Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2013)
Years ago I 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 interpreted 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 Titanic.
Basically, those who promoted Godzilla did everything wrong, and the movie fell far short of expectations. The film didn’t even make the top five in a fairly lackluster box office 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 wasn’t a great take for an expensive, absurdly hyped flick – not even in 1998 - but it wasn’t chump change either.
It probably didn’t help that many viewed 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 – 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 delivers a reasonably entertaining experience. Its main problem stems from its duality. When the movie concentrates on its action sequences, it can be fun and exciting, but when it delves into its cardboard characters, it totally collapses. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time with those people, so Godzilla can be something of an endurance test.
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 Nick 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 sees 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 NYC and 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 a finale 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 like. 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 like Godzilla. It provides enough excitement and mindless destruction to keep me entertained. However, it definitely falls well short of greatness due to unusually poor human characters and a tendency to run too long. At 139 minutes, the flick simply seems like it should end a good half an hour earlier. Nonetheless, folks who enjoy this sort of movie should find enough worthwhile material here to provoke their attention.