This post isn’t about a movie review of the 1998 American Godzilla movie, its more about the personal reason why I like the 1998 Godzilla monster and the design along with enjoying the movie. One of the reasons for this post is that last week there were a couple of Godzilla related groups that were once again bashing the movie and the creature. So this is an answer to the frequent Godzilla 1998 bashing.
Some background information. I have been a Godzilla fan since I was about 5 years old back in 1968 or so. I remember seeing “Destroy All Monsters” in the theaters. I watched Godzilla in my youth and young teens. But between Godzilla’s hiatus between 1975 and 84 I didn’t see a lot of Godzilla as many TV stations that I liked on cable didn’t show them as often as they did when I was younger.
I have always loved the many different designs of Godzilla and like the Starship Enterprise creative people can take that simple design and reinterpret the beast in many different ways. Godzilla had always been a lumbering slow creature acted by a man in a suit. I never disliked that approach and I still do not. I love the old films.
Then came Jurassic Park in 1993. For the first time I saw CGI dinosaurs rendered in a very life-like manner. Therefore long before Godzilla 1998 was on the big screen my mind was thinking about the possibilities for Godzilla. In my view the need for the lumbering walk and stance and for a man-in-the-suit portrayal of the character was no longer necessary. From that viewpoint I began to desire to see Godzilla in a more traditional dinosaur stance and animal like depiction. He no longer had to be a slow lumbering behemoth.
So low and behold when I saw the 1998 movie it gave me exactly what I wanted to see…a more dinosaur like depiction of Godzilla! To my eyes this new portrayal of the monster was more naturally animal like than any depiction prior to this incarnation. and since they went the way I was thinking how I would like to see Godzilla, I was happy with the results. It was different and something new. I also enjoyed the movie..although I do think the part with the raptor-like baby Godzilla’s slows the movie way down. But overall I was/am happy with the depiction and the movie.
I wasn’t sure where to place this film in my review of Godzilla movies. Some fans do not even consider this a Godzilla movies. It was produced by Tri-Star pictures and is an American production instead of from Japan’s Toho Studios. I was going to place this at the end of all the reviews of the Japanese films but instead I thought I would continue with the chronological order I had already established.
The American Godzilla movie seems to be a very divisive film. There is no middle ground, some either love it or they hate it. I am one who actually really enjoys this film a great deal despite its flaws. Having grown up on the Toho Godzilla films of the 60s and the 70s it seems that the majority of the complaints about this movie stems from how far the team of Rolland Emmerich and Dean Devlin deviated from Godzilla’s original design. I think those who were upset with the design changes do have a valid point. When you change the design of a cultural icon it is bound to upset the core fan base. However, despite the monster being Godzilla in name only, the movie does have many qualities to redeem it. I spoke of this in Wednesday’s post concerning continuity. Part of the continuity of the established character of Godzilla is that he is a monster that is virtually indestructible and one that has a very powerful plasma breath weapon. The American incarnation had neither trait. However it is interesting to note that Godzilla’s indestructibility evolved over a number of films. In the initial film, like in the American version, Godzilla was destroyed at the end.
The movie stars Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn and French actor Jean Reno. The movie begins with showing that French nuclear bomb tests in French Polynesia seem to mutate an iguana. We then see a Japanese fishing vessel attacked by some giant creature. In Russia, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission scientists, studying mutated earth worms at the Chernobyl exclusion zone when he is tapped by the Sate Department to go to Tahiti and Jamaica to investigate reports of a Giant creature.
As the military tracks this creature it is soon suspected that it will come to shore in New York City. On a rainy day, as a Mayoral campaign is being conducted, New York is attacked by a giant monster. Soon the military arrives and orders to evacuate the city much to the chagrin of Mayor Ebert. After initial battles with the giant creature fail, Niko Tatopoulos runs into his old college sweetheart, Audrey Timmonds, who works at a TV news station and has aspirations to be a reporter. Audrey steals a video tape from Nick containing information about the Creature. Called Gojira in Japanese legend, Audrey’s boss, news anchor Charles Caiman, played by Harry Shearer, steals her story and flub’s the name Gojira and christens the creature “Godzilla.”
Because of the breach of security Nick is kicked off the military team that is leading the charge against Godzilla. Nick comes into contact with Philippe Roaché who reveals he is not a insurance agent, he is actually the Directorate-General for External Security for France’s external intelligence agency and is trying to clean up the mess his government caused by creating Godzilla with their nuclear tests. After Godzilla is apparently killed by submarines in the Hudson River Nick and Roaché discovers that Madison Square Garden (MSG) is the secret nesting place for Godzilla. Audrey and her camera man friend, called Animal, are also following Nick and Roaché in an aim to give Audrey some credibility after Caiman stole her story and to support and uncover the belief about the existence of the nest which the military is skeptical about and deems not a high priority.
