Last year, my son and I set out to watch some eighty-plus films before the new Godzilla movie opens in May. We even compiled a list.
Today's movie is Godzilla (1998).
I'll go first:
Like I've had to do for a couple of films on the list, I'll split my criticisms in twain.
Despite fan howling that this isn't a Godzilla film, there are a few points where it manages to adhere to the familiar formula. The two main characters are a scientist and a reporter (many kaiju films follow this narrative device ... primarily for storytelling purposes, of course). Nuclear component (in original film, nukes awakened Godzilla; in Heisei era, they mutated a surviving dinosaur; here, mutates an iguana). First attack is on a fishing boat at sea. Military is wholly ineffective against it (well, until the submarine attack and the end of the film).
Another point that I feel compelled to highlight is that Godzilla was killed in a "proper" Godzilla film before. In the original Gojira, with the oxygen destroyer. (I'm not sure Destoroyah's death counts as he was melting down due to his nuclear nature over several films.) I will quickly follow up by saying he's never been killed by conventional weapons quite so "easily," though.
What works well?
When it comes to the monster itself, most of the effects. The miniature work is great and most of the CG is very good, too. The action scenes and set pieces are top notch. I love his/her first appearance when it leaps out of the water, especially the added detail of boats stuck in its spines. The music is mostly great, too, though it gets a bit too Jurassic Park-y in places. The scope and production value of the movie feels huge and that's a pleasant change of pace from many Godzilla films. Actor-wise, Jean Reno is good, as is Matthew Broderick and Kevin Dunn (Col. Hicks).
What doesn't work?
Comic relief. Look, I know it's necessary to have moments of levity, but c'mon on. They hired half the voice cast of The Simpsons, and they're not the worst of the bunch. Who's the worst? Mayor Roger Ebert and chief of staff Gene Siskel. Just cut that stupid idea for a joke right out of the movie. (Even if only because they're CHICAGO-based critics.) I like Harry Shearer, but that's still too much comedy. Leave the comic relief to just one character (Hank Azaria's "Animal") and a few moments with Philippe and Dr. Nick and that's it.
The hatchlings. It's a good idea and one that wasn't really explored in any Godzilla film, so I'm, basically, on board. But it goes on way too long with way too dodgy CGI. And it feels like something Jurassic Park did before and much, much better.
(Although, we do get the better-than-it-should-have-been animated series from this scene.)
Ill-advised choices. For one thing, there are concepts that are introduced but never mentioned again. Primarily Godzilla's radioactivity. Why didn't that become an issue? Another bad choice: having the military seem so inept. When it first goes for the fish, the first shots fired against the monster go wide. You can see the tracers firing off into the distance. Of course they may have missed once it starts moving, but you've been aiming at a mostly still animal for the past few minutes, right?
What is this movie's big sin when it comes to calling itself "Godzilla"? The monster in question is really just a big animal. It's looking for food, laying eggs, it gets hurt, etc. Other than being really big, there's nothing nigh mythical about it.
Godzilla ... gotta use two different ratings. As a monster movie, 3 out of five atomic breath blasts. As a Godzilla movie, 1.5 out five.
And that's real breath blasts. Not the fake kind they used in the movie to try and placate fans.
My son's turn:
Well, I like this one and I now don't. When I found out that the real one wasn't in this one, I was sad and mad. But, I still like it. The reason that I didn't like it is because Godzilla gets killed by missiles. The reason I did like it is that this was like a normal Godzilla movie, but with a different monster.
So, rating wise, i'll say 4.1 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness, or 1.8 "fake breath blasts" of fakeness(Like me, he's conflicted.)
Here's the teaser trailer (far better than the actual trailer):
Next, Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys.
(GIFs from tokumonster)