Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998).
Centropolis Entertainment/Fried Films 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t quite understand why Godzilla captured people’s imaginations. I would’ve said that a large part of the charm of the original Japanese kaiju movies was camp and cheap effects, but everything that sells eventually gets three high-budget reboots here, and I think this did pretty well in theaters.

I certainly remember it being heavily promoted and cross-promoted. It probably made its money back just on toy sales, or at least the studio thought they had a shot at doing so.

After watching the movie:

Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, a researcher for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, gets called off his study of Chernobyl worms to investigate trace samples left at sites of colossal destruction in Panama and Jamaica. The creature arrives in Manhattan and carves out a trail of carnage before disappearing. In New York, Audrey Timmonds, an aspiring reporter stuck in an underappreciated assistant job, sees Nick in television coverage of the military’s efforts to contain the beast and recognizes him as an ex-boyfriend. Seeing a way in to her big break, she reenters Manhattan with stolen press credentials and finds Nick. As he tells her what’s happening, a blood sample he’s testing reveals that the monster may be pregnant, and he rushes off to give his findings to the military command, leaving Audrey alone with a classified tape with information on the creature’s origins. As Nick reports to the military, Audrey’s reporting and the classified footage goes on the air, and Nick is ejected from the team, his suggestion that there may be a nest in the city dismissed even as evacuated citizens and the Mayor are already clamoring for reentry.

The biggest impression this movie left with me is that it was raining constantly. It may not have been raining in the equatorial locations, but it was raining buckets in the scene in Chernobyl and all through the bulk of the movie in New York. The only time water isn’t falling from the sky is when characters are under shelter. The cost of the rain machines must have been on a comparable level to the VFX and the car destruction.

Even in a very localized site of destruction, the movie finds dozens of familiar landmarks to destroy. Why did Godzilla come all the way to New York City from French Polynesia? Because this is an American movie it needs to nest and American cities are the best cities Manhattan is the only place in the entire world where it can hide effectively for some reason. I think more famous landmarks get destroyed in just Manhattan than Independence Day destroyed across the entire world.

Even though it’s a disaster movie, I didn’t expect it to feel all that topical. However, the Mayor being less interested in keeping his town safe than in how events will affect his election and keeping businesses open, and the crowds of people demanding to go back to normal as soon as the threat is out of sight but not confirmed defeated, feel very current to the current climate in 2020. On the other hand, the news media calling the destruction caused by Godzilla’s first walk through a few streets in New York “the worst disaster that’s happened to this city since the (1993) World Trade Center bombings” aged really quickly.

This is an exciting string of action sequences with a bit of a plot to hold it together, but the closest comparison I think I can draw to what it wants to be is Jurassic Park, and it’s not at all as compelling or memorable. This isn’t meant to be high cinema, it’s a theme park ride, and those are much more fun to be experiencing than to have experienced.

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