"Godzilla" [The American Version]

Please note: A lot of people have asked why I do not include a rating for this movie. The answer is that all the various Godzilla movies I rate are rated in comparison to other Godzilla movies, not in relation to movies in general. And, since I don't personally consider this to truly be a "Godzilla" movie [despite the title], it is simply impossible for me to give it a comparison rating.

The "Plot" [such as it is]

If you haven't seen the movie yet, do not read this part! French nuclear testing in the South Pacific inadvertently irradiated iguanas living on an island, and as result a hideous mutation is born -- a 200+ foot tall reptile who, years later, makes his way to New York City. Once there, the giant lizard acts like the proverbial bull in a china shop, and generally wreaks havoc. The military tries to stop him, but just causes more damage; this particular giant reptile, you see, happens to be extremely fast and agile, and manages to dodge out of the way of most of the missiles aimed at him. But that's not the worst of it! A scientist [played by Matthew Broderick], whose life work has been the study of atomic mutations, disovers that Godzilla is not only the first of a new species, but is also somehow preparing to lay eggs, and that if the eggs hatch it will mean the end of life as we know it. Of course the military, being the chowderheads that they always are in films like this, ignore the scientist. So, while the military continues its struggle against Godzilla, finally killing the big beast in a climactic undersea battle involving three nuclear submarines, the scientist is forced to deal with the problem of the eggs by himself. Fortunately, he gets help from his ex-girlfriend (an aspiring TV reporter) and her plucky co-workers, as well as a mysterious French "insurance agent" played by Jean Reno. And boy, do they find eggs! Godzilla, being the canny lizard that he [she???] is, managed to burrow underground into the subway system while the military was hunting him topside. Then, while no one was looking, he made his way to Madison Square Garden where he laid hundreds of man-sized eggs! And, of course, our heroes arrive just as the eggs start hatching.... Well, the eggs hatch, our heroes are threatened by hundreds of very hungry baby zillas [think raptors, but meaner and faster], and the military finally get off their collective butts and bomb Madison Square Garden to rubble. End of story, right? Well, not quite. Seems that Godzilla wasn't quite as dead as everyone thought, and now he's really upset! Unfortunately for Godzilla, though, he makes the fatal mistake of leaving the protective covering of the New York skyscrapers and is finally brought down for good in a climactic battle on the Brooklyn Bridge. Now it's the end of the story. Well, except for the one baby zilla that manages to survive....

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My Review

In true Hollywood tradition, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin decided to take a pre-existing concept and do it bigger and -- hopefully -- better. Well, this movie is certainly bigger than any of the Japanese Godzilla movies in terms of budget and special effects. But is it better? Well, it all depends on your point of view, I suppose....

The good news is that this is a really fun and entertaining movie. Even knowing most of the plot ahead of time, it kept me on the edge of my seat. It was, for the most part, fast-paced, witty, exhilarating, and just plain fun! The special effects were awesome, and the CGI scenes were integrated well enough with the live footage so that it was easy to suspend disbelief and accept the thought of a gigantic monster rampaging in New York City. No, none of the actors are going to win Oscars for their performances, and the script probably won't be considered one of the classics of Western literature, but who really cares? This is a giant monster movie, and this movie certainly delivers a fantastic giant monster! Everything else is incidental. I mean, the more time they spend on character development, the less time they can spend showing the monster destroying New York, right? So, as giant monster movies go, this one is definitely a four star movie. Well, at least three and a half....

But is it truly a Godzilla movie, or is it simply a great monster movie?

Basically, this movie is a retelling of the original Godzilla movie, starting anew as if none of the previous Godzilla movies has ever taken place. This allows the film makers to play fast and loose with the character, without having to worry about monkeying around with the existing Godzilla continuity. Toho did something similar to this in 1984 when they "deleted" all the previous movies except for the first one. This is definitely an American movie, though -- Godzilla attacks New York, not Tokyo, and there is no connection to the atom bombing of Japan which served as the moral compass of the first movie. The important question, then, is whether this is really a "Godzilla" movie in anything other than name only.

Well, it is about a gigantic mutated reptile that attacks a major metropolitan area. And he does have these really funky spines running down his back. And, unlike movies like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Gila Monster, this new monster does walk on two legs just like the traditional Godzilla. And this new monster does have a breath weapon of sorts, although instead of the traditional atomic plamsa breath we get a strong wind and a major case of halitosis. So, if Godzilla is simply a giant reptile that was created by radiation, has spines on his back, walks on two legs, breathes something destructive from his mouth and destroys cities, then yes, this probably is a Godzilla movie, in spite of the fact that this Godzilla also burrows underground and lays eggs.

Is this all Godzilla is, though? Personally, I think not. Although this movie preserves the basic concept of a giant monster attacking a city, that basic concept has been used in countless other movies. The original Godzilla was portrayed as an unstoppable force of nature, whereas this monster is simply a giant animal trying to get along in the world. The original Godzilla was an allegory for the horrors of nuclear war visited upon Japan, whereas this monster doesn't seem to be much of an allegory of anything. And, most important of all in my opinion, the original Godzilla had a powerful weapon that made him truly terrifying, his fearsome atomic plasma breath. That's what made him uniquely different from every other monster, and it was a clear, visual representation of his atomic-spawned origin. This monster, on the other hand, is able to blow hard enough to knock cars over, but it's just not the same. The film does pay homage to the traditional breath weapon by having vehicles ignite in mid-air, making it look briefly as if Godzilla is breathing fire, but that's as close as they come. Apparently, a fire-breathing 200-foot tall radioactive iguana would just be too hard to believe.... Unfortunately, Godzilla without his flame breath is like Batman without his batmobile, batcave and batarangs. Or perhaps a better analogy would be Superman without his ability to fly. Flying may not be "realistic", but it is an essential part of the character....

So, what's the final verdict? It's a fun movie, as long as you don't care about such things as good acting, decent dialog, or a coherent plot. Go see it. Enjoy it. See it again. Check your higher reasoning functions at the door and just think about how lucky you are to have finally seen a giant monster movie done with such great special effects.

And then, when you're done, go pop Godzilla: King of the Monsters into the old VCR and remind yourself what Godzilla is really all about....

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Godzilla [The American Version] (1998)

Nick Tatopoulos...........Matthew Broderick
Philippe Roche............Jean Reno
Audrey Timmonds...........Maria Pitillo
Animal....................Hank Azaria
Mayor of New York.........Michael Lerner
Charles Caiman............Harry Shearer
Lucy......................Arabella Field
Director.................Roland Emmerich
Producer.................Dean Devlin
Music....................David Arnold
Special Effects..........Volker Engel
Screenplay...............Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich

Running Time: 140 min.

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Fan Reaction & Dean Devlin's Response

Well, Godzilla was either one of the most successful movies of all time or one of the most hated and reviled, depending on your point of view. Perhaps both. The film cost an estimated $160 million to make, and that may or may not include the huge amount of money spent on advertising. Within the United States, the movie "only" made about $135 million, but when you factor in the world-wide box office receipts we're looking at an amount in the vicinity of $350-400 million. In just about every country the movie has played, however, the first weeks' box-office was tremendous [due to the aforementioned advertizing blitz], but it dropped dramatically after the first week. In other words, many people were lured in to see it the first time, but then never went back to see it again....

Although some people enjoyed the movie, to be sure, the almost universal reaction from long-time Godzilla fans and the mainstream press has been overwhelmingly negative. The Fans have complained that the filmmakers strayed too far from the vision of the original movie. After all the hype and expectation, they felt betrayed to discover that instead of a remake of the original Godzilla, they were given a high-tech remake of "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" instead. The more charitable fans are willing to admit that it was still a fun and enjoyable film, but should have been called something else.

The mainstream press, on the other hand, have been downright hostile, spewing venom and vitriol left and right. They have attacked the poor scripting and dialogue, the pathetic acting, and the nonsensical plot. The depths of the hatred shown toward this movie would make one think they were talking about Showgirls or something. I mean, what were they expecting, Citizen Kane? It's a giant monster movie, for Pete's sake!

So, what went wrong? Well, after months of claiming that the movie came out just the way they planned, and that they were very happy with it, Dean Devlin has finally decided to respond a little more honestly about the issue. The following is from an interview Dean Devlin gave to AP columnist Michael Fleeman, and which was reprinted on Cinescape's Website:

What were they thinking?

