Giant Monsters versus Giant Robots

pacific-rim-poster-bannerListen up all you cineastes.  I’m taking you to film school today and you know what that means, no talking in the class or the wooden yardstick comes out.

Godzilla,_King_of_the_Monsters_Wallpaper__yvt2I went to see the film Pacific Rim the other day and I began thinking about how crappy most movies are.  Now you probably think I’m going to piss all over PR, but your camel has gone up the wrong dune effendi, I loved PR.  I think it is one of the best films made in the last 10 years.  Why?  Simple:  zero character development and minimal romance, giant 3D monsters, and giant 3D robots, a cinematic formula so simple and winning that you wonder why nobody thought of it a long time ago.

mechagodzillaOh but wait, somebody did think of it a long time ago:  the Japanese.  These clever Asians had pretty much a corner on this type of top notch entertainment for decades and for some reason nobody else caught on.  Even after the so-called live action giant monster fests went down the drain the tradition carried on via Japanese anime.

Meanwhile Hollywood, fat and jaded by chick flicks, Disney fare, musicals, and “important” art films passed on what could have saved a lot of California studios.  Hollywood had the technology to pull it off but left it to the Japanese with their inferior cinematic resources to carry on the tradition.  Ultimately the live action Japanese fare failed because of scant resources for better special effects.  The Japanese, largely devastated by nuclear attacks and real monster invasions, had to reallocate these vital cinematic resources just to survive.  Their ability to carry out believable special effects was severely compromised to the point where putting a lush in a rubber suit had to suffice for action.  Great Asian cinema would just have to wait.


Inferior Hollywood Fare

Hollywood could have saved the critical giant monster film industry starting in the late sixties but passed for the likes of The Great Gatsby, Chinatown, The Sting, China Syndrome, Ingmar Bergman and similar lo-tech dreck.  To say the Hollywood studios were too cheap to do it right is almost an understatement, and they paid dearly for it, many studios forced to ultimately close down, get gobbled up, or retreat to the porn industry.


Things remained pretty grim until the turn of the century.  After 2000 the movies started to get better, believable giant robots and monsters featured a lot more in films with the Transformers franchise and Cloverfield being critical turning points.  Giant monsters and giant robots were back on the menu!

Ice Spiders

SciFi’s Ice Spiders

Even television, especially cable, once they wised up and saw the potential, jumped on the bandwagon, with the SyFy (formerly SciFi) network being one of the pioneers with such tasty and high quality films as Ice Spiders and Mastodon.  I think the opening up of the mega channel cable industry actually had a lot to do with the resurgence of the genre with endless reruns of Andy Griffith and Gilligan’s Island driving people to demand smarter fare.

cloverfield-monster-vs-godzillaFinally, digital technology, IMAX and 3D made the giant monster and giant robot essential cinema viewing.  Now the only excuse you have for not being entertained and informed about the state of giant monsters and robots is being able to come up with the 15 bucks for a ticket (you can always sneak the concessions in in a picnic hamper).

Next time out I’m going to prove to you why, other than the TV program NCIS, monster and horror TV, and especially movies, are the most important and fulfilling entertainment you can watch.  I promise, and you already know you can depend on me.


Superior Entertainment

Monsters & Literature

Here’s your Independence Day treat.  Don’t eat it too fast, it’ll make you sick.

Okay, now I’ve already told you about how all music is better when played faster and louder, well here is the next step in our artistic journey: all art and entertainment is better if it also includes monsters. Although this construct is self evident, I’ll provide a few examples along the way just to prove it. Also we will get into the unfortunate misuse and overuse of monsters in literature.

