Retro Review: Godzilla 1998

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“I’m watching my career flash before my eyes!”

1998’s Godzilla is a textbook example of a slick and soulless remake/reboot in which almost all of the charm from the original source material has been decimated in a sea of merchandising-ready creatures (human and lizard) and cringe-worthy in-jokes. Though I vaguely remember this film as being “not that bad” when I caught the tail end (if you would excuse the pun) of it several years back, I can now confirm: almost unwatchable.

And here’s why.

First of all, this movie wants to be Jurassic Park so bad it hurts; I suppose this is why the title character looks like a dinosaur, and not the lovable cat- faced monster we all know.

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Godzilla 1958 & 1998 comparison

But it goes beyond just the “look” of the creature, pretty much ripping off all the Jurassic Park tropes: Matthew Broderick as the somewhat naive “just a dedicated scientist doodle-dee-doo” who about the creature (when he’s not assisting the army in trying to blow it up); the nest of eggs that spawn a fast-running gaggle of Raptor- like lizards; Hank Azaria as the plucky camera man who is dressed like a Jurassic Park action figure from Kenner.

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Hank Azaria has this facial expression pretty much throughout 75% of this movie.

But do you know what Godzilla 1998 has that Jurassic Park didn’t have? Jean Reno as an agent of the French Secret Service. “Ha ha, take that, Steven Spielberg!”, director Roland Emmerich seems to be saying. “I fart in your general direction! We’ve got Reno and the friggin French Secret Service!”

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Jean Reno from the friggin’ French Secret Service!

But when the shenanigans of the French Secret Service are the most interesting highlight of your big-budget **GIANT LIZARD** movie, there’s a problem.

Oh, and let’s talk about problems about this movie, shall we?  For instance, Iguana Godzilla starts off on the Japanese coast and ends up in the middle of NYC. Well, that’s a bit of an out-of-the-way trip, isn’t it? Does he simply land on California and leave his big fake-looking footprints all across the United States?

Noooooooo. He apparently takes a short-cut through the Panama Canal or some shit like that. Broderick as the biologist is like: “oh, well he can just sense that New York is a good place for him to hide.” REALLY, Broderick?

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Really, Broderick?

A dense friggin’ island filled with concrete and tall buildings is the exact location Godzilla picked, with his superior irradiated lizard-sense, to chill at? Out of all the places in the U.S. to build a nest, this creature chooses NYC? Now, does that make sense for any other reason than to lead up to a scene where Broderick throws basketballs at the damn ravenous Gadzookies?

COME ON!

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Ya killin’ me, Broderick!

So of course we have a ka-billion scenes of the creature tearing up New York City, which, post 9/11, could never be filmed with the sort of Muppets Take Manhattan levity that is on display here. Cloverfield showed the after-effects of people being stepped on by giant monsters, and citizens in absolute terror—but in Godzilla it’s played almost for laughs.

Oh, look at that: Azaria’s character was almost squooshed, but managed to stay between the lizard’s toes. What a knee-slapper! What, a whole fighter jet just got swallowed by Godzilla’s mouth? Well, better luck next time, Porkins! Now let’s go back to that fascinating romantic subplot between Broderick and that annoying blond reporter girl!

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When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you yadda yadda

Speaking of which, Maria Pitillo earned every bit of her Golden Raspberry Award for her performance in Godzilla, not the least of which is for her flatline reaction to the CGI giant lizard threat. Yes, I she’s acting against a green screen, but that’s why it’s called acting.

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Perhaps the writers, rather than the still somewhat nascent special effects movie magic, are more to blame: Pitillo and Broderick share no chemistry, and their constant series of “coincidental” run-ins (mind you, taking place in a NYC in full crisis-mode as well as New Jersey) cross the line from “romantic” to “oh my god HOW ANNOYING IS THIS???”

But nothing quite takes us out of the story—not Godzilla’s scenic route to the Big Apple, not the wretched and shoe-horned star-crossed lovers subplot, not Hank Azaria in baggy shorts, not even the French Secret Service helmed by the Professional himself Jean Reno—like this adorable subtle-as-a-box-of-hammers wink-wink: New York’s mayor is named Ebert. And looks exactly like Roger Ebert. His assistant is called…you guessed it, Siskel.

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Truly, so-subtle-you-might-miss-it movie symbolism along the lines of like a Nicolas Roeg

This is even more droll than that Eborsisk from “Willow”—if that’s even POSSIBLE! What a way to say “fuck you” to the critics, oh grand moviemakers! What a devastating power-play. Unfortunately, the At The Movies guys rated Godzilla 1998 two thumbs down.

So many bad things here in this film, and so very representative of the “disaster- movie-by-numbers” approach Emmerich has taken since then, with such “blockbusters” as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Just swap out Broderick for John Cusack—it’s that simple.

In fact, I think Cusack pretty much got Broderick’s old job after Godzilla tanked…and who has Cusack’s job now? Ryan Reynolds mebbie? I dunno. Reynolds better stick with that Deadpool franchise and that crystal skull vodka or whatever he’s doing now.

Anything else to say about this movie? Three things:
1. The VHS copy has an embossed “lizard skin” texture, and carries the tagline “Size Does Matter” (though according to the film, it really doesn’t—the male lizards reproduce asexually).
2. Not only was there a cartoon and toy line based on Godzilla 1998—there were two sequels in the works. I want to see the amount of cocaine they used when they planned this shit all out.
3. In spite of Godzilla 1998 most probably being the more inferior film, I have watched it at least 5 times and the later Gareth Edwards version zero times. Because: I suck.

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BRODERICKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One comment

  1. Oh man, I took off of work to see this in the theaters when it first came out. I don’t know what it was, I wasn’t some huge Godzilla fan. The ad campaign just kind of stirred something deep within me. When I first saw it, I had trouble admitting how disappointed I was. It doesn’t bother me that it’s bad. I think I’m on record as liking bad thing. I was just disappointed that it didn’t like what I thought I Godzilla film should be.

    Then Toho made Godzilla 2000 and I felt a lot better!

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