Published on May 23rd, 2014 | by SgtKaiju0
The Craft Service – Godzilla vs Pacific Rim
In this ongoing series, The Craft Service, I’m going to be looking at films but from a view behind the camera, looking at the business and techniques that make the films we all know. This week, a monster brawl…
These last few weeks have seen the release of the long awaited GODZILLA and it becomes impossible not not draw lines between it and the other western kaiju film of late, PACIFIC RIM. Both feature giant fights, tearing through cities. And yet, one had been commissioned for a sequel and one really hasn’t.
The reaction to the films has been about the same, with both getting similar scores over at Rotten Tomatoes:
And yet when we look at the figures, it tells a very different story:
Godzilla’s opening weekend earned over double Pacific Rim’s. With a $160m budget, Godzilla is well on it’s way to make that back domestically, and then some. Whereas Pacific Rim’s $190m budget wasn’t even met with it’s US takings. And in the grand world of show business, it is always the bottom line that counts.
So,with favourable reviews for both films, why did Godzilla do so well compared with Pacific Rim?
New Is Rarely Better
Despite what Barney Stinson might convince you of, when it comes to the bottom line of a film, new is rarely better. A film like Godzilla comes to the cinema with the most awful of traits, Brand Recognition. Godzilla has been knocking over skyscrapers since 1954.
He has become the gold-standard for kaiju films, a household name. My mum knows who Godzilla is and what he does. Jaegers and Kaiju are a different thing entirely. There are toys, games, t-shirts, posters that have existed for years about Godzilla, he is a cultural icon that has surpassed the geek niche he actually inhabits. Large swaths of the audience will go see Godzilla for this reason, having never seen a Godzilla film before but knowing enough about it to understand the film. Pacific Rim had no such luck, every viewer was fresh to that world.
Rightly or wrongly, every film that lands in our cinema comes with a set of expectations. Spielberg films are going to heart-warming and about families, Lynch films are going to weird and about darkness inside us. Expectations. And both of these films came with them too. Unfortunately, one helped and one hindered. Godzilla, as mentioned above, is an established brand and people know what to expect; lots of destruction, fights and very little human interaction. People went into this film with low expectations of the story and were generally quite surprised to see a story running alongside the monster action.
Pacific Rim on the other hand didn’t have that cultural status but did have expectations based on other elements; director and stars. Guillermo del Toro has made his name making films that tell a human story amongst unspeakable horror, films like Cronos or Pans Labyrinth. Add in Idris Elba, the most recognisable face in the film and an actor know best for his work on The Wire and Luther, and the expectations are quite different. People were expecting a grittier film, more of a personal story amongst the giant robot fights. And those people left the cinema disappointed.
On the surface, both films can seem very simple. Robot vs Kaiju and Kaiju vs Kaiju. But once we peel back those layers, a slightly different picture emerges. Pacific Rim has several narratives and conflicts running through it. We have the obvious larger scale conflict of the Jaegers against the Kaiju but there is also Raleigh attempting to overcome his brother’s death, Mako attempting to overcome Stacker’s parental protection, Stacker fighting with the World Council, In-fighting between Jaeger teams, the fighting between the two doctors as well as Hannibal Chau against almost everyone.
On the flip-side, Godzilla has Godzilla vs MUTOs, Dr. Ichiro against the military and that’s…kinda it. Sure there were obstacles to overcome but in the end, all the events are merely things that happen to the humans, rather than changes they effect themselves. Godzilla is certainly a simpler film, less disparate strands to track throughout the movie. Whether Pacific Rim is a rounded film and Godzilla is overly simple or Pacific Rim is a muddled mess and Godzilla is streamlined is in the end a matter of perspective, but it is certain that the simpler films tend to do better at the box office than those that complicate the narrative. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is never anything but heroic, a good son and a good father. Elizabeth Olson is not only a good wife, a loving mother and a nurse to boot. Pacific Rim’s characters are painted in much greyer tones.
What are you thoughts? Why did Godzilla fare so much better than everyone expected?