Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field
Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Size Does Matter
Budget $125 million.
Opening weekend $55.726 million on 3310 screens.
Domestic gross $136 million.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Runtime: 139 min.
Release Date: 11/3/1998
• Audio Commentary from Visual Effects Supervisor Volker Engel, Associate Visual Effects Supervisor Karen Goulekas, and Godzilla Designer Patrick Tatopoulos
• Wallflowers Music Video
• “Godzilla Takes New York” Before and After Stills
• Director/Producer Bio
• Cast Filmographies
• Photo Gallery
• Production Notes
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 18, 2002)
I once dated a woman who constantly reminded me that her perception was her reality. It didn’t matter if I could prove that she was wrong about something; if she saw the matter differently, that was that. If she felt 1+1=3, then it did as far as she was concerned.
Though most people don’t take their perceptions to such an extreme, similar trains of thought affect most of us, and such biases play a big part in determining whether a movie is seen as a hit or a flop. Case in point: 1998’s much-hyped remake of Godzilla. The folks behind the flick stupidly touted it as the greatest thing ever committed to celluloid, and they actually were dumb enough to predict it’d top the recently-crowned box office king, 1997’s $600 million-grossing .
Basically, those who promoted Godzilla did pretty much everything wrong, and the movie badly fell short of expectations. Eventually the film didn’t even make the top five in a fairly lackluster year, and its gross was much lower than anticipated.
However, viewed objectively, the movie did take in a reasonable piece of change. Based on public perceptions of its performance, you’d think Godzilla grossed 135 cents instead of 135 million dollars. No, $135 million isn’t a great take for an expensive, absurdly hyped flick, but it ain’t chump change either.
It probably didn’t help that many saw the final product as little more than the sum of its hype. As with the following year’s The Phantom Menace, a lot of the folks who saw Godzilla left the theater disappointed. The filmmaking team of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin made a lot of money with 1994’s Stargate and 1996’s Independence Day - the biggest hit of that year, and currently 13th on the list of all-time top grossing movies – but they don’t seem to have a lot of diehard fans. Instead, they do suffer from a long list of active detractors, and those folks came out in droves to feast on the remains of Godzilla.
Personally, I thought Godzilla was a reasonably entertaining experience. Its main problem stemmed from its duality. When the movie concentrated on its action sequences, it could be very fun and exciting, but when it delved into its cardboard characters, it totally collapsed.
Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time with those people, so Godzilla could be something of an endurance test on occasion. At the start of the film, we see an attack on a Japanese fishing boat. One crewman survives, but he provides little information for investigators. However, some mysterious critter swims toward the US and leaves damage in Panama. That’s where our protagonist becomes involved with the story. A specialist in mutations caused by nuclear waste, Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) theorizes that such effects created this monster.
He – and we – follow this creature as it proceeds toward the eastern seaboard of the US. Eventually it arrives in Manhattan, where he finds that it’s a giant lizard we’ll come to call Godzilla. There we encounter struggling aspiring journalist Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo), who just happens to be Nick’s ex-girlfriend from college. They eventually reconnect after she seems him on the news.
Why am I bothering to provide this level of detail for my synopsis of Godzilla? Here’s what you need to know: the lizard comes to Manhattan and lots of mayhem ensues. End of synopsis.
No one goes to a movie of this sort and expects rich and deep characters or a compelling story. We want action and destruction, and in those domains, Godzilla delivers the goods. The movie starts slowly, but once the fur begins to fly, it really begins to go somewhere. From a sequence set in Madison Square Garden to the end of the flick on the Brooklyn Bridge, the third act provides one long action piece, and most of this material seems energetic and exciting.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers feel the need to attempt characterizations of the humans, and those drag down the movie. Godzilla actually features a pretty solid cast, as we find folks like Jean Reno, Harry Shearer, Michael Lerner and Hank Azaria on board. However, their roles almost never rise above the level of cartoons. Lerner gets the worst of the bunch. In a “clever” slam on film critics, Lerner portrays Mayor Ebert, a character obviously based on Roger. He even gets a bald sidekick named Gene! Maybe someone else finds this witty, but I think it seems pathetic.
Of the humans in Godzilla, only Reno manages to stand out from the crowd. It ain’t easy to make a French guy look like a butt-kicker, but Reno does it routinely, and as “insurance agent Philippe Roache, he offers yet another fun and compelling performance. If France had more guys like him, they’d have stopped the Germans back in ’40.
Back when it hit screens in 1998, the filmmakers heavily touted their movie’s effects. While generally fairly good, those elements don’t seem as positive as I’d liked. Wisely, they use rain to hide many of the flaws, but still the movie offers quite a few shots in which Godzilla gets awkwardly inserted into the action. In addition, the critter varies radically in size throughout the movie. There seems to be little rhyme or reason in that domain, as the effects guys appear to alter Big G’s dimensions to fit the movie’s different situations.
As a fan of loud action flicks, I generally liked Godzilla. It provided enough excitement and mindless destruction to keep me entertained. However, it definitely fell well short of greatness due to unusually poor human characters and a tendency to run too long. At 139 minutes, the flick simply seemed like it should have ended a good half an hour earlier. Nonetheless, folks who enjoy this sort of movie should find enough worthwhile material here to provoke their attention.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio A / Bonus C-
Godzilla appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it demonstrated a couple small problems, overall the picture of Godzilla looked pretty terrific.
