I hate assigning star ratings to movies. The underlying implication, that
filmgoers are too lazy to actually read a review, is insulting and
besides that, assigning stars is a pain. When a film is clearly and
consistently good ("The Truman Show") or an obvious dud ("Meet The
Deedles") the process is easy. It's those in-between films, the ones with
both great and dreadful moments, that really make the process difficult.
Which brings us to "Godzilla."
After being subjected to a staggering amount of hype for over a year,
it's easy to forget that "Godzilla" is, after all, just a monster movie.
Although the genre has produced a few undeniable classics, such as "King
Kong" and "Jaws," for the most part, monster movies remain guilty
pleasures. You enter the theater prepared to suffer through long
stretches of dull plotting and silly dialogue in exchange for a few
really cool fight scenes with a big, bad-ass monster. Although I haven't
seen the original "Godzilla," an Americanized version of the 1954
Japanese film "Gojira," since my childhood, I clearly remember how
thrilling the monster was, and that the rest of the film was as ponderous
as Raymond Burr during his "Ironside" days.
The new "Godzilla" is a lot like that. In the hands of Dean Devlin and
Roland Emmerich, the team responsible for "Independence Day," "Godzilla"
is an absolute hoot when the creature is onscreen, and pretty bad when it
isn't. The film's slogan is "Size Does Matter." Wrong. Devlin and
Emmerich's sloppy, sprawling film reinforces another old axiom, that size
doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts. The boys have
whipped up a great looking monster and the battle scenes are terrific,
but they don't have a clue when it comes to plotting, pacing and logic.
Of course, despite the film's many flaws, I still plan to see it again as
soon as possible. That's how nifty the creature effects are.
The story is very simple. Godzilla appears. A lot of movie archetypes
with conflicting motives chase him. New York gets trashed as the military
battles the monster. Just when you think it's over, something else
happens. Just when you think it's over again, something else happens. The
end. Well, until the sequel.
Over the course of Godzilla's long career, the monster changed from
villain to hero and the movies became incredibly campy. Thankfully,
Devlin and Emmerich avoid the cheese factor, playing things straight in
terms of the creature. The film's humor, both intentional and
unintentional, comes from the humans, not Godzilla. Neither hero nor
villain, Godzilla simply behaves like an animal. A very, very large
As for the look, forget about stunt men in rubber suits. This Godzilla
actually looks like a giant lizard, thanks to some killer special effects.
Lithe and agile, Godzilla moves convincingly, with a real sense of
weight, bulk and power. It travels so quickly that firing military troops
keep missing, inadvertently destroying almost as much of New York as the
monster. Scenes of the creature racing through the city are great fun, a
reward for all the phony looking monsters we've endured in past films.
Unfortunately, endurance is still a factor. In order to see Godzilla in
all of it's glory, we have to suffer through long stretches of inane
filler material, with a talented cast forced to spout a lot of hokey
dialogue. Matthew Broderick is the idealistic young scientist in the
center of things. Maria Pitillo annoys as a conniving reporter (in movies,
is there any other kind?) and Broderick's ex-girlfriend, weighing the
film down with a time-consuming, totally unnecessary love story. Hank
Azaria has his moments as a gonzo photographer, although his character is
laden with relationship baggage as well. Actually, only two cast members
really get a chance to shine. Jean Reno has a powerful presence as a
French agent pursuing Godzilla, and "NewsRadio's" Vicki Lewis adds
welcome bite to a minor role as a scientist.
The rest of the film is peopled with cartoons, a fat, reactionary mayor
(named Ebert, the filmmakers' little thumbs down at the famed critic,) a
self-absorbed TV anchorman, a soldier in way over his head, etc., etc. If
Devlin and Emmerich want to truly become masters of "event" movies, they
need to learn how to focus on the event instead of tired subplots and
clichéd, superfluous characters. A little more attention to internal
logic wouldn't hurt either. For example, the impact of an exciting chase
scene is lessened by the ludicrous notion that a cab could outrun
Ultimately, your tolerance of all the crap in "Godzilla" will depend on
how much of a monster fan you are. As for me, despite it's lumbering
storyline, terrible pacing and disposable characters, I still had fun.
Now how do you assign stars to that?
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott