I watched King of Monsters the other day as part of a larger kaiju-based binge, specifically the new Kong films too, as we’re only a few months away from the big showdown. Godzilla versus Kong has been teased since the first of the new Godzilla films way back in ’14, was made official in ’17 with Skull Island, and we’re far too close to a release date now for there not to exist a cut of the film, probably not a finished cut, but there’s got to be something by now, right?
Well, here’s what I’m thinking, I’m going to do a quick (spoiler-ish) review of King of Monsters, then I’ll tell you why I think Godzilla and Kong could bear the weight of a new cinematic universe.
Long Live the King
I can actually understand why this film got a raw deal from critics. I’ll give it credit for continuing with some reoccurring characters and themes, and I’ll admit to being mildly curious about the various activities and political conflicts of the titan research group “Monarch”, but we’re still pretty light on rich and interesting characters, and yet those characters still feel like they take up a lot of screen time compared to the real stars of the show. But critics would complain if we had nothing but monsters, and they’d complain if the characters drew too much attention away from the monsters, there’s not really a right answer here.
And it’s not exactly easy to try and slide aliens, Atlantis, and the hollow earth theory into a film about giant monsters fighting each other, and to be honest probably not a great idea either, but they managed it all without it being too ridiculous. These days you can’t just roll out the likes of King Ghidorah without some kind of explanatory power, even if it’s a tenuous explanation, and it’s not like twelve thousand years of human civilization and mythology haven’t left us with some groundwork for giant monsters.
But if you like watching giant monsters get into fights then it’s a great film. It’s actually a really good film, I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Pacific Rim. As well as bringing in all the big classic monsters like Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, it also managed to introduce some background players with very little effort, and I find that I’m really interested to see more of the MUTO, Methuselah, Scylla, and Behemoth, as well as the other titans listed in the wiki,*.
We have a Thanos-like villain, a group whose motives I can get behind 100%, and not just because they’re headed by Charles Dance. This time the method is to awaken the titans and have them topple human civilization and put an end to the holocene extinction, destructive harvest of natural resources and extermination of non-human life. Interesting to note that the counter-argument given by the so-called good guys is “No, don’t stop, that’s… very bad.”
Biggest highlights of the film for me, Godzilla’s case of nuclear diarroea, Rodan’s “Starscream” moment, and the closing credits… which sounds like an insult, but they used the song “Go Go Godzilla” and so help me it made me smile. Right, to the point:
The King Is Dead
Pretty sure at this point Marvel’s done. I don’t know what the next four films are, I don’t even know what the next film is, the excitement bubble seems to have burst pretty hard in the jagged edges of the Sony vs Disney debacle. And with every studio clawing and scratching at the market, desperate to be the ones to raise the next big thing, I think Time Warner might actually be in control of the right horse and they just aren’t betting on it.
So far as material content, as I already mentioned they have a glut of titans to play with, and with repeated mentions of the Hollow Earth theory in King of Monsters and Skull Island, I suspect a tie-in with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and it’s been more than ten years since the Brendan Frasier version. There’s scope for a couple of dozen films, and the fifth is already well under way as we speak… although we’re not speaking, I’m doing the- never mind. Besides, Godzilla is every bit the media darling now that comic books were for decades before the MCU, and with the rise of anime fandom in the west, and the likes of Pacific Rim opening the way, now could be the time of the Kaiju.
We know the basic conflicts of narrative, Man versus Man, Man vs Self, Man vs Supernatural, Man vs Society, Man vs Technology, and Man vs Nature, and it’s that last one that I think is most topical. The last decade or two have been governed by “Man vs Man”, all of the comic villains being dark reflections of the hero, often villains of their own creation, but there’s a new growing narrative, something that could become a dominant talking point, with the escalating arguments over the environmental crisis, could Godzilla and Kong be poster-children for natural order in the 2020s?
Maybe. For certain the age of comic book films has come to a close, or if it hasn’t, if the Joker foolishly reignited that flame, then it needs to go back to sleep soon, like a huge, ancient monster returning to its resting place, deep underground. The new titan of schlocky box office dominators could be, and should be, Godzilla and friends.
