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Godzilla

movie reviewmovie review out of 4


*Also starring: Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Philippe Bergeron



Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

Reviewing a much-ballyhooed "event" movie like _Godzilla_ is a pointless task. No matter what I or any critic might say about it, everyone and their mother will still rush out to the theatre to see the movie just to say that they did. But in the event that anyone out there is listening, be forewarned that this lavish take on the classic Japanese monster movies is a technically superb but flavorless piece of sci-fi hackwork.

_Godzilla_'s mediocrity should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the work of the "brains" behind the project, the team of co-writer/producer Dean Devlin and co-writer/director Roland Emmerich. As the film's many trailers so bombastically boast, they are the creators of that overhyped sci-fi phenomenon of a couple year's back, _Independence_Day_ (they were also behind another inexplicable success, 1994's ridiculous _StarGate_, as well as 1992's unspeakably horrid Jean-Claude Van Damme-Dolph Lundgren battle royale _Universal_Soldier_). I was lukewarm on _ID4_ (it earned a fairly charitable ** 1/2 on my scale--which elicited a rather snottily sarcastic e-mail from Devlin himself), which had top-flight effects, a charismatic lead (the incomparable Will Smith), but a sloppy script populated by poorly drawn characters with vapid individual storylines.

_ID4_'s "human dimension" (which a lot of people actually bought into) is as profound as _Schindler's List_'s in comparison to what is on display in _Godzilla_--or, rather, what _isn't_ on display. Our primary human guide throughout the giant lizard mayhem is Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a nuclear scientist who is enlisted by the military to investigate the origins and analyze the behavior of the behemoth reptile that is destroying New York City. There, he is reunited with his college sweetheart, aspiring reporter Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo, sporting wild Sarah Jessica Parker-ish locks--a coincidence?). Their love story is supposed to be the emotional hook, but Devlin and Emmerich scarcely bother to give them any quiet scenes alone together, so what's the point? Broderick and Pitillo appear to not see one either, woodenly playing their already-plywood roles and failing to generate any romantic spark whatsoever.

But the flat lead characters are the least of _Godzilla_'s problems. The film's fundamental flaw can best be summed up in the scene where the creature's appearance is fully revealed. The work of creature designer and supervisor Patrick Tatopoulos does not disappoint; sort of a mix between a T-rex, stegosaurus, and velociraptor with a little iguana thrown in, Godzilla's look is truly menacing, and the big visual revelation should be a moment of genuine fright and tension, much like the grand T-rex entrance in _Jurassic_Park_. But Emmerich completely misdirects the moment. The audience's first, uninterrupted glimpse is scored with some uplifting, awe-inspiring music not unlike _Jurassic_'s main theme, and Niko's aghast look is one more of wonder than fear, which is what I'm sure any person, scientist or not, would feel in the presence of a giant, hungry lizard.

This is but the first instance in Emmerich's complete botching of what should be a key element in _Godzilla_--terror. For all the destruction Godzilla causes, and the threat he poses to everyone's lives, the purported "thrill ride" feels safe and is not scary in the slightest. This is especially the case in an extended sequence set in the destroyed Madison Square Garden. Without giving away a key plot "surprise," the sequence's obvious model is the showcase raptor sequence in _Jurassic_ (in fact, so much of _Godzilla_ is derivative of _Jurassic_ it might as well have been called _Godzilla_Park_), but Emmerich and Devlin mistake quantity for quality. If you see the film, you'll know what I mean--the threat to the "heroes" is considerably larger, but I never once felt that they were in any danger.

The always-visually exciting (as opposed to just plain exciting) _Godzilla_ would have gone down a bit easier if there was a greater dose of humor. Unlike _ID4_, which had a comic firecracker at its center in Smith, Godzilla's stabs at humor are few and, frankly, not terribly funny. Hank Azaria, as news cameraman Victor "Animal" Palotti, tries to make the most of the blah wisecracks he's assigned to deliver. A running dig at Roger Ebert--the stocky, silver-haired, bespackled mayor (Michael Lerner) is also named Ebert, and an upturned thumb is his big campaign gesture--grows old quickly. An injokey dig at Warner Bros. and Disney, numerous lame verbal gags involving Niko's Greek surname, Harry Shearer's pompous news anchor (who is not too far from one of his _Simpsons_ roles, newsman Kent Brockman), and some comic stoicism by Jean Reno (playing--what else?--a shady Frenchman) round out the film's light touches. As a whole, the film takes itself much too seriously--much like Devlin and Emmerich themselves.

The terrible twosome have proclaimed themselves the Lucas and Spielberg of this generation (a sad testimony), which could not be farther from the truth. While they are adept at handling the technical aspects of effects-laden extravaganzas (_Godzilla_ is, if anything, a superlative technical achievement, terrifically designed by Oliver Scholl and shot by Ueli Steiger), they have yet to display any of the imagination, creativity, or solid ideas of George and Steven. What ideas they do have only work within the confines of two-minute trailers, which are always far superior to the full films themselves. The fact that hype-brainwashed moviegoers don't ever appear to care--and pre-sold _Godzilla_ certainly won't break the mass hypnosis--shows that their true calling lies within the offices of a studio's marketing department and _not_ on the creative end of the film business.

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