GODZILLA SEASON: Film Review No.307: “Godzilla” (1998)


So after Toho gave Godzilla a huge send off in Godzilla Vs Destoroyah it was now up to Sony to reinvent the King of the Monsters for Western Audiences. A Hollywood version of Godzilla had been at various stages of pre-production since the early 80s. Jan De Bont’s attempt to make the film was eventually turned down due to the film requiring a budget of $120 million. Also, it may have had something to do with Godzilla’s origins being changed to that of a creature created by Atlantians. Was going to look like Godzilla though. And he would have fought a monster. When that was scrapped Dean Devlin was hired to produce and Roland Emmerich to direct. To be fair, they were on a bit of a roll with high spectacle summer blockbusters, s the decision made some sense. The script was rewritten and they were granted $130 million to give Godzilla the Hollywood treatment. Instead they made this film. Click the link below for my review.

In this film that is called Godzilla, some nuclear tests in French Polynesia has caused just one of a whole batch of Iguana eggs to mutate. Lord knows how cos Iguanas aren’t found around that area of the world, but this is hardly the time for logic. After all, the real Godzilla was a mutated dinosaur. At least he had the decency to be a fictional dinosaur. Anyway, this Iguana is now 50 metres tall (when the scene demands it) and is headed to New York to lay it’s eggs because apparently it’s perfect for nesting. How this alleged Godzilla knew what New York was like is beyond me… maybe he got HBO on his island. Expert on something to do with radiation Nick Tatopoulos (Ferris Bueller) has been asked to look at footprints and then go to New York with the army led by Colonel Hicks (Shia LaBeouf’s Dad). Also, Nick’s ex-girlfriend Audrey (Maria Pitillo) is in New York trying to be a reporter or some shit and is friends with Moe Szyslak who is a camera person. Then the Velociraptor scene from Jurassic Park happens because Godzilla had babies and Jean Reno… I mean, Leon is there too.

Man I remember the build up to this. There was a museum based teaser trailer where a big foot crushed a dinosaur exhibit, firing shots right at Jurassic Park… which was released 5 years earlier. That would be like having Marvel launch a Moon knight film with a teaser where he knocks over a cardboard cut out of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Anyway, shots was fired, I was a teenager so it worked, and we all waited to see what the new Godzilla would look like. We knew it was going to look different and Sony did all they could to hide the look. The most you saw was a foot up until the film’s release. Well, unless, like me, you wandered into a shop and saw posters being sold with a full image of the new Godzilla a few weeks before the film’s release. I say Godzilla. It was more a Tyrannosaurus Rex with severe Prognathism. But hey, maybe this Godzilla would at least act like the real Godzilla, right?

Aww, he's all tuckered out and dying and stuff.

Aww, he’s all tuckered out and dying and stuff.

The Godzilla of this film is motivated by eating tuna and dropping a load… of eggs in Madison Square Garden. It dislikes confrontation and prefers to hide behind buildings or inside the subway system of New York. Its favourite past times include breaking stuff with its tail and chasing taxi cabs. This Godzilla has no atomic breath but does have very stinky fish breath. Well, sh-it. If that isn’t the exact opposite of what Godzilla, the force of nature, the destroyer of worlds, the reckoning for man’s hubris, represents. There’s a reason fans call this creature G.I.N.O. As in Godzilla In Name Only. Even Toho have taken to renaming it as Zilla, and oh my do they give the fans some payback later. I really don’t mind that they redesigned the look of Godzilla anywhere near as much as they destroyed the character, the theme and the nature of the King of the Monsters. I get that they wanted Godzilla to move fast and that Jurassic Park was still seen as the bar to beat… but come on… at least get one aspect of the creature right. I mean, Jesus, this Godzilla runs down all the roads. The real Godzilla would just plough through everything in his way because humans deserve it and he gives zero shits. Well, I suppose you see this Godzilla burst through one building in the only scene where it grows a spine and fights back.

Now I will admit that I have cut the Toho Godzilla film’s some slack when it comes to character development, story and effects. This is because those films were not made with the resources and production schedules of this film. They quickly produced and intended to be big fun entertainment. There’s less of a drive in Japanese cinema to make an effect look 100% believable and more of a drive to get the film made anyway they can. They also fully embrace all the silliness and over the top nature of their genre. Most Japanese Godzilla films are made for somewhere in the region of $10 million. This film cost $130 million. I have to hold this to a higher standard. There’s a difference between making the best of what you have and making whatever you want because you have the means for everything. If your project has the means it needs to use them. That money wasn’t spent on the TV grade cast either. It was almost entirely on effects. Now, there’s some really good model work here and there but mostly the film employs some of the worst, even at the time, computer generated effects in a big budget film you’d ever likely see.

Matthew Broderick had kissed rougher co-stars.

Matthew Broderick had kissed rougher co-stars.

Godzilla often doesn’t match the colour temperature of the rest of the shot. Appears in differing quality of renders. Shifts size dependant on the scene. The Zilla babies have the same issues. Decent looking puppets but mostly they’re CGI that doesn’t gel with the scene. Many of their moments are near shot for shot ripped from the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park, even copying the shadows creeping up behind their prey moments. The first moments you see Godzilla show a little bit of promise. It’s all giant feet and the odd tail waving past people and cars, moderate destruction and the occasional traffic jam being left in its wake. And then the scene goes on for too long and by the time we see the beast in all its glory we’ve already pieced it all together in our heads. There are a few shots where the CGI Zilla does look OK enough to appear as if it is within its surroundings, but those few shots do not make up for the mess we see the other 90% of its screen-time.

Every character in this film is an idiot. Nick is an idiot who travels great distances at the early part of the film without asking why until he gets there. He also never stands his ground and argues for the smart path. Such as when the army decide to throw him out because he was dumb enough to tell his ex-girlfriend everything. He is kicked out despite a major problem looming with the possibility of many more Godzilla’s being born and makes no attempt to argue the urgency of this problem. Once he’s out he’s picked up by Jean Reno’s character, Roache, a member of the French Secret Service, to go find this nest. So he wasn’t even proactive in that decision. The most proactive thing he does in the film is lift one manhole up. The army are idiots who manage to miss a 50 metre tall lizard on alarming consistency. Colonel Hicks decides to not look for the eggs, despite evidence that there will be some. The Mayor, who is tactlessly named after Roger Ebert, seems to think this is a situation that can be dealt with instantly. The French agents think chewing gum and doing an Elvis impression will make them come across as being American. Why they’re sneaking around I won’t know. They say to cover up the mistakes. Except that mistake is running around New York at the time. Pretty sure the US wasn’t at war with France either so they’d likely appreciate the help. Hell, they could send them to look for those eggs that Nick guy mentioned. No-one in the film, except for Ferris Bueller and what’s her face, can say the name Tatopoulos. This is apparently a joke that runs… runs like dirty nappy.

More dinosaur in the rain action.

More dinosaur in the rain action.

It’s not just the stupidity of the characters that is an issue here. The film is conflicted in it’s emotional and thematic presentation. It starts by making it fairly clear that nukes are bad and they make monsters. But as Godzilla is just a wandering beast not intending to cause harm here there’s no pay off for that. If we’re meant to pay for our meddling with the atomic bomb then why punish is our punishment a very hungry Iguana? There’s no thematic parallel. This has nothing to match the scenes of Godzilla slowly reducing Tokyo to rubble as everyone realises they can do nothing to stop this threat. Where’s the danger when Godzilla can be scared off by machine gun fire? When Godzilla is eventually killed it comes not with a bang, or some thematic device, but with Zilla getting tangles in some bridge cables and being killed by a total of 12 missiles. Once again, it takes 12 missiles to kill Godzilla. If only those earlier ones had hit, huh? To make this moment worse Zilla collapses slowly, all tired out from the wounds and the chase. It slumps to the ground and slowly breaths it’s last breaths as Nick walks up with a sombre look on his face as he looks on at the death of the only example of a new life… Meanwhile the military and the people of New York are cheering and everyone’s being congratulated on a job well done. If the intention was to make the hero characters and the people of New York come across as bloodthirsty killers just looking for the next innocent thing we can blow up then damn, this film ended on a poignant note. More likely the Roland Emmerich had no idea what he was doing as the majority of his filmography will back up.

The 1998 incarnation of Godzilla is a terrible, stupid, insipid, poorly made, poorly written and horribly constructed Godzilla film. If it maybe had no ties to Godzilla, a different origin, was maybe honest of its intention to rip off The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (Google Rhedosaurus to see how Godzilla’s design was a copy/paste job) and Jurassic Park, maybe with those caveats this film could at least not been called Godzilla. It would still be the same terrible film but at least it wouldn’t have dragged Godzilla into this. Right, after that I need to get to work on the Millennium series of Godzilla films so I can get to Final Wars and watch Zilla get destroyed in 10 seconds. Although, I may have actually watched that film the other day anyway cos I wanted to see that bit. Also, Don Frye. I wanted to see Don Frye. The next review will be for Godzilla 2000!


About lvl54spacemonkey

Just a dude who likes movies and games and has delusions of working in one of those industries. Write screenplays and work on short films in my spare time. Most of which never get finished. View all posts by lvl54spacemonkey

One response to “GODZILLA SEASON: Film Review No.307: “Godzilla” (1998)

  • Ben

    I don’t remember hating this movie, just being non-plussed by it all. It was always clearly ripping off Jurassic Park, badly. There are some “cool” moments but the new Godzilla, and every Jurassic Park, is better. I loved the Moon Knight/Joker comparison too… Solid Review!

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