*. Few things date like dates. At the time, that time being the ’90s, “2000” had a kind of talismanic quality, suggesting all kinds of millennial newness long before “millennial” became a pejorative for a much-maligned demographic. And this movie was in fact the first in the Shinsei or Millennium series of Godzilla movies (sometimes referred to as the “x” series because they used “x” instead of “vs” in their titles). In short, Godzilla 2000 (also known as Godzilla 2000: Millennium) is a Godzilla reborn for the twenty-first century!
*. Since the Millennium series picked up only a few years after the end of the Heisei Era (whose last film was Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) there’s not as clear a break as far as production values go as there was between the Showa and Heisei Eras, even though there’s a big jump in terms of any through narrative. As this movie gets going it seems as though Godzilla hasn’t been doing anything since Gojira except his usual routine of coming ashore and smashing up refineries and downing powerlines. In the meantime the Japanese Defence Forces have continued to come up with new weapons to try and get rid of this giant pest, all to no avail. Godzilla is simply a fact of life if you live in Japan, like bad weather or earthquakes.
*. Things actually get off to a good start here. I thought the effects work in the first part of the film were excellent, with a heavy use of compositing techniques to blend the suitmation with real settings and less model work. This is the best I’d seen Godzilla looking, maybe ever.
*. Alas, things go downhill when an alien spaceship is discovered under the sea and brought to the surface in a manner that for some reason made me think of Raise the Titanic. That I was reminded of Raise the Titanic (1980) actually took me by surprise. Does anyone else remember that movie? It seems to have almost entirely disappeared. It did have a DVD release though so I guess it’s still out there.
*. Anyway, the alien ship is a major disappointment, being only a silvery CGI blob. I think the spaceships in The War of the Worlds, or even The Day the Earth Stood Still looked better. The story then follows the usual formula. Godzilla might be a destructive bastard, but he’s our destructive bastard, and he’s humanity’s last hope to stop the planet from being colonized by aliens.
*. Or at least I think that’s what the aliens are up to. These aliens aren’t like the weirdos from the Third Planet of the Black Hole in the Showa Era. In fact we never see what they look like and they don’t communicate with us in any way. We just get t look at their spaceship.
*. As a result, the middle part of the movie drags. Godzilla gets his ass kicked by the spaceship, but it then, bizarrely, transforms into a giant monster called Orga that sets up another city-flattening kaiju battle for a finale. This part of the movie is very good, with Orga being an interesting new monster and the effects going back to being above average. There’s even a bit of a twist thrown in as Orga tries to absorb Godzilla by swallowing him, which turns out not to be the brightest move.
*. The other odd wrinkle has to do with the dubbed dialogue. They seem to have had some fun with this, including nods to movies like Dr. Strangelove and having the characters expostulate in lines like “Gott im Himmel!” and “Great Caesar’s ghost!” Some people thought this too jokey but I thought it stayed just this side of being camp.
*. I find Godzilla 2000 to be a hard movie to rate. It’s above average in most respects, and shows a definite advance on the Heisei Era entries, but it feels like it’s missing something. Maybe not so much the heart, or sense of fun, that I mentioned as being AWOL in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, but something. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say it’s any sense that the movie has a point. All the boxes are checked, and there are some real innovations, but despite the millennial branding this doesn’t feel like a franchise that’s rebooting.
*. Of course the human stories in these movies are rarely very interesting. I think the one we get here is better than average, with several intriguing characters. But Godzilla himself seems to have less personality. If we can speak of him as a character I’d say he’s only going through the motions, trashing cities and then saving the world out of a sense of, if not duty, then routine. Given that the Godzilla franchise is recognized as the longest-running movie franchise in history and it was coming up on its fiftieth anniversary in 2004 this shouldn’t come as a surprise. They were doing their best, but the arteries were getting hard.