With Godzilla hitting theaters today, I'm seeing a lot of analysis and comparisons out there regarding how Gareth Edwards' film stacks up against last year's kaiju orgy, Pacific Rim.
I'm not sure if it simply has to do with "let's compare two recent giant monsters movies" (which is certainly warranted), however, I think it would be appropriate to look at the handling of Stateside "kaiju" terror that occurs in both Godzilla and Cloverfield.
This makes more sense to me, mostly because J.J. Abrams stated to the press in 2008 the impetus for producing Cloverfield, directed by Matt Reeves, was to give the U.S. an original giant monster to call its own. It's an admirable way of thinking in spite of the fact that American audiences and pop culture somewhat appropriated Godzilla for merchandising, commercials, cartoons, a bad '98 film and tie-ins.
Comparatively speaking, both films have their (big shocker here) strengths, weaknesses and similarities, yet I like both films in equal measures right now (that may change over time). I find Cloverfield highly rewatchable and I've always been a fan since it was released. Godzilla I've taken in twice and I may go for a third round, which says a lot.
But first let's talk about the approach. Both give you a real-world portrayal of a kaiju attack. In Cloverfield's case, Reeves adopts the "found footage" approach whereas Edwards takes you into the trenches, aesthetically framing his shots so you're on the ground, or on a bridge or in a crater looking at the size of the creatures on display in Godzilla. Only on occasion does he break this style to give us some epic shots of two (or three) monsters thrashing in the playground that is one of our cities. I don't favor one style over the other because I think they both work for their stories. "Found footage" is part of the texture for what makes Cloverfield work, I couldn't see that story depicted in a traditional format. On the other hand, I wouldn't have wanted to see a found footage Godzilla story. Edwards manages to depict large-scale kaiju destruction through a fun prism that works for me (even if he does borrow from Cloverfield for some of those "monsters on TV" shots).
Thematically – very much like the visual aesthetic – we're looking at two totally different takes. Godzilla positions itself with a global stance, tosses a messsage in there about nukes but is mostly a comment on our place in the world when Mother Nature throws us a whopper of a surprise. So you could say it juggles themes of the '54 film with a bit of nature-run-amok, if you want to go so far as to throw it into that sub-genre. 9/11 fears are prevalent throughout Cloverfield, capturing the mystery within the chaos (What's happening? Who's behind this? Where do we go?) and for that I think this is where Cloverfield has a leg up on Godzilla. The latter film is still clinging to its '54 roots and terror of that era. Cloverfield is a new monster film for a new generation with its own worries.
I have mixed feelings about the dramatic depth, moreover the characters, when weighing both films. Cloverfield is a stronger film to me with its relatable characters and their motivation. At its core, the film is a love story and the risks this dude will take to get to his woman. He'll venture through a crumbling city with one pissed off monster to find her. I can dig that. Hud (TJ Miller) was a chatterbox, but he cracked me up. Godzilla, on the other hand, excels with the monsters but stumbles as far as the human drama is concerned. It fitfully attempts to get me on their side, but there's not enough emotional weight there. Their motivations are clear – driven by a family bond – but it's clunky.
As for the monsters… Well, this is where Godzilla rules over Cloverfield. Godzilla simply has seniority, a better design and superiority. That's not to say I don't like the creature from Cloverfield – he's an interesting, clumsy beastie – what Edwards does with Godzilla is just gold. And, I've yet to do this, but I actually believe Godzilla has more screen time in the new film than the creature in Cloverfield (take that critics who claim you don't see enough of Big G in the new film!). Regardless, I think both monsters are exhilarating to watch when they're on screen.
So, even though I love both films, Cloverfield has a lot of merits that outpace Godzilla. Personally, I think it's a better movie on a story level – it's definitely a solid piece of work for our time, however, it failed to give us a really iconic monster. Godzilla is terrific – and I have my loyalties to the King of the Monsters - even though it has script problems. The kaiju madness definitely blows Cloverfield away. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this… Weigh in using our comment boards below!