*Seriously though, just click that link, there’s some interesting names listed in there.
Huge thanks to everyone who took part in the vote for my NaNoWriMo entry. It all began in earnest on Sunday, and my work has already begun, albeit slowly, this weekend has been busy, and as well as writing a fifty thousand word novel this month I’ll also be keeping up a slightly diminished posting schedule here (and holding down a new, more demanding job).
For those of you who may have missed them, here are the articles that lead up to this stupid, stupid plan… (more…)
In a desert goes father than any living human has ever travelled, fractured societies gather around one of the few sources of water for miles. They struggle, and fight amongst themselves because if they wander to far in search of another source, there are far worse things in the sand than a few bloodthirsty marauders and one crazy old lady.
“Giant monster” is a nice and flexible term, our Kaiju has a lot of room for interpretation. The originals ranged from giant lizard, giant ape, giant moth and giant mechanical iterations of all of the above. So long as it’s a giant and can live comfortably in the desert, my options are – in theory – fairly broad. However, there are some key factors that are going to be limited.
How does the creature attack? From above? From below? As a distant threat the monster could add a level of claustrophobia to our watering hole, intensifying the conflict between warring factions. If it frequently attacks it could mount the need for defensive measures, big weapons, big walls, not easy to build from salvage. Kaiju usually have a well stocked military to deal with, our monster will have to be toned down so that it doesn’t instantly wipe out civilization.
Choose a monster…
Cloverfield‘s infamous shakey-cam style obscured the shape of its mighty monstrosity until the last few minutes of the film. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, there’s no denying that they nailed the idea of the slow reveal. We fear nothing more than the unknown, and what better place to hide a monster in a desert than in the midst of a swirling mass of flying sand?
“Sandstorm” could remain a mystery throughout the novel, raising questions about its very existence. Or the occasional glimpse of a shape or the descent of a claw could slowly build a picture of the leviathan, creating mounting tension. At some point in the narrative our Nomad would wander into the storm, and wander out seemingly unphased, likely with new trinkets and survival essentials, she may even be required to pull a protagonist or two out of harms way.
Every time the horizon vanishes, people die, dragged screaming upwards. There are conflicting ideas as to what the beast looks like, from the fleeting glimpses of eyes, claws, a shifting shadow against the swirling sky. Some people worship it as a god, others disappear beneath the surface, hoping not to be sniffed out or trodden flat.
A Dark Sun classic, Megapedes are monstrously large and many legged insects that swim through sand like water. Being Omnivores makes them not only a threat to the life of people caught in their path, but to the meagre crops that they maintain, and their ability to burrow allows them to menace the subterranean water supplies as well. The approach of the Megapedes usually means it’s time to leave.
These Tremors-style beasts not only have size, strength and speed on their side, but also numbers. A survivor successfully flees from one only to have their path blocked by a wall of slavering mandibles. The fact that they burrow also means that even safety may not be safe, underground chambers without metal walls are vulnerable, buildings above ground must fear threat from below, but what of the tunnels left behind? Could they lead to water? Some nesting ground that could be burnt down, staying the threat for a few years or more? Or perhaps a strange old woman could wander out of them, seemingly oblivious to the impossibility of what she has just done.
The ground rumbles, and erupts in a whirling mass of razor sharp pincers, and though the driver of the salvaged truck swerves, the creature is on top of them, behind them, around them! A screaming band of lunatics try for the hundredth time to saddle and ride the monsters, and once again they lose their strongest fighters. Surely only a lunatic would believe the tales of the witch who rides the Megapedes.
The ruins of the old world may be shrouded in dust, but the sagging metropolises are still a safe shelter and a source of water for the opportunistic. But some nights the ground shudders just a little, and the survivors of the end of the world must duck and cover as a shadow passes over the window frames on the 20th floor. An eye peers in, then another, and another, and another. Each time it comes another building crumbles, as another family becomes food for the hulking beast.
