Godzilla (1998)

I just re-watched this one after a long absence and I find that my opinion has not changed.

Which still leaves me in the minority on this one.

This is one of the best giant monster movies ever made.  No questions asked.

It just isn’t a Godzilla movie.

Mind you, one could point out that “giant monster movie” is not a cinematic category likely to produce great art.  Which this isn’t.  Instead, this is an overblown, over-the-top action movie, which, while it may seem familiar now, was really one of those emerging concepts of the age.  It’s no surprise that overblown, over-the-top maestro Michael Bay released his most overblown, over-the-top movie yet, Armageddon, the same year.  Or that this film seems to have been designed to top Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s previous overblown, over-the-top movie, Independence Day.  And, I think it would be fair to say that these three films seem to have set the pattern for the nearly twenty years of overblown and over-the-top screen excesses which are still with us (I’m sure one could list plenty of other deserving additions to the list, but you get the idea).

But this film still does things no Kaiju Eiga ever did before.  We get street level views of the destruction, chaos and confusion, we get a monster bursting with life, which moves with fluid grace and is capable of a fair amount of expression.  We get to see it from the point of view of the people on the streets, not the familiar, middle distance, two-guys-in-suits framing of the classic Godzillas.  We get to see the damage caused by the attempts to take down the beast.  We get dramatic lighting, POV chases through the maze of city streets and interesting camera angles.   And we do get answers to one of those questions rarely answered in these films, what does a giant monster eat, anyway?

One has only to look at the Millennium series of Godzilla films to see the impact it has had (even if I do agree with Final Wars that the real Godzilla would crush this pretender like a grape).  Or, for that matter, Shin Godzilla.  Or CloverfieldThe Host, the 2014 Legendary Godzilla, or virtually any other giant monster movie made since.

Yep, it steals like crazy from Jurassic Park.  But then, that does give us one of the funniest images of the film, when, on Godzilla’s maiden appearance in the City, we get to see, not jiggling jello, but all the cars on the street bouncing up and down.  And the equally “borrowed” sequence near the end, with hundreds of baby ‘Zillas is as beautiful a theatrical thrill ride as you could ask for.

Yeah, we know that that’s Matthew Broderick in the lead.  Yeah we know that the car chase with Godzilla is totally absurd and unrealistic (why, it’s nearly as bad as any of the big action set pieces in any of the Die Hard sequels!).  And there’s that World War II vintage Greyhound armored car which keeps showing up in the background of all the Military scenes (I mean, seriously, you never see the darn thing move, did they tow it from location to location?).

But, on the other hand, we have a series of memorable, almost classic moments, like Dr. Nick asking where his sample is, or Animal getting stepped on (almost), or Audrey saying “It’s Go-jir-a, you idiot!”, or the pilot reporting “negative impact on target”, or the scene with the gumballs (and its quick reprise).  And any movie with Jean Reno and The Simpsons‘ Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer in it is worth a look.

Yeah, we know it’s a giant mutant iguana.  Just pretend it has a different name.

After all, isn’t that what Toho decided to do?

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