Commercial success of modern Hollywood film has more to do with hype than quality of the film itself. And when it comes to hype, quality of hype is more important than its quantity. This is the lesson painfully learned by makers of Godzilla, 1998 disaster film directed by Roland Emmerich. Designed as the big summer film of 1998 it was relentlessly advertised as the biggest event in history of cinema almost year before its premiere. This hype was combined with arrogance, best seen in the slogan that was bound to offend certain powerful people in Hollywood and huge segment of science fiction geek population. As a result, long time before premiere it became one of the most loathed films in recent memory. Critics who had hacked the film to pieces soon learned that the general public followed their advice, turning Godzilla into one of the biggest commercial disappointments of 1990s.
Godzilla is a remake of Gojira, Japanese 1954 film that spawned not only numerous sequels but also its very own sub-genre of "monster films". Original Gojira (or Godzilla as it was renamed for US market) was inspired by real life incident of Japanese fishing boat being affected by American nuclear bomb testing in Pacific. Four decades later the only country that conducted such tests in Pacific was France and the plot of the new version went from there. The film begins with nuclear explosion in French Polynesia that irradiates couple of marine iguanas. Their offspring is going to mutate in rather spectacular fashion and announce its presence to the world with couple of boats being sunk in Pacific and huge footprints in Panama. When it turns out that the creature's final destination is city of New York, both civilian administration of incompetent mayor Roger Ebert (played by Michael Lerner) and military forces under Colonel Hicks (played by Kevin Dunn) seem unable to cope with the crisis. Biologist Dr. Nik Tatopulous (played by Matthew Broderick) is called to offer advice and he, to his utmost horror, finds that the monster wants to hatch hundreds of eggs in the middle of Manhattan. Unfortunately, his warnings are not taken seriously by anyone except French secret agent Philippe Roache (played by Jean Reno). Tatopoluos joins French covert team in their mission to destroy some two hundreds of baby monsters in Madison Square Garden. There they have to deal not only with carnivorous lizards but also with Tatopoulous' former girlfriend and ambitious TV reporter Audrey Timmons (played by Maria Pitillo) and her brave cameraman Victor "Animal" Palotti (played by Hank Azaria).
The best thing in Godzilla - the special effects - is in some way the film's undoing. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devilin, film's scriptwriters and producers, invested most of their energy and attention towards a single task - make a screen monster that would be more realistic and awe-inspiring not only compared to its Japanese predecessors but also to Spielberg's dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. In only a couple of years CGI technology has progressed and Godzilla (both in its gigantic and miniature "baby" version) indeed looks formidable on screen. Scenes in which Godzilla wreaks havoc on streets of New York are truly impressive. Unfortunately, the realism of Godzilla's physical presence only points towards the utter emptiness of plot, human characters and complete lack of scientific credibility or common sense. Lack of sympathetic human characters is underlined with bad and inspired acting, even from those actors who (unlike Maria Pitillo, who had her career more or less torpedoed with Godzilla) were supposed to deliver at least passable performances. Devlin and Emmerich's attempt to inject some comic relief with characters with the same names and noticing resemblance to film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel is a failure, because the joke wears off very quickly. The task of comic relief is actually performed by Jean Reno, who seems very relaxed with his role and combines humour with charisma. When the action focuses on Reno's character in the latter part of the film, Godzilla starts to look interesting. Unfortunately, that happens too late to generally improve impression of this film. On the other hand, some more recent political developments gave Godzilla new ways to entertain audience.
Godzilla, just like it didn't live to its hype, doesn't live up to its infamy, but most viewers won't have many reasons for regret if they decide to spend more two hours of their lives on something else.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on March 2nd 2004)
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