Godzilla (1998) DVD Review

It obviously wasn't enough for Hollywood to ruin on of its own. After the mid-70's slaughter of "King Kong," eyes turned to Japan and the "Godzilla" series. Numerous scripts, directors, and writers tackled the subject throughout the 80's and early 90's, but it ended up in the hands of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. Coming off the wildly successful "Independence Day," these two took it upon themselves to destroy everything Toho had created.

Dr. Nik Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is called away from his study of giant worms at Chernobyl to investigate something bigger. Numerous large boating incidents have worried authorities and the victims all suffer from radiation poisoning. With the unidentified target now in New York, Tatopoulos discovers this creature, now known as "Godzilla," is pregnant and preparing to lay eggs. It's a race to stop the beat from spawning a new species that could very well end the human race.

The filmmakers here are obviously more intent on preserving a massive ad campaign that kept the new look of the monster secret then making a movie. A full reveal of the new design doesn't come until just past the 45-minute mark. There's a reason for it. This new "Godzilla" is an embarrassment. It wasn't long before audiences began chuckling instead of cowering in fear at this new design. It's even worse considering the design is plastered all over the DVD insert. Sure, it made sense when the movie premiered, but now it's entirely illogical.

This is hardly the biggest insult to the legacy Toho Studios created. This monster is a coward, running from army helicopters and dodging missiles. The original is an indestructible being, a stand-in for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It had a purpose. His shape silhouetted against the nighttime sky, the real Godzilla tramples though numerous Japanese cities leaving nothing standing; his flaming radioactive breath incinerating anything he may miss. This "GINO" (Godzilla In Name Only) runs between New York Skyscrapers while the incompetent army does the damage. This new monster doesn't even feature the trademark fire breath.

Even if the film were called something else, say, "Giant Iguana: The Revenge," this would still be a terrible movie. Matthew Broderick obviously doesn't care and his estranged girlfriend, played by Maria Pitillo, is just flat out terrible. These two are worse than the usually criticized actors who performed the dubbing on most of the real Godzilla films. Remotely interesting is Jean Reno as a Frenchman trying to clean up what his country has caused, but even by the end, you're still not real sure who he is.

The pacing is terrible, including a nearly 40-minute lull right in the middle where the monster is never even seen. The logic in the script is even worse. How can the monster crush a helicopter but not the cab containing the main characters? How can he crawl underground when he can't even get into an above ground tunnel? How can you lose a 200-foot tall monster in New York City?

GINO changes in both color and size in every scene, proving that not even the special effects team had a clue. The pitiful "Jurassic Park" knock off towards the end (taking place in Madison Square Garden) is filled with phony animatronic baby G's and even worse CG creations. It looks like this was filmed on some sort of Universal Studio theme park ride. This film now looks even worse than it did back during its premiere.

But even after all of this, the films biggest disgrace is to the die-hard fans. A J.D. Lees (the creator of the fantastic fanzine G-Fan which I have had the pleasure of writing for) look-alike is crushed during the monsters first appearance simply because he rightfully stated negative thoughts on the film. Toho explicitly laid out the ground rules for the film that were completely ignored. It took a massive fan revolt just to make it SEEM like the creature can breathe fire. This just proves that with all the money in the world, you still can't beat the magic portrayed by a man in a rubber suit. (No stars out of *****)

Available only in 2.35:1 widescreen (with a rumored pan & scan version supposedly replacing this one soon), "Godzilla" looks pretty good on DVD considering the depressingly dark nature of the film. Black levels, so important to the film, are strong with only a few minor instances where they lighten up. The few scenes with color show nice flesh tones and contrast. A little bit of heavy grain can be evident at times, but the overall picture is strong enough to overcome this issue. (****)

If anything ended up right about this film, it is the audio. Here it is on DVD and it sounds just as spectacular. In fact, this disc sounds so good, even the menus punish the viewers sub-woofer. Action sequences toss positional audio from every direction, assaulting the listener and attempt to immerse them in the dull on-screen action. Every step this redesigned creature takes the LFE channel to work. It is absolutely impossible to pick out a single scene that works best. Just pick an action sequence and go. (*****)

Features are quite slim for a movie so heavily promoted and hyped. The best feature is an effects commentary from three of the staff: Volker Engel, Karen Goulekas, and the person responsible for the look of the monster, Patrick Tatopoulos. If you have any interest in special effects, this is a great track to listen to, though it is lead by Engel. Personally, a track with Emmerich and Devlin explaining this atrocity would be more desirable.

The rest of the disc rounds itself off quietly. A short seven-minute featurette is just promotional fluff hosted by Harry Shearer. A music video by the Wallflowers uses not only film footage, but also a few effect shots of its own. "Godzilla Takes New York" shows the city before and after the unwelcome visitor made landfall. Finally, a large selection of trailers (including some for the real Godzilla films) round out the disc, though the classic New Years Eve one where the tail of the beast knocks over the ball is missing. (***)

This is nothing more than a complete travesty. Thankfully, the reception the film received failed to generate interest for a sequel, even with the cliffhanger ending (though it was picked up for a cartoon series, which was actually better than the film). We can only hope someone in Hollywood doesn't get the bright idea to resurrect this one sometime in the future.

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