Godzilla | 2014
An amazingly classy cast (Juliette Binoche in a Godzilla movie?), but all the standard clichés are present and correct. Godzilla retains his traditional disregard for urban architecture, though, as well as his canny ability to home in on major cities, and the dark, murky visuals are impressive.
There seems to be something about the Pacific Rim which is attracting very large creatures from beneath the sea these days, but don’t go planning that Godzilla tour of San Francisco just yet. There’s not too much of the said Rim on display, apart from Oahu, one of the Hawaiian islands. Most of the rest is British Columbia standing in for California.
The eastern coast of Oahu was used as a double for ‘Bikini Atoll’ in the ‘Marshall Islands’, site of the 1950s atomic explosion – which turns out not to have been the simple nuclear test we thought it was all these years. Period lenses and colour manipulation were used to give that authentically dated appearance.
The lush greenery of Hawaii stands in for the ‘Philippines’ of 1999, and Kapaa Rock Quarry on Oahu provides the entrance to the collapsed ‘Universal Western Mining Quarry’ in which the ginormous Alien-like fossilized ribcage is discovered. The cavern itself was a set built at Canadian Motion Picture Park, in Burnaby, Vancouver – which was redressed to become the ‘San Francisco’ sinkhole seen later in the film.
The ‘Japanese’ village in which scientists Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) live, is Steveston on the coast of Vancouver’s southern suburb of Richmond. There’s a sizeable Japanese-Canadian community here, and Steveston Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre/Martial Arts Centre, 4111 Moncton Street, became the ‘Janjira International School’ attended by the Brodies’ son, Ford.
Fans of TV fantasy series Once Upon a Time might recognise Steveston, and Moncton Street in particular, as the fictitious New England town of ‘Storybrooke’.
Three locations are knitted together to provide the ‘Janjira Nuclear Power Plant’, threatened by mysterious tremors. The exterior is the abandoned and somewhat decayed Catalyst Paper Mill, 1050 United Boulevard, a frequently used location (particularly for TV) in Coquitlam, east of Vancouver. The plant interior is the Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Facility, 1299 Derwent Way, few miles east of Richmond, augmented by a studio set boasting dramatically leaky steam ducts which look like they were installed by the same company that kitted out the Nostromo.
The plant’s offices are those of Nokia, now closed, at 9200 Glenlyon Parkway, Glenlyon Business Park, west of Byrne Creek in Burnaby.
Fast-forward fifteen years from the plant’s disastrous meltdown and the now grown-up Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is obliged to visit his guilt-ridden and paranoid father in ‘Japan’. Together, they set off to revisit their former home in the now-quarantined, and supposedly radioactive, ‘Janjira’ to investigate the recurrence of the seismic anomalies.
The weed-infested Japanese street littered with abandoned cars is Front Street in the shadow of the raised parking structure at Sixth Street, in New Westminster, east of Burnaby. Rather than a blighted stretch of urban decay, this is actually the city’s Antiques Row shopping district.
Their old neighbourhood is Finn Slough, a century-old Finnish fishing settlement on the Fraser River east of Steveston. Largely abandoned, a few residents remain living in wooden shacks, both floating and built on stilts, along the marshy river bank.
Inevitably arrested, Joe and Ford are whisked off to the not-so-abandoned power plant in time to witness the escape of a newly-hatched MUTO (massive unidentified terrestrial organism).
The ‘USS Saratoga’, aboard which Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) takes charge of covering up the alien escape, is USS Missouri, now the Battleship Missouri Memorial, at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, back on the southern coast of Oahu.
When Joe Brody dies of his injuries, Ford is recruited by researcher Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), but there’s not a lot he can contribute and he’s soon on his way home via – erm – Honolulu.
The city is introduced naturally enough with signature shots of Waikiki Beach overlooked by Diamond Head, but not so authentically Hawaiian is ‘Honolulu International Airport’. The ‘terminal’ is Vancouver Convention Centre, 1055 Canada Place, on the waterfront, which had also been very briefly glimpsed standing in for ‘Tokyo Airport’.
