-"Cynic, why are you even bothering with this one? Everyone knows it's not a true Godzilla movie."
-"Cynic, why are you even bothering with this one? Everyone knows that this is a terrible movie."
-"Hey, fuck you! I like this movie."
Now the third option is less likely but I do know people who genuinely enjoy this film. For the record, I did enjoy this film when I was a kid, so much to the point that for my 12th birthday I got nothing but merchandise from this movie and I watched the hell out of the VHS once I got it. Yet, when I watch it now...let's just say time has not been kind to this version of Godzilla. I don't even consider this film a guilty pleasure anymore, not like when I did a blog about the animated series that followed it. This film was horribly received, currently ranking a 5.2/10 score on IMDB, a 25% score on Rotten Tomatoes and scorned by critics and long-time Godzilla fans alike back in 1998. While the advertising for the film (including this trailer, which was brilliantly aired during the annual New Years Eve television special at about 11:58 PM) was solid, the general consensus is that the film itself isn't. Since it does bear the name of "Godzilla," we're going to take a look at this movie again. Now, I don't want to sound like I'm just jumping on a bandwagon, so when I sat down and watched it this afternoon, I went in with a mentality of, "Okay, we know the film is bad but is there anything good within?"
Okay, I got a good laugh out of this one.
This film was director Roland Emmerich & producer Dean Devlin's follow up to their smash hit, 1996's Independence Day. Originally Roland Emmerich had wanted to do an asteroid film, but Deep Impact and Armageddon were on the horizon, so he and Devlin got together and said, "Godzilla." Since Tristar Studios had acquired the rights and been wanting to do an American take on the monster since the early 1990s (Stan Winston Studios at one point was attached to do the SFX), they were on board for totally reinventing the King Of The Monsters. The duo reunited with Independence Day creature designer Patrick Tatopolous and gave him the daunting task of redesigning the classic kaiju. After unveiling their design to the head honchos at Toho, the trio were met with a nervous silence and after being told to wait a day, Toho gave their blessing on the project. This is really the only exposition you need on the history of the film.
Alright, so let's get right down to it: is the movie really that bad? Well, it's bad, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that it's truly as bad as everyone says it is. Much like Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, it's full of problems but you won't really suffer from eye stigmata either. Are there good things about it? Hell, I know I'm in the minority here but one of the best things about this movie is Godzilla's appearance redesign. I've been a fan of saurian creatures ever since I was five years old, so of course I don't mind if a monster that was originally conceived as a dinosaur mutated by nuclear radiation has a version that actually looks more saurian. Granted, this is countered by the fact that in this version, Godzilla is not a dinosaur but in fact a mutated lizard from the French Polynesia and the CGI effects aren't up to par even for 1998, but still, of all the things about this movie, Tristar's Godzilla redesign is one of the few things that hold up.
Nifty model kit of the redesign.
I also still have the book of The Making Of "Godzilla," chronicling the behind the scenes mayhem to bring the new version of the world's biggest movie star to life. Most people are quick to assume that all of the shots within the city featuring the military or of Godzilla were generated via CGI, but this isn't entirely true. The part where Madison Square Garden blows up and Godzilla rises from what's left of it? That's 1/24 scale model of MSG, which was taller than VFX Supervisor Volker Engel, being blown up on a soundstage with Kurt Carley in a Godzilla suit coming out of it. How about where Godzilla has the fish truck in his jaws when he first arrives in Manhattan? That's a 1/6 scale animatronic, which is slightly terrifying. There are plenty of other practical FX shots in this movie and looking at this book upon watching the movie again, I feel really bad for the practical FX crew involved because while it may be a terrible movie, these guys and gals were working their assess off to try and make it look great. However, in the end, I guess no matter how much hard work you put on making the quality bread of a shit sandwich, in the end you're still going to have a shit sandwich.
I'd even recommend picking this book up on Amazon, for the mighty 3 cents plus shipping it'll cost you.
How much of a shit sandwich, you ask? Well, you know it's a bad sign when even the two good things about the film listed above have bad aspects to them. In an old blog before I went on a bit of a hiatus, I had mentioned I wrote a video script of "5 Reasons Why Godzilla (98) Sucks" that never saw the light of day so I gave the condensed version. Upon revisiting the film, those five reasons still hold firm today. I'll elaborate on the bigger ones.
Okay, this movie features one of the worst movie armies I have ever seen, actually causing more damage to New York than Godzilla does. When I wrote my original "5 Reasons" script, I actually contacted a friend of mine who is in the United States Air Force to ask him exactly how accurate the representation of the Armed Forces were and below was his response. I don't know if I can use my friend's name or not for whatever reason, so I'll omit that just in case:
Well, you are correct in your statement of a Roland Emmerich film being the last place to look for accuracy, but I'll assist you in an analysis of his "Godzilla" film, because that movie needs a kick in the ass whenever it can be provided.
