Monday, July 23, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Movie Marathon"

Thursday's double-double feature is always an excellent experience: one has the great fun of four monster movies in a real theater (with other monster fans), while the entire G-FEST experience is still to come.

This year's films were chosen in a new and different way. Rather than featuring Godzilla, they each represented either a predecessor or a contemporary of the Big G. The first movie to be screened was 1933's "King Kong." We watch Kong at least a couple times a year, yet this was the first time we have seen it in a movie theater, and it was impressive. Even in a crystal clear digital format, there was nothing "fakey" about the special effects. They suit--and create--the world of Skull Island and Kong perfectly. Willis O'Brian's effects were made for the silver screen, and they just work.

Kong's battle with the T. Rex is, of course, a highlight of the story for most monster fans. It is still breathtaking to behold. What stood out at this screening is that Kong's famous "flapping-his-opponent's-jaw-to-see-if-he's-really-dead" move elicited a fresh laugh from the crowd. Certainly most people watching the movie knew that was coming, and yet it is rendered in such a believable way that the viewers reacted in the moment with delight. The other thing that struck me is how Kong does truly horrible things, yet by the end, the audience sympathy is squarely on the side of the giant ape. Volumes have been written about this, so I won't rehash it here, expcept to say that it never fails--I always hate to see Kong take that limp tumble off the Empire State.

Next up was "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." We are Ray Harryhausen nuts here, so this was another treat. "The Beast" featured some very atmospheric set pieces, especially the ice fields of Act One and the fiery roller coaster ending. Harryhausen's stop-motion work in the film is exceptionally smooth, and the scene where the Beast capsizes a ship is outstanding in the way it realistically portrays the buoyancy of the sinking vessel. The story and acting are competent, and one can see how this served as an influence on the story that would become "Godzilla."

After supper, "Gorgo" was shown, a monster movie that I have become increasingly fond of over the past couple years. What sets "Gorgo" apart for this viewer is that the acting is above average and the story, while examining themes common to the science fiction genre, plays as a parable against human greed in a satisfying way. It does so, however, while hanging on to some ambiguity; for example, one partner in bringing baby Gorgo over to London drowns his guilt in drink, while the other partner (whose greed has led to the destruction of London) risks his life to save a young boy from the monster's rampage. It's not really a redemptive act, but it's more than you would expect from this character. Again, there was a pleasant sense of surprise on the part of the audience when Mama Gorgo showed up to get her young'un, a testament to the inventive story and pacing of the film.

Finally, there was "Gammera: the Invincible." Evidently it had been a long time since I had seen this particular version of the movie, which, a la "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," inserts footage of American actors into the flow of the original film. Unlike GKOTM, however, this footage is decidedly, intentionally campy, and at this point in the day, the levity was welcome. In any form, the first Gamera movie is a great riff on the daikaiju theme, and the cool thing about being in the presence of other knowledgable G-fans was seeing the warm round of applause that was reserved for director Noriaki Yuasa's name. Mr. Yuasa was a beloved past G-FEST guest, who has since passed away (2004), but his memory was saluted at the Pickwick Theater, and his work made for a crowd-pleasing close to the day.

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