Yes, it’s true, this is my review of the 1998 Godzilla film. Well I thought that with the new film coming out (which I hope will correct everything that went ‘horribly wrong’ with the 1998 film) I would take the opportunity to review this film. Now, bear in mind, while I could state (over and over again) why this film is not a Godzilla film, I (hopefully) will try to keep it short as not to bore you and aim to delve more deeply into why the 1998 Godzilla is not a Godzilla film in a few weeks’ time.
I was actually very excited back in 1998 to the release of the 1998 Godzilla film (obviously given the date). I remember hearing way back in 1996 on a films programme (I think it was on Channel 4) stating the film was due for release in 1998, and had a picture of the Japanese Monster himself. So I had memorized the date, so come 1998, I was really looking forward to what was coming. BBC TWO even had a one-off night in celebration of the upcoming film called Monster Night with a documentary on the history of Godzilla, monster fights and two amazing films: King Kong (1976) and the Fantastic Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, One of the best. There was lots of clips (including the “It’s Pregnant” scene, revealing a pivotal plot point before the film’s release; Thanks) and trailers for the film being shown on other shows too including Blue Peter. Then came the film itself (directed by Roland Emmerich I should add), and I quite enjoyed it (at first), it had ‘the creature’ and to begin with I thought it was quite good (although to be fair, I was only 9 years old). It is only the intervening years when I read and discovered more in the film series, that I began to discover the flaws, and some recent viewings have also changed my thoughts on the film, greatly, so prepare for a review, 16 years in the making (sounds like Jurassic Park doesn’t it).
The film begins in an old 1950’s/1960’s documentary style video showing something happening in French Polynesia. In time this becomes a video of the test of a Nuclear Weapon (Amazing Scene combined with the soundtrack). After the test dies down, a solitary Iguana’s egg seemingly has survived as the rain arrives. A few decades later a Japanese fish processing vessel is attacked by an unknown entity, with claws and a tail. In Chernobyl meanwhile, a biologist called Dr. Nicko “Nick” Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is playing with Earthworms when two men arrive (one of them being Glenn Morshower) telling him that he has been re-assigned. In Tahiti a group of Frenchmen arrive at a hospital where they talk to a survivor of the vessel accident who is at first reserved to talk to them, but when the lead Frenchman (Jean Reno) manages to get the survivor’s attention, the survivor says “Gojira”. Nick Tatopoulos arrives by military escort in Panama and is introduced to Colonel Hicks (Kevin Dunn) and tries to explain to the Colonel why he was studying worms and is led into a Giant Footprint. He meets Dr. Elsie Chapman (Vicki Lewis) and Dr. Mendel Craven (Malcolm Danare) who are studying the footprints.
In Manhattan New York, a young woman named Audrey Timmons (Maria Pitillo) who works for a New York News Channel alongside Lucy Palotti (Arabella Field) dreams of being a reporter and asks her boss Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer) if there has been any news on a potential future job, which there appears not to be. In Jamaica the science and military team stumble upon the wreck of the fishing vessel, where the Frenchmen are also. The lead from earlier introduces himself to Colonel Hicks saying he is an insurance agent. Colonel Hicks orders him out of the area, and while doing so, the lead spots Nick briefly before walking off. Off the eastern seaboard meanwhile three fishing trawlers get pulled underwater, this is reported to Colonel Hicks, with Elsie thinking that this thing is some long-lost dinosaur, but nick suggests that the creature is an entirely new species. A fisherman goes down to Manhattan Harbor in the pouring rain, and seemingly catches something big which then robs the man of his fishing rod. Out at sea the man sees a giant wave come towards him, with two big spikes coming out of the water. Out of the water comes a titanic beast which goes on a rampage of the fishing area of Manhattan. During this time, Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) and his assistant Gene (Lorry Goldman) are speaking at a rally, as large thuds are heard with mini earthquakes, this is followed by the creature crashing the session. In a Manhattan Café, Audrey, Lucy, and Lucy’s wife Victor “Animal” Palotti (Hank Azaria) are discussing Audrey’s nice attitude before moving onto Audrey’s old boyfriend Nick who she spots on the TV with the Army. The thuds arrive and the creature’s feet are seen moving past the building. Animal grabs his camera and chases after it, only to be almost trodden by it.
