Here Comes Santa Claus, Here Comes…..Wait; No, It’s Not Him – Krampus

6 01 2016

Krampus (Legendary Pictures - 2015)

“I know that it’s January!” Anyway; I am not all that big a fan of horror films. I like the ideas of horror films, plus have the real understanding of how a horror film should work. It’s not about blood and guts, it’s about being scared, receiving a frightful shock that makes you jump out of your chair, or not able to go to bed that night. The only Horror films I have seen so far are films like Battle Royale, The Purge, Aliens, bits of Predator and AVP. But the idea of taking such a happy time as Christmas and then subjecting the setting to an awful situation that leads to kidnap and possibly death is an interesting idea, plus also why I wanted out to point out that I know its January but am reviewing a film that is set during Christmas.

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Released in 2015 by Legendary Pictures and Universal, and Directed by Michael Dougherty; Krampus is a Christmas themed horror film based on the folklore legend of Krampus. Personally I never heard of the character of Krampus until this film came out. According to Wikipedia:

“In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Regions in Austria feature similar figures and, more widely, Krampus is one of a number of Companions of Saint Nicholas in regions of Europe. The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated a pre-Christian origin for the figure (see Germanic paganism).”

Anyway, that’s what/who Krampus is according to folklore; I just thought I better mention some form of knowledge before I start.

The film begins with a scene of people shopping for Christmas Presents, in a similar hysteria and mad panic that people get involved in during Black Friday. After getting into a fight in the store, young boy Max (Emjay Anthony) along with his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and their parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) return home where Tom’s mother known as Omi (Krista Stadler) is busy making Christmas cookies. Max still believes in Christmas traditions and hopes for Christmas to be as close as that could possibly be, but the house is in chaos, and gets worse with the arrival of Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner), their children Stevie (Lolo Owen), Jordan (Queenie Samuel), Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack), their baby daughter, and Linda and Sarah’s Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell)…oh, and their dog too. The chaos at home rises as the two family’s thoughts and beliefs begin to clash, and end with Stevie and Jordan taking Max’s letter to Santa Claus and reading it out loud during dinner, resulting in a fight. Tom tries to comfort his son, but Max decides to rip up his letter to Santa and throw it to the winds. At that moment a snow storm arrives and causes a power outage throughout the whole area. The following morning, the family struggle with the loss of heat and power, while Max is wondering about a snowman that has appeared in the front garden. A delivery man arrives with presents for the family, as well as a sack which is just left by the door. Beth decides to visit her boyfriend’s house to see if he has power; on the way though she spots a tall horned entity standing on a house rooftop. She runs away but is pursued by the strange being. She hides underneath a van, and watches as a creature with hooves walks around her. It soon leaves, but Beth is then attacked by something inside a Jack in a Box.

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The family grows worried for Beth, so Tom and Howard go outside looking for her. They find it strange that there are no other people in the area, no cars, nothing, other than for a snow plow. Back at the house, everyone else hears strange noises coming from the roof. Upon reaching Beth’s boyfriend’s house, Howard and Tom notice how much devastation around them there is, with the chimney split, and hoof prints on the floor. Upon leaving Howard is attacked by a snow monster. Tom saves him and drags him back home, telling the family to board themselves up inside. Omi, who has begun to act really strange, tells Tom to keep the fire burning. During Howard’s watch however, he falls asleep and the fire dies. While everyone else sleeps, a hook with a Gingerbread Man attached comes down the chimney. Howie Jr reaches for it and takes a bite, only for the Gingerbread man to suddenly come to life, wrap him in chain and drag him up the chimney. The family tries to save him, but is unable to do so. Omi then tells the family what is going on, and that they are being attacked by Krampus (Luke Hawker and Gideon Emery). When she was young, Omi lost her faith and hope in Christmas due to her poverty-stricken life in the village where she lived. As a result the ‘Shadow of Saint Nicholas’; Krampus came to town and took the whole town with him to the underworld, leaving Omi behind, with a Krampus Bauble to remind her of what happens when one loses their love of Christmas. Howard refuses to believe her, and goes outside where the whole garden is full of Snowmen and maliciously laughing creatures. He goes back inside. Tom forms a plan for them to try and run for the Snow Plow and find help. Meanwhile the sack of presents upstairs begins to rattle and shake. Stevie and Jordan hear Beth’s voice in the attic and go looking for her. Upon hearing the two girls scream, Tom, Sarah and Linda go into the attic and find a giant Jack in the Box creature swallowing Jordan whole. They are then attacked by the Jack in the Box and some other Christmas toys, while Howard is attacked by a trio of Gingerbread Men in the Kitchen. They are just able to fight off the creatures, but back downstairs a horde of Dark Elves burst into the front room and take the Giant Jack in the Box, Howard, Dorothy and the Baby with them. Krampus is then heard landing on the roof and descends down the chimney. Omi stays back at the house to give the retreating family some time to escape. Krampus seemingly recognizing her unleashes his monstrous, demonic toys on her.

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The rest of the family reach the snow plow, but then Tom, Linda and Sarah are all sucked into the snow by the Snow Monster from earlier. Max with Stevie in tow tries to start the plow, but it doesn’t work, and Dark Elves arrive and carry off with Stevie. Krampus then lands in front of Max, and gives him a bauble, wrapped in his ripped up letter to Santa, revealing that it was Max who caused all this to happen. Back at the House, Krampus, his minions and a chained up Stevie prepare to leave back to the Underworld, when Max shows up, throwing his bauble at Krampus and demanding he fixes everything. A pit of Lava opens up, and Max tearfully pleads for Krampus to return his family, and take him instead. In a silent moment Krampus sees Max Tears, but then begins laughing. Stevie is thrown into the pit, and Krampus drops Max in too. The following morning, Max wakes up in bed. Thinking it was all a dream, he sees the neighbourhood as it should be, heading downstairs to see his family is alright. They begin to enjoy their Christmas, when Max opens a Present with a Krampus Bauble inside, to which the whole family falls quiet. The camera then pans out to reveal the house is inside a snow globe, along with many others inside Krampus’s Workshop.

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Terrifying and Enchanting, that’s the best way to describe Krampus. It’s a term I have used since about 5 minutes after leaving the cinema (I didn’t walk out if that’s what you’re thinking). Krampus is a very clever film and one that sticks to both the modern Christmas life and the folklore legend that inspires it. It tells a story, but also teaches one; plus values. It opens up with scenes resembling the over commercialized Christmas holiday scene, with people rushing into a shop, tripping over and fighting one another in the hope of getting a present, then goes into the troubled Christmas family life with tensions between family members plus the arrival of the inappropriate and offensive in-laws. It makes the start of an over-promising Christmas family comedy film (which given by this evidence doesn’t usually work out). But then things begin to take an ugly turn, as the horrid in-laws begin to upset the family more, which instigates an unbelievable situation, which leads to horrible consequences, with each family member one by one getting picked off and killed by a supernatural entity and his minions. It begins with the over commercialized view of Christmas, but develops into teaching the true values of Christmas. It tells the story of a boy wanting the best for his family, but once is made fun of by his horrible cousins, loses his spirit for the holidays. This then leads to their terrible situation and shows that while there is heat between family members, there is still love, and once said members are lost, they are missed. So while the family life may not be paradise, there is still more value in it than any gift wrapped up in paper. The telling of this story then is much like how most good films work, it revolves around change, change from where you started from, and learning to bring about something much stronger. Even if it takes such a horrid situation to make people realize this. But then Krampus does something very clever. It does revert the narrative back to a normal life and make the idea that it was all just a dream and that everything is fine. But to prevent them returning to their old, miserable, horrid habits; they are presented with a reminder. A reminder that is true to everyone, not just one person, that what happened, was real, and that it can be done all over again just as easily. This makes both the family and audience think, and remember to take Christmas and the beliefs surrounding it more seriously in the future, because just like the film, it can all be taken away so quickly…even at this time of year.

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Krampus sticks very closely to its Christmas traditions and to its folklore legend. I mean that though into how Krampus as an entity works. Krampus is a horror film, and a very scary one at that, but the use of Christmas iconography to deliver these frights is very well done. For many who see this film, Krampus will remain a very mysterious figure that will require some access too to fully understand who he is and what he means. Krampus as a creature is more a man with creature like attachments, possibly more like a faun, but his great bulk and size, plus his two horns continue to present a monstrosity, than anything else for most of this film. For the meantime, it’s through the aforementioned use of iconography well known at Christmas time to deliver the first few frights. Things like Gingerbread Men coming to life (a scene which reminded me of the living cake scene in the Young Sherlock Holmes), traditional Christmas toys attacking the family residents, snowmen in the garden. Ok, I don’t know where Dark Elves come from, but for the most part, it comes down to Christmas traditions. Other things too like Krampus coming down the chimney (“sound familiar?”), snow globes, a giant jack in the box, a teddy bear, an angel, and even a robot, all these things work together to take the happy, joyous setting of Christmas and turn it around to create nothing but pure frights. This continues throughout most of the second act, but then come the third; it’s pretty much all reserved for the film’s titular character.

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As for the film’s cast, it is sort of filled with hits and misses. They all have their own major perks, but some are better presented than others. You do of course have the Tom and Sarah as the strong willed parents having to take care of the family. While there is a minor level of tension between them, the situation does bring them closer together. For the most part they are really strong and favorable characters who get sucked into a horrible situation, but are still level headed enough to keep their heads above the snow…as it were. While she may only appear very briefly, Beth is a pretty cool character. Playing the average teen at Christmas, more concentrated on her boyfriend than her own family, but is strong and caring enough for those around her. She is the first one at this event to see Krampus, and possibly the first victim too, but her death is a strong death and is just a taster for the misery to come. Then you get the in-laws, a miserable bunch of inappropriate. Linda is ok, but I don’t feel like she comes out all that strongly enough except for when her children are in Danger closer to the third act. Howie Jr. plays the role of a fat little kid who can’t stop eating, very much so representing the idea of gluttony during the Christmas period. He is quiet all the way through, and it is through his gluttony that he gets caught by Krampus. He is the first of a few comedy characters for this film. Jordan I feel doesn’t have much of a presence in this film to talk much about, other than being one of Howard’s very masculine like daughters. As for the comedians, this comes in the form of Howard and Dorothy. Howard is like the stereotypical, hard as nails Texan with a shotgun. His first answer is always his gun and is far more inappropriate than appropriate. A man who obviously wanted boys over girls, and enforces masculine like tendencies on his two elder daughters. He however has a redeeming quality in that he becomes a hard fighter during the fight against the monstrosities, and a worthy ally in such a situation, sort of making up for his attitudes in the films earlier scenes. Aunt Dorothy meanwhile is full on comedy, a character who just doesn’t really change. She is the negative aunt, the character who only really cares for herself in any situation, and pretty much ends hat way, but like everyone else falls silent during the end. Her role though in this is mostly just for laughs.

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Omi I find quite an interesting character as her place in the film is almost like a connotation or tribute to old American Monster Movies. Omi is someone who has experienced the wrath of Krampus before and instantly knows what’s happening and is consistently trying to prevent what is going on while everyone remains oblivious to this. She knew how it happened last time and knows what to do from that experience this time. Then she explains that its Krampus that is causing all this to happen. My mind keeps jumping to old American monster movies with her role, because she is a lot like the expert, or the scientist; the character who walks in half way through and explains the origins of the monster attacking the city, just to cover the science background and explain in detail what is really happening. I therefore feel like that towards Omi as she does just that but in a different role and context. I don’t have any problems with it, I actually quite like that and think it’s rather clever, it covers all basis and fills the audience in more with the details of the ancient legend. Then there is Max, the one who, while not the lead exactly, is the one the legend has come for. He starts off the film with belief and desire to continue the traditions of the Christmas and family, but things take an ugly turn when this is used against him by Stevie and Jordan, who use this as a ploy to have some fun. From that moment Max loses his belief in the Christmas spirit, and therefore Krampus comes calling. Throughout the film, Max plays a very strong and caring role, looking out for and trying to protect his family, even those he doesn’t like, as best as he can, but is of course the main target for Krampus, and so has to watch helplessly as his family is taken away from him. But then, as he is about to be left alone by Krampus, Max comes back, to try and get his family back, even so far as going to try and save Stevie, the instigator. While this in the end doesn’t really work out well for him, this courage and strength make him not just some weak crying kid, but a nice change with a strong one instead; and in some way is the film’s narrator too. Stevie meanwhile I find as something of a breakout role. While she does start off as this horrid instigator (and personally I think the real reason for why this is happening), I am sort of drawn towards her as a character. She remains tough most of the way through and changes herself much like everyone else, and in somewhat ironic way is the last one to be taken, despite it really being all her fault. However, despite all that bad stuff, Stevie is a really great character and I think Lolo Owen who plays her does it really well. I can see (but also hope) that Lolo Owen gets more roles in the future from her performance in this, because I think she really deserves it.

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The lead role though is of course the big guy – No, not Godzilla – Krampus. Just one quick thing firstly. I love the Dark Elves in this film. I didn’t know how they were going to be done when I first read about them, but the use of costumes and wonderful masks really do make them a fun, yet still terrifying, inclusion in this film. Anyway back to Krampus. The film is of course all about the titular character, the film title suggests so, and the shadowy figure in the film’s poster makes it so. For most of the early parts of this film, Krampus is merely just a suggestion, his figure is seen, but doesn’t really act. However I think this is Krampus at his best, because his legend is merely a shadow of Saint Nicholas, and so his presence is mostly just that, and I really like it. You see this monster, bigger than a man with some of the most magnificent horns (oh, and don’t forget the hooves) you have ever seen. He is like an army general leading his men from the sidelines, but then enough is enough, and here comes Krampus. His minions running to one side, following orders, and enjoying the prospect of watching their great leader getting his hands dirty. This shadowy like approach to Krampus is really rather fun and builds up magnificently to the point of where you finally see what he looks like. His character then comes out, followed by a malicious laugh later on. It’s really creepy and the buildup is so enjoyable. Despite all this though however; there is some disappointment.

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Krampus bolsters some terrific special effects for a film that was made on a relatively small budget. This lack of budget however did not seem to turn the filmmakers away. Most of the film’s special effects come in the form of costumes and puppets. The toys in the attic, the dark elves and even Krampus himself are all more like costumes and suits than CGI, and this is how most of the film’s special effects are done, however on 2 occasions at least there is also some brilliant CGI work too. The earliest of these is from Beth getting chased by Krampus, which is rather quick, but then comes the Gingerbread Men. Bringing these dastardly creatures to life is done really well, and really freaks you out when they come to life and then start attacking everyone. It’s a haunting sight, and one that will make you think twice before eating one ever again (and don’t forget their devious laugh too). There is one disappointment though I feel, and it’s the same one as mentioned at the end of the last paragraph. You see, despite all the great effects, done any way possible: either be the CGI gingerbread men, or the Dark Elves costumes, I feel like it’s a real shame that the face of Krampus is so lifeless. The film has been building up to this point for a long time, just seeing this great shadow like figure in the area, and now he finally shows us his face, and it’s a bit disappointing. The face of Krampus looks like a big mannequin face, wide mouth, but is just so dead. No movement, no life. The only thing seen moving really is the eyes, close up. Where is this great monster we have been looking forward to? Sure, he may be more human than monstrosity, but even Father Christmas has facial movement. It just feels like a wasted moment and can bring down with ease, what we have been waiting for. It sort of puts a real sour note to both this film, and this character.

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As for a soundtrack (composed by Douglas Pipes) to this film, it’s hard to really think about it, as for the most part I don’t remember hearing much in original music made specifically for a film sense. That doesn’t necessarily mean though, that there is a lack of music. The film instead makes great and ironic use of traditional songs and pieces that have become so well-known during Christmas. They’re used in some of the most ironically funny ways, such as the theme “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” which is used to depict the mass crowds running into the shopping Centre, and chaos enveloping in the last Christmas shop rush. There are a lot of instances like this taking place all over the film. The most powerful piece though I think is used during the end credits. Now for years I recognized the piece (Carol of the Bells) as a song used in Family Guy when Peter works in Burger King; but through the end credits, it was used to talk about the legend of Krampus. Now if that is what it was originally made out to be for, then it’s great to finally hear it as such, and since then leading up to Christmas, I couldn’t stop singing a sort of version of that with Krampus in the lines. It is a really nice thing to wrap the film up with, but still present a level of haunting and non-existent peace in the film’s final credits.

Terrifying and Enchanting, I used that term earlier and have since to describe Krampus the film, and I still hold to it. What I have stumbled upon here is a true Christmas cinema gem. There are many Christmas films out there, and every year like clockwork another one is released, but it’s fair to say that producing a Christmas based film is rough, because there are so many bad ones out there. What do you do for a Christmas film while still maintaining the theme of Christmas all the way through? It’s a hard thing to do because that’s what you’re setting out to do. Through the cracks of the good and the bad, every blue moon, one comes out that just shakes up the scene and becomes a legend within cinema goers during that time of year, and Krampus is one of them. It’s a film packed with laughs, frights and shocks. It’s set in a very believable setting and begins with very believable situations before developing into something else, something magnificently terrifying. It’s got a story, characters and monsters. It’s there for those who at Christmas want to see something else and while it may not be the greatest or even the scariest horror film out there, it’s definitely one of the best Christmas films. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why; KRAMPUS IS COMING TO TOWN!”

GENEPOOL (I’m surprised Lordi wasn’t asked in helping out with the soundtrack).





They Were Trying To Kill It (Part 2) – Godzilla 2014

2 07 2014

Godzilla 2014

Following on from last week of my review of what is at the moment The Best Film this year, which by all counts is going to be hard to beat, at least to me, but the previous post looked at the human side story of the film, cast and soundtrack, but really this is the big one as I will be looking at the BIG G himself. From special effects to both Godzilla and his new companions to comparisons in story with another monster movie series as well as how this new film compares in not too much detail with the original monster and also why I think it is not just the best film this year, but one of the best film’s in the series, and that comes with evidence.

