Godzilla (1998)

I’m not a Godzilla fan. I haven’t watched many of the Japanese films about the giant monster, and I don’t care whether the American version stays true to the original in look, sound, or theme. What I want from a giant monster movie is fun, which isn’t what we get here. I might dislike Godzilla immensely, but it’s not because it didn’t stay true to the original. It’s because it’s boring, lifeless, brainless, gives you little reason to watch, and for a good half hour stretch, isn’t even about the titular giant monster.

Here’s how Godzilla became the giant monster in this version. A nuclear test a few decades ago mutated an iguana egg, and it eventually grew up to be Godzilla. We don’t see it grow, but presumably it took a while, because otherwise it would have started to wreak havoc earlier. It destroys a couple of ships, and then turns its sights on New York, all while the humans are trying to figure out what it is, where it is, and how they’re going to stop it. All in all, it’s as generic a monster movie as you can get.

That is, save for the parts that suck. Which is almost all of it. You can have a monster running around New York for a couple of hours, and it will almost certainly be fun. Somehow, director Roland Emmerich sucked all of the potential enjoyment out of the film. It’s really, really hard to do that. You have a monster the size of — actually, considering its shape and size change from scene to scene, I don’t know what to compare it to; “Size does matter” is a lying tagline — something big enough to destroy buildings, seemingly impervious to bullets and other human devices, and yet it’s not fun whatsoever. How does that happen?

Well, you set the majority of the film in the dark so nothing can be seen, you don’t make the monster do anything other than run around the city, occasionally destroying a building or two, and then you make the humans fight mini-Godzilla creatures for a half hour while the big one is doing nothing of importance. And, just for good measure you make the human story incredibly dumb and pointless, while making the people involved unlikable or unimportant.

Some spoilers follow, so if you somehow care that Godzilla happens to be pregnant, you probably wanted to stop reading after the previous paragraph. He (they still refer to it as a male after learning this), eventually gives birth, and after the eggs hatch, the characters stop caring about the big one, instead focusing on the little ones, which look like worse versions of the raptors from Jurassic Park. That is not what I want from a monster disaster flick.

To be fair, when you first see Godzilla destroying New York City, it’s kind of neat. You like seeing iconic landmarks being destroyed, and it’s fun for a little while. That is, until the humans start getting involved, Godzilla stops actually doing things, and it gets progressively worse until the film finally comes to an end. This mutated, gigantic iguana could have caused so much destruction, but it seemed very content walking around buildings, so as to not inconvenience the humans.

There is one scene in the film that I appreciated. It involves a scientist, and our lead character, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), explaining that Godzilla is just an animal, and that it’s following its natural instincts. We then zoom in on some fish flopping about on the concrete. Two things are told to us here. The first, which the film later explicitly states, is that Godzilla is hungry and that it eats fish. The second, which is implied, is that it’s like a fish out of water — a creature out of its element.

That’s as smart as Godzilla gets, and that’s the only scene with a bit more depth than what’s at face value. The rest is just dull. It’s stupid, it’s not enjoyable, and I wanted it to end almost as soon as it began. But it doesn’t end, not for 139 minutes. Did any of the Japanese Godzilla movies last for that long? Somehow, I doubt it. Or if they did, they at least had the characters do something in that time.

None of the human characters or their relationships to each other matter. There’s Broderick’s character, who has a history with a want-to-be reporter, Audrey (Maria Pittilo), there’s a Frenchman (Jean Reno) who may or may not know more about the situation than we think he does, and there’s a parody version of Roger Ebert (Michael Lerner) and Gene Siskel (Lory Goldman), which made me laugh for their first scene but not a single time afterward. All of them are inconsequential and it would have been better had they all be excised, and just let Godzilla go around killing everyone.

Godzilla is a complete waste of time for you, and for everyone who made it. While it might not keep the same spirit of the Japanese films, that doesn’t matter to me. It’s a boring monster movie, which is the one thing that it can’t be. You can forgive everything else in this type of movie as long as the monster and its destruction is fun. That’s not the case here, and since everything else is just so terrible, this is one movie you must skip.

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