Godzilla (1998) Second Opinion Review
Wow I can’t believe that as I am writing this review that we are less than a week away from Legendary and Warner Bros. take on Godzilla. I seriously mean WOW because I really did not think that I would see another American Godzilla film, or at least another one this soon. Now before getting into the film itself I’d like to try and take you back in time to when this film was released.
Just think back to the mid to late 90’s back before the days of youtube, high-speed internet, online console gaming, and long before HD television. Now before this movie came out or even before the famous marketing campaign kicked in(more on that later) Godzilla had been introduced to a new generation of fans thanks to programs like Mystery Science Theater 3000, old VHS tapes (which was one of the ways I was introduced to the original films), or various television blocks that would play monster movies with the one I mostly grew up on being TNT’s Monstervision. Not only that but in the couple years leading up to the 1998 film there were tons of great children’s books available which all featured really great artwork, not to mention the great Godzilla series Random House books had going on up until the 1998 American film. And we American fans were even lucky enough to have the toy company Trendmasters(who would go on to do the toyline for the American film) provide us with tons of great toys in various sizes and playsets that not only included toys of characters from the Heisei movies that a regular fan wouldn’t have seen until Tristar/Sony released them when Godzilla(1998) came out, as well as newer takes on older monsters that never popped up in the Heisei series like Gigan, Megalon, and Anguirus. It truly was an amazing time to be a Godzilla fan and even better time to be a child Godzilla fan as it was very easy to be introduced to the series from any of these products and be able to get many of the films as most of the Showa series was available and the two Heisei films that were released in the states were also not hard to come by either. And in the midst of all of this Godzilla-mania we get word of a big budget American remake/reboot of the franchise that after being delayed after the initial 1994 version and after most people involved with that project left we finally hear that the team and people behind Independance Day would be working on the film. While I was too young to care about that side of it I could look back and see how it got people excited because Independance Day while not high art or anything is still a great and fun film that I still enjoy as much as I did as a kid.
Now let’s cut to when this film was on it’s way to theaters and the marketing was starting to ramp up. Looking back at this film’s promotion I don’t think I can remember anything like it except besides the Star Wars prequels, especially The Phantom Menace. Oh boy was this film’s promotion everywhere and while not fondly remembered by most people, I’m sure it’s still remembered none the less. And it’s not hard to see why because the film’s marketing kicked off initially with the teaser trailer of footage that is nowhere in the film about a group of kids on a school field trip or something at a museum where we see them come upon a statue of a T-Rex skeleton where we see the ground shaking right before Godzilla’s foot comes crashing through the ceiling and crushes the T-Rex skeleton. Another teaser trailer appeared near the end of 1997 and is referred to as the New Year’s Eve trailer which is quite honestly my favorite of all the teasers as it has Godzilla appear during New Year’s celebration as the ball is about to drop or as it just did in Time’s Square and has his tail smack the ball off and send it flying towards the crowd as they are fleeing for their lives and ends with it stating when it comes out as well as stating that 1998 is the year of Godzilla. And let me tell you that statement was as true now as it was back then as 2014 has also become the year of Godzilla thanks to the new movie. But back to this film, now as it got closer to May 1998 this film’s marketing got a little too in your face with it’s tagline and with how it was everywhere at the time. First off the tagline of this movie became “Size Matters” and did they ever go crazy with that, since there were buses plastered with the side stating his foot was as long as this bus for example with many different variations plastered on other things and even buildings. Truly one of the greatest marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen because it was everywhere and there’s no way that anyone didn’t hear about the film at that point. Truly amazing marketing even if it did get a little ridiculous with how much exposure it got and as big as the marketing of this film was so was the tie-in products ranging from the typical toys, clothes, and other merchandise you’d expect from a big summer blockbuster like this, but they also partnered with many other companies for tie-ins and food products. Some food products I remembered getting quite a bit of was the vanilla ice cream with fudge pieces shaped like Godzilla or his foot and whatnot. The other while not an actual food product was the HUGE advertising that Taco Bell did for this film with two very big ads I remember with one being extremely hard to find online for the longest time and the other one of course being the most famous featuring the Taco Bell dog laying a trap for Godzilla and uttering one line I’m sure most people still remember. Another thing that people remembered most about the marketing was that Tristar/Sony were extremely secretive with giving away the creatures entire design away in any sort of commercials, trailers, or advertisements(which of course is one of the biggest complaints with this film that most people and fans of Godzilla have with the marketing and that they hated the design). Sony even released a soundtrack full of some of the biggest names in music at the time and a few of them got music videos full of Godzilla, but of course never fully being shown off. So as you can tell the hype was ridiculously high and no matter what the finished film turned out to be, rather it was different from what we actually got or not there was no freaking way that it would’ve ever lived up to the buzz and hype the marketing campaign and trailers created. One last thing if you’d like to take another trip back in time check out this guys YouTube channel which has tons of amazing commercials and tv spots related to this film and creature including the extremely rare and hard to find second Taco Bell commercial here.
One last thing I’d like to bring up about this film before getting into the main review has to do with the creature’s design and abilities as I want to get that out of the way. And before I do I’d like to give you a little insight on how I was when this film came out. Now when this film came out I was five years old on the verge of turning six later that summer and I grew up on many classic genre films thanks to my parents and all the great 90’s television programming and all the great Saturday morning cartoons which is why I love superheroes and why Batman and Spider-Man remain two of my all-time favorite superheroes. Not to mention I was absolutely in love with Godzilla and Godzilla(1998) was the movie I was waiting for all year and lucky enough to see it opening weekend thanks to my father taking me and my siblings. And of course the movie was absolutely packed and we showed up a little late as I don’t really remember seeing many previews. But since we got there late we had to sit in the absolute front right next to the big screen and looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way as it is one of my most cherished and vivid memories of my childhood and I still remember fairly well. I mean I was absolutely entranced by what was going on on the big screen absolutely loved this film as a child even though I was such a huge Godzilla fan and that this Godzilla looked nothing really like him. Now being an adult I can look back at the design and easily understand why so many fans of Godzilla felt the way they do and still do about the look of this Godzilla let alone how they feel about the movie itself. Because yeah he does look like a giant irradiated iguana with Godzilla-like dorsal fins on his back. Not to mention he has T-Rex looking feet and oddly designed hands. He does not stand upright like all of Toho’s Godzilla designs which even the new one from Legendary and WB pictures keeps the upright look. Not to mention the fact that he has no Atomic breath or fire breath for that matter and that he is nowhere near as indestructible as Toho’s Godzilla. Now with all that said how do I feel about the look of this creature? I honestly really like the design of him, and while I would’ve prefered something that look much more familiar I still really enjoy his look in the film. And while I think the filmmakers and other fans of this film whole defense of this Godzilla being that they made him more realistic a bit ridiculous as he’s a giant lizard, I do think the one thing they really got right with that saying is that he doesn’t stand upright as that’s the only realistic thing about the creature and from what I’ve heard during the millenium series is a thing they tried doing before with suitmation but of course couldn’t be done, because it would kill the guy in the suit’s back. And while he was also nowhere as big as the Heisei Godzilla or any Godzilla for that matter if he stood upright he would actually be roughly the same size as the older Showa Godzilla and smaller Millenium Godzilla’s as that series fluctuated between films what his exact size was. Honestly my only real complaint with this creature’s design and abilities would have to be that they slimmed him down too much for Godzilla in his size and height, he has no Atomic Breath or even fire breath, and lastly how weak they made him in this film as one of the big things that most people know about Toho’s Godzilla is that he’s unstoppable and just about indestructible,
Now to the main event the film itself and what I think about it. First off the thing you’ll notice first about this film is that they changed the origins of Godzilla as well where as he was always created/awoken/mutated by the American nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, but here they’ve changed it to testings caused by the French government which is where Jean Reno’s character and all his men come into play later in the film as we learn the secret of who they are and why they are doing what they’ve been doing, And funny thing about them changing the country responsible for conducting the tests since the footage played during the movie’s opening features a lot of footage from the Bikini island tests. In regards to the characters my favorites have to be Jean Reno’s as he is my absolute favorite actor and character in this film and he is a total badass here, my second favorite would have to be Hank Azaria’s character Animal since I really enjoyed him. I honestly enjoyed the rest of the cast for the most part with Matthew Broderick being fine as the film’s lead in my opinion. The only character who I thought could’ve been casted better was Audrey as Maria Pitillo did not impress me at all and was honestly was the only one of the main or secondary characters that for me was really just there in terms of her acting and didn’t really stand out or do much in the role, but at least she wasn’t annoying in it. Speaking of her and Broderick there are a few scenes with them together in this film where they will just be talking and for no reason just kind of make these odd faces with the most notable being Broderick’s near the end right after Madison Square Guardian is blown up. Just really the only thing that’s ever bothered me about their performances in this film. One last thing I have to say in regards to the cast. What the heck was them with casting not one or two, but three actors from The Simpsons. Like seriously what was up with that since the casting of Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, and Nancy Cartwright was way more than a coincidence if you ask me.
