film’s mix of high melodrama, lurid recent history, shameless but ingenious intrigue, and genuine storytelling cogency seems easy, just as $15 million (or whatever it costs) makes it seem like $50 million or twice as much. When composer Naoki Sato’s evocative, quiet music reveals an indelible melody Akiri Ifukuke theme from ’54’s “Godzilla” The end credits suddenly became the most interesting end credits imaginable.

“Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color” continues in theaters until February 1.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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