Friday, April 18, 2014

Godzilla (1998) Review

Radioactive Rage Month continues with the most controversial incarnation of Godzilla. When popcorn movie makers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin got their hands on the first American attempt at the world’s most famous giant lizard, a disaster of epic proportions unfolded much to the horror of onlookers. By that, I mean the audience, not the characters in the story.

Godzilla 1998 Title

DISCLAIMER: Due to repeated viewings of the subject matter, the author of this review may have suffered permanent brain damage and cannot be held accountable for any ranting, denials of reality, or other acts of insanity that follow.

The horror… the horror…

With the winding up of the Heisei era series of Godzilla films, Toho Studios licensed out the big green ‘G’ to star in a big budget Hollywood version. Multiple directors bailed on the project due to the constraint of keeping the budget to $100,000,000. Eventually Roland Emmerich (Universal Soldier, Independence Day, Stargate) agreed to make the movie for that amount as long as he was allowed to do whatever he wanted. Tristar agreed to the terms and production began.

This is what is commonly referred to as “a mistake.”

Heavily hyped to the public, high expectations were generated after the smash hit Jurassic Park proved that large lizards could be made to look both realistic and terrifying thanks to advances in computer generated (CG) effects. I remember it well, for speculation on message boards was rampant thanks to the rise of the Internet. Secrecy was maintained well during production and what little info leaked slowly began to worry long time Godzilla buffs.

We weren’t alarmed enough, it turned out. Time to gird my loins, abandon my sanity, and write this review.

The horror… the horror…

Godzilla 1998 IguanaGodzilla 1998 Sonar

The movie begins promisingly enough… wait, no it doesn’t. My imagination just tried to protect me from a truly amateurish opening dominated by a ham fisted attempt to appear like something stitched together from old films. Funny, from what I recall old films appeared to be shades of gray, not nauseating amber veering into orange. Older people with cataracts may disagree, but I will stand my ground on this.

Sigh. I want to go off topic already. Anything to avoid thinking about the movie.

Back to the opening. Intercut scenes of French military troops preparing atomic bomb tests in Polynesia and different kinds of lizards give away the origin right off the bat. How they got monitor lizards mixed up with iguanas, I do not know but given how sloppy the whole production is maybe I shouldn’t be complaining.

Oh who am I kidding? This review is going to be all about complaining!

Near the end of the montage, we see an iguana lay an exposed egg. Guess what gets nuked?

Only a few minutes in and before the credits have finished, I find myself wanting to hurt someone. There is absolutely no sense of mystery – or tension, for that matter.

Following the tests, focus shifts to a Japanese ship which is a nod to tradition in Godzilla flicks. This one happens to be a floating cannery, so we get treated to the sight of fish being gutted. Pay attention, it is a plot point! You can tell because the camera dwells on it for a beat too long. Don’t expect subtlety out of this flick.

The ship runs afoul of something big and deadly with claws and a tail, though little is seen clearly. It’s all a tease of the much ballyhooed redesign, so there should be no surprise at how little is shown. Since it is a Hollywood production, most of the Japanese crew look Chinese and a check of the cast list proves this to be true.

Godzilla 1998 Niko TatapoulosGodzilla 1998 Philippe Roache

Since a Japanese ship in the Pacific has been attacked, it is time to shift over to a worm hunter at Chernobyl, Ukraine. If you think this is simply an excuse to name drop a famous nuclear disaster, you win a glow in the dark kewpie doll. Please ignore the rash, itching, hair loss, and sudden nosebleeds, the doll has nothing to do with them.

Yes, I’m avoiding the movie again. I liked having IQ pounts points and they are already going missing from watching the beginning.

Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) likes electrocuting radioactive earthworms in the rain while singing. Throw in decidedly bad taste in dress and you have an example of the rare in reality super nerd. Get used to him, he’s the hero of the movie. His gear includes a bunch of photos of a blonde taped up, apparently his girlfriend. The photos are taped up, not her.

A Russian helicopter swoops in to interrupt his tormenting the creepy crawlers and disgorges a United States State Department official there to draft him for another job. Did I mention it is raining the entire time? If you are wondering why I feel compelled to point this out, keep reading.

