James Griffin 's Opinion

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: Tuatara vs Godzilla!

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A still from the new film 'Godzilla'.
A still from the new film 'Godzilla'.

If what your soul craves is a big, dumb film, then the latest iteration of Godzilla is the film for you, because Godzilla is about as big and dumb as film-making gets.

This is a film that has a script so dumb it could have been written by repeatedly hitting a typewriter with a sledgehammer. This is a film where the best thing every human actor in it could have done was to join all the screaming extras and run away, as fast as they could, to let the monsters do their stuff.

Yet for all this - or possibly because of all of this - Godzilla somehow manages to be the sort of big, dumb fun that is sometimes called for in a film. Unlike the Transformers franchise, which makes me angry with all its excess and stupidity, Godzilla is both excessive and stupid but somehow manages not to be offensive.

Part of this is possibly due to the presence in the cast of veteran Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, who spends all his screen time wearing the exact same perplexed face I am wearing in the audience, thus reassuring me that I'm not the only one going "WTF" at each and every plot contrivance.

Domo arigato for that, Ken.

Of course, being dumb and big is nothing new to the monster film genre. This is, for the most part, how these films roll. And, I suggest, down here in Aotearoa, what is to stop us rolling in the very same direction? This is why, for your reading pleasure, Tuatara! is my humble offering as New Zealand's entree into the monster film genre.

Tuatara! is an eco-friendly monster yarn about a giant dinosaur-lizard that lurks somewhere out there in our dark, brooding landscape. Why this particular lizard is giant and why it has been brooding for hundreds of years without anyone noticing it is relatively unimportant to the story. All it takes in these films is for a respected, senior actor (I'm thinking Sam Neill or Robyn Malcolm) to monologue some nonsense about radiation and our ignorance of the way the planet really works, coupled with some shots of a mega-corporation pillaging the Earth's resources for monetary gain, and that side of things is covered. Generally the senior/respected actor will die in the film not long after this speech. Set-up out of the way, all is ready for Tuatara to burst forth from the brooding landscape and it is game on for young and old.

Tuatara! will obviously be a very different film depending on who ends up directing it. Peter Jackson's Tuatara!, for example, would be epic in every sense of the word. After about an hour of scene-setting, Tuatara would burst forth from Lake Taupo, where he has been sleeping since its eruption around AD 233-ish. Armed with only radioactive breath and an eye-watering CGI budget, Tuatara would then stomp his way across the volcanic plateau, towards Auckland, levelling Tokoroa and Hamilton on his way. In Auckland, Tuatara would use the Sky Tower as a club to destroy the city as a warning for the humans to respect the planet, before ducking under Rangitoto to nap for 10,000 years - or until Tuatara 2!, whichever came first.

Taika Waititi's Tuatara! would be an altogether stranger beast. In this film Tuatara (Taika Waititi) is a human-sized mutant man-lizard passing himself off as an unemployed barista living in a run-down-but-cool flat just off Wellington's Cuba St. His two flatmates, Weta (Bret McKenzie) and Kakapo (Jemaine Clement) are also mutant man-creatures and also unemployed baristas. This Tuatara! would be a lot less about destroying Wellington and much more about the inability of the three species to get laid.

Jane Campion's Tuatara! would take full advantage of New Zealand's brooding scenery to the extent that instead of embarking on the traditional monster rampage of monster films, Tuatara would instead remain in the scenery, brooding. Tuatara would brood about the society that has labelled it a monster. Also brooding with it would be a brood of giant mutant frogs and slugs and native snails, who are all brooding over the fact they are gender-confused because they are hermaphrodites. Dark and strange things would happen in this film, and it would be beautifully shot and important things would be said about the monster condition and the way monsters are oppressed. This Tuatara! could very well be the first monster movie ever to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Whichever path Tuatara! ends up taking, there are arguments for and against all of these paths. And whatever those arguments might be, they ultimately mean nothing in the face of Tuatara, because in this genre Tuatara is all and Tuatara must be obeyed.

Or, in layman's terms and as Ken Watanabe's face would say, succinctly: "Tuatara? WTF?"

- NZ Herald

James Griffin

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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