I dislike writing about trailers. We’re seeing a version of the movie that doesn’t really exist. A series of disparate clips and voice overs Frankensteined together to sell something that might not even be representative of the movie. But whoever edited together the Godzilla: King of Monsters trailer has done me a great service. I get to use this as a stepping stone to talk about two of my favorite things, awe and the sublime.
“Awe,” simply defined, is the feeling of surprise mixed with fear. It’s the feeling of admiration, reverence, and apprehension. It’s the feeling when you stand on the edge of a cliff and look out at the vast expanse beneath you. It’s that feeling in your chest just as the roller coaster crests it’s highest peak. Awe is what makes you involuntarily take in breath when you see something massive like a whale or, in this case, giant monster who has been slumbering for untold millennia.
King of Monster’s accomplishes this within it’s first few seconds. Millie Bobby Brown stands before a destructive cloud, unmoving, staring, before she takes cover. That moment of hesitation where you cannot move is motivated by awe. But as the trailer goes on and the subtle, distant chords of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” begin to ring out Vera Farmiga tells us about her plan to unleash giant monsters to help us stop pollution or something.
Then the music fades. Water rushes as Godzilla, the king of monster’s himself, emerges and begins to charge his atomic breath. But instead of his roar we’re hit with a bigger, punchier, grander version of “Clair de lune.” There is hardly any diagetic sounds, Godzilla’s atomic breath barely audible above the rousing sounds poured over it.
Next, what looks to be Mothra spreads its wings, slowly, gloriously. For scale, we see a small encampment dwarfed by Mothra, the camera needing to pull back in order to capture the scale. The rest of the trailer is similarly punctuated with scenes of big monsters being big and towering over anything in their path.
This is awe and Vera Farmiga would like us to know that the monsters represent the sublime. Each of these “titans” as she calls them are powerful beyond our calculation or understanding. Together they constitute a “fever” designed to wipe the earth clean. Each is of such an extreme greatness as to transcend into a class of animal closer to godhood than anything else.
Clearly Farmiga’s character is trying to tell us she’d like them fix the environment through destroying everything they can get their hands on, but I don’t really care. Instead I care that the trailer goes to great length to offer each monster a sense of scale and mystique. They’re big and obviously easy to see but they’re also unknowable in their own particular way. They are of a scale that is impossible for us to grasp and their size and power cause us to pause and take in breath before we run.
Together, “awe” and the “sublime” remind us of the feeling of being small before something greater than ourselves. The feeling of looking up at a tall tower and being daunted. The feeling of climbing that tower and looking down, terrified but excited. Strangely, whoever cut this trailer together understands this and whoever shot the movie seems to understand a least a part of what makes big monster movies tick.
Giant monsters have long been a source of fascination. They haunt the darkness of those alone in the wilderness at night. They see sea monsters, massive apes, devils, and horrors from the sky. But something truly so large as boggle the mind is a special tier of monster and if nothing else, Godzilla: King of Monsters gave me an excuse to explain a powerful and moving feeling I hope you’ve had in your life.