Returning to French Polynesia, the lone survivor of the cannery ship is questioned by a French spook, Philippe Roache (Jean Reno) with a magic Zippo. Apparently waving a lit lighter is enough to turn the incoherent coherent. It must be a French thing.

The only word the terrified old man says is “gojira” repeatedly.

Godzilla 1998 FootprintGodzilla 1998 Cannery Ship Wreck

Nik arrives at the island to be ordered around by Colonel Hicks (Kevin Dunn) and hit on by a redhead scientist (Vicki Lewis). He’s also there to give his opinion on the enormous footprints and claw marks left behind by something. All of this is played for lowbrow humor without an ounce of subtlety which removes any hope of a serious take on Godzilla very quickly.

This is going to be an action comedy and a not very funny one at that. Consider yourself warned. In fact, please run for your life. Me, I’m stuck reviewing this… thing.

Godzilla 1998 Audrey TimmondsGodzilla 1998 Charles Caiman

The movie is edited such that there is a lot of jumping around from location to location, so in the midst of the monster tracking we are introduced to the blonde from Nik’s photos. She’s a none too bright would be reporter named Audrey (Maria Pitillo) working as an assistant to a lecherous anchorman Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer). Not only does she have an annoying New York accent, she has an even more annoying best friend, Lucy (Arabella Field).

Now I do wish it had been the blonde taped up, specifically her mouth. The intellectual level of their conversation has to be witnessed to be believed. We eventually find out that Audrey is actually Nik’s ex from EIGHT YEARS AGO. Nothing creepy or stalkerish about his keeping her photos, is there?

So romantic… Why am I shuddering?

This alone is enough to make a viewer want to see many people die horrible deaths. Or at least finally get to see the main monster.

Godzilla 1998 FootGodzilla 1998 Biting Truck

Since the mystery monster is on the loose in the Pacific, he surfaces at New York City. Try not to think about it. If you do, like me you will feel the sharp pain of brain cells dying. By the way, it is raining in NYC.

The big debut of the new Godzilla is disappointing, since they decide to only tease his appearance even yet. Oh you get a good view of his CG feet and legs that are very saurian unlike the old men in suits versions. Also shown is a glimpse of his head as he chomps on a fish laden truck, but that’s it. Buildings collapse when he brushes them, which is exciting.

Okay, not really. I want to see massive destruction in my Godzilla movies!

Sadly all that happens is an interruption of a press conference by a mayor unflatteringly modeled on film critic Roger Ebert. His assistant looks like Gene Siskel so we are seeing a bit of very petty mockery. Why? Let us just say that their reviews of Emmerich and Devlin’s prior productions did not involve thumbs going up.

Godzilla 1998 LegsGodzilla 1998 Animal

Of course Audrey is in a diner nearby and her friend’s sleazy boyfriend, Animal (Hank Azaria) rushes out to follow the beast. Turns out he works as a cameraman for the same TV station so he is determined to get a scoop. He’s stepped on, but survives much to my disappointment.

Already I’m actively rooting for the named characters to die horribly.

Godzilla 1998 MetLife BuildingGodzilla 1998 Helicopters

The first casualty is not a character in New York City. Instead it is a local landmark, the MetLife building. It only seems like more buildings bite the dust than humans in this decidedly bloodless movie. It may be my desire to see the mains die coloring my perception, I admit.

As is appropriate for a giant monster movie, the military arrives in force to engage the rampaging titan. In this case, swarms of CG AH-64 Apache attack helicopters accompanied by a relatively small amount of ground troops. If you have ever seen an Apache, you’ll notice something off about these. Not only do they have extra braces on the stub wings, they have WWII style machine guns mounted on each side of the cockpit.

Yeah, realism is out the window and waving goodbye while running away from this turkey of a film. How they managed to be more cartoony than even the most childish of the ‘70s Godzilla flicks, I cannot comprehend. However, they manage to achieve it due in no small part to portraying the U.S. Army as a bunch of idiots.

