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Godzilla attack!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Andy ain't scared of no Godzilla!

Actually, this Godzilla was firstborn Amelia’s favorite toy as a child. No dolls for her, she dragged around Godzilla. Considering that it’s been in the closet for 25 years, Godzilla looks pretty good.

Godzilla’s Big Foot

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

2 stars

It’s always interesting to see places you know well on the silver screen, and it’s even better if these places get destroyed by gigantic monsters. So when, in “Godzilla,” a military functionary announces there’s an “anomaly northeast of Diamond Head,” we barely have time to think “Kaimuki?” when the scene shifts to a trackless jungle dozens — maybe hundreds — of miles away from civilization, and the automatic reaction is, “That ain’t right …”

Spoiler alert: Movies aren’t reality. Movies are a fever-dream impression of reality. That’s why McGarrett and Danno can make a left turn on Waialae Avenue and immediately be on the North Shore. And why Godzilla can wade ashore on lovely evening in Waikiki, tear the joint apart, get attacked by fighter jets, and then hightail it across the Koolaus without waking up folks over in Waianae.

It’s interesting. The early Hawaii scenes are clearly filmed in Waikiki, but the mountains appear a little too close, or maybe they’re quite a bit too tall. They are towering over Waikiki. And uninhabited, because there’s no suburban streetlights visible. But we barely have time to focus on Waikiki before we discover that Oahu’s rail-transit system is already up and running, and the international airport has expanded mightily, with enclosed glass-window concourses. (And, alas, neither proves to be monster-proof.)

There’s just enough reality to lend reasonable suspension-of-disbelief to the rest of the proceedings. And the reason gigantic monsters destroy recognizable landmarks is because the landmarks are recognizable. D’uh, bro. The Golden Gate Bridge has been destroyed so many times in movies that I’ve lost count. The bridge eats it here too, naturally, when the monsters destroy San Francisco. Only the Transamerica Pyramid is unscathed, likely because its image is copyrighted and the Golden Gate Bridge is in public domain.

Oops, did I say monsters, plural? The “Godzilla” trailers have been most excellent in playing up the awesomeness without getting very specific on details. There are three, count ‘em, three monsters for the price of one in “Godzilla.”

How has it come to this? There’s no size limit where it comes to metaphors. The bigger the better. And when you’re dealing with a filmic metaphor that encapsulates both the harsh resiliency of nature and the bumbling hubris of mankind … well, the sky’s the limit.

Toho Studios’ surprise 1954 hit, “Gojira,” which was redubbed into English and some additional American scenes added, was released in the U.S. as “Godzilla, KIng of the Monsters” in 1956, and a classic movie monster was born. There have been dozens of versions since, and a not-so-subtle recasting of Godzilla from a Tokyo-stomper into a Japanese folk hero, but basically, all the films since boil down to a guy in a rubber suit kicking over balsa-wood model skyscrapers. You gotta love the schadenfreude involved, and the movies are the perfect arena to experience destructo-porn.

The original film, however, was a fairly dark — and not-so-subtle — metaphor for the horrors of nuclear war. This notion has pretty much evaporated, paralleling Japan’s increasing dependence on nuclear power.

The American nightmare that provides context and weight is the 9/11 attack, and the long shadow of that horror has permeated American films since. Add to that the crushing natural disaster of the 2011 tsunami in Iwate Prefecture that swamped the Fukushima nuclear plant, and you have a modern-day recipe for a Godzilla movie.

This grim background gives the new film some karmic weight. It all starts out promisingly a bit more than a decade ago as a nuclear plant in Japan has a meltdown, perhaps due to a concurrent and mysteriously regular seismic disturbance. The guy in charge (Bryan Cranston, looking bug-eyed crazy) and his wife (Juliette Binoche, looking fab) are harshly effected by the disaster, and when “Godzilla” zips up to the present day, their Seal-team son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) finds himself dragged back into the mystery as the seismic drumbeats start up again. Also on board are a freaked-out Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe, with odd English diction) and his Sancho Panza, a sidekick (Sally Hawkins) who doesn’t seem to have a name and exists mainly to provide expository dialogue.