This is a more classic take on the Kaiju genre, an almost carbon copy of the Godzilla/Pacific Rim style skyscraping monster, but instead of the bustling metropolis where the scale of the destruction is what makes our Titan terrifying, it is the importance of every death that is emphasised. Each building would contain a fraction of a closely knit community, and even amongst those people shunned by the others every face would be known to one another across such a small space. The arrival of a stranger is likely to cause a stir, and suspicion if the monster is not far behind her.
Using a city of our backdrop also opens the opportunity to bring in a little history to the world, perhaps tell the story of the monster’s rise to dominance in the dying world, rather than keeping it shrouded in mystery, or having its existence a symptom of a far larger problem.
The sun beats relentlessly down on the endless sands, and while its torturous presence is a constant grim reminder of the impossible task of staying alive, at least while the sun shines, death is not an immediate issue. Because when the beast comes, it blots out the sun!
The only guaranteed way to make a giant man-eating monster more terrible is to make it fly. It makes sense in a desert for a creature able to ride the intense heat into the sky, it might even drink the very clouds, thriving off the vapour so far outside of the reach of the survivors, but to bring the creature down would not only turn a hero into a legend, it would also yield enough water and food for generations.
Darkness suddenly becomes a terrifying prospect, not just the sudden darkness of “Eclipse”, but night removes any chance of early warning. The wise dive underground before it can sneak up and make a quiet kill, and yet our Nomad moves at night, walking through the cold and dark seemingly without care.
Filling the sky with terror reduces humanity to burrowing rodents, fearful of the dark and the predator that descends from on high. It also turns our Nomad into an incredible anomaly, someone seemingly unafraid of death who has nonetheless evaded it for years. Those who rail against subterranean life might see her as a saviour, or an example to follow into the open air.
With that, I am nearly, so very nearly ready to begin. Only one of these monsters will be dominating centre stage of my NaNoWriMo entry, vote to seal my fate now:
Thank you all for helping me build towards this years’ NaNoWriMo, I have a track history with failing to complete projects, but I figure putting this claim so brazenly on the internet I have no choice but to finally follow through with completing a book based on your suggestions. Wish me luck.
The tale of the wandering Nomad won last week’s vote, I said I wanted a challenge and by gods that’s what you’re determined to give me. Alright so let’s see what I can do.
All that’s left to do is to populate our stage with a cast of characters: The Nomad is our focal character, in order to maintain mystery of his or her origins and methods of survival it’s important that the narrative not be told from their perspective. So the protagonist is therefore an Observer, someone who witnesses the actions of the Nomad, and whose life is shaped by them.
The Observer comes from a community of survivors. The leaders of the community, and the ways they have found to survive will inform the way the Observer interacts with and interprets the deeds of the Nomad, but they will also help bring detail to the world. (more…)
And the winner, after a particularly hairy vote, is Desertpunk – Kaiju! Not going to lie, this is definitely the harder of the four genre options, but I wouldn’t have put it up there if I weren’t game for a challenge. Now on to the story…
Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots supposes that all narratives ultimately fall into the same basic pattern or series of stages with seven broad themes that inform the story, either alone or in combination. Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations help set the stage and give me a few ideas to build upon. I advise anyone who’s planning their first novel to have a look at both of these as a jumping-off point, mix and match, see what inspires you.
To make full use of the genre omits a lot of the options. The Rags to Riches basic plot doesn’t really work in a world where water is the only valuable commodity, and giant monsters will have very little personal impact on the journey made by the protagonist. The Adultery drama also seems a little petty when lives are on the line every day.
For my inspiration I’ll be drawing on the likes of Dune, Tremors, and the D&D world of Dark Sun as my strongest connections to the mix. Pile on top of that a little Mad Max, Fallout and Godzilla. In effect I’ve built a mood board of films, games, artwork and story to toy with. (more…)
As with starting a D&D campaign, I have to start with the broader picture, the genre and the world. They inform the characters, the story, the very tone of the writing. They can give us a base upon which to build detail, and out of an organic world living characters can arise to face real situations that practically write themselves.
My previous attempts were in a future earth with a strong super-power cyberpunk theme, so I am going to attempt to avoid that altogether. Here instead are some genre blends I think I could write, along with some ideas for stories that you’ll get the chance to vote for later in the month. Vote below for your favourite. (more…)