Sunday, February 11, 2024

U.S. G-Watch: Godzilla (1998)

the actual dick joke on the poster was probably the tell this movie was going to be straight garbage

Watched:  02/10/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  Fourth?
Director:  Roland Emerich
Selection:  I have only myself to blame

Back in 1998, I saw Godzilla opening day with Jamie.  I'd been pretty excited about what a US studio could do with the concept.   We were five years out from Jurassic Park, so CG was a thing.  And seeing some actors we liked (who were not Raymond Burr) getting involved with the big guy seemed like a neat idea. 

I'd argue that at the time of the film's release, it had been since the mid-80's that a Toho movie really landed in the US, so there was some context for Godzilla for your average US movie-goer, but not a lot.  Mostly spoofs and lightly racist parodies.  Everyone knew Godzilla, but it was like... everyone knew Superman had comic books, but no one had read an issue since elementary school.  You knew the general look and some details, but... that was about it.

Looking at the box office, it's crucial to recall the movie had an absolutely gigantic marketing campaign.  This was back when movies didn't just advertise, they did a half-dozen corporate tie-in's, so Godzilla was going to be inescapable no matter what.  Heck, I very much remember the omnipresent Taco Bell chihuahua selling Big G.  

Tri-Star was going to make sure you were going to see this movie whether it was good or not.

The studio also decided that it would be part of marketing that you'd only ever see the foot of the monster in the trailer.  If you wanted to see their Godzilla, you needed to show up opening day.  And we did.  

And, disappointment, Godzilla be thy name.*

This was in the era when everything coming out that was remotely sci-fi had creature design that looked like H.R. Giger should get a finder's fee.  And this Godzilla was no exception, sporting a silhouette that would be at home in the Alien franchise.

Anatomically and at the (ever changing) size of the beast, our G just looks incorrect.  Its head is a huge weight with the tail an insufficient counter-weight and not enough mass at the hips.  Intuitively, you know those legs aren't holding up jack-shit at that mass, let alone doing more than plucking about like a flamingo.

I mean, it looks like a mascot suit for a team that's The Fightin' Iguanas

There's basically science that says the bigger something gets with cells and bones as we know them, the more pyramid-in-shape it will be, and that's where you get our Monsterverse G with the thicc ankles (which they're dialing back in the next installment).

Look, it's not just the look, which is awful with the almost human arms and weird, legs - it's everything about this version of Godzilla.  But, also, pretty clearly, no one associated with the movie knew dick-all about Godzilla or had seen a Godzilla movie.  Say what you will about the Monsterverse, but I never question whether they've seen at least five or six Godzilla movies from Toho.  This movie decided it's really about how Godzilla is just a misunderstood animal, not a living, unknowable atomic monster/ god.  The real monster was the friends we made along the way.  Or something.  

But, yeah - far from being a walking embodiment of a nation's anxieties, this Godzilla is literally just an irradiated iguana.  Who wants to lay eggs.  And be peaceful, because it decided it would swim all the way from Japan, cross Panama! and lay its eggs in one of the most densely populated urban areas on a continent.  Which... is just bone-headed, if you want to get scientific and "realistic" in your protrayal of a giant, mutant iguana.

The movie never figures out the scale of the thing - and we're in early CGI days, so they're just kind of doing whatever needs to be done in any given moment regarding the size of the creature.  It can plow through twelve stories of a skyscraper?  Fine.  It can slither through the New York subway system?  ooookay.  It can *hide* in one of the densest urban corridors in America?  Sure.  Duck between skyscrapers as it plays hide-and-seek with helicopters?  y'okay.

Y'all, Godzilla don't hide.  I understand we need the thing off-screen and make it so our characters aren't just following the thing around, but...  

And, of course, the threat is the mass reproduction of Godzillas - because it's an asexually reproducing super species.  Because.

This just isn't Godzilla.  It's something else entirely and we're calling it Godzilla.  And it's the sort of hubris only a late-20th Century Hollywood movie exec high on their own supply would think was going to be great.  Because you can just see them sitting around pondering 40-odd years of Godzilla as we're at least two Jurassic Park movies in, and thinking "we can't have a monster who just lumbers around occasionally blowing shit up with a nuclear beam from its face.  We need to make this thing fast!  And sleek!  And not at all what people signed up to see!  How do we make this Very Large Jurassic Park???"  Which, honestly, trying to make one thing something else was SOP for Hollywood with genre stuff right up til Singer's X-Men and then Raimi's Spider-Man, which actually said "well, some of this actually works, so we're not going to change it.".  

So, if the *only* Godzilla you've ever seen has been this one...  friends, you've been robbed.  Live a full life.  See more Godzillas.

The other way in which this movie is so very, very 90's is that the producers are so embarrassed to be making a Godzilla movie, the only way they can deal with it is by making this an incompetent comedy.  And, make no mistake, this movie is 100% a comedy.  A shitty comedy, but a comedy.