In terms of special effects this film was a big thing for it’s time as it featured for the most part a very nice combination of CG and practical effects. I mean looking at the Godzilla for this film he was brought to life in a few very cool ways and actually in the beginning was originally going to use a full body suit with an actor inside, but was thrown out early on due to having to much of a human shape. In the final product though Godzilla is shown more being done with CG which honestly does look really great for it’s time and for the most part I feel still holds up when viewed today as the textures on the creature in most scenes still show quite a bit of detail. The times CG isn’t used looks freaking great though as they built an impressive one sixth scale version of their Godzilla which in terms of quality of what it can do as well as how convincing it looks on screen(and in pictures too) it puts the Cybot Godzilla from Godzilla 1985 to even more shame than it already does itself. Just some really great practical effects used throughout this entire film with even some really great and impressive miniatures of New York used as well. This being nearly twenty years old not everything is going to hold up and while like I said I said Godzilla himself holds up for the most part as there are some scene where the textures on him don’t look as great or his eyes look less detailed in their coloring. The two absolute worse effects shots of Godzilla for me is the scene with the two soldiers looking in the subway and stumble upon a dead end and as the soldier turns away we see Godzilla open his eye, which the eye looks pretty good but everything else in that scene today looks just awful and really has little detail in it compared to the rest of the film. The second scene where there is just a glaring issue with the CG and the most odd has to be during the famous chase scene during the finale where we see Godzilla stop and then pull his head back and we see the top off his head and I mean what the heck were they thinking with this shot as it’s the absolute worst in the movie because they totally forgot to finish the work on the top of his head. And for years I just thought it was some glitch on my VHS tape or DVD, but no still there and present on the Blu-Ray and still as baffling. The other big area that really doesn’t hold up at all with this film and probably took only a few years was the baby Godzillas, which when being used with all the very nicely detailed suits they look great but just about anytime they are CG they look really bad. Though there are a few scenes where the CG babies look actually quite nice but for the most part anytime they are up close or running around they really show their age and then some as they really didn’t put enough time in creating their textures to be able to hold up during all the shot the characters were used in. Now aside from the worst shot in the film taking place during the chase scene, the entire chase scene along with the climax on the Brooklyn bridge really are the highlight of this film effects wise as they really pulled off some very complicated things to do quite well for it’s time with the most impressive being the Brooklyn Bridge scene especially how complicated it had to be to animate all the support cables.