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The film’s special effects are really well done, and I mean really well done at that. The film’s producers have obviously taken great time and effort into not just making Godzilla look like, well himself for a start, but also both believable and naturalistic as in the viewer being able to see what is in front of their very eyes and believe that the creature could exist, like your eyes do not deceive what you are seeing. But the detail is also in the close up. For several parts of this film, Godzilla is seen to be in the state of minimalistic. So you may not see his entire shape or size for the most part, but even those scenes show a level of detail that is perhaps not as explored. I mean these are giant monsters, obviously and the film takes the standing point of the viewer on the ground, the human element, seeing it through their eyes. So you naturally jolt your head back to look up at them, but because of their size and depending on how far away you are from them, you may not see all of them, but when you are close up the little details are not forgotten, they are included. Godzilla’s hands on the Golden Gate Bridge (anyone else notice that it’s not the first time the same bridge has been attacked by a Giant Monster in less than a year?), close up details of the MUTO’s when on the ground and really close for comfort, Godzilla’s irradiated damaged flesh, and the detail in the shape, form and material of all three monsters from head to toe. Not only does all of this exist, and in such great detail, but it is also terrifying; and if the special effects achieve such a thing on something that (as far as we know) does not exist, then the effect has been achieved.

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The monsters themselves have been beautifully crafted, but there is more to a monster than just what meets the eye to which the filmmakers and the audience have an unfair advantage over the people in the film who are too busy running away. The Muto’s are the newest edition of a long line of monsters to tangle with the king, so let’s start with them. The Muto’s are nicely well designed and have essences of real life animals in them presenting themselves as creatures that are definitely of the world and not from space. I do like how there are major differences between the two. The male is smaller and can fly and whose body structure makes him look like a praying mantis on the ground and a bat in the air. Whilst the female is much larger and while exhibiting the same mantis like look, has more in common I would say with a spider as in she is reliant on walking and so perhaps needs to walk as such. They of course share the same features in the face and the look of the MUTO’s is nicely made to make them look sinister. During the night shots this works to their advantage and when the let out the under voice almost clucking, it sounds like a measurement of laughter but it could just be more the sound of the wind passing through their immense bodies. Little things such as the facial features really help to cement their positions as the real villains of the film. this idea also is used to great effect by having them the first monster that truly gets revealed. TO begin with you believe that Godzilla is the one responsible for the attack on the power plant, so far he’s the only creature been mentioned, but by revealing that it was actually the MUTO’s not Godzilla, it adds that emotional connection and presents them as the actual ones to do the damage and as such become the villain and it means that you as an audience member want and need a hero, and it cements Godzilla’s role in the film from the moment he is fully seen for the first time, to the point that he leaves. It is interesting use of both perception and suggestion from the film makers that gives a very big surprise early on and one that hooks you as you wonder, If that is a MUTO, what is Godzilla?

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The thing is though, look and sound and abilities are not enough and the thing that makes the monsters in a Godzilla film stand out is personality. Godzilla as a monster and as a series has survived on several key structures and points but one of those core elements is personality of the monsters themselves. If you look at other past American Monster Movies, they have all been referred to as “it” or “the”, they are all things. But if you give something a name, its presence means a whole lot more. You could just call your family pet (if you have one) “the cat” or “the dog” but you give it a name and refer to it by name and as such it feels more like a friend and part of the family and as such you discover the pet’s personality. The same is true for Monsters. By referring to Godzilla by it or the, it could be any one of a number of things but because of the description, it requires an explanation every time it is talked about. But now that you have labelled him, given him right to a personality, you just need to say the name, and people know who he is. For the MUTO’s it really is more of an it or a thing as MUTO is technically a designation for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. While the word does sort of become a name as the film goes on, they are still these things and even though they show signs of care towards each other and their young as well as a level of passion, they are just still designated creatures or animal. So while they definitely have a level of passion and character for such well-designed and thought out animals, they are unable to come out of their shell fully due to their possibility for personality restricted, which is a general shame because I really liked them.

