Godzilla (1998)

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“Size Does Matter”

An American made Godzilla movie had been in the planning stages for some time.  While many different versions and many different directors were attached at various times (James Cameron was involved at one point), the most famous non-starter was to be directed by Jan de Bont and featured Godzilla battling an alien shapeshifter called the Gryphon.  Eventually, the task fell to Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the duo behind “Stargate” and “Independence Day”, to bring Godzilla to American cinema.  As it turns out, neither were fans of the original movies, and had their own views on how Godzilla should be presented.  The results were not received well by the fandom, to put it lightly.

A Japanese fishing boat is attacked by a large, unknown creature.  The only survivor is severely traumatized, and when interviewed by a mysterious Frenchman, he can only utter the word “Gojira”.  The American military is interested in the creature due to the proximity of the attack, and recruit scientists Niko “Nick” Tatopoulos who has been studying irradiated earthworms at Chernobyl.  Tatopoulos theorizes that the giant monster is a creature mutated by radiation and it may be looking for a place to hide.  The creature appears in New York and causes massive amounts of destruction before it seemingly disappears.  Tatopoulos theorizes the creature can be drawn out by a large amount of fish, as it seems to be looking for food.  The monster reappears and is chased unsuccessfully by the military.  All of this is watched by a group of Frenchmen, including the one interviewing the boat survivor from earlier.  Tatopoulos studies a blood sample from the creature and theorizes that it reproduces asexually and may be pregnant and nesting.  As he studies, he is approached by his former love, Audrey, an aspiring journalist.  After some catching up, Tatopoulos leaves and Audrey takes a tape that contains footage from the destroyed ship and his notes on the potential nest.  She attempts to air the footage, but is one-upped by her boss, who mispronounces “Gojira” into “Godzilla”.  Tatopoulos is booted from the military operation, but is picked up by the Frenchman, who reveals that his name is Phillipe Roache.  He reveals that Godzilla was created by French nuclear tests several decades ago.  They believe his nesting theory and set out to find it, secretly followed by Audrey, who is trying to make amends, and her cameraman Victor “Animal” Palotti.

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The military lures Godzilla out again and seemingly destroys him.  Tatopoulos and the Frenchmen find the next in Madison Square Garden and attempt to set off bombs to destroy the eggs.  Unfortunately, the eggs hatch and the group is picked off one by one by the Baby Godzillas.  In the end, Tatopoulos, Audrey, Animal, and Phillipe manage to contact the military who bombs Madison Square Garden as the heroes escape.  They begin to celebrate, but Godzilla reappears, angry that its offspring have been killed.  The giant lizard chases the crew through the city until it is trapped on a suspension bridge.  Missiles are launched at Godzilla, and it dies from the onslaught.  Tatopoulos and Audrey reunite as Phillipe disappears.  Unknown to everyone, a single egg survived the explosion, and begins to hatch…

“Godzilla” was supposed to be the movie to beat for the summer of 1998, but the lukewarm critical reception led to the movie not being quite as successful as it was supposed to.  While it was still financially successful, it was the third highest grossing movie of the year, the cool reception led to the scrapping of plans for a trilogy of movies.  The problems with the movie itself are well documented, but there are some silver linings to pull from it.  The score by David Arnold is very well done, and the soundtrack is solid (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs ruining Jimmy Page aside).  The creature itself, Godzilla or not, is well designed, and the scenes of the helicopters chasing it through the city are fun to watch.  The scenes with the Baby Godzillas are standard summer action movie fare, but passable.  The chase scene at the end is also enjoyable, and stands as probably the best scene in the movie.  The movie stands as a decent, even good, giant monster flick.  However, this is also the main problem with the movie.

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The title monster does not look, act, or feel like Godzilla.  The creature in this movie is presented as a large animal attempting to find its place in the world, and failing.  In that sense, it is thematically similar to King Kong, a theme that is hit home by an ending scene that is almost directly taken from the 1933 classic.  This Godzilla directly addresses the humans around it; it watches them, acknowledges them, and seeks revenge on them.  The Japanese Godzilla, on the other hand, is more or less indifferent to humanity.  It is often stated that Godzilla is a “force of nature” in the way he goes about his business.  He can’t be stopped or reasoned with, any more than a tornado or flood could be stopped or reasoned with.  The American Godzilla attempts to “fit in” to the surroundings.  The Japanese Godzilla makes the surroundings fit him.  Also, while it may seem trivial to some, the American Godzilla does not have radioactive breath, although it seems to breathe fire in two scenes.  The radioactive breath was a symbol of the difference this creature had from any other living thing.  It had been mutated to the point that it literally breathed radiation.  By removing this, the American Godzilla loses a little of the original intent to portray the monster as a symbol of nuclear war.  While radiation still plays a part in its origin, the omission of the radioactive breath lessens the impct it could have had.  These differences make the 1998 Godzilla more of a throwback to 1950’s B-movie monsters, such as the endless parade of giant mantises and dinosaurs, that were mutated by atomic energy as a plot device and not as a theme.  In fact, the 1998 Godzilla is similar appearance-wise to the Rhedosaurus from “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms”, who was released by atomic testing but was otherwise a large animal on a rampage.  In the end, “Godzilla” 1998 is a decent enough giant monster movie, but not a very good Godzilla movie.  Apparently, Toho agreed.  The lukwarm reaction to this movie with Japanese critics caused them to pull the original Godzilla out of retirement early, and he would return just one year later.


After some time, Toho inducted the creature from this movie into it’s pantheon of monsters under the name “Zilla”.  Before that, many fans would refer to the creature as GINO – Godzilla In Name Only.

The scene where lightning strikes the Twin Towers was something that was caught on camera by chance, and was inserted into the movie because the crew thought it was neat.

There is an Independence Day figure on a monitor inside Madison Square Garden.  There is a scene in “Independence Day” where a child is playing with Godzilla figures.

The New York City mayor and his assistant are obvious caricatures of critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who had criticized Devlin and Emmerich’s previous movies “Stargate” and “Independence Day”.  Ebert later wondered aloud why they would go to the trouble of finding a look-alike of him and end up not killing him in the movie.

The movie was followed up by a 40 episode cartoon series featuring the grown up baby Godzilla from the very end battling various mutant creatures.  It was better received by the fandom than the movie was.  One of the best-loved episodes featured the new Godzilla fighting the Godzilla from this movie that had been reanimated as a cyborg.

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~ by Chris on May 13, 2014.

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