Now for what I honestly don’t like about this film or could really care less for. First off the thing was really odd was the whole mayor Ebert and his aid or what ever Gene which were not subtle at all and clearly meant to be a joke towards the big movie reviewers of the time Siskel and Ebert, and my main issue with it them besides them feeling really out of place was just that they really did nothing with the characters. Kind of like how they didn’t really do much with Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo’s characters Nick and Audrey in terms of their romance and that kind of once again for me has to do with Maria Pitillo just being miscast and just kind of existing in the role but not really doing much else. You know I’ve never been to New York city and though they never really state what time of year this movie takes place in I really don’t believe it rains 24/7 in New York like it does in this film. I mean I get that part of the reason why they did that was it helps hide things with the CG Godzilla but at the same time you have to worry about animating all that rain falling off and running down his body, but I find it really strange that I can’t watch this movie and find a scene that takes place in New York that doesn’t feature heavy rain. Now as I’ve already mentioned I love Jean Reno’s character Philippe, but I got to admit that the schtick with him and all his other French Secret Service agents gets pretty old with how oh no Coffee here’s tastes terrible and whatnot, not really annoying to me just tiring. Now back to the flaws with the film’s title character, first of I got to say with all the problems fans have with this creature it almost turned out a lot worse as they were so close to giving the creature a cloaking ability where he can literally blend in with the buildings around him. But yeah what we got was not only nowhere what we expected let alone what us fans deserved in an American Godzilla film with the plot or script issues aside as yes it is important to a Godzilla but what’s important first and foremost is Godzilla. And plain and simple is this monster Godzilla no? First off he like I mentioned earlier is much too weak and shows this all the time as anytime the military intervenes he chooses to run away rather than keep on moving through. The only time while running away from the military where he actually does something(besides using his “breath weapon” to blow up vehicles and create a huge flame thrower sort of effect) while being chased by the helicopters and quite nicely actually manages to fool them and pops of from behind and almost instantly takes out two of them. Speaking of that scene the black pilot who also played a pilot in Independance Day gets taken out in this scene as do all of three Helicopter pilots, but what’s odd is later in the film when the submarines are attacking Godzilla we see the same actor playing one of the captains and while it’s never stated if that is the pilot’s twin or anything is just kind of weird since the camera focuses on him quite a bit. But yeah back to Godzilla other than how he looks nothing like any of the Toho Godzillas before him or since him, they really messed up on giving him a proper breath weapon and the one that’s in there doesn’t really seems like it’s a weapon but more or less just what the loudness of his roar does to the vehicles in front of him.
Another really big thing that not only many fans have issues with, casual moviegoers have issues, with and even myself sometimes is that yes this movie is not a true Godzilla film and while tries to take many elements from those films and incorporate the ideas they take from those film in varying degrees. But in many ways it owes a lot to the Jurassic Park films especially towards the end of the film when our main characters our in Madison Square Garden and find not only Godzilla’s nest but dozens upon dozens of eggs ready to hatch, which of course they do. And it’s in this sequence where it feels the least like a Godzilla film as the French secret service agents along with Nick, Animal, and Audrey are all being hunted by the newly hatched baby Godzilla’s as they apparently smell like the fish they Godzilla had left for them that quickly runs out. And thus they begin hunting and eating the non main characters as well as coming off like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park and even apes some scenes from the first film almost outright. Not to mention like I stated earlier that they gave Godzilla himself very T-Rex like feet. But yeah they really messed up this Godzilla in many ways to where it’s hardly connected to the originals and only similarities being that he’s a huge lizard, named Godzilla, has three rows of dorsal plates on his back, and was created by radioactivity.
With all that said do I like this movie or even Godzilla himself from this film? With all the things this film got wrong for long time fans I can easily see why it gets so much hate, both the film and Godzilla (or Zilla as Toho rebranded him as back in 2004). But for me it doesn’t really matter all that much as I enjoy the crap out of this movie and have never stopped doing so since I first saw this film in theaters as a young child. Also can we all agree that while David Arnold’s score for this film is nowhere near the magic that Akira Ifukube came up with for the Godzilla series, but he still does a fantastic job and is one of my favorite things about this film. I still know and can admit all the things they got wrong with this movie and then some because that’s how much I truly enjoy this film and really think the one thing that’s held it back all these years for being remembered as fondly as say Independance Day is that they used the name Godzilla as they changed the monster too much to where it hardly is recognizable as Toho’s creations. This film is nowhere near perfect as I’ve stated numerous times and neither is the 1998 American Godzilla but you know what it’s also a really enjoyable summer blockbuster from the 90’s and is by no mean high art and it’s not trying to be so keep that in mind if you’re new to this film or if you’ve seen it before and are one of the many people who hate it, nothing wrong with either opinion on this film as it is very flawed and completely changed the world’s most famous and biggest monster in my opinion. And at it’s best I actually hold it up there with some of the worse Godzilla movies as well as it being tied for my favorite Roland Emmerich movie along with Independence Day, but at it’s worst it’s a very flawed film that in many respects ruined one of film’s best monsters and continues to be a sore spot for many fans and people.