Godzilla on the other hand actually looks like Godzilla (something that did not work out at all 16 years ago). Great care and attention has been taken to make him look like the monster we all know and love, but also to have his own spin so that he is not too much like his Japanese self and so this look can be more independent as well and as such does not need to rely on those films and allows this film to work on its own merits. So his size in this film (the biggest to date, and possibly a bit fat) belongs to this film, but attributes such as his scales, dorsal spines, head and tail are like that of the original Japanese monster. One such item is easier to see also now thanks to the film’s point of view and that is of Godzilla’s broken skin which is supposedly caused by the damage done to him by nuclear weapons testing. This goes to show that Godzilla is invincible to man’s most powerful weapons and supports the idea of him being the force of nature and as such unstoppable, but shows a more human element too showing that he still has those scars from long ago battles which on top of that could be emotional ones too but decides to wear them than think about them. His overall look particularly in the facial features when he is first revealed in the Hawaii airport scene makes me think of dragons. You get a brief second or two to look at his face, you get this overall feeling of terror like you are looking at a destroyer, a creature of such great magnitude and ferocity and while his features make him look like a cross between a dog and a lion, the essence of the dragon like nature is there and this helps with the tales of myths and folklore that surround him, and from this he isn’t just a monster, he feels and looks like a dragon too, and this gets your heart racing.

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But while the look of him is amazing and is true to the Japanese Monster, there are more new editions to the creature but these are more in what he does than what he looks like. But at least one of the things he does isn’t new and has been with him since 1954, any guesses as to what they would be? You got it, his Atomic Deathray. Yes, we were promised a Godzilla true to the Japanese monster and a monster that all we wanted to see but come the final fight I was lost wondering where the Deathray was. Everything was perfect but no sign of that. But then, in the darkness, a shadow grew with a long blue light drawing upwards, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping it was what I thought it was going to be, and then, when his Atomic Breath blasted across the screen, I was so happy, I jumped forward (sort of, more like leaned, not much of that can be done in a cinema seat) and thrust my arms and fists forward and down in a hammer like motion in a gesture of celebration. It was great. It’s not that it’s just there, but the characterization of Godzilla with the power rising up through his scales and then also being the right colour meant that I was so happy and the scene was amazing. I really did enjoy the use of the dorsal spines like shark fins as even after the reveal in Hawaii, it meant that Godzilla still had some screen time but in order to keep something’s under wraps, he could keep that mystery about him but also have that extra element of something huge is coming, and it’s sightings in the water have their own power behind them being seen as you know something big is about to happen. The new roar is really good; it really helps to give this new film its own sense of credit, especially to Godzilla himself. Instead of doing what Emmerich did 16 years ago by taking the classic roar and just extending it, the filmmakers here have created their own unique sound. The sound he produces is still very much like how a Giant creature would, it shakes the ground and produces a lot of noise thanks to the huge inner spaces within its own vocal chords and while it kind of makes me think of perhaps an elephant or other large mammals instead of reptiles (which can’t actually roar)and is overall very well produced to make an absolutely great sound.

Godzilla’s personality exists brilliantly in this film but his characterization which adds to this is different in many respects to what he was when he first started but these changes are not a bad thing in any way, shape or form. Godzilla is made out to look like a super predator, the alpha male top dog of the natural world. This is presented with the idea that should a creature like the MUTO’s arise, therefore threatening his turf, the predator comes out to play to reassert his dominance over the natural world. This idea may sound a bit corny in that sense, but it is a great way of bringing Godzilla into the story in a way that actually makes sense. This animal like approach helps him to fit more easily in the position of him still being a creature of nature even if he is definitely more than that. This comes even more into the fray come the battle sequences where; when rises out of the water his body movements represent that of something which is more gorilla like. While he fights and acts more like an animal now or at least something that is believable to the natural world, attention has been made to how such a creature could fight if say a giant lizard could stand on two legs, had a big tail, big head (Atomic Deathray) and large arms. But making him like the world is not the same as placing him in it. While it has been stated that his build up to appearance is like that of Jaws with the Dorsal fins in shot and no major reveal for a while, this idea does work splendidly, so while you can see him, you still have no idea what he looks like. Much like the original 1954 film as described by Enthusiast Tony Luke for a BBC Documentary in 1998 said “As the film progresses over the next hour, you just get hints of something big and dark and evil smashing its way through northern japan”. Now while the creature in this film is not like that in characterization, he is like that in the sense that you know something is coming, but even when it is first spotted, you don’t know what it is, and can only see a small portion of it. Another form of characterization and personality was thanks to the opening screen credits. Now while the 1998 film did something partially similar, this time around, it was very clever how they pulled it off. There was still the connotation with the use of Nuclear Weapons, the extra points of A) seeing Godzilla to begin with if only in his submerged form meant that he is at least mentioned from the start along with that great soundtrack, and B) the relation with sea tales of Giant Sea Monsters including sightings of sea serpents and the Kraken which represents his connection to the sea and world but also shows his connection to mother nature herself for always being there when he is needed to be. This use of old folklore tales is very well done and a nice technique by the filmmakers.

