1998, PG-13, 139 min. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Vicki Lewis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 22, 1998
Another summer, another giant lizard. Whoops, what am I saying?! This is Godzilla's made-in-America debut, and nothing to sniff at lest I incur the wrath of those two diminutive maidens from Godzilla vs. the Thing. As a longtime fan of the 22-and-counting Godzilla films cranked out by Japan's Toho Studios since 1956's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I went into this newest addition with the same kind of jittery, wary enthusiasm usually reserved for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals. Despite being shrouded in secrecy and having that annoyingly effective tagline “Size Does Matter” plastered across the country, the Green Giant was effectively kept out of the pages of Entertainment Weekly and off Harry Knowles' website (no mean feat) by his handlers, Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin (Independence Day). Sadly though, as it turns out, this Godzilla looks like George Foreman after an irradiated rumble in the jungle. With a huge, jutting, Jack Kirby-esque jaw and a spade-like head, he looks and moves far too much like an overgrown Spielbergian Velociraptor. Appearances aside, though, Emmerich and Devlin's film fails to live up to the hype as well, with plenty of miscast characters and groan-inducing humor and homages that leave you wishing you had rented Destroy All Monsters instead. Godzilla begins on a high note, as the title sequence gives us a glimpse into the origin of the big lizard -- just as you always suspected, it's those pesky French nuclear tests in the Polynesian islands. Once mutated, Godzilla (accidentally renamed from the correct Japanese Gojira) makes his way toward New York City to -- surprise -- lay eggs in the subway system. Broderick, as Greek “worm guy” Dr. Niko Tatopoulos is called in to lend his expertise regarding giant, asexual lizards while his old flame, journalist Audrey Timmonds (Pitillo), covers the breaking story from the front lines. Where's Raymond Burr when you really need him? Alas, this Godzilla is lacking both the awesome spirit of the original and the sublime silliness of the more recent Toho outings. A running gag concerning a Siskel and Ebert mayoral duo is downright ridiculous, and poor Matthew Broderick's Tatopolous is one of the decade's great misfires, nearly as goofy as Elisabeth Shue's cold-fusion expert in last year's The Saint. The real star of the film then is the fluidily imaginative effects work by visual effects supervisor Volker Engel and designer Patrick Tatopolous (that's right, they named the main character after their model-maker). The many, many shots of Godzilla racing through the labyrinthine corridors of downtown Manhattan are especially effective, with swarms of helicopters overhead and tons of rubble crashing down everywhere. Still, this isn't the knock-'em-dead update we'd been expecting. Falling somewhere between Godzilla '85 and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster in terms of purist quality, it's a misfire on many different levels. Still, you're going to go see it, so do yourself a favor and rent King of the Monsters to watch later, compare, and see how effective the original still is.