Friday, July 31, 2020

Movie Review: Godzilla (1998)

GodzillaGodzilla (1998) co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich

The king of all monsters was given a reboot in the late 1990s by Roland Emmerich, the director of summer popcorn blockbusters like Independence Day and 2012. This movie follows the over-the-top entertainment of Emmerich's other films.

The story introduces Dr. Tatopolous (Matthew Broderick) investigating the impact of Chernobyl radiation on earth worms (it makes them 17% bigger!). He's pulled out by the military to investigate another large, apparently radioactive monster. The army has only found footprints, but the incidents of the big monster lead from French Polynesia through Panama and onto New York City. Another female scientist (Vicki Lewis) is both threatened and attracted to Tatopolous. They move quickly from Central America to New York, where most of the movie takes place. Godzilla shows up in the city and wanders around, with the army destroying stuff around the amazingly nimble giant lizard. The monster vanishes as the city is evacuated. Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) panics about his reelection as he deals with the army's destructive campaign against Godzilla (who uncharacteristically inflicts minimal damage on the buildings, unlike the army). Plucky junior reporter Audrey (Maria Patilo) is Tatopolous's college ex and the whipping girl of TV anchor Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer). Caiman is the typical sleazy top dog in the TV studio, hitting on Audrey while using her research as his own. Also, a Frenchman (Jean Reno) follows Godzilla around, though the reason is a bit mysterious at the beginning.

The movie has lots of flaw. First of all, too many characters are introduced, leading to one-dimensional performances and cliched plot lines. The French character seems especially shoehorned in to crack jokes about Americans and (maybe?) to appeal to French cinema goers. Godzilla, though the title character, is relegated to tertiary standing among the cast. Also, he is almost unrecognizable. Physically, he's slimmed down and more alligator-like with smaller eyes and longer limbs. Godzilla's iconic roar is barely discernible in the noises made by this movie's monster. His atomic/fire breath is used once or twice but not explained, even though the movie seems obsessed with making pseudo-scientific explanations about everything else.* And Godzilla is upstaged by his offspring, who go after the main cast like the raptors from Jurassic Park (they even look a bit like the raptors) in the final part of the movie. The script is full of cliches that make the movie feel tired and lazy. The cleverest part of the movie is Mayor Ebert's helper with whom he constantly bickers and at the end is named Gene, when he gives a thumbs down to Ebert. Even so, that joke is aging out as fewer people have a living memory of Siskel & Ebert's At the Movies.

Not recommended--at least the old Godzilla movies earned their cheesiness through being entertaining and being focused on the monster.

*To be fair, the old Godzilla movies don't explain his atomic/fire breath either, but they never bothered with technical explanations.

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