Thursday, 16 January 2014

Godzilla (1998)

Title: Godzilla
Director: Robert Emmerich
Released: 1998
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Vicki Lewis, Doug Savant, Malcolm Danare, Lorry Goldman

Plot: In the wake of French atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, decades later a Japanese fishing vessel is attacked by a mysterious creature. Now the creature is heading towards New York and it is up to NRC scientist Nick Tatopoulous (Broderick) and his team to stop the creature before it takes a bite out of the big apple.

Review: Since its original release this ill-advised remake has frequently been used as the yardstick of bad movies, with its original release being greeted with cries of disappointment by both establish Godzilla fans aswell as the general movie going public, while the critics of course were more than happy to cut the film down and mark it out as a monster sized flop.

So now with the new Godzilla movie mere months away I felt it was time to revisit this last attempt to adapt the legendry franchise and question if it really as bad a film as everyone seems to remember it as, with some fans refusing to even acknowledge it as being part of the franchise even though this Godzilla (or Zilla as he has become known) making a cheeky appearance in “Godzilla Final Wars”. Personally I have it on the same shelf as my Toho originals. Okay true it’s filed after those films, but it’s not like I have it stored in a brown bag or anything.

I guess from the start when you’re setting out to remake such a legendry franchise let alone the greatest movie of all time, you are essentially set to fail from the start, especially when you also have a rabid fanbase to appease while still finding a way to make it accessible to those not familiar with the original Toho movies. It is also equally questionable to hire a director who openly admitted to having no love for the original movies and only agreed to direct the film to ensure he could choose his next project. Meanwhile rumours floated around about Godzilla facing off against another monster in the lead up to the release, but with Emmerich clearly wanting to make the film within the boundaries of the sort of film he wanted to make, went for a monster on the loose storyline instead, while also ensuring that he was unable to unleash destruction and chaos on the screen somthing which has frequently been his film making mantra it would seem, especially with his previous summer blockbuster “Independence Day” being sold on such principles let alone its legendry trailer which simply showed the White House being blown up, while for Godzilla he just had him stomp on a t-rex skeleton.  

The other curious production choice is the casting of Matthew Broderick in the lead role, especially as here he plays more of a bumbling sidekick rather than fearless leader you would expect for such a role. As a result most of the film see’s Nick being the brunt of the jokes, over his unpronounceable surname or generally being referred to as “The Worm Guy” on the basis of his work researching the effects of radiation on the local worm population at Chernobyl, which of course clearly makes him the first choice when dealing with a giant radioactive lizard.

Thankfully the gung-ho hero quota is filled by Jean Reno’s Philippe and his team of DGSE (French foreign intelligence agency) agents who reveal their true purpose in the second half of the film, after the American forces have spent the best part of the first film generally causing more damage to the city than Godzilla, something which could be taken as a knowing nod to the original films where the armed forces would also inevitably cause more damage than the monsters attacking Tokyo that week. Sadly these same agents are regularly reduced to stereotypes, as they question the lack of pastries and decent coffee, let alone the fact that they perceive chewing gum and acting like Elvis to be a convincing way to disguise themselves as American soldiers. Still despite such xenophobic jabs Jean Reno is as watchable as always and makes the most of his role here as a man of action and no doubt largely responsible for the success of Nick’s mission here, considering how he frequently seems to be taking charge of the situation and rescuing Nick.

Such bizarre scripting and casting choices frequently seems to be the main issue here, while possibly the really surreal moment come from the pot shots at critics Emmerich takes throughout the film with the key one of course the candy loving and thumb raising Mayor Ebert (the always great Michael Lerner) and his aide Gene (Goldman), while a more obscure dig is the extra cast as a look-alike for “G-Fan Magazine” editor J.D. Lees who had made negative comments over leaked information from the films production. M. Night Shyamalan would also try and take a similar jab at the critics with “Lady In The Water” only to come off more smug than anything, especially when he made the least likeable character in the film a film critic. Roger Ebert of course being the constant professional simply responded to this homage of sorts in his review by proclaiming

“They let us off lightly; I fully expected to be squished like a bug by Godzilla”

Still the real draw of course is Godzilla, or should that be Zilla as he’s become more popularly known amongst the G-Fans and if Emmerich does anything right it is with giving us atleast an impressive looking monster. True he may be more energetic than his Toho counterpart better known for his stomping style than the leaping and charging pace which Zilla favours, but then outside of the passing resemblance to each other, they are very different monsters which again may have been the source of much disappointment for the established fans expecting to see more of the Godzilla that they had become accustomed to than this version who comes with his own skills and seemingly none of those processed by his Toho counterpart. So while the Toho Godzilla breathed radioactive fire and enjoyed reducing Tokyo to rubble, Zilla is able to burrow underground, disappear at will aswell as being create some form of fiery breath which is never truly explained or shown clear enough (let alone frequently enough) to understand how it works. On the plus side the design and effects work while forgoing the traditional man in a suit in favour of CGI still look great even now, while giving Emmerich more flexibility with the destruction he chooses to unleash on New York (or “The City That Never Sleeps” as it is known here).

Emmerich despite not having love for the project still manages to craft some exciting scenes of monster rampage action including an exciting gunship pursuit. Elsewhere the scenes of destructions are equally well handled from the moment the incoming Zilla obliterates a pier. The real surprise here though after all the peak a boo teasing that Emmerich put into the promotion for the film, is the unexpected third quarter which sees him unleashing a horde of mini zilla’s on the screen which thankfully are nothing like the Toho Godzilla’s son Manila, though the slap stick moments which follow the group trying to escape these babies did end up grating on most audiences, but personally I found them to pretty fun, thanks largely to the comedic timing of Broderick, especially when the lift doors open to reveal a horde of Zilla babies destroying a popcorn stand, he manages to do more with a simple facial expression than a clumsy one liner as other actors might be included to do in such a scene. True it could be perceived as a sign that Emmerich couldn’t find a way to keep the audience interest with Godzilla on the rampage, especially when he somehow manages to find a way of hiding him every fifteen minutes, thanks to his new burrowing ability (let alone his unintentional size changes) which I thought was something limited to Baragon only. However it is hard to deny that the initial discover of the nest is not a great scene and one clearly taking its cues from the nest scenes in both “Alien” and “Aliens”, but like the memorable scenes in those films it seems to be pay (if perhaps unintentionally) homage to and its scenes like this and the end chase scene in the seemingly indestructible taxi cab, which seem to get frequently forgotten when people talk about the film.

So yes this film might not have been the Godzilla movie us G-fans wanted, but at the same time it is far from the worst film in the franchise (a toss up between "Godzilla's Revenge" or "Godzilla Vs. Megalon") or even the worst film ever made (The Zombie Diaries, Deaden, anything associated with Noel Clarke all come to mind) as most folks tend to view it, while certainly Emmerich would go on to make worse and even more overblown films like “2012”. Even with its flaws when ever Zilla or the mini-zilla’s are on the screen it is generally a lot of fun, which I guess is were it counts and if you get past the human distractions you might even realise that its not really that bad…..failing that take heart in the fact that you only have a few months till the new film is realised.

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