Action Blu-ray Review

King of the Blu-ray Reviews: Godzilla

September 18, 2014Ben Mk


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Let them fight...

Godzilla's grand North American debut in 1998 should have signaled the start of something special. Instead, lackluster critical reception sent the Big G reeling back to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, where he would lay dormant for another sixteen years — that is, until the day when he would be awakened by director Gareth Edwards. After the acclaim received by his breakout feature, Monsters, it was only logical that Edwards take the reins of cinema's biggest monster movie franchise. So... is this the Godzilla film we've been waiting for?

   

The Film This second attempt at Americanizing Godzilla begins not in the US or Japan, but in the Philippines, where an accidental discovery at an archaeological dig site draws scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). But instead of finding evidence of the legendary behemoth, they find the remains of something equally mammoth and even more ancient, as well as foreboding signs that something has survived.

As the film progresses, that something comes to be known as M.U.T.O. (or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism); and as it turns out, there isn't just one of them, but two — a male and a female. Vaguely resembling a hybrid between a pterodactyl and the monster from 2008's Cloverfield, the M.U.T.O. thrive on radiation — in fact, they're attracted to it like bees to honey (a crucial plot point that will come into play later in the film, as the US Army hatches a risky plan to destroy them). There's one more thing that the M.U.T.O. crave though, and that's to mate. And in attempting to do so, they awaken something else that's been lying dormant beneath the waters of the Pacific: Godzilla.

Enter Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), a pair of American researchers stationed in Japan, along with their young son, Ford. After a deadly accident at the Janjira nuclear power plant leaves the surrounding area uninhabitable due to radiation contamination (bringing to mind the Fukushima disaster of 2011), Joe begins to suspect that a government cover-up is afoot. Fast forward fifteen years, and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now a military bomb disposal expert, with a wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and son of his own, living in San Francisco. But when his father's passion for finding out the truth lands them both back on Japanese soil and brings them face-to-face with the M.U.T.O. and Godzilla, it falls on him to help bring an end to the prehistoric beasts' reign of terror.

Surprisingly, the story by screenwriter Max Borenstein spends a good chunk of the film's running time dwelling on the human characters — who, frankly, aren't all that compelling — making early scenes with the monsters themselves frustrating for their lack of follow-through in the carnage-and-mayhem department. But when the film finally gets to the good stuff — those prolonged sequences of monster-on-monster action — it pays off in a big way, as Edwards' orchestration of the climactic battle between Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s is nothing less than operatic.

And unlike Roland Emmerich's 1998 version, this 2014 iteration of the iconic character strikes the perfect balance between CG creation and the classic man-in-a-rubber-suit look, bolstered by visual effects that magnificently convey the scope and magnitude of the destruction. Although Edwards occasionally evokes the passé disaster epics of the late 90's, he never forgets that the movie ultimately boils down to the audience rooting for Godzilla to emerge as the champion. That serves as the key differentiator between this new Godzilla film and the Big G's previous American incarnation — and it makes all the difference in the world.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Godzilla lumbers onto Blu-ray with an A/V presentation certainly fit for a King (of the Monsters). Right from the get-go, the Blu-ray transfer displays exceptional crispness and clarity, making it easy to spot not only individual pieces of debris left in the wake of the monsters' battles, but also other fine detail, such as the dense, lava-like pattern of scales that serves as Godzilla's body armor or objects seen far off in the distance (be they people or vehicles). The hi-def image also boasts hues that mimic the film's theatrical presentation to a tee, replicating cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's muted and often monotone color palette (with deep blacks and excellent contrast) but also exhibiting wonderful color saturation when called for (most notably with the fiery orange glow of the M.U.T.O.s' eyes and the bright, arctic blue of Godzilla's atomic breath). Meanwhile, in the audio department, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack delivers the goods in spades, being ferocious enough to convey the sonic impact of explosions, gunfire and the monsters' roars, yet nuanced enough to handle the taiko drums, horns and eerie vocals of composer Alexandre Desplat's haunting score, with ample LFE support for audio effects like the M.U.T.O.s' electromagnetic pulse attacks.

Special Features Warner's Blu-ray release includes DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film, as well as nearly an hour's worth of HD special features. All in all, there are 15 minutes of promotional featurettes (Operation: Lucky Dragon, MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File and The Godzilla Revelation) and 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes (Godzilla: Force of Nature, A Whole New Level of Destruction, Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump and Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s). The promotional featurettes essentially reiterate the film's backstory, presenting information on MONARCH, Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s in the guise of "classified" government records or faux news pieces. The making-of featurettes, on the other hand, are slightly more in-depth, going into detail about the effort (particularly in terms of practical and CG effects) that went into creating Godzilla, the destruction seen in the film, the H.A.L.O. jump sequence and the M.U.T.O.s (with plenty of concept art and VFX comparisons to accompany the usual spate of film clips and cast and crew interviews).


The Bottom Line As Godzilla stomps towards its glorious — though albeit predictable — conclusion, one can't help but wonder whether it will spark renewed interest in the further adventures of our reptilian hero. But with a sequel already in the works, that seems to be a foregone conclusion. As it stands, the movie isn't perfect, but it definitely rights all the wrongs of the 1998 film. And that alone is a feat worth celebrating. Likewise, Warner's Blu-ray release is worth celebrating based on the merits of its flawless A/V presentation alone; but with a modest selection of entertaining and insightful extras thrown into the mix, Godzilla on Blu-ray easily earns an enthusiastically high recommendation.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on May 16th, 2014.




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