Remember how Emmerich and Devlin made a love letter to the military in Independence Day? Well, this film is the polar opposite. All the brass and grunts are portrayed as bumbling, incompetent, and stupid. Not only are the soldiers treated this way, so is the audience.

All of this happens in the rain. What is this, Seattle?

Actually, that would make more sense given that it resides on the Pacific coast.

Another irritating quality of the flick is how if anything is said once, it is repeated again. Running gags include how bad American coffee is and all of Philippe’s men being named Jean. Repetition is no substitution for quality. Even the action scenes reuse the same gimmicks at least twice.

No wonder I find myself repeating things in this review, watching the movie has warped my mind! I hope there’s a cure…

Godzilla 1998 Full BodyGodzilla 1998 Nose to Nose

Enough about that, what about the new Godzilla himself? After all, he’s finally revealed when he comes out for all the fish piled up as bait by Nik and the military. See, the fish are important.

A big change to the concept of Godzilla is that instead of being an unstoppable force of nuclear powered rage, he’s simply a giant mutated animal. No longer is he a dinosaur turned large by radiation, the critter is a new species evolved from an iguana. He’s also very unimpressive in design, looking nothing like the original.

I remember when the first images from a prototype toy sculpture hit the Web. Quite a bit of disbelief and denial followed, for nobody in their right mind would have okayed the design. Supposedly it was by Toho, but I have to wonder.

Bipedal and scaly the new Godzilla may be, but his back spikes are small, his chin larger than Jay Leno’s, and his proportions more human than even the man in suit predecessors! Rather than being slow moving and heavy, he’s light and fast so that he can run 200 mph through the narrow streets of New York City.

Most of the time he’s rendered through the miracle of computer graphics, but for close ups in some scenes animatronic heads were used. One was even on a upper torso suit with a man in it.

Godzilla 1998 Power Breath

Another one of the leaks to cause uproar amongst fans was finding out that Godzilla wouldn’t have his famous atomic breath. Twice in the movie it appears as if he breathes fire, but it is something far less interesting and completely moronic: his “power breath” blows cars into the air where they spontaneously explode. It looks even more ridiculous than it sounds.

In short, this is not Godzilla. This is the Beast from 20,000 fathoms or any other generic ‘50s B-movie critter grown large. Toho was so displeased with this interpretation that they officially renamed him “Zilla” several years later. God was dropped since there was nothing godlike about the monster. So from now on, I’ll be referring to this bastardization as Zilla.

Godzilla 1998 ApacheGodzilla 1998 Victory Roar

When the military engages Zilla, they succeed mightily. If you count destroying New York landmarks, that is. Emmerich was determined that it be the U.S. Army causing all the devastation rather than the innocent animal. Talk about betraying the original theme of 1954’s Gojira!

Godzilla 1998 Pregnancy Test

Zilla disappears again after whipping the soldiers, burrowing underground into the subway tunnels like Godzilla always did in earlier movies. No, the real ‘G’ never did that and the whole tunneling thing comes out of left field. But that’s nothing compared to the next big change.

It turns out Zilla is pregnant. Yeah, you read that right. Apparently capable of self impregnation or asexual reproduction, he is more of an it.

Would you believe that Emmerich based that idea on the earlier movies? Minilla or baby Godzilla made appearances that weren’t explained, so it had to be asexual reproduction involved. I remember things differently, with both versions from the ‘50s and ‘90s hatching from ancient eggs belonging to the same species. Well, Emmerich clearly wasn’t a fan of the source material so mark this down to being snide again.

Godzilla 1998 Map

Given how sloppy the whole production was, I have a hard time believing any serious thought went into any of it. I submit the screen capture above as evidence. Taken from Caiman’s stolen report, it shows the path that “Godzilla” took to NYC. Of course the arrows go backwards, which is par for the course, but the ridiculous part is showing that Zilla went through the Panama Canal. Yeah, that wouldn’t have been noticed at all.


Godzilla 1998 Colonel Hicks and Niko

Speaking of idiocy, the main heroes are all 20 watt dim bulbs. They do stupid thing after stupid thing, backstab each other, and wander about in a fog of inanity. I suppose it is the only way Zilla could be given any chance at survival against the military given how mundane the creature is.