The movie is incredibly broad, feeling like a 1930's musical in its way.  It wants to stop and have our characters do a bit every other scene.  It wants to drop one-liners and all but have Azaria look up at Godzilla, hold his hat to his head and say "wow-ee wow wow!"  
Our lead is film and Broadway musical-comedy star Matthew Broderick, who plays "the worm guy" (as everyone insists on calling him, because a four-syllable Greek last name is just way too much, and also comedy gold).  He even first appears performing "Singing in the Rain" as he drives through Cherynobyl.  To study worms!  Man, science guys are weeeeird.

And all the characters are cartoons.  The run time is punctuated by Hank Azaria doing his usual understated bit of a "New York guy" and his girlfriend leaning into accents that make Fran Drescher seem like she's doing an understated, nuanced bit.  The whole "ha ha, let's do a thing with Ebert and Siskel analogs as characters" with Michael Lerner as the mayor is a 5 second joke that will not end.**  Jean Reno and his French pals can't seem to find a good croissant or cup of coffee!  And, oh, the casual sexual harassment.

Maria Pitillo gets singled out a lot for her performance in this movie as "Audrey", the ex girlfriend.  And, yeah, she probably was not the ideal choice to help carry the movie, but the role is dumb, the dialog is dumb, and her storyline makes her wildly unsympathetic.  So blame where it's due.  But everything about her also fits in the context of, like, a Broadway show with an eager reporter who wants a scoop!

The script just makes no sense - why wouldn't they want to scan the city for a nest or whatever if the science folk they brought in were saying "it's here to nest"?  And a million more questions you could ask at every second of the film - like:  how do they keep finding open and running stores after the evacuation starts?

It's a movie that doesn't know where to start - lifting the "something is happening" stuff from Close Encounters, with a sliver of the awe, and instead keeps hinting at something we all already know will occur.  We know it will be Godzilla, and they simply just refuse to get there.  What the producers don't know is that there's literally no reason to give Godzilla here this back story, or to have people chasing it from Japan to Manhattan.  We can find these characters in the 20 minutes before Godzilla shows up.  Worm Guy can show up after the rampage and just say "they had to pull me in from Chernobyl.  I've been studying worms for 10 years, but I'm kind of the only person in my field, so here I am."  Maybe show some still photos of foot prints and whatnot - that they've been chasing the thing.    But disaster movies work a certain way, with a ton of dialog and a cast of characters this movie doesn't have, so here we are.

But this is also a movie that decides we need to lose 30 minutes on our heroes in a very bad Jurassic Park knock off sequence in Madison Square Garden.  That ends with our leads smooching?  Because comedy-musical rules work a certain way.  

I'm not saying a comedyish version of a Godzilla movie couldn't work, but this one also relies on the US military doing itself a ton of self-inflicted damage and watching a pre-9/11 New York sustain heavy damage and get evacuated.  That's not the movie's fault, obviously.  It just hits different for those of us who were adults in 2001.  In this movie, it's a lot of "womp womp" sad trombone.  I just don't find it particularly *funny* when a sub full of sailors explodes.  But, you know, no one asked me.

At the very end, the movie has the sheer balls to ask the audience to feel sympathy for the monster - for about three seconds - and then it turns to cheers for animal murder.  Because the movie has no idea what it is even in this sequence.  

I would love to know what the thinking was around this movie, right from the producer's mouths.  Because I guarantee they still feel like America just wasn't smart enough for what they were doing here, rather than that this movie isn't... good.  It feels like a cancel-able 90's sitcom with $75 million in monster FX overlayed (note this movie features 90's sitcom talent Vicki Lewis for some reason***).  The problem is that, creature design FX aside, the CG itself isn't great, which they cover with night and rain as much as possible, but in those Madison Garden sequences, it looks like the baby-G's are just sort of floating when they aren't doing borrowed gestures from the actual puppets in Jurassic Park.  

The flipside to all of this is that the 2014 movie decided to go the other way and have the movie be very serious, to the point of feeling like a funeral for half the movie.  So I guess you need a balance.  Or at least have the characters in the movie take this seriously before dealing with their trauma.  

Anyway, America also hated this movie.  It made a lot of money, but reviews were abysmal.  I do believe this spawned a cartoon of some sort that I've never seen.  But thinking kids were going to enjoy this movie is certainly a take.

I did see this movie 2x in the theater, because the second time was when I was trying to explain to my brother how shitty the movie was, and finally loaded him in the car so he could see for himself.  I've since seen via RiffTrax, and now this viewing.

*The monster sucked then, and it sucks now.  I'm still mad about it.
**and clearly a response to the critical lambasting prior Emmerich/ Devlin movies had taken and would take
*** which I won't complain about because I remember thinking Lewis was very cute in 1998

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