Is this a stretch? I don’t think so. This might not be a Horror movie, but I’d argue that big monster movies totally count towards something I can talk about for Halloween. Also, give me a break, I picked up this Blu-Ray six months ago and have been just looking for an excuse to talk about it. And my annual Halloween movie review seems like just about as good as an excuse as I’m ever going to get.
This movie, the 1998 Godzilla directed by Roland Emmerich, is one of my guilty pleasure movies. One I’ll put my hands up and say I watched over and over again as a child. I mean, I was nine years old when it came out and thus the perfect audience for it. I mean, this had to be a movie aimed at kids right? I distinctly remember the marketing co-op it did with McDonalds, the toys and logos all over their packaging.
And having watched the movie again over the past few days for the first time in well over 15 years, I certainly see why. Then again, Godzilla isn’t exactly an icon in Japan purely for being this terrifying cautionary tale of the dangers of technological development run rampant, he spent more time being a goofy icon fighting bad guys and appealing to kids.
Where do I start?
…it’s difficult to know where to start when talking about this movie. Mostly due to the fact that, to me, this movie feels like it’s trying to do too many things all at once, from so many different directions. In terms of its tone, its message, its inspiration, its genre. Man, there are so many different angles I could start with.
Before I get into any of that though, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the movie. Matthew Broderick is Dr. Niko “Nick” “The Worm Guy” Tatopoulos, a biologist who studies the effects of nuclear fallout on wildlife. He is scooped up by the military when a Japanese container ship and massive footprints are found in French Polynesia.
This creature is making a beeline for New York City and before long the United States Military are contending with a massive dinosaur that has claimed Manhattan as its home. After several failed attempts to subdue the creature that only result in the Military destroying several iconic landmarks, Nick comes to the realisation that Godzilla is nesting and has lain eggs somewhere in the city.
Ignored by the army; he, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria and Maria Pitillo discover a massive nest in Madison Square Garden, which eventually leads to them blowing up the garden and trapping Godzilla on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing it for good.
So, the biggest thing I remember about this movie after coming back to it after so long with the gift of hindsight is how it really does feel nothing like classic Godzilla. As a part of the agreement with Toho in allowing the west to make a Godzilla movie, the company insisted that the interpretation continue the themes of cautioning against the use of Nuclear weapons and technology run rampant. Which is something Nick does bang on about during numerous segments of the movie.
And while the original 1950s Godzilla does feel like a cautionary tale, a movie that came about as a result of a nation that had been struck with two devastating atomic bombs during World War II, there is really none of that in the 1998 movie. Which isn’t really that damning. By the time this movie was being made, there were over 20 Godzilla movies in Japan, the vast majority of which had portrayed the Kaiju as a benevolent hero.
This is one of those examples of how Emmerich wanted to have things both ways, by making Godzilla the antagonist of the movie. But also making him this likeable, almost sympathetic character that the kids in the audience could like and end up buying a ton of merchandise with his rectangular face on it. Within the events of this movie, Godzilla seemed less like this force of nature, able to withstand any of humanity’s weapons against it and more of a general movie monster.
To that end, this movie feels less like it was taking its inspiration from the Japanese franchise that spawned it and instead took its inspiration from much closer to home. Namely; Jurassic Park.
“She’s protecting her baby!”
This isn’t a hot take by the way. Everyone knows this movie is a shameless Jurassic park ripoff. It’d be one thing for Godzilla itself to have much more inspiration in its design and how it moved based on the T-Rex sequences from Jurassic Park. But Emmerich decided to go one further and take a sharp left turn and introduced the idea of there being a nest. A nest that inevitably starts to hatch en masse and turn into a drawn-out sequence blatantly pulled from the Velociraptor scenes in Jurassic Park.
It’s not just that though, there are a ton of little nods in there throughout. Like before Godzilla’s first attack on Manhattan, they straight-up spoof the rings in the water moment from Jurassic Park, but just multiply it by 100. As rather than just water moving, we get an entire street of cars bouncing up and down with each footfall of the even bigger monster.
I hesitate to say that Emmerich might have been doing it on purpose, as though he might have thought by doing what this other, greater, movie did, but big would somehow make his own movie comparable to it. It wouldn’t surprise me considering there are very few original thoughts throughout the movie. I mean, a lot of the baby Zilla scenes felt like they were using Alien as their visual guide for the interior of Madison square garden.
