Godzilla - * 1/2*


Call him Godzilla, The Reluctant Lizard. The makers of Independence Day have applied their unique sensibilities to reinventing everyone’s favorite big, green, city-stomping reptile. You don’t really expect much in the way of plot and/or character development, do you? Good. But in this new incarnation, the scaly fella may be bigger, but he’s not very impressive.

Born many years earlier, during French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, Godzilla has chosen this moment to make his public appearance (And why not? This is the Summer Movie Season!) From his South Pacific home, he makes a beeline toward The Big Apple…presumably because of the smell of fish.

Naturally, the military is concerned. They bring in an expert in radiation-induced growth-mutations, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick). He is the stock personality-free scientist who has frequented other Emmerich productions such as Stargate (James Spader), and Independence Day (Jeff Goldblum).

But Dr. Tatopoulos isn’t the only character strewn into the path of a giant lizard. No, we are tormented with the presence of his ex-girlfriend, and television reporter hopeful, Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo)…a completely annoying and unsympathetic character. At least she’s accompanied by cameraman Victor “Animal” Palotti (Hank Azaria), who gives the film its best Godzilla-induced fear reaction.

On a more entertaining note, the French Secret Service have dispatched crack agent Philippe Roache (Jean Reno) to quietly dispose of the monster. Reno’s cool mannerisms and suave style easily make him the most enjoyable character in the film, even if the French jokes are layed on a bit thick.

And then there’s the big guy…Godzilla himself. In the original Japanese monster flicks, Godzilla always had sort of a surly attitude (probably the result of an unhappy actor spending too much time in an uncomfortable rubber suit). The new Godzilla, on the other hand, has no attitude whatsoever. He’s a personality free lizard, and though you may not spot any zippers in his new incarnation, he’s hardly the same ol’ creature.

The special effects have obviously improved over the years, and you might think that Godzilla would benefit from the enhanced technology. The answer is yes and no. In redesigning the creature, the filmmakers apparently decided to stay with the “guy in a lizard suit” theme. Although the new creature has been given a good, realistic head, he is also in possession of very human arms and legs. So, even though he’s entirely computer generated, you can never quite shake the image of a guy in a suit creeping around a model city.

Every special effects driven movie needs to have some sort of centerpiece scene, a scene which is so impressive that you instantly forget about secondary problems such as plot or characterization. Such a scene is missing from Godzilla. There’s only one action sequence, stuck at the end of the film, which comes close (it’s derivative and unbelievable, but fun).

You can never expect much from the script for a special effects extravaganza (after all, if the film is done right, no one will ever notice little details like a screenplay), but the script for Godzilla scrapes the bottom of the barrel. Not much makes sense here (for example, why is anyone surprised when the radioactive-mutation expert suggests Godzilla is the result of radioactive-mutation?) and a lot of little details haven’t been thought out (why don’t the attack helicopters fly above the lizard, rather than at mouth range?) And the characters? Independence Day had a stronger batch, and that’s not saying much. Even the so-called humor in the film (the labored Siskel-and-Ebert jokes simply seem bitter) fall flat. No, there’s not much here.

If you’re looking for a popcorn film, Godzilla may seem to fill the bill. And at the dollar theater, you might be right. But even as low-grade mindless entertainment, Godzilla isn’t quite satisfying. You’d get much better entertainment value for your buck by rewatching some of Godzilla’s inspirations: Jurassic Park, or even the original Gojira. This Godzilla may be big, but he’s an empty shell.

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