by Connor Keating / Staff Writer
So recently, I’ve been on a bit of a horror monster movie kick.
I watched “Alien”, “Aliens”, “Predator”, “Arachnophobia”, “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” , “The Fly”, and “The Blob”, and like a lot of people, I thought, “man, they sure don’t make movies like they used to.”
In recent years, I’ve watched some of my favorite franchises, like Godzilla and Jurassic Park, get turned into big, dumb action movies, but some of you are probably wondering why that’s a bad thing. Action and seeing the monsters attack people is all part of what people love about them, right? Well I’m going to take a deeper dive into more recent monster movies, and compare them to the monster movies of old.
First let’s look at one of the most controversial aspects of monster movies, the calm before the storm. By far the stereotype of monster movies I hate the most is that they’re just big dumb action movies that are only slow because they have to be, and all people really want is for them just to get to the monsters.
By far, one of the slowest monster movies is “Alien”, even from the title card, it very slowly fades in each line in the word “Alien”. It’s then followed by a bunch of slow panning shots of the lifeless ship, then the lights and systems slowly start to come on, and the characters slowly start to wake up. They all then get up, eat and talk amongst each other. Nothing grand or epic happens, but scenes like this do more than it seems. We get to see our setting, get to know the characters, and show things that are familiar, that we can relate to. Something that is even more obvious in the famous Chestburster scene, where the crew is just happily eating breakfast so everything seems normal, making the scene feel more real. This is also something “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” does very well. For the first half of the film, nothing too extraterrestrial happens, but there’s still that tension of something isn’t quite right.
Build up like this is important in order to introduce the characters and establish a lot of the background elements, maybe even set up a plot device that will come into play later.
Let’s compare this to a more recent film, “Underwater”. For context, this is another “sea monsters attacking an undersea base” movie like “Leviathan” and “Deep Star Six” if you know what those are.
Instead of letting the audience get to know our characters and setting, the movie just starts with our protagonist lady at a sink, then suddenly the base starts getting crushed. No time to breathe, no time for characters, just straight into the action. While it manages to be different from a lot of other similar films, it just ends up looking like a lackluster copy.
However there are some films that take a slower approach, but it ultimately backfires. “Godzilla” (2014) is a pretty good example of this. It starts off pretty slow and the first half is pretty solid, but once Brian Cranston’s character dies we’re left with a boring army man to follow around. It also doesn’t help that the film constantly cuts away before fights take place.
If you haven’t noticed, the key lies in having actually good characters. There are three types of good characters, the first is your all around well developed characters. Films like “Aliens” and “The Fly” are pretty good examples of this, characters who have well defined personalities and go through character arcs over the course of the film.
Then you have the relatable characters, ones who aren’t necessarily the most in depth, but seem real and you can connect with. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Arachnophobia” do this well, and it also helps that both films tackle very real fears.
Finally, you have the fun characters, they aren’t fleshed out much, but they’re just enjoyable to watch like the characters in “Predator”.
Most modern monster movies, in comparison, have characters who do nothing but spout exposition or make immature jokes. Sure, “Aliens” and “Predator” do the ladder, but at least they don’t make fun of the monsters like in “Godzilla King of the Monsters” (2019).
Another thing that holds monster movies higher than they typically seem is their themes. Many of the best monster movies use our greatest fears to make their monsters more threatening. Some use fears as basic as spiders, while others use something as grand as the atom bomb.
A lot of monster movies nowadays forget this, or put it in, off to the side. Because all anyone seems to want is big dumb action movies.
Of course there have been some good monster movies in recent years, “The Host”, “Pacific Rim”, “Shin Godzilla”, “Kong Skull Island”, and “Colossal” are all pretty good newer monster movies. Maybe one day we will get more big blockbuster monster movies that are actually good … that’ll probably be the day they make one without CGI, and that day will probably never come.Connor Keating is a Halstead freshman in general studies.
Connor Keating is a Halstead freshman in general studies.