Director Gareth Edwards, whose only previous series credit was the independent thriller “Monsters,” does a fine job here with Spielbergian camera moves and composite shots, plus that hard-to-capture sense of overwhelming awesomeness,

Predictably, on a human level, “Godzilla” is meh. The human “star” actors don’t last long, and the second-string actors who carry the rest of the film are, as you might expect, fall under Godzilla’s shadow. They’re mostly reduced to staring upward in horror or dusting themselves off after being buried by rubble.

The real stars are the monsters. Big, big, sprawling monsters. There’s the Big G himself (The film notes state that Godzilla is 350 feet tall, but who’s measuring?) plus some awkward-looking insectoid / pterodactylish / bullfroggy creatures they call “Mutos.” Godzilla spends much of the film getting from here to there so he can thrash them. Godzilla is so focused on this that he doesn’t notice the convoy of US Navy ships keeping him close company, or that he’s stomped Waikiki into brightly-painted rubble. Big G doesn’t even stop to eat.

Come to think of it, there’s been a curious switch in Godzilla’s diet since 1954. Instead of being a poster child for the horrors of nuclear radiation, Godzilla and the Mutos “eat” radiation for breakfast. Godzilla has retained his morning-after radiation breath, however.

Eating radiation? So much for science.

Hey, Mr. Science, can there really be giant monsters like Godzilla?

Actually, no. The problem is the tensile strength of the average cell. There is an upper limit to how much strain can be placed upon the cells in bones and muscles, and the enormous mass of such a creature would rend the cells apart. Even though some of the dinosaur sauropods were dozens of feet long, they were long and narrow in their physical structure. Cetaceans such as whales have large body mass, but they are supported by water, which is 800 times denser than air. Not to mention the caloric intake required by a Godzilla-sized creature to supply nutrients throughout its gigantic frame. A monster the size of Godzilla would collapse under its own mass, the pressure actually liquifying the body cells into a kind of protein ooze.

Gee, Mr. Science, you’re kind of a bummer. Think I’ll escape reality by going to the movies.

An update on the Pearl Harbor library situation

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I talked to NPS superintendent Paul DePrey today, and he was more encouraging about the Arizona Memorial/Pacific Historic Parks library situation. He was careful to point out that there is a difference between what they call the “library” and what they house in their “collection,” which are the artifacts, documents and other ephemera being preserved by park curators and historians.
According to DePrey, the library was simply some reference books they kept on hand for the in-house use of the staff. Although this is largely gone, they do still have some volumes, but DePrey says they’re nothing special, just generic Pearl Harbor books.
The collection, on the other hand, is boxed up and placed into deep storage at the Pacific Historic Parks warehouse. There is a plan afoot to house these items eventually in the new NOAA structure being constructed on Ford Island, along with NOAA’s own library. This is at least a couple of years off. So if you need to do research, hold your horses, and get a day pass to Ford Island, which isn’t easy for civilians. But there’s a plan in place, they say, never fear.
As for the library shelving and such, DePrey said that what was tossed wasn’t worth keeping, and the good stuff found homes elsewhere in the park. I’m hearing, though, that other office materials were canned. Government regs require an inventory and estimated value of disposed items, and it might be interesting to see what was dumpstered.

Sunday Matinee: Los Vampiros

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Sunday Matinee: Brain Leeches

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Another history asset gone

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

I’m not real happy with the National Park Service right now. The NPS has shut down the research and archive library at what used to be known as the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. It was a terrific resource for historians; I used it myself several times. But no more. Everything’s been boxed up and disposed of. Adding insult to injury, the library’s expensive solid-oak bookshelves were simply dumpstered. We could have really used them at the Ford Island museum! I would have thought that taxpayer-funded property went through a more reasonable disposal process. The whole thing is just weird. Museums and historical centers exist as repositories of knowledge and cultural heritage and to simply trash a collection built up over four decades is bizarre. And sad.

Sunday Matinee: Only Known Baby Movie of My Friend Mutt

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Sunday Matinee: Up There

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

It’s in the cards

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

I’ve discovered that working at one of the top ten aviation museums in the country is a soothing combination of being up to your ass in alligators, herding cats and nailing Jello to a tree. Fun! I have a new name tag, just in case I forget who I am. And just to compare, here also is my photo ID building pass from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. I was told by management that being able to make out the ID part wasn’t really necessary.

