Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Movie Review of ‘Godzilla’ (1998)

Movie Review of ‘Godzilla’ (1998)

More than forty years and two-dozen movies after first raising his mammoth head in the Japanese monster flick Gojira, Godzilla made its Western-ised debut courtesy of the director/producer team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. By 1998, this particular twosome had firmly established themselves as purveyors of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, with Stargate and Independence Day having previously blown out theatre speakers. Thus, this late-’90s reinterpretation of the normally dumpy, rubbery monster is a loud, special effects-ridden summer flick created with the brain-dead in mind. It’s also a textbook example of a failure – it underperformed at the box office, the planned sequels never materialised, and it was disowned by Toho Pictures (the company responsible for the original Godzilla productions) who actively excised this version from the canon. For what it’s worth, 1998’s Godzilla is not the disaster that the majority have made it out to be as Emmerich pitches the idiocy at an agreeable tone, but the flick is definitely underwhelming on the whole.

The plot, such as it is, concerns biologist Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick). Not long into the film, Niko is recalled from Chernobyl by the United States Army to study large footprints left on tropical islands. Meanwhile, accounts begin to materialise which claim that a large creature known as “Godzilla” has been capsizing ocean vessels around the world. Before anything can be put into conjecture, Godzilla – a stories-tall creature which bears the appearance of a dinosaur – emerges from the waters off New York City and begins wreaking havoc within the Big Apple. With the city under threat of annihilation, Niko is hired to work in conjunction with the military to stop the behemoth. As fate would have it, amid the chaos, Niko meets his former flame Audrey (Maria Pitillo), who’s now a struggling reporter seeking her big break.

At first, the monster is not seen at all – it’s an unseen but clearly gigantic menace, à la Jaws. With radars blipping, ships being destroyed, an attack survivor uttering the word “Gojira,” and giant footprints being discovered, the sense of foreboding is enormous. Unfortunately, this style lasts all of 20 minutes, after which the style shifts from Jaws to Jurassic Park as Godzilla proceeds to rip up the city. Emmerich and Devlin’s screenplay is an incredibly bloated affair, dragging out all the nonsense to an inconceivable 130 minutes. The most egregious addition is a subplot involving the offspring of Godzilla which would have been better suited for a sequel. This leads to an extended sequence involving baby ‘Zillas which look and act like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park (the mini ‘Zillas even hunt down the movie’s heroes from one room to another…just like in Jurassic Park). However, whereas Jurassic Park was nail-biting and had a degree of substance, Godzilla is more concerned with money shots.

While the digital effects are competent here, they are not spectacular, and for the most part fail to hold up all these years later. At times the giant lizard looks convincing, and the creature design is impressive, but it oftentimes looks hokey and embarrassingly digital. More importantly, the size is inconsistent (it grows and shrinks at the plot’s convenience), and the creature lacks weight. Each time a close-up observes Godzilla’s foot as it hits the ground, it never looks quite right. And, of course, what summer blockbuster would be complete without plot holes and stupidity? In this case, a monster that’s as tall as a skyscraper is able to fit through subway tunnels, and Niko is able to purchase home pregnancy tests in the middle of the night from a pharmacy apparently still operating in an evacuated city. Furthermore, the split-second timing typically associated with Hollywood movies is a frequent bother. For instance the protagonists find the nest of baby ‘Zillas just as they’re hatching, Godzilla arrives on the scene at the most convenient time, and so on.

In the original Japanese Godzilla films, the monster usually had a clear agenda. In this American appropriation, Godzilla is a mindless brute; a lizard that wants to eat and reproduce. The creature’s destruction isn’t intentional – it’s just the result of a big dinosaur-like monster being trapped in a world designed for humans. Thus, this is literally a film about a bull in a china shop. Adding insult to injury, a few slipshod attempts at humour are included. There’s an ongoing gag regarding the fact that no-one can pronounce Niko’s last name correctly, and the script attacks film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Of course, the reason for this attack is because Ebert and Siskel panned Emmerich and Devlin’s prior movies. But the characters serve no purpose in the story other than to add further padding, and, as the critics themselves noted, the revenge part was handled poorly. Are these characters torn to shreds and eaten by the monster? Nope. They just bicker. What a wasted opportunity.

Working in the film’s favour is Emmerich, a proficient blockbuster filmmaker who’s skilled as mise-en-scène despite the idiocy of his screenplays. Godzilla can only be defended as a dumb piece of entertainment, though that’s a strictly subjective opinion. In terms of shot composition and direction, the film is fairly skilful, with a number of standout action sequences scattered throughout the narrative. The climactic chase through New York City is particularly impressive, as is a set-piece involving helicopters pursuing the giant lizard. When the pace slows down and the film tries to give the cardboard characters some dimension, Godzilla is less successful. But when it’s focused on delivering pure entertainment, there is fun to be had.

Ultimately, Godzilla is pretty much critic-proof. It has its niche audience, and said audience will probably enjoy it (it was my favourite movie when I was eight years old). After all, it’s a widely-shared viewpoint that critics are boring and are not able to enjoy blockbusters.Godzilla is not as good as Emmerich’s other efforts, but it has its strengths, and all of the harsh criticising the film has received does seem a bit excessive. It’s dumb fun; take it or leave it.

5.1/10

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