It’s the real Honolulu as the populace flees from a sudden tsunami, along Lewers Street, downtown, past the Imperial Hawaii Vacation Club, 205 Lewers Street (though the spectacle of destruction is being watched through the vast windows of Vancouver Convention Centre).
Another, larger, MUTO is discovered stashed away at the ‘Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository’ in Nevada, just in time for it to wake up and trash Las Vegas Boulevard – destroying landmark casinos and resorts including Treasure Island, the Quad, the Flamingo, Paris (with its baby Eiffel Tower) and New York-New York (with its Statue of Liberty).
Both the giant insect-like parasites and Godzilla are converging on – where else? – the city where Ford’s wife and son live. In this case, ‘San Francisco’.
It’s time for the nuclear option as a warhead is loaded onto a train at ‘Lone Pine’ in central California (itself a hugely popular Western movie location). In fact, this is Steveston again, just a few blocks west of the Japanese Cultural Centre, on Moncton Street at Second Avenue.
The forested rail crossing is on the old Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway at Seventh Street and Douglas Avenue in Nanaimo, across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver, and the train’s journey crosses Oyster Sto’Lo Road in Ladysmith, about ten miles to the south, before running into trouble on the Arbutus Creek Trestle at Goldstream Provincial Park, even further to the south near Langford. Despite its apparent destruction, you’ll find the elevated stretch of rail to the north of the park.
Plunging into the water below, Ford wakes up in the mud on the north bank of Lake Alouette in Golden Ears Provincial Park. Rescued by military helicopter, he’s flown to the ‘Tactical Operations Command’ in ‘Oakland Bay Area Park’, which is High View Lookout on Cypress Bowl Road at the southern tip of Cypress Provincial Park, West Vancouver.
With three very large critters heading towards the city, ‘San Francisco’ is evacuated and – wouldn’t you know it – Ford’s son, Sam, finds himself trapped in the school bus crossing the ‘Golden Gate Bridge’. Convincing as this looks, we’re still in Vancouver. A 400-feet stretch of the famous landmark was recreated at Kent Hangar Field, and surrounded by the inevitable green screen, allowing photographic panoramas of the San Francisco skyline to be added digitally. The same spot has been used as the ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ once before, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Ford and his team are obliged to undertake a HALO (High Altitude-Low Opening) parachute jump into ‘San Francisco’. There’s a brief return to Hawaii here. The interior of the plane is that of a Boeing C-17 transport craft based at Hickam Air Force Base, alongside Pearl Harbor.
But the drop is straight back to British Columbia as, wreathed in thick smoke, the team lands by the parking garage on Eveleigh Street at Thurlow Street in downtown Vancouver.
The ornamental gate and strings of red lanterns of ‘Chinatown’ are the ‘Main Street’ set built for Zack Snyder’s 2009 film of Watchmen at the southeast corner of Marine Way and Byrne Road, Burnaby.
And in the heart of Vancouver’s Financial District, Oceanic Plaza, 1066 West Hastings Street stands in for the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) station where Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olsen) is pinned down as Godzilla slugs it out with the two MUTOs above her.
The harbour back at Steveston is transformed into San Fran’s ‘Fisherman’s Wharf’ as Ford vainly tries to disarm the activated warhead aboard a tour boat, before resorting to sailing it out to sea away from the city. With all human resources exhausted, it’s up to Godzilla to “restore balance” by finishing off the pair of MUTOs before they’re able to breed.
The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assembly hub, where the Brody family is finally reunited (come on, that’s hardly a spoiler, is it?), is BC Place Stadium, 777 Pacific Boulevard, Vancouver, a huge multipurpose venue built to host sport, exhibitions and live entertainment, as well as being home to the BC Lions Football Club and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.