Directed by Roland Emmerich
Produced by Dean Devlin
Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Vicki Lewis, Doug Savant
Sometimes you have to ask yourself "why do they bother?" when it comes to big budget remakes of genre films. Other times the subject matter is so canonised, or built on such a strong fan base, that re-interpretation just seems like sacrilege. One can only surmise the hilarity with which the studio heads at Toho regarded enfants-terrible Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's cumbersome rehash of their much-loved cultural icon. Ultimately, Columbia Pictures mega-budget Americanisation of the "Gojira" mythos is a plain enough case for what we have all known of the Hollywood system for decades. It demonstrates poignantly the "anything you can do we can better" mentality that seemingly reigns supreme in the fabled land of dreams.
Audiences need look no further than the likes of "Diabolique" (Les Diaboliques), "Sommersby" (The Return Of Martin Guerre), "Point Of No Return" (Nikita) and "Last Man Standing" (Yojimbo) for prime examples of how badly the remake route can misfire. With the recently announced remake of "The Wicker Man", headlining Nicolas Cage in the Edward Woodward role, many genre fans are undoubtedly by now screaming for Hollywood to leave well enough alone. Although nowhere near as bad as the global film press have cited, Emmerich's remake is entertaining enough big-top showmanship, albeit with one MAJOR self-sabotaging flaw…of which I'll address shortly.
Opening with footage of American nuclear tests in the Pacific (passed off as French tests by a tenuous Muraroa Atoll sign), the scene is quickly set. Galapagos iguanas watch with intent from their island home, the scene shifts to radiation-laced eggs hatching. Cut to the present and a Japanese tanker is downed by an unseen aquatic force off the coast of Panama. The sole survivor is visited at his hospital bed by French secret service agent Philippe Roache (Reno), all the while chanting the mantra "Gojira, Gojira, Gojira". Mystery element entrenched, the scene cuts to Chernobyl and American nuclear scientist Nico Tatopolous (Broderick), who is studying genetic mutation in the flora & fauna of the area. Military representatives arrive unannounced to whisk him away to Panama and their latest discovery…house-sized footprints and the remains of the Japanese tanker. It doesn't take long for Nick to ascertain something fishy is afoot before the action cuts to New York City & Manhattan Island.
It is there that our skyscraper-sized title creature first rears its gynormous head to take a monstrous bite out of the Big Apple. But the Big G has more than on his mind committing mass property, he's there for a greater purpose. Amidst this conglomerate mess of a plot, Nick is reunited with ex-girlfriend Audrey Timmonds (Pitillo), TV cameraman Victor 'Animal' Palotti (Azaria) scores the kind of coverage that people is his field dream of, TV anchorman Charles Caiman (Shearer) capitalises on the city's giant visitor to boost ratings, and Mayor Ebert (Lerner) joins the ensuing chaos hoping to boost voters' confidence. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading by this point that our lizard king friend has ear-marked Manhattan Island as the site of his nest. More mass property destruction is the inevitable result when the Army cottons on…
Joe Elliot once said that if you're going to cover a classic, either do it completely different, or exactly the same. Emmerich's "Godzilla" is neither completely different enough to distinguish itself from Toho's classics, nor exactly the same enough to rate up with the best of the Japanese giant's finest. Rather it is a visual effects extravaganza that is highjacked by the bugbear of most all of his output. A poorly written plot, far too many lead characters to allow the luxury of development, and one dimensional performances by actors that we all KNOW are capable of better. Case in point Matthew Broderick's Nico Tatopolous; here is a MAJOR character so underdeveloped and paper thin that Devlin & Emmerich may as well have utilised a card-board cut-out of Broderick and looped his dialogue in post-production. Such a great pity that Emmerich's direction of his live actors was so tepid, as Broderick showed promise in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) that paid off in "Glory" (1989) and "The Night We Never Met" (1993). Supporting character actors Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer & Michael Lerner are similarly left to flounder, leaving only the ever-reliable Jean Reno to turn in something resembling an acting performance. I could pass comment on Maria Pitillo, but my mother once said that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. At least she is given the film's best, though only mildly amusing, joke. Otherwise, all parties look lost between the film's special effects draw-cards.
That only leaves the effects, the sole reason anyone would want to see this film. Patrick Tatopolous' creature design reworks the traditional Maijin motif for American audiences weaned on the "Jurassic Park" series. Obviously the original Godzilla isn't going to compare to Emmerich's overload of CGI & miniatures, but there was an endearing quality to Toho's rubber suits. The setpieces that highlight Godzilla's Manhattan rampage are undoubtedly exhilarating, managing to throw back to era of Willis O'Brien's King Kong and just about any Harryhausen classic, it's just sad that they are not backed up by a lucid script to flesh out the dead space between his appearances. A perfectly good score by a pre-Bond David Arnold is also wasted against the backdrop of the bombastic comic-book theatrics. Per all of Emmerich's films post-"Universal Soldier", extravagant FX, lush cinematography and impressive action sequences are sabotaged by being dumped squarely in the middle of a character-heavy, jumbled mess of underdeveloped plot. Devlin & Emmerich may love "popcorn movies", your kids will undoubtedly enjoy the big-dumb-fun aspect of it, but you'll be hard pressed to explain your constant groans of disbelief to them. Almost hard to believe Toho gave Columbia their blessing, "Godzilla" is a missed opportunity on almost all levels. One can but wonder what Steve Miner's version may have been as, post "Lake Placid", he seems the most likely director to have actually pulled off a US remake. More fool the money men…
There it is again, the old adage about a less than great movie being given an outstanding DVD presentation. "Godzilla" is spot on in every area that you're usually able to fault a DVD transfer in. I can't imagine a better rendered disc than this one kicking around my latest reviews, apart from "The Gift" (and that was a Columbia title as well!). Columbia do it yet again with a 2.35 widescreen anamorphic transfer that is simply a beauty to behold, it's just a pity they couldn't do anything with the quality of the source material's script. Mind you, this is a disc that almost does manage to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear! Well, almost. Audio is presented in both Dolby 2.0 surround and Dolby 5.1, although the 5.1 option is the only real way to go as it is room-shakingly expansive.
Extras are relegated to an Audio commentary by FX supervisors Patrick Tatopolous, Volker Engel & Karen Goulekas. Although relatively interesting from a technical standpoint, it's a shoe-in for a one off listen. Also included is the EPK "ON Assignment with Charles Caiman", a fait-documentary presented by Harry Shearer that, at roughly ten minutes, is a fairly brief behind the scenes look at the film. Throw in The Wallflowers promo-clip for "Heroes" (not hard to see why Bowie didn't license his original version to Columbia), as well as two Stills Galleries (before & after FX plates and Production stills), and three Theatrical trailers (two teasers & the release trailer) and that rounds out the supplementals.
All in all, a high quality disc for the biggest budget B-movie you are ever likely to see. Not to say that "Godzilla" is without its merits, but some-one at Columbia really should have torpedoed Devlin's sub-sitcom-standard script before it ever got to shooting stage. The Big G really deserved better…
International specifications: PAL format disc; Language option in English Dolby 5.1 & Dolby 2.0 surround only; Subtitle option in English only
Review by Mike Thomason
|Released by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment|
|Classified PG - Region 4 (PAL)|
|Running time - 138m|
|Ratio - Widescreen 2.35 (Anamorphic)|
|Audio - Dolby digital 5.1, Dolby surround 2.0|
|Audio commentary by Volker Engel, Karen Goulekas & Patrick Tatopoulos; "On Assignment With Charles Caiman" featurette; Music Video; Photo galleries; Theatrical trailer; Teaser trailers; Cast & Crew biographies|
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