From what I recall of that abomination, nothing was really done right, both militarily and cinematically. We in the Air Force do not fly the Apaches (the Army does) but we do work with them a lot on the MC-12, so we have a pretty good idea of how they work.
About the needing permission to fire, it all depends on the rules of engagement for that particular mission. Given the severity of a kaiju attack, I'd like to think they'd have it ironed out beforehand with, "If you get a shot at the damn thing, take it." However, there may be extenuating circumstances, like if they had Godzilla in their sights but he was fornicating the Statue Of Liberty. "Should I still take the shot? I could destroy them both." Usually Apaches, bombers and other attack aircraft are controlled so much by a guy on the ground called a FAC or JTAC (usually an Air Force officer working with the Army), but a Godzilla scenario would probably be a little different.
The film's depiction of the agility of the Apaches also has me scratching my head. I sincerely doubt that they wouldn't be able to weave all nimbly bimbly between buildings. I know that no pilot would ever take his plane between skyscrapers and helicopters might be a little different but it still looks off when I picture it.
There are two scenes in particular you asked about that are painfully, glaringly wrong:
-When the swarm of Apaches are chasing the creature through the city, there's two things wrong here. One, Apaches (well, nowadays at least) usually fly in a two-ship configuration. You wouldn't have the mass number depicted in the film chasing a single target from one side. Two, this scene has friendlies flying in front of one another while engaging the target. To put it bluntly, it's a HUGE deal if you fire a rocket, missile or even a bullet with a friendly in front of you. HUGE deal.
-The scene where the Apaches fire upon the hollowed out building without confirming Godzilla is within is a huge no-no. If you're going to fire, CONFIRM YOUR TARGET. If there's a chance they'd destroy the city instead of Godzilla, it's likely they wouldn't fire until they could get a clearer shot at him.
I also find the whole "heat-seekers can't lock" thing absurd. Like I told you about that horrible Jurassic Park comic, heat seeking missiles are designed to go after airplane engines, so they need a target that's several hundred degrees in order to lock on. I know that Godzilla was much faster in this version than the Japanese one, but still, if you can't hit a building sized monster, you're doing something wrong.
"Godzilla" is a strange movie when it comes to the military aspect, especially when Roland Emmerich got it down fairly well with "Independence Day" and Michael Bay did a great job with the "Transformers" movies. "Cloverfield" made it look more convincing than "Godzilla," even if you wouldn't have fighters flying that low over New York rooftops. Hope this helps you with your script.
Even if you know little to nothing about how armed forces tactics work, there's no doubt that the movie is lacking in other areas, like the acting and the script. I'm not sure which one is truly at fault so I'm listing both. I found that the only remotely convincing cast member in this movie was Jean Reno, who plays a French Secret Service agent who brings a team to New York to help take down Godzilla behind the military's back. Matthew Broderick being the frontman in an action movie is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen and for having a batch of actors being used to play scientists, they have some of the stupidest lines that should never come out of a scientist's mouth, the most glaring to me being, "An island, water on all sides..." As opposed to what, an island with water on a couple of sides? The rest of the cast really isn't even worth mentioning, so we'll go to the next big thing.
Yes, the Baby Godzillas. I've always hated this part of the movie because it comes completely out of left field (Why would Nick think to buy pregnancy test in the first place? Furthermore, how are pregnancy tests used on humans supposed to work on mutated reptiles?!), it's totally unnecessary and once they reach Madison Square Garden and the eggs start hatching, it suddenly becomes another movie. Emmerich and Devlin swear up and down that any similarities to Jurassic Park were not intentional, but I have my doubts. All this does is drag the film on, set up a sequel that never happened (theatrically) and lead into a finale that feels even more extended to the point where this two hour fifteen minute film feels longer than Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. Actually, while we speak of the finale...
While I am a fan of Godzilla's design in this movie, I don't like how he's so easily disposed of in this film. Playing dead after getting torpedoed in the Hudson River, Godzilla emerges pheonix style from the remains of Madison Square Garden and chases after the human cast. They lure him onto the Brooklyn Bridge where he gets caught in the suspension cables and some F-18s shoot him down. Yup, after all we've been through, it just takes some suspension cables and twelve missiles to stop him. I don't know if the film was meant to end with the destruction of Madison Square Garden and the test screen results felt that the story wasn't finished or what, but it sure feels that way.
Okay, I think this review has gone on for a little too long (much like the film) and I'm getting tired. Roland Emmerich's Godzila may have a neat looking monster, but the rest of the film is a bit of a chore to sit through because it throws watchable-but-not-particularly-entertaining material at us while taking itself oh so seriously. Had the some of the dialogue and cast been tweaked, the Baby Godzilla's cut completely (although without them, we probably wouldn't have gotten the better animated series) and some of Godzilla's more traditional characteristics included (breathing atomic fire, not being killed by conventional weapons), this film probably could've been saved. However, we're left with a film that can only really be enjoyed if you can completely turn off your brain and just roll with it. Oh, well. If absolutely nothing else, this movie is still better than Godzilla's Revenge.
*ulp* Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a bit.