Sunday, 18 May 2014

Radiation eating monsters versus Godzilla -film review

I saw the latest remake of the Japanese classic monster movie Godzilla last week and felt like writing a few comments about evolutionistic aspects of the film. Before continuing I should say I thought it a first class monster movie, and that I understand how we willingly suspend disbelief when storytelling is going on. However, the film was presented as modern-day realistic, and people clearly get at least some of their ideas about life from art, whether novels, songs, theatre or film. I am sure most of the audience felt they were getting a good adventure thriller, and so we were, but we also got a good dose of evolutionary reinforcement as well, largely subliminal.

CAUTION: This review may contain plot spoilers and you might prefer to see the film first.

The dramatically staged introduction included clips from the original Japanese black and white film ‘Gojira’ (fish lizard, nothing to do with any kind of ‘god’) and footage from the 1950s Pacific nuclear weapons tests. There was also a brief, almost subliminal, shot of the frontispiece of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, including the subtitle ‘..or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.’ That bit of the title usually gets left out, not least due to that other world changing book with the word ‘Struggle’ (*) in the title. Anyway, introductions matter and we were being told that he story had something to do with evolution and radiation.

Some expert geologists/palaeontologists are helicoptered to a mine in the Philippines where a huge chasm has opened up, swallowing 40 workers and much machinery. Deep inside it (‘below the Cambrian’ as we were told) a truly gigantic fossil skeleton is found. They stand inside it’s rib cage which seems to go on for several hundred feet. There is also a huge cocoon like structure. We then learn that another similar structure has been discovered from which something appears to have hatched. We then see a gigantic trail of smashed trees and a vast furrow leading from the mine to the sea.

The next thing is that a nuclear plant in Japan collapses under what appears to have been an earthquake. The whole town is evacuated and kept sealed off. 15 years later we discover through a grief-deranged scientist whose wife died in the disaster that the radioactivity has disappeared and  a secret project is going on, studying and hopefully containing a huge weird cocoon like the one we saw in the Philippines mine. It hatches, from it emerges a gigantic winged and taloned monster that causes great destruction before flying away on huge leathery wings.

The injured researcher at last gets some answers. The pre-Cambrian MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) has been awakened at the Philippines earthquake, hatched out, burrowed under the nuclear station to which it was attracted by radiation, and has been consuming the radiation. Yes, it ‘comes from a distant period in the earth’s past when radiation levels were much higher than today’ as the scientist played by Ken Watanabe tells us (or was it his assistant? Please excuse minor inaccuracies, I don't have a transcript). It eats radiation, that's why it was attracted to the nuclear plant. Now it has metamorphosed (we never got to see the earlier form it took, presumably sticking with this story line it was a mega caterpillar) and now having hatched into its adult form has gone looking for some more radiation to eat.

A Russian nuclear submarine goes missing, and is tracked to a remote island jungle where the MUTO is eating it, tearing off great lumps of metal and chewing and swallowing them. The overall reality of the plot and acting and the excellent special effects actually tend to make this evident impossibility reasonably credible. The grey beast has an oddly shaped flat pointy almost metallic head ( a bit like the Shadows in Babylon 5) and bizarre talons (slightly reminiscent of the mysterious monster in the rather nasty ‘monster destroys New York’ film ‘Cloverfield’).

Anyway, it turns out that there was another cocoon, which the secret researchers ‘vivisected’ and then stored in a nuclear waste facility. They go there to discover it has hatched out (what, after being 'vivisected'?), another even larger MUTO, and, horror of horrors, its a female. It has heard the other one’s call and heads to it. Lots of violence, buildings smashed, brave soldiers getting wasted trying to stop it, and airplanes falling out of the sky as MUTO emits EMP (electromagnetic pulses) which disable all electronic devices. ‘This will take us back to the stone age’ we are told by one researcher.

A plan is conceived to move a big H bomb to an offshore site, attract the monsters to it, then blow it up. Because of the EMP grounding planes and disabling electronics, a clockwork H bomb in a Minuteman missile is used. However the male MUTO grabs the bomb. The MUTOs mate (we are thankfully spared the sight) and a cluster of football sized eggs is laid around the missile, each with a vile monster embryo wriggling inside it. Certainly quite amazing to go from fertilised ovum to chicken sized hatchling in a couple of hours.

Godzilla turns up, bigger than an aircraft carrier, and fights the MUTOs, eventually killing both in dramatic fashion. He then gives a victory roar and swims off into the sunset, fulfilling scientist Watanabe’s hopes about Gojira ‘restoring the balance’. The monster is hailed as a ‘Saviour’ (and he does indeed appear to rise from the dead after sacrificing himself to save San Francisco, although not sadly its iconic bridge, destroyed in so many films of this kind.). 

Where do I start?

Godzilla is taller than a skyscraper, big enough to cause a tsunami. How would his blood circulate that kind of distance from heart to extremities. is he air breathing (apparently), if so how does he live unseen at 10,000 feet? What would he eat? And how could something so big, or rather a breeding population of them, survive undetected from the pre-Cambrian? OK, it’s only a monster movie, we can let that kind of stuff go.

regarding the MUTOs, the assumption that a living thing of any kind, let alone a very large one, could survive in a cocoon from the pre-Cambrian is really in the ‘The cow jumped over the moon’ category of, shall we say, very highly improbable. More to the point, the idea that such a creature (**) could ‘eat radiation’ is even more bizarre. The grammar doesn’t even make sense. You could in theory eat uranium, but first you’d have to extract it from the ore in which it occurs, a long and complicated task (as we know from discussions about Iran’s centrifuges).
But radiation isn’t in any possible sense a foodstuff-it is destructive, just like a bullet from a gun. Whether gamma rays, ultraviolet rays, or charged particles, it is a purely destructive process. But, aha, this is where a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ comes in, for in evolutionary mythology (remember the homage to Darwin’s Origin of Species in the film’s introduction) mutations (the bad monsters are called MUTOs) are the primary, if not only, agent of change in progressive process whereby newer, fitter, more diverse organism arise. As Darwin wrote, ‘Until the favourable variations chance to arise, natural selection has nothing to work with’. And radiation certainly causes variations, although not favourable ones as many cancer sufferers know to their cost.

In evolutionary storytelling, mutations are good, therefore radiation is good. Only in real life we know that ain’t so. So who is willingly suspending disbelief, and to what end? 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy although I am quite clear in my mind that there are no deathless elves, hairy footed hobbits or rings of power. I’m not complaining about seeing fantastic things in a fantasy film. But, although it might carry moral messages we could discuss, LOTR is clearly presented as fantasy. The 2014 remake of Godzilla is presented as somewhat realistic present day science fiction. I think it probable that people will to some extent have their ideas about the inevitability of evolution by natural selection acting on random mutations reinforced by some of the semi-subliminal messages in the film. I am not saying that the producer and director sat down and deliberately planned to make Darwinist propaganda, I’m sure they were more concerned with art, fame and money, but the message is there all the same. It is ubiquitous, and it is never questioned. The most effective propaganda is the propaganda of which you are completely unaware.

Nevertheless I thought Godzilla a pretty good state of the art sci-fi monster movie remake. I conclude by noting how many apocalyptic/end of civilisation films are being made these days. Something in the air? As Joni Mitchel sang in 'Woodstock'
'maybe its just the time of year, or maybe its the time of Man...'
(*) Mein Kampf (my struggle) by Adolf Hitler

(**) The term 'creature' means something created. Technically its incorrect for an evolutionist to use the term, or term s like 'designed', but they often do anyway.






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