Considering how well those movies have held up over the years, coming back to this one after so long makes its shameless unoriginality and lack of real reverence to the actual source material in favour of easy, western sources just makes this movie fail to hold up in any way. And that might be one of the biggest problems with the movie honestly:
It hasn’t aged well at all
It’s not just because how it rips off other movies, or because there have been other, better Godzilla, movies since, both from Hollywood and Japan. It’s just aged badly in so many technical and narrative ways.
First of all. The visual effects, as is always the case with a lot of this older CGI, haven’t aged the best. Here’s the thing though, just because it’s old CGI doesn’t automatically make it bad CGI. Look at Jurassic Park, again. A movie five years this one’s senior and looks so much better by comparison. Despite this movie doing very similar things in how it approaches effects. Almost all of the actual practical effects used in Godzilla actually look really good and hold up.
It’s when you get to the purely CG shots that things start to fall apart, the Godzilla models look decent in of themselves, it’s how they’re composited into the real world that makes them really look like they’re an extra layer added onto the screen afterwards. It’s no wonder the entire movie takes place in the pissing rain; to hide the weird bloom that exists around the CG models as they float around in the world without really looking like they exist in the world.
It’s not just the visual effects though that have aged poorly.
Very early in the movie, we’re introduced to Nick’s dough-eyed love interest in the movie; Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo. She’s a struggling assistant for a TV news station and is right away propositioned by her boss (a married), to forward her career. And he’s not even subtle about it. In a post #MeToo world, this feels like a much different moment, one the movie itself doesn’t really seem to feel is anything out of the ordinary. Which I guess it wasn’t back in the late 90s.
And her boss does it again later on by stealing the story she made dubbing the creature Godzilla. Although it was based on information she herself stole from someone who was obviously hung up on her, but I’m not going to get any deeper into her character at this point or I’ll be here all day.
My point is that the characters in this movie are all pretty mean spirited and it’s all played off for laughs and goofs throughout, which really feels like the influence of the director more than just this being a product of the time it came out.
Roland Emmerich Presents…
I think it was during the time where Godzilla was swimming around the Hudson and causing Submarines to blow one another up that I started to recognise familiar elements and remember the other movies that this director was responsible for. Godzilla is off the back of Independence Day, and Emmerich will go on to make The Day after Tomorrow and 2012. All big disaster movies and that’s exactly what this movie feels like rather than a big monster Kaiju movie.
It feels like an Emmerich movie much more than a Godzilla movie. All complete with his own personal axe to grind.
Of course, I’m talking about his inclusion of a comedically incompetent mayor and his personal assistant named for and based on the famous movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Ebert was a famous movie critic back in the 90s, and I guess he gave one of Emmerich’s movies a bad review. Rather than take the criticism in stride, as something that you’ll inevitably encounter as a director no matter who you are. He, instead, decided to spend a significant chunk of his movie having a big old dig at the storied and well respected movie critic.
It comes across as incredibly childish to me.
Something I feel permeates the entire movie in retrospect. It carries this goofy, comedic tone throughout the entire movie. Which wouldn’t be a problem in of itself. But rather than these moments being organic the movie, a lot of the gags and humour feels like it comes with the actors on camera almost delivering them with a wink and nod to the camera. Which could just be a sign of how movies were being made at the time.
That’s a lot of Fish
Let’s wrap this up then.
Coming into this movie, I held some amount of childhood nostalgia that was making me hopeful that the famousness of how bad this movie might just have been a but overblown. Having seen it again now, I am sorry to say that I have come away from it a little deflated. Don’t get me wrong, I still am going to have a soft spot for this movie for years to some. I’m still going to quote “That’s a lot of Fish” all the time and am still going to love Hank Azaria in it.
But now I going to stop shrugging at people and saying it’s “fine” when it comes up. Especially now I understand how utterly and flagrantly it disregards the source material. It’s kind of funny that the 40 episode animated series that was spawned from this movie ended up being more faithful to the original Japanese Godzilla movies than this movie ever was.
In hindsight, maybe it was watching a lot of that series that made me enjoy this movie a lot more by association.
Not exactly the spookiest movie to talk about this Halloween. But I had to get this movie off my chest at some point, and I’m running out of semi-obscure horror movies I loved as a kid. No idea what I’m going to talk about next year, but hey, I have a whole year to worry about that. So Happy Halloween everyone, don’t get into too much trouble.