Category Archives: Mythical Movie Monsters

A Concise Review

After seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal Pictures 2018; directed by J. A. Bayona), I came to the conclusion that there was one reason to make this movie: use those CGI dinosaurs to turn a profit. Here, then is my abbreviated review:








No, I really mean it.  AAHH!!


Thanks, Blue!


They’re out, and the franchise never ends…


Righteous Raptor?

I’m not even going to apologize. I’ve spent a good part of the last week trying to keep my four-year-old granddaughter, Gracie, busy, so this week’s post is going to be a lazy extension of last week’s. By the way, Gracie likes dinosaurs. So in honor of Gracie, let’s talk about the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World franchise (Universal Pictures). By the way, her mother will not yet allow her to see these movies.


To begin with, they’re not really velociraptors. They are most likely a larger species of raptor named Deinonychus, but who cares? They’re scary and interesting, and they add tension to a plot.

While I find it difficult to imagine a movie in this franchise having spoilers, I suppose I should say that this post might have some. In Jurassic Park, the raptors chase people and kill them.


In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, they chase people and kill them.


In Jurassic Park III, they chase people and kill them…


… with the added twist that much of this is to protect their eggs. Good parenting!


In Jurassic World, they chase people and kill them, but it could be argued that the people are bad. Oh, and the raptors are trained.


Eventually, they help Tyrannosaurus rex protect some people from Indominus rex. Only a raptor named Blue survives along with Rex and the people.


Hey, look! Blue and Rex are friends!


Good Rex! Good Blue! Now let’s kill some evil humans to help Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.



Bad Rex, Good Rex

Michael Crichton never described Tyrannosaurus rex as anything but dangerous in his two novels, Jurassic Park and The Lost World, but director Steven Spielberg took certain liberties and instilled more character into this monstrous reptile in the movies which bore the same names (1993 and 1997 Universal Pictures).


Let me say right away that the introduction of T. rex into the first movie remains one of the greatest reveals of a monster in cinema. Rex tries (unsuccessfully, whew) to kill children trapped in an electrical car during a thunderstorm while the power is out.

Scene from Jurassic Park
01 Jan 1992 — A tyrannosaurus rex terrorizes people trapped in a car in a scene from the 1993 American film Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg. The sci-fi adventure stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. The film is an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name. — Image by © Murray Close/Sygma/Corbis

So, this dinosaur starts out as bad but then kind of turns good by the end of the movie.


It does battle with the Velociraptors and thereby saves the humans by giving them time to escape.


Ah, but in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Rex is evil again, killing lots of people, eating a family dog, and wrecking San Diego. Bad Rex!


But wait, it’s okay! The adults were only trying to protect their offspring, and the happy family is reunited.


In Jurassic World (2015 Universal Pictures, directed by Colin Trevorrow), the T. rex once again gets to play the hero by doing battle with Indominus rex, thereby saving more humans.


These roles of harming and helping humans were also played by the gods in Greek mythology. In this respect, our dinosaur friend becomes something of a fickle and very big, reptilian god.


Good boy, Rex! Good boy!

Suspense With A Soul

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The best science fiction and fantasy puts people front and center, and it encourages us to think about our ethics in real life. A Quiet Place (2018 Paramount, directed by John Krasinski) does just that. While I was watching this movie, and for days afterward, I asked myself about my values and whether I loved my family and other people enough. When a movie can get you to do something like that, it’s something special.

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This was a remarkable, minimalist piece of storytelling in which silence, sound, and a rural landscape were additional characters. The acting by John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe  (all playing members of a farm family dealing with personal tragedy under literally monstrous circumstances) is entirely convincing and elicits empathy.

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As for the monsters, Paramount seems to have wisely withheld any images from general dissemination. Take my word for it, they’re scary and disgusting, and a considerable amount of tension builds up to the artfully delayed reveal. To get an idea of their impact,  just consider the reactions of the people in the pictures included in this post.

Left to right: Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

When I first saw the trailer on television, I thought, “one of those.” I wasn’t planning on going, but I read some positive reviews and changed my mind. I don’t really like the scifi/horror genre, but I liked this. There was no gratuitous gore or profanity, and it was a good concept movie. Only a very light sprinkling of unanswered questions, apparent gaps in plot logic, and “why-did-they-do-that’s” were in any way problematic for me personally.

There are some interesting personal stories behind the production. The screenplay was written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, two childhood friends from Iowa. I liked also that Krasinski and Blunt, husband and wife in real life, did this project together. Millicent Simmonds, who played the deaf daughter, truly is deaf, and her ability to convey emotion with facial expressions and body language is outstanding.


This is suspense with a soul. An elegant film such as this deserves a concise review, so I think I’d better stop. Until next week…


Erecting Barriers (2)

The Great Wall (China Film Group, Legendary Entertainment, Universal Pictures) was a pretty good movie for its genre, but it wasn’t a great one. Were it not for the controversy surrounding this film, I would have devoted only one post to it. I did not have high expectations, but the longer I watched it, the more I began to appreciate and enjoy it for what it was.

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First of all, it was a monster movie in a different kind of setting, which was intriguing at first presentation. So how did the monsters look? I certainly wouldn’t call their design iconic (like in Alien or Godzilla, for example), but they grew on me as I continued watching.

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I didn’t like the design at first because I came into the movie with prior expectations. As I mentioned last week, this can interfere with our ability to appreciate something for what it is. It is easy to fall into the trap of criticizing something for what it isn’t trying to be.  The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has a fairly renowned Asian collection, and I have been there a number of times to see it. Using what I had seen there as a frame of reference helped me to recognize a quality in the creature designs that I initially missed.

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The director, Zhang Yimou, re-imagined the Tao Tei from Chinese mythology, and this general approach is one that typically earns my respect unless it is poorly done. He also re-magined some 14th Century Chinese technological innovations. This, among other factors, made the Great Wall itself a kind of character in the plot, and the battle scenes on the parapets made for some spectacular visuals.

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The use of aerial female warriors might not have made for the most tactical sense, especially in light of the casualties, but it allowed for some impressive stunt work utilizing stunt workers recruited from a regional temple.

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It didn’t bother me that this movie sometimes lacked tight, Western plot logic because a lot of American movies also lack tight, Western plot logic.  It’s nice when it’s there, but this isn’t why I watch monster movies.

I liked some of the unusual visuals, such as looking down from hot air balloons upon a swarming horde of Tao Tei.

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I also liked the plot device of the Nameless Order character played by Jing Tian having to provide some philosophical instruction to Matt Damon’s mercenary before he could get his full game on.

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Even then, he couldn’t do it alone, and the Chinese characters did not seem forced into a subordinate role by the screenplay.

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If you haven’t seen it, and if you can go into the experience with a relatively open mind, I’d at least recommend this one as a good rental.


Erecting Barriers (1)

Let’s get the unpleasant part out of the way first. Was The Great Wall (China Film Group, Universal) an example of whitewashing and Asian stereotyping? I think the short answer is no, but since I’m a 64-year-old white guy, that could sound insensitive if I don’t explain myself further. Let’s pause for a picture. Below is one of the posters for the movie’s release in China.

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And here is the version for the U. S. market. It’s not hard to notice that Matt Damon is front and center. Is this racist? Does it represent the hidebound thinking about marketing which is prevalent in the entertainment industry? To me, the latter seems more likely since Matt Damon is probably the most recognizable name among those of the cast, at least for a western audience.

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From the reading I did, I gathered that this movie was never intended to be a strictly Chinese story and that it was a cooperative effort between American and Chinese studios. In fact, it was made by something like 1,300 people from 37 countries. If there was Asian stereotyping, Chinese audiences evidently didn’t think so. This was not an American misrepresentation of Asian culture any more than western fantasies are misrepresentations of western culture. the film was directed by Zhang Yimou, one of China’s most legendary directors, and he included many elements of Chinese folklore, architecture, clothing, and ancient technology in his fanciful embellishments.

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Also, Matt Damon wasn’t given a role originally intended for a Chinese character. As for criticisms of the authenticity of his accent, this is neither a new nor newsworthy phenomenon. In the old “sword and sandal” epics, Romans speak with British accents, and who can forget Highlander, in which  Sean Connery (a Scot) was cast as a Spaniard while Christopher Lambert (a Frenchman) was cast as a Scot? I was able to enjoy Matt Damon’s performance for what it was in spite of any inaccuracies.

The cast (including Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, and Wang Junkai) was voluminous and diverse. The inclusion of a few, mercenary Europeans in the storyline didn’t strike me as racist or even odd because most cultures haven’t existed in vacuums historically. There are many examples of intercultural contact, trade, and exchange throughout history, and it is impossible (or nearly so) to contain ideas and influences within geographical borders for indefinite periods of time. For me, the East/West conflict of priorities gave the plot more depth. Incidentally, the Chinese characters – with their sense of honor, sacrifice, and communal duty – were by far the more honorable.

Based on some of the criticisms I read and on personal observations of responses to other works, I’m beginning to wonder whether some modern critics track well with metaphor and re-imagined myth. Criticizing a deliberately epic monster movie for not matching the standards of a documentary, serious drama, or art film seems akin to giving a fast food joint low marks for its lack of French cuisine. Appreciation is often about expectation, and a film can be judged for what it is rather than for what it is not trying to be. Not all of the barriers we erect are geographical.

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So… next week I’ll actually review the movie.

A Big Ape, An Island, And Disgusting Monsters

I originally had my doubts about extensively reviving the Toho cinematic universe. With all those monsters, I feared it would disintegrate into a cluttered, implausible (I mean, REALLY implausible) mess. If Kong: Skull Island (2017,  Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers, directed by Jordan Vogt Roberts) is any indication, I need not have worried.

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I can’t say this about every movie that Toho distributed, but some of them had mind-capturing, enduring concepts.  I come across them every now and then when I’m spinning channels, get interested, and ultimately end up disappointed by the special effects. But… oh, those concepts. That’s why I started watching the Legendary/Warner Brothers franchise. To date, the special effects have delivered, and the stories are interesting. I like the re-imagined take which pays homage to the original movies while adapting the plots and themes more to the expectations of a modern audience.

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I like the background explanation of monsters living deep in the oceans and in earth’s crust, where they can feed on radiation. In this light, this latest iteration of the giant ape provides a backstory in a period piece format.  We get glimpses of World War II and Viet Nam war imagery mixed in with the Kaiju format, and I found the combination kind of refreshing.

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The cast is very good, including Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly…

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… John Goodman as an underfunded leader of MONARCH in its early days…

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… and Samuel L. Jackson in his own Heart of Darkness cinematic turn.

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But the character interactions and the characters themselves provide a backdrop for Kong and other assorted monsters, some of which are absolutely disgusting. The latter are given some scenes to match their nature. Mostly, however, the visuals were innovative, fun, and “realistic”.

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I thought the plot was good for a film in this genre, but I’ll forego giving a synopsis… Wait. You say you want one anyway? Oh, okay. Here:

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By the way, he’s still growing…

Despite the success of the Marvel and Jurassic Park franchises (which I love, by the way) this has the potential to become my favorite (for strictly personal reasons). At any rate, it is a cinematic universe which this 64-year-old fifth grade boy looks forward to exploring.

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Godzilla (2014)

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In a monster movie of this scope, you get your first hints of how important the human characters are from the early exits of Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston and from the limited lines of Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins.

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Oh, yeah – David Straithairn, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olson are also in it.

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It’s a good cast, but the real star is…

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Godzilla (duh). It was produced by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers and directed by Gareth Edwards. Let me say here that Edwards really gets his special effects right in all of the movies under his direction that I’ve seen. His visuals are realistic enough to make my mind race. Okay, monsters 350 feet tall aren’t realistic, but if they were, it’s not hard to imagine them looking like this. He does a good job of blending his CGI with real backgrounds and real foreground objects. He also makes good use of imperfect focus where needed. All of this keeps the CGI from looking too much like CGI.

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So let’s get the negatives out of the way. Yes, the science is ridiculous. What did you expect? For me, the complaints that Godzilla wasn’t prominent enough in his own movie were greatly lessened with repeated viewings. Near the end, the time to get the nuke away from San Francisco is insufficient, but Christopher Nolan also made a similar mistake in The Dark Knight Rises. What do we watch monster movies for most: the plot logic or the imagery? The MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms) that everyone complained about are actually pretty cool themselves, and the associated sound effects really work. This movie is just plain kid fun, and it does a good job of encapsulating and paying homage to past Toho movies while re-imagining the original concepts.

Okay, here’s a plot synopsis. A MUTO  hatches out of a type of chrysalis that scientists from MONARCH are studying, and then it escapes.

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Another one comes back to life. Later, Godzilla appears, and there’s a HALO (high altitude low opening) drop which inserts some outmatched soldiers into the area.

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Then, in a totally unexpected plot development (just kidding), there’s a big fight. This leads to what I considered the coolest sequence of the movie…

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Mythical Movie Monsters: Just A Few Of My Old Friends


When I was in elementary school, I got into trouble for drawing dinosaurs instead of doing my assignments. In case I haven’t made this clear, it happened more than once and over a number of years. Some years ago, I decided to begin feeding my inner ten-year-old and come out of denial. My love of monsters and monster movies never went away. It just needed more contemporary special effects to reawaken it.

I grew up on classics such as King Kong (1933)…



Godzilla (1954)…

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)…

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… and Them (also 1954: obviously a very good year).

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It should come as no surprise that one of the features that attracted me to mythology at a young age was the inclusion of monsters and other fantastic beasts in the stories. That’s my somewhat weak line of justification for opening Mythical Movie Monsters as a new category on this site. These movie monsters are the stuff of modern, fabricated myths if you’re willing to stretch the definition a bit. Every now and then, I will indulge myself by posting about my childhood fantasies grown older. Stay tuned if you like spectacular visuals, stomping, roaring, and lots of teeth.