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While the use of him being an alpha predator is well done, in story terms, I feel like I have seen this before, in another monster movie starring another Japanese cultural icon; Gamera. Last year, I reviewed Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The first in the Gamera Heisei Trilogy. Now for those un-aware, Gamera is another giant movie monster, but taking on the guise of a fire breathing, rocket-propelled flying turtle. Gamera first appeared in Japanese Cinema in 1965 and thanks to a growing popularity which particularly after the Heisei series has gone on to become an icon himself (please refer to my What is Gamera post). In Guardian of the Universe (rephrased to GGOTU) an ancient species of bird comes to life and wreaks havoc in Japan (like all other monsters do) only for them to suddenly have to deal with the appearance of a Giant Turtle. The two then fight with Gamera acting like the superior creature being sent out to take care of the appearance of a new threat. While a brilliant film, I can’t help but feel that the same story structure has been applied to Godzilla. Big creature comes out of the woodwork, bigger creature comes to deal with it, they fight, bigger one wins. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing but I do feel that it is sort of weird that this new film has been almost based on the story from and even the characterization of the lead monster (and even some of the design of the MUTO’s look a bit like Gyaos) comes from the series biggest competition.  Mean Gamera himself in that film is an ancient creature created by a lost civilization, much like Godzilla’s ancient history. This is more of something that you may need to make your own minds upon. If you have not seen the Gamera Heisei Trilogy, I do highly recommend it (particularly the last one). But for those who have already seen GGOTU, what do you think?

GGOTU3 (The film is not in Black and White, it's just that this is a Good Picture)

As for the main part of the story itself, there is a lot of talk in it about the want and urge of man to control nature. After going to see this a second time with a friend, she mentioned that it is a lot like Jurassic Park which does use a lot of the same elements. I myself recently read the book by Michael Crichton which shows an urgent need to control nature as well as the refusal to admit when you are wrong and the ignorance of man who just wants to continue. This film uses ideas like that a lot of the time but does show the learning side as come the end, at least for now there is no real want to control Godzilla. But knowing how the American Military is usually portrayed in films, I bet there could be the possibility of them wanting to find some means of control over Godzilla in future films. Also on the nature note there is also the amazement and sense of discovery that occurs when something amazing has been discovered and shows that while we do live on this planet there is still a whole lot more that we don’t know about and perhaps our strive to find it and control it could lead to the end. I do find myself thinking a lot about Blake Snyder’s book; Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, which talks about how films are written to connect with the audience through the use of primal urges, and one of those early settings is described by Snyder as “Monster In The House” to which he further describes by stating that “It’s not about being dumb, it’s about being primal. And everyone understands the simple, primal commandment: Don’t… Get… Eaten!”. This is very much true with this film as the point of view of the audience is that of the people on the ground during the events and the urge to survive the power of the super predators. Much like a Japanese Godzilla film as well, there is a lot of mentions about the use of Nuclear weapons, from the beginning to the end and I particularly enjoyed the scene between Stenz and Serizawa when Serizawa shows him his watch which stopped on the day of the Hiroshima Bomb. It showed a sense of understanding from Stenz about the use of nuclear weapons as well as a possible sign of regret showing that the world has moved on and understand such power more and don’t take things so lightly, but connected with that is the lesson of not being able to control nature too and the understanding that comes with that. And much like how stories in cinema work with the characters having to grow and change, the same is applied here while also showing the growth in the human mind over the last 60 or so years with mentions to Nuclear dominance being one of them.

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I absolutely love this film from the ground up. It gives a well-deserved new light onto a character whose reputation was dented back in 1998 and corrects everything that the said film did wrong. It respects the design and meaning of a character that has been on-screen for about 60 years now and is beloved by millions of people all around the world. Using a great amount of new expertise in film making including special effects, lighting, shooting and even a soundtrack of extremely high qualities and added to that a film’s cast who each have their own loveable quirks and then Monsters whose design and characterization is of such a high standard, all coming together to make one fantastic film, a film that I have fallen in love with from start to finish. This is the film that I have been waiting to see and while it may have taken somewhere between 4 to potentially 10 years to produce, in the end it was worth waiting for and the confirmation of a sequel just means there is more to look forward to. In part 1 I said that this film is one of the Best films in the series, a comment I stand by, and while it is not my favourite, I do believe that the quality of this film really does make it so. And one other thing on that. A couple of days after seeing this film for the first time, I watched one of the all-time classic best films in the series; Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, one of the ones I like a lot, and I did not enjoy it as much as this one. So while its place in the film series and general cinema is still probably going to be debated; if it is able to make a Godzilla fan as big as me happy and not disappointed, it has succeeded. And that is why I love this film, and shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of films? To Be Enjoyable. Thank You Godzilla.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

