From the Archive – Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla98

 

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria

French nuclear testing – that’s right; not righteous American nuclear bombs deployed against civilian targets in Japan, but Godless French nuclear trials – creates a monster. Pursued by the US military, a team of loveably flawed scientists (including Broderick as a Greek-American expert on the mutant earthworms of Chernobyl) and a dogged French ‘insurance investigator’ (Reno, briefly breathing life into the scenes he passes through), this giant, mutant iguana wrecks a few trawlers as it makes its way to New York, where it treads on cars, breaks buildings and generally makes a nuisance of itself.

A rookie journalist (Pitillo) and her veteran cameraman (Azaria, again, a passing ray of sunshine in the bleak midwinter night of this movie) pick up the pursuit of the beast, dubbed ‘Godzilla’.

Far from the rubber-suited guy of Toho’s creature features, this Godzilla is a fast moving, slickly sophisticated piece of CGI. It crouches like an iguana, and burrows like a mad thing; floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and generally escapes all traps set for it by fox-like cunning as much as brute strength. Eventually the scientists discover that the big lizard is pregnant, and Broderick and Reno – really a French secret service agent – team up to track and destroy the eggs, and incidentally a baseball stadium; because its more fun that way. The four principals then lead Godzilla him(her?)self onto the Brooklyn Bridge, where (s)he gets tangled in the wires and rocketed to death.

In the closing scene, a last, ignored egg hatches, and a baby ‘zilla leaps out, with a roar which loosely translates as: “I’ll be back”.

While the threat of a sequel was terrifying, in the end this led to the all-too short-lived Godzilla cartoon series, which was… actually pretty awesome.

What’s wrong with it?

Godzilla is a giant, mutated blob of a movie. Bereft of any significant plot or interesting characters, even its flashy SFX fails to please, and the viewer is left longing for the damn thing to end, especially on video. With the exceptions of Reno, Azaria, and a few supporting turns, the acting is weak at best – with the drippy excuse for a ‘tough’ journalist a particular low – and while the huge lizard is as advertised, he’s so much less so than the original Big G.

He doesn’t even breathe fire for crying out loud!

What’s right with it?

Well, there’s Jean Reno and Hank Azaria, plus that huge lizard. Moreover, Godzilla certainly sounds like Godzilla, having a screaming roar close enough to the real thing for government work. There’s also a nice moment where the lizard gets called Godzilla because the slimy newsman can’t pronounce the Japanese ‘Gojira’; an allusion to the fact that the original film was called Godzilla in the States, because it was felt that the American public couldn’t cope with Gojira.

How bad is it, really?

Giant. Mutated. Blob.

To be fair, if you went to the cinema for Jean Reno and a huge lizard, you did get what you paid for, but the experience falls rather flat on the small screen, and even the huge lizard and the cool Frenchman can’t disguise the fact that the film is overlong and incredibly tedious.

Best bit?

Jean Reno’s French secret service surveillance team bitching about the quality of American coffee, and the dearth of croissants in New York city.

What’s up with…?

  • Godzilla being pregnant? And even if he is, then how can Matthew Broderick tell from a saliva scraping off the streets of New York? I mean, seriously; with all the crap that must be on those streets…
  • Godzilla being a mutated marine iguana? I mean, is this supposed to be more credible than a mutated dinosaur wakened from frozen stasis by a nuclear blast? Heh; and neatly I see it’s now the fault of the French rather than the Americans.
  • Matthew Broderick’s career? Seriously, the guy seesaws from excellence to the ludicrous without pause. Just look at Godzilla and Election; it’s hard to believe it’s the same guy.
  • Blowing up a stadium with air-to-air missiles? OK; I pretty much accept this as a movie fudge, but the criticism has been levelled, and I thought I’d better mention it. Military types are apparently very bothered by it.

Ratings:

Production Values – To be fair, pretty good. Some people claim that you can see the buildings through the big lizard, but I didn’t get that. My problem with the big lizard is that it’s just plain not Godzilla, but for what it is, it looks pretty spiffy. Just wish they’d spent some of the budget on flaming breath though. 6

Dialogue and performances – Ugh. Matthew Broderick in one of his career lows, and could the reporter chick be any more irritating if she tried? Generally solid support playing, especially from Reno and Hank Azaria, can’t hide the fact that the central performances blow. The script is also on the naff side, but not so much as to be cringe worthy. The performances however elevate the material to a new height of tedium. 16

Plot and Execution – What plot? Big lizard. Smash Manhattan. Killee monster. Pretty basic fare, with some added cool Frenchmen. The delivery is workmanlike and the payoff lacks any of the emotional impact of the original; or even of Destroy all Monsters12

Randomness – The giant lizard pregnancy test. The absence of flaming breath (what? was it felt that would damage the suspension of disbelief?) The iguana business. Mostly, however, it is internally consistent. 10

Waste of Potential – It’s a big budget Godzilla flick, and they screwed it up! How could they manage that? It must have taken real planning and effort. 17

Overall: 61%

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