The Military and Science team arrive in Manhattan after the creature seemingly vanishes. Hicks is introduced to Sergeant O’Neil (Doug Savant) who states the creature just disappeared, Nick meanwhile doesn’t think so, then there is a report on the incident, with footage from Animal. At the news company, Animal is heralded as a hero, and Audrey steals Caiman’s Press badge. The Mayor meanwhile tries to get a hold of the situation, only for the Lead Frenchman to put a microphone on him. An underground scene of destruction is found, believing the creature went through it. Nick suggests that the creature is just an animal and when a fish is found, a plan is put into place to lure the creature out and kill it. This leads to the creature coming into full view for the first time, and burping at Nick. The creature eats all the fish and is then attacked by the army, who are unsuccessful in dealing with it. Audrey and Nick meet each other for the first time in years and grab a coffee at the base, where nick discovers the creature may be pregnant. As he goes off to do more testing, Audrey steals a tape of confidential footage in an attempt to make a quick name for herself.
The military searches the city without much look, Nick tells the Army of his findings just when Audrey’s report comes on, which has been stolen by Caiman and names the creature Godzilla. Nick is kicked off the team, but implores Lucy to get hicks to search for the eggs. Audrey tries to apologize to Nick, who doesn’t want to listen. Nick heads for the airport, secretly followed by animal, which leads to Nick being kidnapped by the lead Frenchman who introduces himself as Philippe Roaché and is taken to an old warehouse full of weapons. The Frenchmen are agents of the DGSE (Directorate-General for External Security), the French intelligence agency. They have been watching the whole incident with a close eye in the hope of covering up their country’s role in the incident. They plan to look for the creature’s nest. Back in New York, Animal convinces Audrey to go with him, and follow the Frenchmen. In the sewers where the fish was found earlier, Godzilla appears to the search team who, after avoiding him, trace the creature’s steps. In Manhattan the military put a new plan into action to kill Godzilla by luring him into the open, this plan seemingly fails and Godzilla is chased into the Hudson river where he is seemingly killed by a couple of submarines.
In the sewers, the search arrives at Madison Square Garden where over 200 eggs are discovered and when trying to destroy them, they all hatch. The creatures attack the search team and Animal and Audrey thinking they are food. After meeting up with each other (minus several Frenchmen who have all been eaten) the four people send a message to the military and the outside world telling them the building must be destroyed. Fighters are sent and the four just barely get out of the building. Then Godzilla arrives, not dead after all and sees the group next to the dead bodies of his hatchlings. He chases after the group, driving past a military escort who are seemingly going to Madison Square Garden. Nick manages to contact O’Neil and after a couple of minutes in Godzilla’s mouth, they lead the creature to the Brooklyn Bridge where he is entangled in it and attacked by fighters. Godzilla dies, The city celebrates, Audrey quits her job and Philippe disappears. Back in Madison Square Garden, One Egg survives, then hatches.
Godzilla’s Cast is a bit of an oddball selection of both good and bad. Matthew Broderick’s character is generally quite annoying and rather than being the lead human appears, initially and majority, a piece of comedy relief. While he does make up for it at the end of the film by being more intelligent than his character is meant to be as well as compassionate towards those around him, but it feels a bit too late for him, and I think the running joke that no one can appear to pronounce his character’s last name is a bit overdone. Maria Pitillo’s character on the other hand is actually quite likeable as in her character develops as the film goes on and at least is honest for the majority. While attitude is something that is ‘apparently’ needed in Manhattan, her character is best when she is just herself and there is a nice on-screen presence whenever she is around, even if she is the somewhat combination of the purposed damsel in distress/love interest. In many a sense, she is a tougher character than Broderick’s character. Hank Azaria’s character is seemingly also a Comedy Relief, but deep down he is a good character as in he is more a sense of reasoning among the characters as he is more down to earth than everyone else and is comedic look and acting is more about him being him and not comedic for the purpose of it. Jean Reno’s character though is the top dog of the film’s human main cast. He gives off a great performance as a secret agent and he physically looks intimidating as he does not appear to smile. It’s like he is hiding something and while there are hints here and there, he gets a proper reveal and is a serious man as he does it, not one who takes his position lightly.
The main standouts though, are the film’s supporting characters. Sergeant O’Neil has a sense of being comedic as it shows he is a bit clumsy, making his character seem on par or equal with Nick, but as a character, he is far better than Nick as Nick is like a stereotypical Nerd while O’Neil is a professional soldier and much more likeable as a result. Colonel Hicks is well-played and is one of the films standouts. He gives the appearance of a well-trained soldier and officer but deep down has a calm and understandable side to him making him likeable to those around him, and a much more preferable person in dealing in a situation than any ordinary soldier or officer. Lucy Palotti is very likeable despite her wild exterior. While she plays the sort of agony aunt character type wife to Animal, she shows great control over her emotions and can be a calm reassuring person deep down and that’s why she is so likeable.
But it’s not just them; some of the film’s most appealing characters off to the side are the film’s extras. While the French Spies are almost like the Frogs from Flushed Away (ok, it was 8 years later) as in they are almost made fun of as to what they do, they are quite nicely played. Some of the best though are in the military scenes, such as the Utah Submarine Captain (Derek Webster) and his number two, The Anchorage Captain (David Pressman), The Navy Admiral (Richard Gant), The Helicopter pilot in the second attack on Godzilla and also the army man Nick and Philippe encounter as they re-enter New York. Added to that you have Glenn Morshower’s brief appearance and the two Japanese men on the bridge of the fishing vessel when it goes down. In many a sense, it is the little touches or in this cases appearances that help.
The film’s special effects, well those for Godzilla anyway, are outstanding. As good as Jurassic Park in my opinion, particularly when you include the scenes of the whole creature in full view, such as his initial attack on Manhattan, first full sighting and the second attack on him including the moment when the soldier looks down at him and when he is walking through the streets as well as his close up with the military personnel. The sound effects during this point help too. His roar is that of like Godzilla but he also makes some interesting, more like animal sounds too, giving him a bit of depth. The Eggs though, and most of the CGI Babies though are pretty atrocious, even for then. Godzilla looked Awesome in this film, how come the kiddies did not look the same and are at best when they are animatronics. Ok, while the eggs are not CGI but real, they do look like cardboard (I wonder if the same company worked on Les Miserables).
The soundtrack (provided by David Arnold and Michael Lloyd) is not too bad either, there are times when the music lacks some depth such as the secret spy/French scenes and is somewhat lack luster, but when you take, the reveal scene of the creature halfway through, the keyboard has a sense of Phantom of the Opera about it, like a grand reveal or realization about it like this is something to behold. Another case is that of the opening titles which add an element of mystery followed by cold realized horror of what was happening, which was then followed by a sense of cold mystery and intrigue as the egg stands alone and then there is the pursuit style theme for the submarine attack also (not forgetting the soundtrack provided by Puff Daddy‘s; Come With Me remix of the Led Zeppelin Song Kashmir).
So now we move on to the down side. While I have stated that I will talk about this in more detail at a later time, I still need to at least cover the basics. The films main problem is that title: “GODZILLA”. With the idea that an American Godzilla film could happen where the biggest budgets could create an amazing film as well as show Godzilla to a potentially wider audience, it doesn’t exactly help when the creature in the film is not Godzilla. Godzilla is a giant monster, a metaphor for the destruction caused by nuclear power, a force of nature itself, Mother Nature putting her foot down and saying “enough” to man destroying the world. In comparison the creature in this film is just an animal, an animal just trying to live, acts like an animal, thinks like an animal and…..reproduces like an animal. With the hope of big special effects for a legendary monster, what we got instead was a giant Iguana that is also a lot smaller than the original creature. While the destruction and panic caused by him was there, it was not completely there, as while he had the trademark dorsal spines, he was bent over like a T-Rex instead of up straight and without his famous Atomic Breath. This film in this case is ‘not really a Godzilla film at all’; it is just a Monster Movie with a famous name attached to it (sort of like the Karate Kid film a few years ago).
Despite this though, the film does have some great scenes. The opening credits showing the full force of a nuclear weapon, something that is hardly shown in Cinema at all. The fishing scene is nicely made and the opening rampage is like that of a disaster movie but does not reveal the monster early on and just teases the audience with him (much like the character of Mayor Ebert’s name). then the grand appearance by him followed later on by the appearance by him for the second attack, plus the entire second attack including the scenes with the submarines.
The Madison Square Garden nest scene though feels to be completely pointless and un-needed except for a reveal that Godzilla was not destroyed by the torpedoes. It just feels completely un-needed for this reason and feels like it is just there to fill up time. It also sort of lowers the tone of the film, the idea that there is something scary in Manhattan, something horrifying, and the idea that this scene’s tone has been lowered to allow some form of Family Friendliness for the whole family, instead of a proper action film if not a complete Monster Film.
While it is slightly disappointing what has happened to this film due to its name, as a Monster Film it is rather enjoyable and even after 16 years, still looks pretty good. It has an interesting cast, some great scenes, and a good soundtrack. So while I can say that it is enjoyable, I will say this, and it is a bit predictable (by this point), don’t treat it like a Godzilla film, it isn’t, treat it as something different, and Let Godzilla move on from this and enjoy a potential new life in the eye of American cinema.