Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blast from the Past Movie Review: "Godzilla" (1998)

Last February, I promised my readers that I'd dig up some movies I saw years ago and see how they've held up over the years. After listening to the podcast How Did This Get Made, which my friend Nick got me interested in, I decided on the 1998 remake of Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick. I saw the movie in theaters, which meant it was the summer before I started eighth grade.

EDIT 10/4/2018: The podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood did an episode on it in which I participated. Here's the podcast link. And here are some further thoughts.

Now back to the actual review...

The Good

*Firstly, I liked how they updated the film to reference current events. The original Godzilla was made within a decade of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was one of the first movies to take into account the fear of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in general. This film references the controversial French nuclear tests in the 1990s, coming out in theaters two-odd years after the last test took place.

*The film's opening hints that Godzilla was descended from either Komodo monitors or marine iguanas affected by the French nuclear testing. Its design reflects this--although it's primarily bipedal, its forelimbs are fairly long and we do see it moving about on all fours. It also swims like a marine iguana.

*In addition to nuclear testing, the film also touched on issues like the glass ceiling and sexual harassment. The journalism career of female lead Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) is being hampered by her slimy boss who makes her get his groceries, implicitly offers to trade career advancement for sex despite being married, tells her to go away and leave the "big boys" to do their work, and steals credit for a story she put together revealing the origin of Godzilla. This serves as a motivator for some of Audrey's less than stellar actions.

*Despite being 14 years old, the special effects have mostly held up well as far as Godzilla himself is concerned. There are some moments that have a distinctly computer-generated look to them, but most of the time it still works.

*Godzilla's death is rather sad, even though he obviously needs to be put down.

*There are some pretty amusing moments throughout the film, including "Mayor Ebert" and his assistant "Gene." According to How Did This Get Made, movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel didn't like Independence Day very much and this was Roland Emmerich's and Dean Devlin's revenge. In particular, "Mayor Ebert" isn't portrayed very well. And then there's the clever and comical way Nick deals with pursuing baby Godzillas in Madison Square Garden.

*Although the concept of the baby Godzillas has been mocked as an attempt to rip off the Jurassic Park raptors, I found them entertaining. Godzilla has been depicted as having offspring before (Son of Godzilla), but let's just say Minya isn't exactly threatening.

*Finally, someone gives the French, in particular their intelligence services, the credit they're due.

The Bad

*Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) refers to Godzilla as being a hybrid despite knowing almost nothing about him other than some samples he picked up in Panama. Although scientists aren't immune from jumping the gun (see the cold fusion episode in 1989), I would think a biologist like Nick would be a bit more prudent about hypothesizing without evidence.

*The "we need bigger guns" line was just obnoxiously bad. If they were trying to be funny by riffing on Jaws' legendary "we're going to need a bigger boat" line, it wasn't funny. It was just annoying and came off as uncreative.

*The movie started to drag in the middle, before the hunt for Godzilla's nest gets going. I imagine focusing on Audrey's journalism career and her relationship with Nick was intended to make us care about the characters, but it was rather slow.

*When they send the submarines after Godzilla in the ocean, the officers and crew are wearing hats marked "SSBN" and including the ship names. That acronym is used for ballistic missile submarines. Although I imagine in the event of something like this the military would simply grab the nearest submarines and send them into action, that role would be more appropriate for a nuclear attack submarine.

*The special effects for the baby Godzillas in Madison Square Garden have not held up well. They're pretty obviously CGI.

The Verdict

Not bad, but a bit long. 7.5 out of 10.


  1. I thought the movie was good enough to watch again... then again, I was rooting for Godzilla the whole time. Eat someone!

    1. I think Toho, which was involved in this to some degree due to holding the rights to the original character, said Godzilla was not to eat anybody.

      Of course, the little Godzillas do chow down on some of the French commandos. :)