GODZILLA IN NAME ONLY

GODZILLA

The Godzilla '98 theatrical poster

Pros: The movie bombed so bad that Toho regained the rights and started making Real Godzilla movies again.

Cons: That it has the Godzilla name on this abomination

Do you know how hard it is to screw up a Godzilla movie? Seriously, all you really need to do is come up with a interesting looking opponent to fight, build a whole bunch of small buildings to crush, clean out Toys R Us of all the model tanks to blast and set the cameras rolling. Occasionally have your human sized characters go “Where is Godzilla?” or “How do we stop Godzilla?” or “Aheeeee! It’s Godzilla!”

This isnt rocket science people – and yet somehow writer Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (the masterminds behind Independence Day and Stargate), managed to do just that: screw up a Godzilla movie so badlky that even original Godzilla Suit Actor  Haruo Nakajima walked out of the film’s Japanese premiere and Toho Studios instantly disowned the film. Now THAT takes some skill. . . .

The Godzilla 98 remake goes thusly: The French test Atomic Weapons in the south seas, eradiating the native life there. Many years later, several ships vanish pointing a straight line directly to New York. You see, Fake Godzilla is heading there so she can make a nest and raise her young. From the south seas?

The US Government call in Atomic Worm Specialist (there’s a narrow field of study if I’ve ever heard one) Ferris Bueller, who’s sole role in the movie is to act as Doctor Exposition, explaining the audience one plot point after another – until he is kicked off the Top Secret Science Team by his Reporter ex-girlfriend when she steals a top secret video tape and broadcasts it to the world.

Meanwhile the military is largely ineffective at stopping Fake Godzilla, as the lizard is very skilled at hiding underground in the subways (overlooking the fact that he’d be WAY too large to fit in the tunnels, unless he has a previously undocumented ability to shrink and grow at will). Ferris and his girlfriend (and that French guy from The Professional) go to Madison Square Gardens, find Fake Godzilla’s nest just in time for baby Fake Godzillas to hatch before blowing up the Garden, luring Fake Godzilla onto a bridge and killing him with a couple of missiles. The End. . . . ?

ARRRRGH! RAGE!!! May Devlin and Emmerich commit seppuku for their dishonor!

Back in 1993 Jurassic Park hit the Big Screen, blew us all away with the lifelike dinosaurs and made the Monster Movie fun again. About the same time, Sony/Tristar announced that they aquired the rights from Toho to make an american Godzilla movie – and it blew my goddamned mind. As a long time fan of the series, the potential to see Jurassic Park-like effects in a Godzilla flick made me wet myself.

Five years later, I got the Jurassic Park version of Godzilla, hammering home that I should be careful what I wish for.

On the surface, it would seem to have everything that makes a kick-ass summer blockbuster: explosions, action, car wrecks, buildings being torn down, monsters, chases, tons of special effects – come on, it;s a giant monster tearing up a city? How is this NOT perfect? Hell, going by their past work – Stargate and ID4 – a big, dumb, fun, bombastic, brain-dead monster flick with no discernible plot should be right up Devlin and Emmerich’s alley, right?

The problem is that it becomes pretty evident in short order that neither Devlin or Emmerich have a clue what made Godzilla so popular.

Lets start with the basics – Fake Godzilla looks nothing like Real Godzilla. Okay, there’s been plenty of design changes to the character over the last 50 years – bigger spikes, smaller spikes, white eyes, big round dark eyes, stubby arms, thicker arms, smaller head, bigger snout – but they’re all identifuable as more or less the same monster.

And yes, I expected Godzilla to look different. I WANTED him to look different. I wanted him to be updated. I’m all for taking a classic monster design and putting a more realistic modern spin on him. I knew that he would be all CGI and not a Man in a Rubber Suit – but what we got wasnt even close. He’s small, he’s weak and doesnt breath fire. None of the Godzilla trademarks are present!

