Saturday, May 10, 2014

GODZILLA (1998): 30 Days of Godzilla

DAY 24

On May 16th, 2014, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures will release Gareth Edwards's GODZILLA, a big-budget 3D American take on Japan's most famous monster. There's definitely a lot of fan excitement and goodwill surrounding this new Godzilla film, which his first in 10 years. However, this is not the first time that America has taken a stab at the King of the Monsters. To this day, fans are still haunted by the memory of America's first attempt: Roland Emmerich's critically-panned and fan-reviled action crapfest GODZILLA 1998.

The road to Godzilla in 1998 went through many hands, including at one time director Steve Miner (Lake Placid) and writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps & Monster Squad) as well as writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean) and director Jan de Bont (Speed & Twister). After production of Independence Day, however, development fell to reigning explosion king Roland Emmerich and his enabler...I mean producer...Dean Devlin. They were given the rights to produce an American take on Godzilla under only two conditions from Toho, Godzilla's creators. First, the monster must retain Godzilla's iconic dorsal plates. Second, its distinctive roar. Emmerich and Devlin were completely these two regards. Every other element that defines Godzilla which was not contractually guaranteed was immediately pitched right out the window. On May 20, 1998, after an intense and obnoxious advertising, cross-promotional, and media campaign, Godzilla opened in North America and quickly earned the scorn of Godzilla fans as well as critics. The film may be called Godzilla, but fans know it best as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only).

Yo, Jurassic Park called. They want their CGI back.
As a result of French nuclear tests in French Polynesia, an irradiated marine iguana mutates into a 50 meter tall, 100 meter long monster which, for some reason, decides to leave its habitat in French Polynesia to swim across the South Pacific and make New York City its new nest. Along the way, it attacks a Japanese fishing vessel, and when questioned by French officials, a lone survivor dubs the beast, "Gojira." Makes sense, right?

To help track and identify the beast, Dr. Niko "Nick" Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a biologist specializing in the study of radioactivity's affects on wildlife for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is recruited by the US military to join a veritable Scooby Gang of quirky supporting characters that travels to NYC and waits for the monster to stumble out of hiding. While in the Big Apple, Tatopoulos reconnects with Audrey, an old girlfriend and wannabe reporter (Maria Pitillo), and her friends like "Animal" the news crew camera guy (Hank Azaria). Let's not forget the French secret service headed by Jean Reno, they're bumbling around too. A bunch of stupid pointless junk later and Tatopoulos discovers that the monster is pregnant and laying eggs within Madison Square Garden. Soon, little raptor-like dinosaurs that could just have easily walked off the set of Jurrassic Park will be on the loose.

Pitillo's vacant expression pretty much sums it up
By all rights, I shouldn't even be writing about this movie. If it weren't called Godzilla, it would have absolutely no connection to the Godzilla franchise. In fact, Toho has taken to calling this particular monster "Zilla" in order to further distinguish it from their flagship monster. Zilla is nothing more than a large dinosaur that's vaguely radioactive. He doesn't breathe atomic fire, he doesn't fight other monsters, he causes comparatively little urban destruction, he runs away from battle rather than confronting it, he just wants to eat a lot of fish, and he's easily destroyed. Not only is Zilla not Godzilla, but he's painfully tepid and dull in his own right. Compare Zilla to any of the other American or Japanese giant monsters. What's his hook besides riding on Godzilla name recognition?

Boring with a big chin. Was Jay Leno the inspiration for Zilla?
Godzilla 1998's first sin was throwing out everything that's made Godzilla an icon worth building a potential blockbuster around. Its second sin is being a profoundly stupid movie. Godzilla is rife with horrible characterization, pointless action, and some baffling leaps in logic. In an effort to design a more realistic Godzilla, the writers didn't seem to get the memo that the movie should also be plausible. For example, Tatopoulos discovers that Zilla is pregnant by testing its blood on a human pregnancy test and getting a positive result. SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! Also, there's a point in which the military is unable to lock onto Zilla with its heat-seeking missiles because Zilla is cold blooded....but cold-blooded creatures do not in reality have cold body temperatures. In fact, a creature the size of Zilla would give off tremendous heat. D'oy! Then, in one of my favorite lapses in logic, the last hour of the movie focuses on the military's attempt to contain Zilla's eggs and babies to the nest in Madison Square Garden. Sounds good right, but how do they know there are eggs in the Garden? Because the search team came up through a huge hole in the floor. A huge hole they never bothered to close off in their attempt to secure the eggs. ARRRRGGGGH. This movie is so frustrating and makes no sense.

If you believe Godzilla 1998 is a good movie, I have a bridge to sell you.
I know what you're going to say, "Give Godzilla 1998 a break. The Japanese Godzilla movies you love are cheesy and silly and full of stupid things too." Yes, they are, but there's a difference. The Japanese Godzilla movies embrace their cheesy elements and make them a part of the fun. Godzilla 1998 talks down to its audience with its goofy asides, lame one-liners, and mutant iguana-sized plot holes. A running joke about a candy-loving mayor named Ebert and his skinnier assistant Gene is particularly cringe-enduing. In the end, what is Godzilla 1998 but a shallow, charmless, stupid, and disgraceful monster movie that is truly GINO?


Godzilla was widely panned by critics and fans. Although it was not a total financial flop, it didn't do the explosive numbers TriStar expected, so plans to develop Godzilla 1998 into a trilogy were promptly squashed. Toho was also not happy with the American bastardization of their 44-year-old icon. Even suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Godzilla in the Heisei series of the 90s, is reported to have walked out of screening and commented, “It's not Godzilla, it doesn't have his spirit.” Thankfully, Toho was not going to let Godzilla wallow in such crap. Toho quickly went into production on Godzilla's true comeback. 

A year and seven months after Godzilla 1998 took a shit on American movie screens, Toho delivered a revamped and restored Godzilla to American and Japanese cinemas. Tomorrow for 30 Days of Godzilla, we examine Toho's immediate reaction to America's desecration of the King of the Monsters in GODZILLA 2000.

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