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Blu-ray Review: Godzilla (1998)

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One can't slam a monster movie for being silly – there is something inherently silly about a giant monster lumbering through a city destroying things.  Yet, in the most basic sense, Roland Emmerich (writer/director) and Dean Devlin's (writer/producer)  reimagining of the famed Toho monster, Godzilla, is silly.  Titled quite simply Godzilla, the 1998 feature moves the monster from Japan to New York City, where, in true Hollywood style the monster (and the good guys) proceed to destroy landmark after landmark.

The film stars Matthew Broderick as Dr. Niko Tatopoulos, the ever-present monster movie scientist; Jean Reno as Philippe Roache, the French army specialist; Maria Pitillo as Audrey Timmonds, the love interest trying to make a name for herself; and Hank Azaria as Victor 'Animal' Palotti, the comic relief.  They are all essentially stock characters in a stock monster movie flick.

If Emmerich's Godzilla does everything one expects from a monster movie, from featuring a massive, death-defying Godzilla (1998)creature to destroying world-famous landmarks to loading the film with generic monster-movie characters, why does it fail to work?  Why have, by including everything one thinks should be there, Emmerich and Devlin created such a dull, disappointing movie?

At least partially, the answer lies in the plot.  A key piece Godzilla's reimagining changes the monster from a big, lumbering slowpoke into a big speed demon.  Godzilla is somewhat less fun running and playing cat-and-mouse than he is standing and fighting (he does still get to destroy things pretty well).  Additionally, there is an extensive portion of the film where Godzilla himself disappears, and in his stead the audience is treated to Godzilla's offspring, which look and act all too like low-rent versions of Jurassic Park's velociraptors.  The mini-monsters ("mini" being a relative term) chase Broderick and company all over Madison Square Garden, destroying everything (including popcorn dispensers) in their path.  Thus, not only do the creatures look like velociraptors, but they act like velociraptors, and the those whom our raptor-wannabes are chasing act just like the kids in the dinosaur flick.  It is barely warmed over material than has been done far better elsewhere.

Perhaps it is unfair to knock the mini-Godzillas as velociraptor-esque as they most certainly do look like what one imagines the offspring of the creature termed "Godzilla" in this film would look like.  That is to say, he doesn't very much look like the Godzilla we have come to know and love at all.  Emmerich and crew very consciously chose to make a new monster and simply give him a similar origin story to the Tokyo-destroyer.  It was a bad choice.

Though the film did win some Razzies the year it was released (and was nominated for several it didn’t take home), they were most likely undeserved.  The film is not laughably bad, it's just grossly disappointing.  Emmerich does have a talent for blowing things up, and the film is certainly at its best destroying things or panning over the aftermath of the destruction.  But the rest of this film, and Godzilla's trip to New York, leave a lot to be desired. 

Without a doubt, the film looks and sounds absolutely astounding on Blu-ray.  Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin have a lot of experience destroying the world in his films and, like him or hate him, the man knowsGodzilla (1998) how to make an explosion look good.  There are moments where the CGI shows its age as it is clear in some scenes that the human characters and monsters may be in the frame but clearly exist in different worlds.  The print, however, is free from issues and the details – be they CGI or real – are abundant.  The sound is, perhaps, even better than the visuals, with the 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack providing a completely immersive, bass-pounding, experience.  The lackluster plot (and really, who could have expected a good plot from this sort of film) falls somewhat by the wayside with the experience the Blu-ray delivers. 

The extras on the Blu-ray are in no way as exciting as the technical side of things.  There is an audio commentary provided by the visual effects team; a brief, tongue-in-cheek behind the scenes hosted by Harry Shearer as his character from the film; a music video by The Wallflowers; and a collection of some classic Godzilla fight sequences which are included solely as promotional material for other Godzilla films currently available on DVD.  The Blu-ray also comes with Sony's movieIQ feature, a PS3/PSP-only digital copy of the film, and (if one buys it soon enough) a code for a free ticket to Emmerich's latest film, 2012

Emmerich and Devlin's Godzilla features a mayor named Ebert whose right-hand man is named Gene.  They are a reference to the two famed critics who gave negative reviews to earlier work by the men (they even look like them).  They are something of a silly and unnecessary swipe, only serving to add to the monster film's monster 139 minute runtime.  Though the lack of restraint exhibited in the explosions and destruction here are certainly commendable, a little bit more restraint in the screenplay – and the creation of some better moments leading to the destruction scenes – would have behooved the film.

 

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Dyrkness

    You forgot to mention the most disappointing aspect of the whole movie. We don’t get to see any more than a glimpse of Godzilla until the very end. And then it’s in the dark!