Godzilla (1998)

25 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

OK, I can assume that you read the “Smith’s Verdict” star-rating of “Godzilla” before reading this review. I can also assume that you think I’ve lost my mind for giving it a three-star recommendation. Well, it may be possible that I have indeed lost my mind for recommending this sci-fi action/adventure romp. But to me, this is a guilty pleasure to be sure. Sure, there are problems and most parts of this movie are cheesy. But mostly though, it’s a fun thrill ride that I, for one, do not regret taking. But if you think this movie is going to be a waste of your time, don’t worry—there are better movies out there.

To be accurate enough, this movie is a lesser movie than you would expect from its clever marketing. The trailers showed as little they possibly could with the story, as well as keeping the monster out of sight. You had to see the movie in order to see the monster Godzilla (or Gojira, as it is accurately named—shut up). The good news is the monster looks creepy and enormous enough to destroy Manhattan. The bad news is that it only comes out either at night or when it’s raining (it rains a lot in this film), as if attempting to hide how computer-generated it is. Sometimes, this works. But other times, you have to wonder—is this turning into the story of Noah’s ark?

But you don’t have to be an idiot to enjoy a movie in which a likable cast is chased around Manhattan by a 300-foot lizard-like monster. Matthew Broderick, who stars as nerdy worm expert Dr. Niko Tatapoulos, is not particularly impressive, but he gives a sort-of nerdy appeal to the role. He is teamed with Maria Pitillo who plays his ex-girlfriend Audrey, Jean Reno as a French government agent named Roache, and Hank Azaria (best known for voiceover work in “The Simpsons”) who provides comic relief as a wisecracking cameraman nicknamed “Animal.” These characters are not particularly well-developed, but I have to say, I didn’t care. To me, it was just fun watching them figure out every preposterous thing about Godzilla. And of course, it’s fun to watch them outsmart Godzilla’s multiple babies which look a lot like raptors (it’s clear that Godzilla is both male and female) and even outrun Godzilla in a taxi cab in the final half (they even wind up inside his mouth at one point).

I admire the element that director Roland Emmerich (who also co-wrote this movie with Dean Devlin) uses in the way that he and Devlin do not seem to care about character development. They only care about destruction and bring us the top-notch special effects. Godzilla destroys many parts of Manhattan and the military attempt to stop him—Madison Square Garden is destroyed, the Chrysler building is ruined, and the Brooklyn Bridge falls down. The characters (including Harry Shearer as a corrupt news reporter) may not be particularly interesting, but they are fun to watch. But two characters that should’ve been taken advantage of are part of missed opportunities. Those two characters are Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) and his associate Gene, both of whom are, of course, parodies of the popular film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The resemblances are uncanny and the “thumbs up/thumbs down” trademark is even used. But if these two critics are parodied in a monster movie because they didn’t enjoy Emmerich’s two previous movies “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” then Emmerich should have had the sense to have the monster maim or kill them.

Another problem—there are many shots that resemble famous shots from “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park.” We get the flying scenes from “Star Wars’ and the raptor attack scenes in “Jurassic Park.” You have to wonder if the filmmakers were going for the same kind of wonder those two hits delivered. Oh and then of course, there’s the element of a monster loose in New York that is taken from “King Kong.” But while King Kong was 30 feet tall and was able to climb the Empire State Building. Here, the filmmakers don’t have the advantage of having a creature ten times as large to knock over the building. They already blew up Madison Square Garden—why not the Empire State Building?

“Godzilla” is not for everyone. Or rather, it’s not for anyone who isn’t looking for a dumb thrill ride. But I was drawn into it and I can’t shake myself out of this positive review. But believe me when I say this—there ARE better movies out there.

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