As the four people meet up in MSG they soon discover the nest of eggs which begin hatching. There are literally hundreds of eggs hatching and popping out from these eggs are 12 foot tall baby Godzillas who are all born pregnant. While trying to escape with their lives they find the broadcast booth and begin broadcasting to the public that the baby Godzilla hatching from their nest. The military sees the broadcast and orders the destruction of MSG which occurs right as our plucky heroes escape. However, surprise, surprise, Godzilla is not dead. Godzilla rises from the ashes of the destroyed MSG. Seeing his dead offspring an angered Godzilla begins chasing our heroes as they drive through streets of NYC in a taxi they stole. After Nick ingeniously contacts his military buddy with the cab ID information they lure Godzilla to the Brooklyn bridge where he gets entangled in the wires allowing the military to deliver a fatal blow.
I really enjoy giant monster movies so my review below will be given in a section of pros and cons.
Pros: Taking the design of the monster on its own merit, Godzilla, or Zilla, as he has been renamed by Toho studios, is a very creatively designed creature. I really am impressed with this design. Although I was disappointed with the removal of the dorsal scales down the center of his back, the inclusion of massive scales on the sides of his back do make up for it. Even if one doesn’t consider this creature Godzilla, as he is depicted in this movie he is a well designed monster and a welcome addition to the panoply of Toho’s Kaiju creatures. He is more animal like than his Japanese counterpart (and less indestructible) and this has been the source of many of the criticisms levied at this incarnation of Godzilla. While I do see their point and it does have merit I do like the more realistic portrayal of Zilla as an animal. I do like the CGI Godzilla and the realistic approach. To be honest the movie does uses a combination of CGI, suits and models to depict Godzilla in this film. Some of my favorite parts of the movie are those that show just how huge Godzilla is. I think this movie did that better than the Japanese movies. By showing only portions of Godzilla in the frame at times gave me a better sense of the scale of the monster.
Rolland Emmerich and Dean Devlin have been unapologetic in stated that they make fun lighthearted popcorn movies. That is exemplary with this movie and that is where the enjoyment comes. All of the Toho Godzilla movies are covered with a healthy slice of cheese or two and the American version is no exception. This is a lighthearted movie which doesn’t take itself too seriously and is enjoyable despite its flaws. I do like the story. Matthew Broderick is a fine actor and the character is very likable. So is his ex, and soon to be once again girlfriend, played by the ever-so-cute Maria Pitillo. The story itself is good escapist fun! The plot is not complex, most, not all of the characters are likable but the characters are not always the number 1 attraction in these types of movies anyway.
Cons: My only major complaint and big flaw as far as the characters are concerned is with Mayor Ebert. He spends the majority of the movie just whining and complaining and worried how this will affect his popularity. Even when the military is doing things to protect the city Mayor Ebert really doesn’t seem to care about the welfare of the citizens at all. The other complaint is that the time spent in Madison Square Gardens with the baby Zilla’s is the part of the movie which seems to slow down and drag a bit too much. Other than that I really do enjoy this movie and wished Zilla could get another chance to star in his own feature length movie.
I would like to include a closing few comments on this film that has divided Godzilla fandom. I loved the movie when it came out. When the VHS came out I watched it almost daily for a while. When I heard that many fans were calling the movie and Godzilla himself, GINO as in Godzilla in Name Only, I rolled my eyes thinking those extremist fans were just being rigid and obsessive. In 1998 I had not really returned to my love of Godzilla. At that time I did not own or even had seen any of the old Toho Godzilla movies on VHS and I didn’t even know the later Godzilla movies even existed! I was far out of the loop.
Then in 2005 I began to check out Godzilla movies on DVD. I began watching and purchasing the old Shōwa Series and I learned that there had been other Godzilla movies beyond 1984s Return of Godzilla and 1999s Godzilla 2000, both of which I had seen by that time. My love of Godzilla was rekindled as I began enjoying the later Heisei series and Millennium series. I also began to reevaluate my love for the 1998 American version of Godzilla. Well, I still didn’t hate it as many fans do, and in fact my love for the movie was not diminished. I still love it and it is one of my favorite giant monster movies! What did change for me was that I saw Zilla less as the Godzilla I had grown up with and more like a giant monster with no real connection to his Japanese counterpart. He really was a lot less like the iconic Japanese movie monster and it became very difficult for me to see him AS Godzilla. So I too have become one of those people who see this movie and that monster as GINO, Godzilla in Name Only. So I do join the rest of fandom and call him simply Zilla. A good giant monster but without the God-like characteristics. The difference is that I use the term GINO more as an objective statement that recognizes the differences between the two depictions of the fictional beast, rather than the discrediting and pejorative manner in which many fans use that term.
I rate this movie: B