With all the buzz surrounding the upcoming big budget reboot, many long-term fans are casting their minds back to 1998 when the world got the very first American Godzilla remake. The overwhelming consensus is that the film was an abomination, an insult to the legacy of the Japanese films with very little in common. But was the film really that bad....
Godzilla is a 1998 American giant monster movie. Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Universal Soldier) and starring Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jean Reno (Leon) and Hank Azaria (The Simpsons). The film is an American adaptation of the popular Japanese Kaiju franchise.
The film opens with an origin montage explaining that Godzilla was created by French nuclear testing in the pacific that affected a nest of marine Iguanas. Flash forward to the modern day and we’re introduced to Dr Nick Tatopoulos (Broderick), a scientist studying the effects of radiation on Chernobyl earthworms. After an attack on a Japanese fishing boat the US military soon recruit Nick, being shadowed by the mysterious Roche (Reno), to pursue the creature as it heads straight for New York City. Godzilla proceeds to rampage all over the big apple, eventually laying eggs in Madison Square Garden and threatening the city with a horde of baby Godzillas as both science and military join forces to defeat the beast.
The first thing to say about this film is that it is not a Godzilla film…it is very much a Roland Emmerich film. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not there’s no denying that with cheesy dialogue, strong military themes and an abundance of explosions, it’s much more goofy action film than monster movie. Now in fairness to the movie it’s by no means the silliest entry in the franchise’s history. If you look back to the late 60s Showa era there were some truly ludicrous escapades, however, when you drastically change the setting, the creature design and the creature lore you end up losing the spirit of a Godzilla film and coming out of it all with a much more generic monster movie.
If Emmerich had gone back and watched those films from the late 60s he would have realised that one of the worst things you can bring out of the woodwork is baby Godzilla. It was stupid then and its stupid now, the whole Madison square garden sequence is an obvious riff on Jurassic park (1993) that reminds you how much better that film was. The same can be said for the atrocious King Kong (1933) knock off ending that makes the fatal error of trying to make Godzilla a sympathetic character when the greatest films in the franchise know to present the monster as an amoral force of nature.
All in all, the film can be enjoyed as a big dumb Roland Emmerich popcorn movie and the special effects were very impressive for the time. But, the very fact that Toho quickly disowned the creature (choosing to dub him simply “Zilla”) and brought out their own reboot within a year is enough to tell you this is not an authentic Godzilla film, therefore failing to achieve what it presumably set out to. Here’s hoping that Godzilla 2014 learns from these mistakes and stays true to the spirit of the Godzilla character that has captivated audiences for 60 years.
** 2 Stars
What did you think of Godzilla 98? Has the film been treated unfairly over the years?