The recent films I Kill Giants, A Monster Calls, and Colossal each present an original take on the idea of giant monsters. Science fiction author Seth Dickinson thinks that Colossal, about a struggling writer who finds herself in control of a city-smashing kaiju, is particularly clever.
“It does everything a romantic comedy does, but in a way that reveals how creepy a lot of these rom-com traits are,” Dickinson says in Episode 375 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Colossal does an amazing job of taking every single one of these rom-com trajectories and just steering them right into horror, which I loved.”
Unfortunately, all three movies failed to connect with audiences. Science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek suspects that these movies, which deal with serious themes of grief and alienation, may have been too thoughtful for their own good.
“Maybe that’s part of why these movies bombed, is because they do grapple with these questions, and I don’t think they come to clear answers,” she says. “They sort of leave it to you—in good science fictional fashion—to continue to have those discussions afterwards. And a lot of people don’t go to movies to have hard conversations afterwards.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that all three films are artistic, ambitious, and suggest new directions for giant monster stories. “I really got the sense that the people who made these movies felt that they were important, and wanted them out there in the world, so it’s sad that they didn’t find a wider audience,” he says.
Writer Sara Lynn Michener thinks part of the problem may be the way the films were marketed. The trailer for I Kill Giants makes it seem like a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy rather than a subversive tearjerker, and the trailer for Colossal presents it as a goofball comedy rather than a scathing feminist satire.
“I don’t think that marketing departments are good at looking at a movie and saying, ‘OK, who would love this movie?’” Michener says. “Instead they often try to sell it as a different movie. I don’t know why they do that, because it never seems to be a good idea.”
Listen to the complete interview with Seth Dickinson, Lisa Yaszek, and Sara Lynn Michener in Episode 375 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David Barr Kirtley on giant monsters:
“I think an issue for me with a lot of these movies is that often there’s the B character plot, where there’s a parent and child, and they’re squabbling, and then in the course of the gigantic monster disaster they realize they actually love each other, and you’re supposed to leave the movie feeling good, but I’m kind of like, ‘Yeah, but a million people died in the course of this movie. Who cares about this family?’ … And so these three movies that we all watched—I Kill Giants, A Monster Calls, and Colossal—they take this [giant monster] idea but they make it very personal. There’s some sort of personal connection between the protagonist and the giant monster. And I feel like in some way that presents a solution to this problem of the giant monster just overwhelming the whole story, and maybe that doesn’t happen if it’s so overtly metaphorical and so overtly personal.”
Sara Lynn Michener on I Kill Giants:
“You often see this sort of nerdy, geeky girl, and she’s played by some gorgeous actress, and they’ve given her a pair of glasses and told her to drop her shoulders a little bit, but it’s like, come on, that’s not how society would respond—in high school in particular—to an Emma Watson, for instance. So for me the idea of having this character [Barbara] who could be on the spectrum, could be schizophrenic, could be all kinds of bizarre things that are going through your head while you’re watching this character interact, where she genuinely has issues, you don’t often see that. You see us—the audience—pretending that a character is unlikeable, but it’s very brave to actually, genuinely make her a little bit unlikeable, because then you’re like, ‘Well, I can kind of see where people are coming from here.’”
Lisa Yaszek on A Monster Calls:
“I can only speak for the one small ten-year-old that I own and operate—and maybe some of his friends too—but I think the problem is that [A Monster Calls] gets too much into the interior and the psychological, and especially for a younger kid, like a ten-year-old boy, he’s down for the monster fights and even for some of the school drama, but not all of the talking. I was telling my son about the movies, and asking, ‘Do you want to watch them with me?’ And he’s like, ‘Do they talk about their issues?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, they kind of avoid them.’ And he’s like, ‘Is there a lot of talking?’ And I’m like, ‘Well … ‘ And he was out, by the time I could come up with an answer. So I think it might be too deep, and maybe this is more for older kids, tweens and teenagers.”
Seth Dickinson on Pacific Rim vs. Colossal:
“One of the things I really don’t like about Pacific Rim, for all that it’s a well-shot, gorgeous movie with a lot to say with its art design, is it has very, very weird politics. Guillermo del Toro‘s whole career has been about sympathy for the monster, and taking the monster’s side, but Pacific Rim is this movie where people get in these big robots and fight the monsters, all of which are female—it’s a plot point in the movie—and many of which have names like ‘Slattern’. I think that’s the name of the ultimate monster they fight at the end—these very feminine epithets. … And one thing I like about Colossal is that Anne Hathaway turns into the giant monster, the kaiju, and her weird, abusive, would-be boyfriend turns into the giant robot. So it’s almost like a reversal of the symbolic roles in Pacific Rim.”