Godzilla (1998)

*. It’s not that bad.
*. When this Godzilla came out, the first to be produced solely by a Hollywood studio, it was thoroughly trashed by critics and Godzilla fans alike (William Tsutsui even calls it “beyond Reptilicus bad,” which is surely going too far). Indeed, many of the people behind the film, cast and crew, later said how much they disliked it and apologized for how they screwed things up.
*. So it’s not good. But I wouldn’t call it terrible either. I don’t much care for it, but I do find it watchable. In fact I’ve watched it a few times now. And while I don’t like it any better today, I don’t hate it any more.
*. An initial question to ask: Is it really a Godzilla movie? Fans had their doubts, and took to calling it GINO, or Godzilla In Name Only. Director Roland Emmerich hadn’t been interested in the Toho monster and took the job only on the condition of being able to do his own thing. In this case his own thing meant replacing the roly-poly figure of a man in a lizard suit with a CGI dinosaur escaped from Jurassic Park.
*. I don’t mind the creature’s design, but the head is too big and it doesn’t have any expressiveness or character (in the twenty-first century the head would shrink, almost to the point of appearing deformed). As for the CGI, at the time I seem to remember thinking it was pretty good, though Roger Ebert’s contemporary review called it shoddy. Today, however, it definitely looks subpar. As I’ve had occasion to remark many times before, that’s the double edge of cutting-edge technology. You live by it, you die by it.
*. Another thing that bothered me about the monster (in both its adult and hatchling form) is that in all the chase scenes it moves so much faster than whoever its pursuing, but is never able to catch up. Of course this is something that happens in a lot of movies — it’s a way of dragging out chase scenes — but here it happens so often and it’s so obvious that it really got to be a distraction.

*. Complaining about believability, however, is kind of pointless in this movie. How Godzilla is moving around through the subway tunnels is a mystery that’s not even worth thinking about. And other points have become part of the franchise. Like, for example, the military thinking that some guys with machine guns might be able to take Godzilla down. They don’t even have the tanks and rocket launchers that the Japanese army regularly brought out (to no avail). Or we may think of the way Godzilla magically disappears from the middle of a major city, a vanishing act which goes back to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms as well as previous Godzilla films. At least here this is recognized as ridiculous. “How could something so big just disappear?” one character asks. You tell me.
*. The script, I think, is very bad, punctuated with a litany of predictable lines that are played for smiles or applause. But they’re either so obvious or telegraphed so far in advance that they can’t be enjoyed. The pilot of the helicopter gunship who blazes away at nothing and exclaims “I think we got him!” Everybody in the audience knows you didn’t get him. Just like everyone in the audience knows Broderick is going to end up telling us that Godzilla is pregnant but we have to wait forever for him to say the words. Meanwhile, the long-running gag of Mayor Ebert bickering with his sidekick Gene is so laboured as to fail at its introduction.
*. Sure all mass entertainment is manipulative in this way, but it shouldn’t be so blatant in its pandering. Like at the end where we’re clearly supposed to cheer along with all the cheering people watching the same show we are on TV. Another example of the same manipulative effect is when Broderick stops to watch the baby dinosaurs slipping on the jawbreakers and basketballs. It makes no sense for him to do this, but it’s a shot that’s meant to signal to us that we’re supposed to be enjoying this as well.
*. So it’s stupid. And it’s not really a Godzilla movie. And it’s much too long. But Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno do their best and the movie doesn’t stint on what you came in for. I was actually surprised at how early Godzilla is introduced. I doubt I’ll ever end up watching it again, but I think I’ll probably always remember it better than Legendary’s reboot of the franchise in 2014, which I saw once and then forgot entirely a few weeks later. Which may just mean that in a contest between the bad and the bland, don’t bet against failure, however epic.

4 thoughts on “Godzilla (1998)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I feel like there was one awesome shot in this film, of Godzilla leaping into the Hudson. And everything else was just cookie-cutter blockbuster stuff, with driving a taxi down Godzilla’s tongue something of a nadir. You are very kind to this film.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, coming back to it I actually didn’t mind it as much. Like I say, it’s way too slow and it’s not really Godzilla, but it has some good summer blockbuster moments, at least by the standards of the time. Not a total waste.


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