Godzilla Goodness: GODZILLA (1998)
By Witney Seibold on May 26, 2014
What happens when Americans try to make a Godzilla movie? As it turns out, a rather notorious turkey. #25: Godzilla.
We all remember this one, right?
Few people like this film. It was a big hit when it came out, but many fans have, since then, come to loathe this film as a notorious bomb and the worst thing one can possibly do with a Godzilla film. At 138 minutes, this the the longest Godzilla film by a substantial margin, and features long, long scenes without any Godzilla in it at all. What’s more, the tone is jokey and almost slapstick, rather than little-boy-fantasy fun. Most controversially, the film featured a dramatic redesign of the star creature, transforming him from an upright growling fighter into a lean, iguana-like animal.
It’s not a very good film. It may not be as bad as its reputation as the worst thing ever, but it is still bloated, clumsy, and dumb. And not fun-dumb like most giant nuclear lizard movies. Just dumb. The tagline for the film (which I remember with clarity; I was in college when this film was released) was SIZE DOES MATTER. This is ironic, as Godzilla 1998 features the smallest iteration of the monster yet. Toho signed off on the film, but were perhaps so embarrassed by its eventual reputation, that they – after the fact – decided that the creature in this film was not Godzilla, but a creature that the Americans only mistook for Godzilla. This creature is actually just a giant lizard named Zilla.
What is Zilla compared to Godzilla? Godzilla is, I will posit, a bouncer. He’s a thick-armed, none-too-smart-but-plenty-tough Dalton-type character who kicks unwanted monsters out of Japan. He rules monster island. If the original Godzilla were a person, he would be a guy at a bar, working on his 10th beer, holding a skanky-but-very-hot chick under his arm, talking about how he once drove a truck from New York to L.A. in 48 hours, all while dodging Smokey, and beating up rivals. If Zilla was a person, he’d be a whiny, thin-armed college-aged fratboy at the bar who gets too drunk too quick, sings a bad rendition of “Crazy Train” on the karaoke stage, and embarrasses his girlfriend who is beginning to have second thoughts. Zilla will end up puking in the back alley. Godzilla will hold his hair and tell him to drink more water. Godzilla knew Ozzy personally. Zilla only went to a Nickleback concert.
The origins of Zilla are classical: A lizard egg was exposed to radiation, creating a giant fire-breathing monster. Zilla behaves more like an animal, and is clearly less intelligent than the Godzilla we’ve come to know. It appears, attacks New York, and quickly hides out somewhere in Manhattan while various human characters played by Maria Pitillo, Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and others, try to find it and do it in. It turns out that Zilla wants a place to lay its eggs. It’s male, this creature, but still lays fertilized eggs.
This leads to a long, long scene wherein the human protagonists flee from Zilla’s 400 BABIES in the halls of Madison Square Garden. The babies look and movie a lot like velociraptors from another movie. Indeed, the similarities to Jurassic Park are palpable, and many complain that this film is more a dinosaur mayhem film than a Godzilla film. I feel their pain. The spirit is not present. The bonkers elements. Where are the aliens? The nuclear meltdowns? The other monsters? Some other than director Roland Emmerich’s multi-culti jokeyness and ineffectual military?
I do admire that this American film finally addressed the famed mispronunciation of “Gojira.” A pig-headed journalist played by Harry Shearer heard a Japanese man say it, and thought he said “Godzilla.” Overall, the film is classic Hollywood bloat. Too much money, too many ideas, not enough intelligence. And, to restate it, the spirit is gone. Toho was so grossed out, they had to reboot Godzilla again the following year.
Up next: Godzilla 2000 (1999)