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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



Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie review
3.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
4.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review
5.  Walter Frith read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
6.  Shane Burridge read the review ---
7.  David Wilcock read the review movie review
8.  Mark Fleming read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

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 animal.

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 Godzilla.

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

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