Sharpness seemed solid. The movie consistently appeared crisp and well defined. I noticed virtually no examples of softness or fuzziness during this distinct and accurate presentation. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did detect some light edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I saw none, though some minor artifacting appeared at times.
Due to the film’s rainy setting, Godzilla didn’t exactly present a Technicolor extravaganza. Nonetheless, the hues always came across as vibrant and nicely delineated. They seemed clear and as bright as the situations demanded. Black levels appeared quite dense and deep, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not overly murky or opaque. Due to all the rain, smoke and fog effects in use, Godzilla provided a difficult image to replicate on video, but the DVD generally handled the picture well.
I experienced almost no complaints when I checked out the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Godzilla. Say what you want about Devlin and Emmerich, but they always deliver excellent audio for their films, and Godzilla might provide the best of the bunch. The soundfield made extremely vivid use of all five channels virtually constantly throughout the movie. Music remained mostly oriented toward the front, where the score offered crisp and well-delineated stereo imaging.
The effects popped up from all around the spectrum and created one of the most vivid and involving soundfields I’ve ever heard. I could try to select a standout sequence, but that would be tough. So much of the film made great use of the surrounds and side channels that no single segment seemed stronger than the rest. However, the various artillery and helicopter attacks appeared excellent, and the swarm of Godzilla offspring also provided another amazing piece of work.
Audio quality came across as consistently top-notch as well. Despite the high necessity for dubbing, speech seemed natural and warm, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded bright and dynamic, as the score was clear and rich at all times. Effects seemed distinctive and lively. They showed solid accuracy, with no signs of distortion or shrillness. Bass response appeared loud and rich most of the time, though low-end occasionally was slightly boomy. Frankly, that last minor issue was the only thing that kept the audio of Godzilla from an “A+”. Otherwise, the movie offered one of the all-time great soundtracks.
As I write this review, it’s been exactly four years since the DVD of Godzilla hit shelves in November 1998. I think “DVD years” may be akin to “dog years”, for it’s amazing how much the format has grown during that brief span. One key way to detect these changes comes from my memory of the manner in which I greeted the Godzilla DVD. After years of expensive laserdiscs that often included scant features, I happily greeted the opportunity to pick up something like Godzilla that tossed in what seemed like scads of extras and only cost about $25.
Four years later, I find it hard to remember why I made such a fuss. Godzilla looks like a fairly limp package by 2002 standards, and the extras we get appear weak as a whole. First we find an audio commentary from visual effects supervisor Volker Engel and associate visual effects supervisor Karen Goulekas; after about 55 minutes, Godzilla designer Patrick Tatopoulos joins them as well. Some greeted the fact that director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin failed to deliver a commentary as a disappointment. Those people never heard their tracks for Independence Day and/or The Patriot.
In any case, this commentary has become regarded as a pretty dull one too, and I won’t try to counter that consensus. All of the participants seemed like nice people, but the piece generally broke down into technical minutiae that often failed to maintain my attention. Granted, some of the material was reasonably informative, and the pace became a bit more compelling as the program progressed; it started quite shakily, and it took the main pair of Engel and Goulekas a while to find a groove. Effects freaks or big Godzilla fans may enjoy this commentary, but most folks probably will not get much from it.
After this we move to a six-minute and 57-second featurette. Presented as a fake new report from “Charles Caiman” – the egotistical anchor played in the film by Harry Shearer- this piece involves shots from the set, many movie clips, and comments from writer/producer/director Roland Emmerich, producer/writer Dean Devlin, creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, and actors Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, Matthew Broderick, and Maria Pitillo. Very promotional in nature, the featurette tosses in a few decent facts, but it mostly exists to tout the movie, so it offers little in the way of useful information. Shearer does get a few funny bits, but I could live without hearing the cast and crew pretend that Godzilla’s a real actor on the set.
Godzilla Takes New York gives us some “before and after” visual effects material. It includes stills for five scenes: “Godzilla Rips Through the Fulton Fish Market”, “Godzilla Crushes Wall Street”, “Godzilla Storms Grand Central Station”, “The Metlife Building’s Been Hit”, and “Godzilla Terrorizes the Flatiron Building”. The small size of the comparison photos makes it tough to see some of the alterations very well, and the overall presentation doesn’t seem very good. Actual pre-and-post-effects film footage would have been much more useful.
A few pieces appear under the “Publicity Materials” banner. Director/Producer Bio includes decent entries for Devlin and Emmerich, while Cast Filmography presents those listings for Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, and Hank Azaria. The Photo Gallery features 14 small and somewhat blurry images, and we end with the music video for the Wallflowers’ cover of Bowie’s “’Heroes’”. Mostly comprised of lip-synch performance footage, the clip does integrate Godzilla in a fairly clever manner, which makes it a bit better than the average music video from a movie.
Inside the trailers domain we find a collection of pieces. This area includes two teasers for Godzilla as well as the film’s full theatrical trailer. It also provides ads for Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth. Finally, the DVD’s booklet tosses in some short but informative text production notes.
Despite all of the criticisms leveled toward it, I continue to enjoy Godzilla for the most part. Yeah, it presents some weak characters and performances and occasionally approaches a level of incoherence, but the many wild action scenes compensate for these flaws. The DVD offers generally solid picture along with excellent sound and a smattering of unexceptional extras. Godzilla may not be the king of DVDs, but fans of loose and occasionally silly action should give it a look.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars|| Number of Votes: 88|