Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Godzilla (1998)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria


I didn’t think Emmerich could screw this one up, but he did. With today’s effects, this one had the potential to be good, it really did. But Emmerich prevailed. No story, no interesting or believable characters, no drama, bad dialogue, no sense of humor (attempts at visual and verbal humor are annoying). Just mediocre action, nauseatingly fast cuts, a few nice visuals, and loud, annoying music. Emmerich is a cinematographer, not a director.

There were two ways to go with this one. Either make it a kick-ass monster/disaster movie with updated effects, or go for the action/comedy charm of the older, Japanese Godzilla movies.

If this film was supposed to be a monster/disaster movie, Godzilla should have kicked more ass. The movie, as a disaster/monster flick, should have been all about establishing the Godzilla as a bad-ass. The establishment of this bad-assery is even more important if this movie is indeed the first of a trilogy, as I have been hearing. Speaking of sequels, how could they have killed off the monster? It won’t be the same knowing that the monsters in future films are clones, impostors, or even descendants rather than the real thing.

But they could have also gone with the campy comedy of the vintage Godzilla movies. In the original ones, Godzilla was funny (he even danced in one of them). Why not continue the tradition? Sure, it would have been harder to make, and today’s writers would need to put a lot of work into successfully blending the comedy with the action, but it could have been a much more enjoyable movie.

The action isn’t so great. The suspense is there, but the delivery is not. Battle scenes were reduced to close-ups of people shooting and close-ups of Godzilla limbs rather than the long shots of battle in the city that we were all expecting after the older Godzilla films. His roar and his fire-breathing were awesome and the only real homages to the older films. But of course, they only used the fire-breathing once. What ever happened to his glowing, radioactive scales? I didn’t care for the dinosaur babies (ripping off the Jurassic Park Velociraptor babies in number, appearance, and behavior) chasing the innocent, little people inside the building. The babies just competed competed for the viewer’s attention, stealing the show for a good part of the film from the main attraction. The movie is about the big monster, so let’s spend most of the movie watching the big monster.

The new Godzilla is more sinister and unfriendly (like a Giger creation) rather than charming and friendly like he used to look. I’m actually surprised at how ugly his face is. I thought the old Godzilla had an ugly face, and I was looking forward to some sort of improvement, but this one is even uglier. The protruding chin and beady, recessed eyes do nothing for me. He’ s also hunched over like he’s got a back problem and a lot smaller than I remembered him being (didn’t he used to squash buildings with his foot?). And the editing prevented us from relating to him. All we see is face close-ups or bits of an arm or leg or tail in the frame. Rarely (maybe once or twice) do we see his whole body, and I think that prevents us from really understanding his physical reality and accepting him.

Bad writing, as expected. Way too much focus on the pathetic human relationships that the film tries to use as its foundation. They tried to make a story where there shouldn’t have been any at all. In a monster/disaster movie, you don’t want the victims to have character (I think this film might have been better with no human story and unknown actors).

And what’s the moral lesson here? Not only do humans revel in torching zillions of baby dinosaurs, but we get a rather gross close-up of a torched corpse. Then after that, the humans do all they can to kill the pissed off Godzilla. As the monster dies, Broderick seems to connect for a sympathetic moment, but then he totally withdraws from it and celebrates Godzilla’s death with the others. What the hell is all that supposed to mean? Godzilla didn’t do anything wrong, and seeing him get killed at the end of the film was horribly depressing. I left the theater hating humans.

A few plot questions. If Godzilla is not supposed to be intelligent, how did he duck all the missiles (as if he had been attacked before by missiles), and how did he make the connection between the dead babies and the people standing there? If he is supposed to be intelligent, how come this is not once acknowledged by any of the human characters, the scientists in particular? And a Secret Service agent would know he was followed by a minivan down an alley with no other cars. They should have explored the myth of Godzilla more (at a convenient point in the film, it comes out of nowhere to fill in a plot hole and is then forgotten). And a few technical questions. The land physics seem right, but there’s no way anything that big could outswim torpedoes. Are baby dinosaurs really such good runners and hunters at birth? Would missiles have killed the old Godzilla? Do reptilian hearts sound like human hearts? A pet peeve, when home video footage shot by one of the characters contains the same dramatic framing, POV, and editing of the film’s omniscient camera. The TV shots at the beginning which grounded Godzilla to reality and gave him a real history for the first time were pretty neat.

Overall, most of the characters are annoying and uninteresting stock characters (who are entirely predictable because they are such stereotypes), archetypes, and rip-offs, many neatly borrowed from Jurassic Park. A corrupt political leader, staunch military guys, a blond bimbo who tries to be tough but fails and gets the guy anyways, a reporter (same character as the lawyer in Jurassic Park), a more mature woman who likes cute guys (who looked and acted remarkably like the blonde in Jurassic Park), and a quirky guy with a cold (a lot like the gay hairdresser in Independence Day). And what is with Hollywood’s damn annoying habit of making every damn person on-screen (actors, supporting actors, bit parts, and even extras) so damn good-looking and perky? We need more ugly people in the movies. There have to be some ugly people who can act out there somewhere. Rushed, wanna-be witty dialogue. Didn’t get the “turn the TV up” joke (was it a joke?) they repeated a few times. Broderick does the best he can with such bad writing (sounds and acts a lot like Goldblum in Jurassic Park, knowing the true nature of things and relying on intuition). Reno’s good, although not as good as he could be with a proper story and dialogue. Pitillo is extremely cute, but she adds nothing dramatically.

Loud horns, high strings, and a military drum beat, just like Independence Day. A Cape Fear music rip-off early on as the monster is in the water. The soundtrack features too many pop songs (gotta sell those soundtracks) and is distracting in the film. The feature song begins with the end credits. I thought that only happened to U2. Way too commercial overall. Product placement up the ass.

Hmm. The Empire State building comes crashing down, shots of local street signs in a feeble attempt to localize the film, fighters firing zillions of missiles, and the Internet saving the day. Sound like another Emmerich film? And we can’t forget those bullet hole light streams from True Romance, The Professional, and a zillion other movies and the bouncing flashlight beams (ad nauseum) from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Or the “we’re gonna need bigger guns” from Jaws. Or Reno pulling the “let me try mine” door-shooting and Broderick’s “not good, not good” from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Or how about that stolen tape with secret footage on it like in Strange Days, Mr. Nice Guy, or a zillion other films? And how about that lunging monster at the end screaming for a sequel like at the end of Species?

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