Return of the nightmare

02:17, May 22 2014

One of my favourite sayings has to be: "the past is a foreign country".

Last weekend my Wellington primary school celebrated its centenary. My sister went along and, to help me feel included, texted a photo she took of a photo of the ruddy-faced fellow who was the principal during our time at the school.

The long-since-dead bloke had a reputation for drinking on the job and on one occasion dragged me into his office and gave me a hiding for no apparent reason.

At the time people thought this sort of thing was comparatively normal behaviour. Back in those days teachers could whack and smack kids with impunity. Some of them also smoked in class. When I compare school then to school now, it's like these things happened in a foreign country.

I get the same feeling when I think about the way our governments have changed. One of my earliest memories is of attending Prime Minister Norman Kirk's state funeral at Parliament in 1974.

Apart from being a big man who died in office, one of the things Kirk was most famous for was sending two warships, Canterbury and Otago, to Mururoa Atoll to protest against French nuclear tests in the Pacific.


The frigates, one with a Cabinet minister on board, sailed into the weapons testing zone to draw the world's attention to the insanity of what was going on. When I compare the New Zealand government then to the New Zealand government now, it's like these things happened in a foreign country.

I mention the nuclear issue because one of the cultural phenomena to come out of the post-World War II era was Godzilla. A massive, prehistoric, radioactive, angry sea monster awakened by atomic tests; the original Godzilla was a nuclear nightmare on legs. The texture of his scaly skin was even said to be inspired by the scars on survivors of the Hiroshima bombing.

Since his first appearance in 1954, Godzilla has appeared in almost 30 movies as well as a tonne of video games, cartoons, TV shows and books. Hollywood tried getting in on the act in 1998 with the universally panned Roland Emmerich-helmed Godzilla. Sixteen years later it's having another crack with a fella named Gareth Edwards calling the shots.

The hiring of Edwards probably represents the biggest leap in budget a director has got to work with since Peter Jackson got the green light to make The Lord of the Rings.

Godzilla (M) is only Edward's second feature and its budget was reportedly $185 million. His first film, Monsters, was made for $580,000. Monsters was a clever and stylish little film that deservedly made Edwards friends in high places and, for the most part, Godzilla sees their faith in him rewarded.

A thematic throwback to the original film, the new version is wonderful to look at and made with a huge amount of care and creativity. It looks like a billion bucks, features clever casting and cunningly brings the legend of the radioactive lizard into the post-Fukushima era.

The talent includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The plot involves a conspiracy, monsters, radiation, The Philippines, Japan, Hawaii, Nevada and San Francisco. There are epic battles, personal stories of survival and a truckload of military hardware.

Plot-wise it all feels rather familiar - even to the uninitiated - and the talented members of the cast don't get to do much on account of the script being light on characterisation. It's also surprisingly earnest.

Where Godzilla does hit its straps is in Edwards' direction of a number of visually bodacious set pieces that are likely to ensure his diary stays full for the foreseeable future.

Anyone who has seen the highly impressive trailers and goes in with massive expectations is likely to be disappointed but for everyone else Godzilla is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

BOTTOM LINE A worthy update.

Also screening: The Grand Budapest Hotel (M) Brilliantly batty.

The Nelson Mail