The UnPopular Opinion: Godzilla (1998)
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Excitement is tantamount for the release of Legendary's revamped GODZILLA this summer. Many are hoping it provides the type of kaiju thrills that are rarely made by American studios, especially in the wake of the much maligned 1998 film from director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin. But, do we have the 1998 version because it is not what we were expecting or hoping for, or was it in fact not a good movie? I firmly believe the latter as I had a good amount of fun watching New York get devastated by the gigantic beast. In the great tradition of pulpy blockbusters, GODZILLA should be held in high esteem.
First off, why would you expect a GODZILLA movie to not be a big old celluloid cheese wheel? By the very definition of the genre, the Japanese managed to create low budget movies on a fast schedule that looked as goofy as they sounded. The dialogue was ridiculous and wooden and they fit right in with the schlocky output from American filmmakers intent to appease teen audiences with special effects and wanton destruction. In 1998, after making INDEPENDENCE DAY, Emmerich and Devlin wanted to create another ode to the movies of a bygone era by reinventing GODZILLA. While I am as excited as the next person to see if Gareth Edwards can deliver a stirring take on the old "man in suit" movies with this summer's GODZILLA, I still think a lot of folks are going to feel it is too dark and serious of a movie for the source material. You know, the old MAN OF STEEL argument we heard from many last year.
Wow! The redesigned GODZILLA looks pretty hot with those blonde curls!
Like most of the late-90s, GODZILLA was awash in bad haircuts and mediocre CGI, but that didn't stop it from delivering some big budget thrills. Sure,you can argue the biggest issue here is the shift from the classic creature design to a more T.Rex style, but it works within the constraints of the movie. Purists were obviously disatissfied with the new Zilla (Toho's official name for the creature) since it looked nothing like the traditional monster, but Americans have always been fascinated by dinosaurs, so the design was aimed to help general audiences accept the creature attacking New York. While this year's trailers are teasing a gigantic, tradiitonal take on the monster, this may have been a calculated risk. But, the next time you criticize a remake for trying something outside the box, think of GODZILLA.
Aside from the creature design, GODZILLA keeps itself in the same formula as every Japanese movie featuring the beast. Countless humans flee from the path of the destructive monster while soldiers, scientists, and civilians scramble to save the city. There is levity amidst the chaos while the final result is humans defeating their foe. So, why do people have issues with the 1998 take? Maybe it was the setting switch from Japan to America, but we knew that was going to happen. Maybe it was the switch from American nuclear testing as the blame for Godzilla's creation to French nuclear testing? Yeah, because nothing pisses the U.S. off more than those damn French and their nuclear arsenal. Maybe it was Matthew Broderick as the nebbish lead as he channels Jeff Goldblum's template from both JURASSIC PARK and INDEPENDENCE DAY? To say that all of these are problems with the movie is to overlook what the definition of a "popcorn flick" is. GODZILLA is not going for the Oscar, just for the ride.
Je déteste tout ce qui est à ce sujet, mais au moins l'argent est bon.
This is a movie, people! Like TRANSFORMERS, ARMAGEDDON, PACIFIC RIM, and countless other overly critiqued summer blockbusters, GODZILLA was designed to make you grip your armrests and check your brain at the door. No, there is no reason for this movie to have been titled GODZILLA, but it works as re-invention of the monster for American audiences. Fans of INDEPENDENCE DAY can easily see that Emmerich and Devlin did not deviate from their tried and true formula which has since become somewhat tiresome. Like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, Emmerich's trademark visual is turning chaos and destruction into an artform. As the monster crashes through New York, trailing devastation gives the film crew the creative task of making it look beautiful and thrilling through the dark streets of the city, through torrential rain, and in underground tunnels. While some moments in GODZILLA suffer due to the CGI in these dark settings, the opening and closing sequences of the movie are fine accomplishments in visual effects.
And don't you even dare try and criticize the acting in this movie. If you are coming to the thester for Oscar caliber performances, you are in the wrong movie. Everything here is designed to appeal to the widest audience possible. So, instead of getting top tier Hollywood A-listers, you have a more moderate array of actors who still manage to have fun. Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer provide a good deal of comic relief while Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo are serviceable as the audience stand-in characters. The highlight of the movie has to be Jean Reno as the dubious Frenchman who is more than he seems. Reno is always a pleasure to see on screen and manages to both be a villain and an hero at the same time. His performance here is the highlight of the cast, aside from the monster itself.
This is why you should never flush pet iguanas down the toilet. They grow up mean.
GODZILLA movies have always featured a man in a suit portraying the title monster, but the 1998 film took the beast to a full CGI creation. Some scoffed and still do that there is no "realism" behind CGI, but well before motion capture became the norm for monsters and creatures like this, the CGI Godzilla is quite impressive. Like the T.Rex in JURASSIC PARK, this monster looks and feels more realistic than it has a right to. You can almost discern a primal emotion from the monster while it moves as if it were really on set. Some of the non-creature effects have not aged well in the past fifteen years, but Zilla himself still looks pretty good.
I guess when it comes right down to it, there is only one question here and it is one I have asked countless times in this column: can you just turn your brain off and have fun with a movie or do your expectations drive your experience? I was disappointed when I first saw GODZILLA in theaters because it was not the GODZILLA I was expecting or hoped for. But, keeping an open mind and revisiting the film I found that it is still a fun, pulpy blockbuster reminiscent of the same themes that the Japanese original set out to do. It has an ecological message about the dangers of messing with nature, some thrilling special effects sequences, and a memorable monster. Much like this year's remake, the 1998 take on GODZILLA will forever be in a category all it's own.
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