Gareth Edwards, the director of the blockbuster reboot Godzilla, has been taken to task by some critics for holding back on revealing the title character. Many of those same critics have also name-checked one of the fathers of the modern blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, which derives some of its effectiveness from the fact that it delays fully showing us its Great White until three-quarters of its running time has passed. That approach was a matter of necessity — the film’s mechanical shark constantly malfunctioned and also looked fairly crappy onscreen. Edwards’s similar approach seems more a deliberate jab at today’s summer films, in which we see spectacle early and often. But that’s not the only thing Godzilla borrows from Spielberg’s work … (Spoilers follow.)
1. The Spielberg Face
As Matt Patches writes about here (and as you can see in the video by Kevin B. Lee below), one of the most distinctive recurring visual tropes in a Spielberg movie is a static shot or slow camera dolly in on the awestruck face of someone looking offscreen at something amazing. In Godzilla, many of the characters pull the same face — in fact, Ken Watanabe’s scientist spends 75 percent of his screen time looking haggard and giving much Spielberg Face.
2. The T. rex escape from Jurassic Park
After being kept on lockdown, the winged M.U.T.O. escapes into the night because the arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in his control, etc., etc. The sequence is more than a little reminiscent of the one in Jurassic Park in which the giant T. rex escapes its paddock, right down to the loud tensile twanging of once electrified, now useless, steel wires.
3. The train and river debris from War of the Worlds
The moment when Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody (let’s not even talk about that Jaws-inspired name) is forced to run away from a train engulfed in flames is very reminiscent of the moment in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when Tom Cruise and his kids stand by the side of a train track as a flaming locomotive barrels past. Also WoTW–ish is the scene, a few minutes earlier, when two soldiers stand on a riverbed and quietly watch as debris (though not bodies, as in the scene below) floats by.
4. Foggy windows
A mess of school buses sit on the Golden Gate Bridge as Godzilla approaches. The camera floats by the driver’s-side window of one school bus as the driver wipes the breath-fogged glass to get a better look — just like here:
5. Don’t make a sound
Brody and a fellow soldier lay down on a railroad trestle bridge as one of the M.U.T.O.s stalks by underneath, taking a moment to press its “eye” up between two slats. The fellow soldier’s radio starts to squawk. See: the Jurassic Park moment when Tim and Lex try to sit quietly in their car while the T. rex moves by, pressing his eye up against the window; the Jurassic Park moment when Tim and Lex try to quietly escape the kitchen as the raptors hunt; the War of the Worlds moment in the basement of Tim Robbins’s survivalist character’s house, when the tripod eye slithers in search of survivors. In each of those three moments, sound — the slamming of the jeep door, the dropping of a ladle, the scurrying of a child’s leg — alerts the creature that something is nearby.