Moby DickIn prior literary times it wasn’t common to feature monsters in literature.  We would get the occasional witch or demon but no real monster stuff up until the Romantic and Victorian eras.  Then we got real monster stuff like Frankenstein and Dracula.  However these were all considered brown wrapper books, back of the store stuff for the most part.  Who really got monsters started into literature was Herman Melville.  Melville wrote a lot of stuff:  Typee, Oomu, and a story about a lazy guy who doesn’t want to work, crap nobody reads anymore and crap nobody read back then either.  Then he came up with a brilliant idea, write the same kind of book but include monsters in it:  man-eating whales and giant squid.  Well you know the rest of the story.  They couldn’t keep Moby Dick; on the shelves even though it was longer than a Stephen King novel. Now you might think a whale is no big deal but think about the novelty in the 19th century, nobody had real monsters in novels or stories, so a giant, man-eating, toothed, sperm (he, he) whale was a big deal. Sure it’s dated now but so’s your mother. Peter Benchley even stole it in the modern era and made it a crumby shark for heavens sake, so you can’t say it’s that dated.

SquidWell monsters in literature went out of favor for awhile while guys like William James and Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope (he, he) wrote a lot of boring books that nobody reads anymore, even when they’re assigned in school. Kids just crib it from some Ivory-Merchant movie, or Cliff’s Notes, or Wikipedia now. And it’s no wonder, these books are dead boring and rarely feature even the occasional witch, demon, or even body snatcher (They aren’t very well written either.).

So a couple of years ago (2009) there was a spate of “literary” (= boring) novels that got jazzed up with the addition of monsters. This was generally a good thing. It all started with Jane Austen’s dreary book of marriage foibles entitled Pride and Prejudice. Now Ms. Austen got one thing right: alliteration in titles, but that’s about all she had worth reading. Then along came the eminently talented Seth Grahame-Smith with the genesis of how to make the 19th century “parlor” novel tolerable: add monsters. We therefore got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I cannot describe how excited I was on first hearing about this “novel” artifice. Sadly the execution was not as grand as I had hoped it would be. Don’t get me wrong, this was far better than the dreadful zombie-less version of P&P but it wasn’t as good as it could have been, hence the disappointment (What’s new?). The problem was the zombie sequences were all bolted on, not made integral to, the plot of marrying off the ugly and fat Bennett daughters. There were lively scenes of zombie ninja slaughter interspersed but it never really affected the main characters in any lasting way. Now for a monster insertion into a piece of writing, film, or television (we’ll leave out live theater for the obvious reasons), to be realistic it has to engage the major storyline and affect at least some of the main characters. Just having zombie fight sequences inserted with everyone else living happily ever after is never gonna wash.

PrideandPrejudiceandZombiesCoverHere’s how I would have done it, and done it right. I would have had at least one of the girls get bitten by the “unmentionables.” Then the action could have figured on how the daughter would have to be married off before the “affliction” became obvious to the suitor. See how much better that would have been. Alternatively you could have Elizabeth being bitten but then engaging in a mad race with Mrs. Bennett to get the other sisters married off before the curse sets in on her. Another angle could be to have the stricken Elizabeth, summoning her last ounce of humanity, pimping Darcy off on a less worthy but also less undead débutante. Ah, I was born to be an editor or producer.

Anyway this started a wave of updated and improved “classics” starting with the marvelous Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (much better alliterative title than the clumsy P&P&Z). A lot of my hoity-toity (ex)writer friends referred to these pastiches as “abominations.” Needless to say we crossed them off the invitation list.

Well of course things got out of hand like they always do.  Pretty soon we had Android Karenina and similar dreck.  An android is not a proper monster, it’s just a robot. Then we had the spate of historico-literary punch-ups like Queen Victoria Demon Hunter all of which were blatant fakes except for the excellent Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter which was based on actual suppressed federal documents. I think FEMA or the Trilateral Commission were behind the suppression. Now the entire sub-genre of monster enhanced classics has waned from both overexposure but also from the fact that the literary novels left to insert monsters in are so bad that even a monster won’t save them.

There you have it:  add monster, shaken not stirred.


Next time I’ll tell you how the inclusion of television, broadcast or cable, can enhance anything from sex to nature walks.