Them Changes

Friday, May 4th, 2012

We always give departing journos a "page." (Vicki Viotti photo)

OK, I haven’t been posting too often here lately. There’s a reason — my career is undergoing a massive shift. As of today, I’m leaving the newspaper business, where I’ve spent the last 35 or more years, and Monday I start work as Curator at the Pacific Aviation Museum.

The folks here at work gave me a nice send-off, complete with the obligatory fake newspaper page. I’ll post pictures of the crazed celebrations as I left, but in the meantime, here’s the text of the going-away “story”:

After 33 years as a distinguished model airplane builder who also worked part time as a journalist, Burl Burlingame will leave the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to become executive director of the International Plastic Modelers Society, which will now move its global headquarters from Enchanted Lake to Ford Island.

Burlingame, whose fascination with plastic cement dates back to his time as a Radford High School student, will also produce the society’s newsletter, which he founded in 1985 in his spare time as a Today section page designer. After typically spending 15 to 20 minutes designing the front page of the feature section, which in those days was done on paper, Burlingame would then begin writing detailed stories about how to build miniature replicas of the battleship USS Arizona and critical reviews of different brands of model paint.
His favorite color is said to be olive plaid.

Sometimes, Burlingame even wrote movie reviews, and once counted every word that Arnold Schwarzenegger said in “The Terminator.”

“After that he ended every day by saying, ‘I’ll be back,’ and by golly, he kept coming back,” said one former Today editor who asked not to be identified lest everyone figure out that she was the small Asian woman who often yelled at him to put a cap on the glue tube. Every day.

Burlingame maintained a love-hate relationship with computers. When he used Tal-Star computers, which crashed on a regular basis, he was able to merge his anger with his love of glue. One day, after losing the text and codes of his front page for a third time, he yanked the keyboard free, poured rubber cement on it and lit it on fire in the middle of the newsroom. On deadline.

“Burl had this glazed look in his eyes, like those kids who sniffed too much glue in intermediate school,” said a reporter who witnessed the fire. “He walked right up to me and lit up that keyboard. Then he walked out the front door, Executive Editor John Simonds frantically chasing after him. Burl went to the roof and tossed the keyboard from the third floor to a dumpster below.”

Burlingame outlasted seven Today section editors, management mandates to wear shoes to work and a newsroom campaign to end every headline with “eh?”

Top 10 Moments in Burl history!

10. Being the second most famous person who attended Radford High School.

9. Realizing at the University of Missouri that he wanted to be: a) a photojournalist; b) a writer; c) an international man of mystery; d) all of the above.

8. Finding out he didn’t want to cover crime after going out with a grizzled veteran who put wood blocks on his “murder shoes” to keep the blood off his footwear and slacks.

7. Playing in a band called Potato Cannon and recording an album that included the sleeper hit “Betty Rubble.”

6. In the 1980s Today section, helping turn the dry “Coming Up” Sunday column into a quirky must-read.

5. Building precision scale models at work. (Expect more of this!)

4. Writing books and publishing under his name and the pseudonym Rick Blaine. (Extra points if you can name the movie that spawned the faux author name.)

3. Having Katie as a daughter!

2. Having Amelia as a daughter!

1. Mary Poole marrying him and putting up with him for all these years. (And she’s still smiling!)

Yes, there are terrible factual errors! The flaming computer keyboard incident happened after five crashes and story losses whilst trying to get out a story on a looming deadline. The reason I got so angry was that the computer tech who was jiggling wires in the backshop was wholly responsible for the crashes, and when I complained, he said, “So? You’re just paid to type. What does it matter if the story disappears?”

I got so angry when it happened again — six times! — that I lit the keyboard and stomped through the newsroom waving it at editors. The only thing that I recall clearly was writer Murray Engle muttering, “Some day, that’ll happen to all of us!” And the damn keyboard went down spiraling off the rooftop like a flaming kamikaze.

The next day, I tried to apologize to Managing Editor Bill Cox, but he kept giggling.