27 11 2013

The Spook's Apprentice

Title: The Spook’s Apprentice

Author: Joseph Delaney

Publisher: Red Fox

ISBN: 1862308535

Fantasy Books take many different forms, shapes and sizes. There are ones which involve a group of heroes or a solo hero going on an adventure, some which have the hero or heroes going into battle with malevolent villains and some which revolve around a real life location such as a school and then adapting it. However one area that appears to be relatively untouched is that of the world of work. Set in a fantasy location where the young hero must begin to learn his trade just so he can make a living.

Written in 2004 by Joseph Delaney and published by Red Fox, The Spook’s Apprentice (The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in America) is the first book in The Spook’s Series also known as The Wardstone Chronicles. The book follows the story of young Thomas Ward who is the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. His family agrees to have their son trained to be a Spook. The Spook is an old man who initially appears to be a bit grumpy and it is his job to take care of the things that go bump in the night such as Boggarts, Ghosts and Witches. He takes on Tom as his new apprentice and immediately starts to train him. Although initially tough, Tom continues along this career path, but it is not really the best time for him as the malevolent Witch Mother Malkin has returned, the most dangerous with in existence and the Spook now needs to train his new apprentice a lot quicker to be able to deal with this ancient threat.

I first heard about this book about just over a year ago. I was in Waterstones in Preston when I saw a sign indicating both the release of, Spook’s: Slither’s Tale and the announcement that the author was going to do a book signing. While I was looking for a different book, I asked about the series and what the first book was, thinking that I would give it a go. Much like GONE, it did take me some time to get into it. Eventually I started to read it on the train on my way into University and that is when I really got into it. I pretty much could not stop reading it, and when I finally finished it, I immediately went to Waterstones in Lancaster to pick up the next two books in the series.

The author has also drawn a lot of inspiration from the myths and legends as well as folklore of his surroundings. Joseph Delaney lives and works in my home county of Lancashire, which has a wide variety of folklore surrounding it. But it is not just the folklore of his surroundings, but also its views and its places. As you read the book and see what is being said you grab the identity of where all this is taking place with the use of the original/old-fashioned names for the places in the county used instead of what they are known as today.

It’s not just the county that he draws from but also his early life. While he was not trained to hunt for Witches, he was trained to be an apprentice engineer and it is through this experience which shows how he can relate to the work and characters he is writing because he has been in a similar position to his work and the characters he is writing. But unlike other fantasy setting which are made from the ground up, Delaney has taken the essence of his home county and put it all into writing for the enjoyment of others.

The book is told in the first person view with the character of Tom narrating his experiences as well as the people and things he encounters along the way. The other characters that tom speaks to are kept in context and speak but only from the point of view of Tom writing down what has happened in his Diary.

The Spook, while initially appearing to be a grumpy person is actually a very caring person and his grumpy nature which is initially shown, grows into more of a caring nature and very much cares for his Apprentice. Which with the position he holds is one of the few upsides. The people of the county appear to not like the Spook all that much as he is believed to have some connection with Dark Powers. This is something that gets attached to his new apprentice rather quickly. The Spook however does not appear to mind all that much as his age shows that of someone who knows better and from his own experience he can tell if someone is potentially good or bad, and one particular way he teaches this to Tom is to not trust girls with Pointy Shoes. Enter Alice, a mysterious girl with a dark upbringing who initially tricks tom into doing what she wants, however as the book develops it is clear that Alice’s apparent intentions are not quite as they appear to be.

The training and career path that is represented in this book also show the careful attention that the author has put into the book. The Spook tells Tom everything he knows, he shows him how to keep his note writing, how to identify and categorise each creature they encounter as well as the best ways to deal with the more dangerous species. The Spook also teaches Tom how to deal with people as well including how to interact with them. But the author keeps all this in nice, simplistic terms so that the young reader base does not get too confused.

What in one case could be considered as a lucky find also turns out to be one of the best books I have read most recently. With fantasy elements such as Ghosts and Witches as well as the real life connections such as the authors time as an apprentice and the area he lives in. While the book is written more for young children, it has been carefully constructed so that older reader can enjoy reading it too. With a film adaptation due for release next year it will be interesting to see how it compares to this, but whether or not the film is good or bad, it can’t take away the great magical feeling from this book.

GENEPOOL








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