The Delicate & Tricky Balancing Act Of Monster Movies: Opinion Piece
I think it is fair to say that the 'monster' movie is slightly struggling to really find its feet. As Universal are apparently making a 'monster-verse' and 'Kong: Skull Island's' post credit teaser hinting at some major monster v monster goodness, I discuss the issues and challenge of creating monster movies in today's world. There may be things I miss or overlook, but this is my take on the main issues that I think are affecting and may continue to affect the big monster movies.
The main problem as far as I can tell, seems to be a balance between creating and writing a sufficient and gripping story, with strong characters and motives with the appeal and pay off of seeing huge dinosaurs and gorillas punching and fighting other sufficiently large creatures. As much as we all want to see the latter, there needs to be moments of humanity, emotion and dialogue rather than roaring and punching. However, the balance, quality and time dedicated to them is definitely a tricky one. Lets look back at this problem within some of the recent and biggest monster movies;
A frankly, very good movie. Atmospheric and visually wonderful, Godzilla's roar still sends chills down my spine to this day, and there are moments with him that are incredibly profound due to excellent sound design. There are other issues with this movie, but I'll discuss later. However, the human side within this movie lacked, as the main character and who we spend a large portion of time is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, not the greatest time too; dull and no real connection. This movie also had Bryan Cranston in it, only for about 45 minutes though, a waste of talent and had he been the one we followed throughout, potentially the human side of this story would have been elevated. However, I'm not saying the human side here was awful, it just felt tagged on and cliché; bloke has wife and kid in peril and he has to work his to them etc. In summary, okay, but could have been better.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
This particular monster movie had a lot going for it; Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson etc, so a very strong cast. The issue, for some (although this did receive a very strong reception; 76% on Rotten Tomatoes), visually this movie is incredible I think. Cinematography is stunning, colour tone is gorgeous etc, as was Godzilla. There is nothing wrong I think about the visual look of these movies, but there is an issue that Godzilla encountered, but more on that later. The issue, again, and not for all, was the characters. I will quote from, again, Chris Stuckmann; when it comes to movies, he is my go-to-guy;
[Regarding the characters of Kong: Skull Island] "...the characters that populate this film are hollow and boring bland shells of human beings, that are just expendable nothingness..." The problem Chris has, from my interpretation, is that the characters do not have sufficient backgrounds or reasons to be involved. With Hiddleston's character Chris says that he is a "...cool badass guy who knows how to track animals..." In regard to Brie Larson; "...is a photographer. That's her character." Having seen Kong: Skull Island, I can see where Chris is coming from, however, I do not agree with him fully. Compared to Godzilla, the characters in this movie are far better.
Ensure the writers can provide those in the movie with sufficient, interesting and engaging character motivations and arks. Ensure there is time between the fights that the characters are fleshed out and developed. This comes back to the balancing act; monster action to humanization and characters. We need both in these movies, which makes it difficult. Therefore, I think they should limit the screen time as much as they can with the human side, and ensure that all the dialogue is essential, developing and engaging.
Visuals of the monsters. Godzilla, frankly, sucked at this. We saw so little of him, and when we did, for the most part, he was obscured by smoke, debris or other monsters or we say him through a TV set of a news broadcast; no thank you. Although when we do see him it's great, but it is always at night and we can't fully see him. Kong: Skull Island was the opposite; day time, clear visuals, it was great. Therefore, ensure that the monster in question gets clear, unobscured screen time. It is what we want to see.
To be honest, in my view, those are the only two major problems; lack of characterization and compelling, engaging characters and visuals of the monster. Someone may point out there are other issues, but those are the two that I feel are the foundations from which these movies can be enhanced upon. Going forward, it is clear that there a lot more monster movies to come, what with Kong: Skull Island's post credit scene showing King Ghidorah fighting Godzilla and a King Kong vs. Godzilla movie reportedly in the works.
Strong, well-written and characterized people and clear, vibrant visuals of the monsters are what future monster movies need at the utmost. Like this is titled, this is a delicate and difficult balancing act. I do not want a monster movie with no humans in it or down time, likewise I do not want a human drama movie with Godzilla or Mothra in the background providing some entertainment. Moving forward, I just hope they can enhance and develop the already relatively strong foundation that Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) have created.