Godzilla (1998) dir. Roland Emmerich
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Michael Lerner, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria
By Alan Bacchus
However silly and cornball “Independence Day”, there was a thrill in bringing back the simple earth vs. aliens b-movie plotting. And certainly watching major landmarks in New York and Washington get destroyed in such magnificent fashion was a visual delight. Thus “Independence Day” is a genuine guilty pleasure. There can be no pleasure on any level derived from “Godzilla” – a loud, ugly, tedious and repetitive version of the beloved ‘man-in-suit’ Japanese monster franchise.
Emmerich recycles the same plotting from ‘Independence Day’, except replacing the aliens invasion of the earth with a more confined invasion of New York. In the opening credits Godzilla’s existence is explained as a mutation from illegal nuclear testing in French Polynesia, but has now swam off the island toward the United States. While world scientists track this mysterious beast around the world, he seems to be taking the long way around for an attack on Manhattan. Once ashore he runs amuck in the city destroying buildings and fighting off the military. The humans collaborating to combat the beast include nerdy scientist Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), his wannabee TV journalist ex-GF (Maria Pitillo) her cameraman (Hank Azaria) and a slimy French government agent (Jean Reno).
Emmerich commits some of the most blatant creative theft since Brian De Palma’s 70’s-80’s Hitchcock fixation. Emmerich’s victim is Steven Spielberg shamelessly lifting direct shots, scenes, visual composition and camera movement from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and more. The opening moments which has the scientists tracking the trail of destruction of the lizard across the Pacific is lifted directly from ‘Close Encounters’, and final the stadium sequence is essentially the raptor chase from ‘Jurassic Park’. But it’s Emmerich’s overall tone of wonder and amazement which rings as nasty and deliberate pilfering.
Emmerich’s monster, as designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who had previously created some wonderful designs in “Independence Day” and “Stargate” chooses to create a literal version of the Godzilla beast – a nuclear fallout-mutated monster which appears to be just an anatomically correct blow-up of a real lizard. As such, Godzilla’s legs are bent out of shape like a four legged creature and his face is a square muscular mass of cold-blooded leather. Emmerich eschews any attempt at creating a personality to the beast – which was one of the endearing hallmarks of the Toho beast – a monster with a distinct personality. This Godzilla is simply a giant lizard.
Emmerich’s tin ear for casting is front and centre. Michael Lerner is a great character actor, but in the skin of a U.S. President rendered as a sour grapes jab at Roger Ebert is an awful creative choice. Same with the casting of “The Simpsons” voice actors Hank Azaria as the Eng camera operator named ‘Animal’ (seriously, his name is Animal), the diminutive Harry Shearer as a womanizing news anchor man and the affable funny man Kevin Dunn as a hardnosed military general (whaat???). Dr. Niko Tatopoulos as played by Matthew Broderick is a typical Emmerich character and carbon copy of the protags from Stargate (James Spader) Independence Day (Jeff Goldblum), The Day After Tomorrow (Jake Gyllenhaal) and though I haven’t seen it yet, most likely John Cusack’s character 2012.
Without a personality to the beast, all of the action is just noise. And with a particularly dark and wet colour palette the entire picture is rendered soulless, inert and dead.
“Godzilla” is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment