Friday, September 13, 2013

Godzilla vs Hellboy

Yesterday I saw Pacific Rim. It was unseasonably hot and humid, so it felt like a good day to see the one summer blockbuster I'd missed. It's about guys controlling giant robots and fighting giant monsters. I generally like Guillermo Del Toro's movies, and as a kid I liked giant robots, and I loved giant monsters, especially Godzilla. And I like Hellboy comics, and Del Toro's Hellboy movies, so here you go . . .

Pacific Rim was fun, but I felt slightly let down by Del Toro. He has made films with monsters before - the Hellboy films and Pan's Labyrinth - and it's apparent that he loves the monsters. They are weird and beautiful and intriguing. The Kaiju (Japanese for 'giant monster') in Pacific Rim are cool-looking, but also pretty one-note. I was waiting for the scene where he shows us that the Kaiju aren't evil; they're just misunderstood or something, but no. They're just big monsters of destruction.

Also, at some point during the movie, I realized I was able to watch a movie about the mass destruction of major cities on the day after September 11 without noticing. That says something about something, but I'm not sure what.

Another thing that I didn't like so much about it, and all modern big-budget action movies, is that I think I'm really tired of CGI. The first time I saw Terminator 2, when the T-1000 started morphing, it blew my mind. But as much as CGI allows filmmakers to achieve any visual image imaginable, I mostly find it over-rendered, over-designed, and somehow less realistic than models and matte paintings. Those old Godzilla movies were filmed with guys in rubber suits, stomping on miniature balsa wood cities. As obviously fake as it looked even to my 10-year-old eyes, the tactile nature of it, that something real - not computer-generated - was smashing something real, sold the whole thing in a way that modern effects don't. I feel the same way about the Star Wars movies. I believe Frank Oz-puppet Yoda a lot more than the CGI Yoda of the prequels.

And so I was sad to read this NY Times article last week. It's about the decline of tokusatsu, or "special filming," which refers to the whole genre of movie-making featuring guys in rubber suits portraying giant monsters and robots stomping on miniature cities. The article quotes one of the last tokusatsu directors, Yuichi Abe, explaining the advantages of this method of movie-making: “C.G. can only do what the programmer tells them to do, so there are no surprises . . With tokusatsu, every take is different. You never know how it will turn out, just like in the real world.”

 As CGI has become the dominant method of movie special effects, fewer and fewer tokusatsu are made, and there are no more younger craftsmen learning the trade. Soon, there will be no one with the skills to build or perform this style of filmmaking. Another trade being displaced by technology, as has been happening since the Industrial Revolution began. But for some reason, I'm particularly sad that I won't be seeing guys in rubber monster suits anymore.

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