Godzilla 1998 Army Attack

Of course there will be more fighting, more explosions, more repetitions, more contrived humor, and lots and lots of CG helicopters in the third act. Also, more endings than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


I despise this movie on far too many levels to be even remotely objective about it. I’m not even going to try. To quote Jay Sherman: “It stinks!” It is deeply fitting that fish flopping about is an ongoing visual theme in the film for it reeks like three day old dead fish.

If there was justice in this world, nobody associated with Godzilla (1998) would have ever worked again in the industry. That said, I’m trying to find something positive to say about anyone or anything related to the movie…

Nope, got nothing.

Sometimes I watch a film like this and wonder if it could be salvaged by putting it in the hands of a good editor. My conclusion is this isn’t one that could be saved, yet if shortened it would have been less pain to endure. Like every other aspect of the production, the pacing is terrible.

The special effects are spotty even by late 1990s standards though a lot of that blame rests squarely on Emmerich’s shoulders. He insisted the whole movie take place in the rain which made effects harder to render rather than easier as some have suggested. Constant tinkering, changes, and inserted scenes right up until the week before release didn’t help one whit.

Though there is a pervasive theme of anti-nuke throughout the story in homage to the first film, it seems to be far more anti-American than anything else. That may surprise those that believe anti-American attitudes worldwide sprang from the Bush years, but it is very hostile in a sniping and catty way. Most of the insults originate from the French, who are portrayed as the heroic and competent characters in the movie.

No irony is intended from what I can tell, despite the fact it was French nuclear bomb testing that created Zilla!

Terrible writing, unlikeable characters, bad acting, boring action, shaky special effects, and throwing out every interesting element of the source material made this an excruciating experience to sit through. Compounding the misery is that it runs well past two hours in length, giving the director the chance to repeat all his favorite bits over and over again. Amazingly it won awards in Europe and had an impressive world wide gross at the box office. There truly is no accounting for taste.

I could rant for a lot longer on the myriad flaws of the movie. Frankly, I’m wearied by the experience of watching it twice to write the review, so I won’t.

Godzilla is rated PG-13 mainly for violence and some scary bits later in the movie. It isn’t appropriate for younger children, teenagers, adults, midlife crisis sufferers, senior citizens, or humans. Iguanas may enjoy it.

I recommend this awful movie to no living creature, not even the iguanas since it might give them delusions of grandeur.


The DVD I picked up for a buck fifty at a pawnshop last year is the Deluxe Widescreen Presentation put out in 1998 by Columbia TriStar Entertainment. Formerly a rental disc, it shows no wear whatsoever. That should tell you something.

Video quality is very good considering its date of mastering, being presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. The animated menus betray its age, being 4:3 ratio and advertised the back cover. Color saturation is good as is the contrast on this very darkly lit movie.

Sound is also very good, though like a lot of early DVDs you have to manually select the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound if you have a home theater setup. It defaults to Dolby Digital 2.0 and both tracks are English only. Ditto for the subtitles. The surround sound is used to fairly good effect so you’ll hear things flying past in many of the action scenes.

Extras aren’t as extensive as modern releases, but were plentiful for a late ‘90s disc:

Godzilla 1998 Teaser 1Godzilla 1998 Teaser 2

Trailers – Five are included, three for this movie and two for earlier Japanese entries into the series. The first teaser was highly promoted and featured a teacher leading his class through a museum’s dinosaur exhibit only to have Zilla’s foot pulverize a T-rex skeleton. It was the beginning of Emmerich and Devlin taking potshots at Jurassic Park, but was cut from the movie.

Godzilla 1998 Logo

The others are standard fare, but the last one introduced the tagline for the film, “Size Does Matter” in yet another drive by aimed at Jurassic Park. By the way, the trailers are the only time you see the glowing logo used on all the promotional materials such as posters and tie-in products. It never appears on the movie itself, oddly enough.

I found the Japanese theatrical trailers for Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth to be far more interesting, since they were uncut and subtitled. Godzilla toys found in vending machines were plugged at the end of each, making for a fascinating glimpse of the difference in promotion over there.

