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Wayback Wednesday: Godzilla (1998)

A disaster of a disaster movie.

In honour of the upcoming release of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), this week I’m taking a look back at a movie that my brother and I watched the shit out of as children. Like every kid who grew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were OBSESSED with Jurassic Park (1993) and by extension, all things dinosaur related. We even ate up dinosaur adjacent movies like the infamous Godzilla (1998). We watched this movie A LOT. We even had the toys and watched the animated series. Because we as two kids under the age of 10 were satisfied by the carnage and destruction, I never stopped to question the quality of the movie as a whole. Now that I’m an adult, I’m here to confirm that it’s still pretty darn entertaining. Far from great, for sure, but full of loud monstrous nonsense.

Credit: / TriStar Pictures / Toho

Godzilla follows the titular monster, an iguana exposed to nuclear radiation, as it wreaks havoc throughout New York City in search of a nest to lay its eggs. Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, an expert on radiation, is recruited by the U.S. Army to help investigate the creature, and is soon pulled into the heart of the battle himself.

This is slightly embarrassing but for a long time THIS was my only frame of reference when it came to Godzilla. I think I was 11 or 12 before I even realized that there was an entire franchise of iconic Japanese movies that extend as far back as the 1950s. That was also around the time I discovered that the 1998 version is widely regarded as the worst of the worst, and Japan has distanced itself from the movie as much as possible. Is anyone else surprised that Hollywood would take a staple of Japanese cinema and turn it into this cheap, loud, bloated, incoherent mess? I mean, the tagline for this movie was literally, “size does matter…” Ew.

That’s evidence right here that Hollywood didn’t know how to handle this movie and would bungle it up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like most Godzilla movies are works of art, but director Roland Emmerich’s take on the famous lizard is so blatantly a product. Like, you can just tell that this movie partly was put into production for the sole reason of selling toys. The other reason was to clearly ride on the coattails of Jurassic Park’s success.

Godzilla wants to be Jurassic Park so bad. So much of the action, and to a smaller extent, the dialogue and even the score, are watered-down rip-offs of scenes made famous by the first two Jurassic Park movies. Like those movies, watching this giant reptile rampage through a (concrete) jungle while a team of scientists and soldiers try to stop it is still an undeniably reliable source of entertainment. It’s just unfortunate that in every sense of the term, Godzilla feels like the bargain bin version of Jurassic Park. Case in point, the effects you guys. Wow. I get it, not every movie can replicate the magic of Jurassic Park, but if you’re going to put out a big budget monster movie after 1993, allocate the budget to making a realistic monster that helps sell the fantasy. Whether that be through animatronics or special effects. Part of what makes Jurassic Park so incredible is how lifelike the dinosaurs are. Especially the main one, the T-Rex. Ironically, all of the effects in Godzilla hold up surprisingly well except for GODZILLA. And the velociraptor clones, the baby Godzillas. Remember how this movie shoehorns hundreds of Godzilla babies into the finale? Wild. But credit where credit is due, the effects in Godzilla are far from the movie’s worst quality.

Unlike other Godzilla movies – ahem, the 2014 snoozefest – this version gets straight to the Godzilla-ing pretty early on. The movie totally delivers on dumb, explosive, action-y, monster-mashing destruction so for the most part, it succeeds at what fans expect from a Godzilla movie. The action and excitement move the movie along fairly quickly, but it’s whenever the focus shifts back to the human characters where I feel like a handful of scenes could have been trimmed. Godzilla could have been stupid fun, but it’s largely weighed down by the nonsense script and the truly terrible performances. Every single actor in this movie, with the possible exception of Hank Azaria who’s trying his best to save the movie with his “comedy,” is horribly miscast. I think Matthew Broderick is a great actor full of charisma but as Nick, his performance leaves much to be desired. Everything about it is just thoroughly unconvincing. Part of this is the doing of the abysmal script, but I don’t buy a word of the science he’s spurting, don’t find any of his attempts at comedy humorous, and worst of all, his chemistry with love interest Maria Pitillo is horrendous. Speaking of, Pitillo is without a doubt the most unwatchable element of Godzilla. Devoid of any talent or charisma, every line out of her mouth comes off flat and wooden. AGAIN, she’s working with an awful script. But that doesn’t excuse her lack of screen presence and her non-existent chemistry with Broderick. I was not moved by this sham of a love story in the slightest. I got more depth and emotion from the CGI Godzilla than I did from these two.

The dialogue is pretty atrocious but what’s even more maddening to me is the lack of common sense in the story. Like, how Nick gets fired by the military for letting slip a tape showing proof of Godzilla? AFTER Godzilla has already clearly been seen by thousands of New Yorkers? Or how about the general haphazardness across the board when it comes to the handling of potentially radioactive substances? Nick repeatedly just sticks his bare hands right in there! Also, maybe this is a hangup unique only to me, but I have a hard time rooting for the humans in a movie where the “villain” is an animal. It’s not like Godzilla is carrying out a sadistic revenge plot or a murderous serial killer. It’s an animal trying to find food and shelter for its babies after humans mutated it. If you think about it, humans are the real monsters of this movie. Shocker.

Credit: / TriStar Pictures / Toho

Godzilla is filled with enough monstrous destruction and carnage that it still remains entertaining in the most basic way. If you’re a fan of things going boom and crash, it’s well worth the watch. Just try not to pay too much attention to the story or you’ll find yourself in a losing battle with logic. Kind of like when you watch Deep Blue Sea (1999).

Have you seen Godzilla? Which movie is your favourite?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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