The reason, I gather, behind the horizontal, raptor-like design for the monster was an effort to make Godzilla more realistic. Putting aside the whole Square/Cube Law thing, and ingoring the improbability of such a lanky and front-heavy design being better suited for a Giant Monster than the ponderous, thick-legged, pear shape of the original – the design team decided make it a mutated iguana instead of a dinosaur, thereby completely negating the entire point behind the raptor-shape in the first place!

This dovetails into my next point: Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. You don’t defeat him, you don’t control him – you can only hope to survive him long enough until he goes away. And yet the army kills Godzilla with a couple of missiles. Have these people ever SEEN a Godzilla movie? Godzilla fears no puny man-made weapons! He does not run from the small squishy flesh creatures! And yet Fake Godzilla spends the bulk of the movie running and dodging and hiding like the wuss he is!

Speaking of the small squishy flesh creatures,  consider the humans of the movie. In a True Japanese Godzilla film, the bulk of the human protagonist rolls are largely secondary. They are there to fill up the screen time between Godzilla sightings, or to run away screaming from Godzilla. However in Godzilla in Name Only, the humans take center stage with a completely uninteresting break-up story and resulting drama. This is compounded by the fact that they are completely unlikable, incompetent and generally retarded characters – especially the military. So instead of being a bridge between action scenes, Devlin and Emmerich seem to think we care about them. That’s nice, can we get back to Fake Godzilla smashing things up please?

The final piece of evidence is how shamelessly the movie rips off other, better movies. When Fake Godzilla is removed from the movie with half an hour left to go, and the remainder of the run time is shamelessly ripped off from Jurassic Park, it’s never a good sign. I’m surprised that Devlin and Emmerich don’t owe some royalties to Spielberg for this mess.

*sigh*

Movies are a product of the time they are created. The original black and white Gojira, for example, was a tale spun out of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrors of World War two, speaking out against the madness of atomic weapons and science without conscious run amok. Even the later campy Godzilla flicks had some kind of underlying theme to them. It may not have been as important as what Inshiro Honda was saying, but at least they tried addressing pollution or corruption, in their own hamfisted way.

What, then, is Godzilla in Name Only about?

Ummm . . . Siskel and Ebert would make really lousy mayors of New York? Gee – thanks for that stunning insight into the human condition. Now fuck off.

THE GODZILLA SCORECARD –

AND THE WINNER IS:
Actually it doesn’t really matter who is victorious. No matter who wins, the audience loses.

AND NOW YOU KNOW:
If there’s a message in here, I’ve yet to find it.

THE KENNY FACTOR: 100%
While there is no obnoxious little kid in tight short pants included anywhere in this movie, the spirit of Kenny lives on in a completely unlikable cast of characters. In a sense, this movie is nothing BUT Kennys as far as the eye can see.

THE END. . . .?
The “Shock” reveal at the end, of the baby Fake Godzilla emerging from the egg held the promise of a second feature. Fortunately it wasn’t planes and missiles that killed “Godzilla”, it was poor box office returns and we were spared another go-round. Godzilla, on the other hand went on to star in several more movies, including a title bout with Fake Godzilla in Godzilla: Final Wars.

THE DVD –
For what it’s worth, the disc looks good. The colors are nice and bright, the picture is crisp. The soundtrack is clear, allowing you to suffer through every stupid plot point without any distortion or muddle.

THE EXTRAS –
An audio commentary, a music video with a crap song, some trailers (featuring GOOD Godzilla movies, including G v King Ghidorah, and G v Mothra), a before and after behind the scenes, and an empty, vapid electronic press kit featurette. Sadly this is more than most Godzilla discs get – but this is hardly enough to warrant this discs existence.

THE BOTTOM LINE
In the vapid press kit, Dean Deviln said something like “when they made the original Godzilla films, they were limited to a man in a rubber suit. Only now can we present Godzilla the way that the original creators intended.” Clearly the man has no idea what he’s talking about, since nine years later, Toho released Godzilla: Final Wars, featuring the finest in Giant Rubber Suit technology. Meanwhile, Godzilla in Name Only remains a more or less forgotten footnote in the franchise history.

As it should be. . . .

I give this 0 Fakezillas out of 5

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