Godzilla 1998 FeaturetteGodzilla 1998 Clapboard

Featurette – On Assignment with Charles Caiman – This short documentary is a puff piece providing only a shallow look at the production. Hosted by Harry Shearer reprising his role of Caiman while wandering around Tokyo, it is more of a teaser than anything else.

Godzilla 1998 RenderingGodzilla 1998 Personal Trailor

That’s screen capture above as much of the work on Zilla as you get to see. Most of the time is spent on being overly cutesy including talking about how difficult Zilla was working with on set.

Godzilla 1998 Roland Emmerich

Would you allow this man to direct a movie adaptation of something you created? I wouldn’t. Here Roland Emmerich is seen getting scared at one of the scenes he’s directing. Either he’s very much an arrested child, or higher than a kite. You decide which. It explains much, I think.

Special FX Supervisor Commentary – The director, producers, and cast are nowhere to be found on the commentary. Instead they send in the scrubs, aka the special effects crew, to talk about the movie. Self congratulatory and utterly boring, this will only be of interest to…


…I can’t think of anyone. Skip it, you aren’t missing a thing other than trivia of where they switched between animatronic models of Zilla and CG.

Godzilla 1998 CompositingGodzilla 1998 Miniature City

Godzilla Takes New York – A manual slideshow of low resolution effects shots.

Publicity Materials – This smattering of extras includes text bios of Emmerich and Devlin, filmography of Broderick and Reno, plus a photo gallery with a few behind the scenes shots. Also included is the full music video of The Wallflowers covering David Bowie’s Heroes. Not an impressive version and the lead singer looks stoned out of his gourd for most of the video.






Godzilla 1998 LeapGodzilla 1998 Under Water

Probably the best special effects sequence was the underwater escape attempt by Zilla. The monster looked more convincing here than at any other time in the film, but the submarines hunting him weren’t the greatest mainly due to them being too close together.

Godzilla 1998 EggsGodzilla 1998 Babies

After the apparent death of Zilla, the movie could have ended. Instead we had the pregnancy subplot reach fruition with the hatch of hundreds of baby zillas in Madison Square Garden. The movie was already dragging at this point so of course an extended chase that never seemed to end was needed. Ripping off the raptors from the movie they mocked shows just how bankrupt of ideas these people were.

Godzilla 1998 Warning Broadcast

Broderick phoned his performance in and a cardboard cutout of him would have been just as electrifying. As for the romance, there was zero chemistry between him and Pitillo who did not go on to bigger and better things. No surprise there.

Godzilla 1998 Gumballs

Emmerich liked the scene of the baby zillas slipping on gumballs so much he used it twice in the wretchedly long escape from the building. Apparently audiences loved it too. Sigh.

Godzilla 1998 Swatch

Movies are often riddled with product placements. This flick was so blatant about it that I thought I was watching a commercial half the time.

Godzilla 1998 FA-18 Hornet

The F/A-18 Hornet’s looked pretty good, but hey they were recycled from ID4 weren’t they? Right down to the same weapons being fired.

Godzilla 1998 False EndingGodzilla 1998 Return

Fake ending time was annoying and oversold. When we didn’t see Zilla’s corpse wash up somewhere, it was pretty obvious he/she/it was coming back. Once again the theme of the poor animal picked on by the evil humans was stressed via a lingering shot of the dead babies.

Godzilla 1998 Breath

Again with the fake fire breathing. The whole cab chase was ridiculous given Zilla could run 200 mph.

Godzilla 1998 Brooklyn BridgeGodzilla 1998 Fatal Blows

Psst, wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn? It’s in great shape, really. Just a little repair work needed after that giant monster incident, that’s all.

The death of Zilla showed just how frail this critter was unlike the real Godzilla. Why wasn’t this attempted earlier? Oh yeah, logic does not apply to this film. I forgot.

I want to forget.

The horror… the horror…

Godzilla 1998 DeathGodzilla 1998 Unhappy

Zilla dies a slow, sad death that rips off King Kong. We are supposed to feel bad about it and dislike the awful humans. Sorry, I’m glad the thing and its progeny are dead, it meant no sequels.

Godzilla 1998 Ending


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