Well there’s my thoughts on this movie and I’m sure for someone who’s as big and hardcore of a Godzilla fan as I am you probably didn’t expect anything like what I’ve stated to be said during this review. But I’d like to wrap things up with a little bit more on this film’s conception as well as some things I really think need to be said about this film. First off I am tired of people that rant and rave about this acting like it was all because of Hollywood and for the most part that’s entirely true since Roland and Dean had complete and total control over this movie. But where they should get any hate you have towards them so should Toho, as not only did they have to approve everything by Toho they also had to stick to some guidelines for their Godzilla. When it comes to the design that many people hate Toho had to approve it and regardless of if they truly liked the design or not they still approved it, same with their rules for Godzilla which some big ones weren’t payed attention to. For example they had a rule that Godzilla did not eat humans and for the most part that’s not in the movie but Godzilla does attempt to eat people in the climax and kinda of ate one of the helicopter pilots. But where that rule is outright ignored is during the entire Madison Square Garden sequence as that’s all the baby Godzilla’s are trying to do. At any point Toho could’ve stepped in and said no you can’t do that or you have to change it, but no they didn’t and I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s pretty simple honestly since Toho had previously released the duo’s previous film Independence Day in Japan and it was a huge success for them so they set aside their feelings about the design and what happened in the script as all they cared about was just making as much money as they could. And just know anytime you complain about this film just remember that Toho is responsible as well as the filmmakers as they could’ve said no at any of the crucial points in the film’s pre-production.
Perhaps what’s more important than what I had to say about that is that this movie is sixteen years old now and getting so freaking close to being two decades old and people still get so violent and angry over this film as if it came out this past year. I mean it is still so bad that I’ve seen in forums and and even facebook groups where mere mentions of this film would start really bad flame wars. The hatred for this film really needs to let up especially in light of the new film out this Friday which looks Amazing so far and I am dying to see it. People still treat this film as they did back in 1998 where they’re treating this film as if it completely destroyed Godzilla and that there has never been another Godzilla film let alone one that’s good. Because there was more Godzilla and not even long after the film as Japan got Godzilla 2000 in 1999 and we got it just a few months after they did. And not just that so much good has come from this film being made, first off we got the amazing cartoon show that served as a sequel to this series with the baby from the end of the film growing up to the size of his dad and was much more in the spirit of the original Godzilla, but was sadly cancelled during the great Pokemon and Digimon war going on between Fox Kids and Kids WB. That’s not even all or even the best thing about what came from this film and is gonna be the best thing about this new film. That being that even though there were many people and kids introduced to Godzilla before this film which I was lucky enough to be, but most people and kids didn’t know about Godzilla or any of Toho’s monsters. I happen to know many people that were like that and it’s all thanks to this movie that many people growing up not knowing what or who Godzilla was that they were able to be introduced to the true and original Godzilla. Not only because they saw the movie and later looked into the Japanese Godzilla films but it was also quite easy for kids to be introduced to the series back in 1998 as just about every Godzilla film ever made at the time saw a re-release on VHS and many were even released onto DVD for the first time ever. Even if I absolutely hated this movie I would love it just for that fact alone because so many people were able to be introduced to this amazing franchise all thanks to Tristar and Sony’s Godzilla. As well as I feel the same towards this film as I do Batman and Robin in the same sense that if it wasn’t for either of these films we wouldn’t have gotten the great Batman movies by Christopher Nolan, and we sure wouldn’t have gotten Toho to make the entire Millenium series regardless of how you feel about those films or even the new one coming out this week which looks to be such a great and faithful film to the original Godzilla movies.
So if you enjoy this film or not just remember all that we’ve gotten so many great things because of Godzilla(1998) and how many people were introduced to this amazing series that we love so much.