Rushing towards the release date:

The film’s flaws:

Audience anticipation based on the ad campaign and the "Size Does Matter" catch phrase:

Audience and critical reaction:

Devlin’s final assessment:

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And, Just for the Record....

Many months before the movie came out, I received the following little statue from an anoymous source:

I was told it was created by a sculptor who was working on a toy line for the new movie. When I posted this picture on my Web site, I got a very irate e-mail from Centropolis simultaneously denying that this was the real Godzilla design and demanding that I tell them where I got the picture from. Here's a sample from the e-mail in question:

We are extremely upset, surprised and dissapointed that you would post the alleged godzilla sculpture.... (this sculpture is from the same batch of planted drawings that surfaced last fall.)

In order that people who had no part of this leak don't lose their jobs, we are asking that you tell us where you got these pictures from.

Well, since I received it anonymously, I couldn't really tell them much, but I told them what I could. Dean Devlin later wrote me personally to thank me for my help, and he then went on to explain where the statue had orignally come from:
A mold maker who had been hired by two of our merchandizing partners to do design work made that mold from the same fakes we had sent to Fruit of the Loom. Later, when he learned that those were fakes, the tossed out his early molds in favor of the new (real) final drawings. HOWEVER, what he didn't do, which he was supposed to do, was destroy the old molds. Somehow someone got a hold of the early mold and took those photographs.

The problem for us now is that the print media believe that this is the REAL creature and are threatening to use them in magazines if we don't release the real photos of our new creature. Unfortunately we can't. If we did, an entire promotional campagin of 150 million dollars will go down the drain.

So, I guess what I'm asking, is if you could help us in not encouraging the "hunt" by posting up every new leak that appears. Because there will be more. The Fruit of the Loom drawings were only the first of five sets of fakes we sent out. So I'm sure, at some point, some of those will leak out as well. And of course, the REAL creature may eventually leak out as well. The problem for us all is that this has become some kind of game wherein a feeding frenzy is growing on the internet and encouraging people to lie, steal and bribe their way into getting the "scoop."

Well, I was later contacted by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who wanted to know about the story, so I told him what had happened and forwarded him copies of the e-mails I had received from Centropolis and Mr. Devlin. None of the e-mails said that they were confidential or private, and I figured that was the easiest way to make sure nobody was misquoted. Well, the article was printed [click HERE to read it], and once again I got a very irate e-mail from Centropolis. It seems that they considered those e-mails to be "private" after all, and they couldn't believe I had forwarded them along to a reporter without asking them first. Mr. Devlin later made clear to me that it wasn't because anything in those e-mails was untrue, it was just that they didn't want it revealed publicly.

Now, as everyone knows, the movie eventually came out and the creature design was essentially the same as all the pictures that had leaked onto the Internet, including my little sculpture. Devlin's response was to say that "essentially is not the same as identical". Since the leaked designs weren't 100% identical to the way the creature actually looked in the movie, Devlin was justified in calling them "fakes", right? Well, maybe. Remember, though, that Devlin also claimed that the statue I received was also based on a fake design. And this time it wasn't just "fake" in the sense that it was different than the actual creature in the movie, but also because it was different than the final version of the merchandise based on that sculpture. So you'd expect that the actual merchandise would look significantly, or even slightly, different than the statue I received, right? Well, a friend recently sent me an official Godzilla product put out by "Noteworthy". It's a self-inking stamp called a "Dimensional Stamper". Here's a picture of it:

Looks familiar, doesn't it? In fact, after looking at it from all angles, I can confidently state that it is IDENTICAL to that little statue I received. Here's a picture of both of them side by side:

Unless Dean Devlin wants to try and say that, since one is painted and the other one isn't, they are only "essentially" the same, I can only come to one conclusion:


That's just my opinion, of course....

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The World Premiere

Yes, it's true. I attended the World Premiere showing of the American Godzilla movie on Monday, May 18th. The bad news was that I got "general seating" tickets instead of the special "studio" tickets that would have let me sit up front and hobnob with the rich and famous but, as it turned out, that didn't really matter....

The fun all began when I arrived at Penn Station earlier in the day. Signs for the movie were absolutely everywhere -- on buses, on buildings and on billboards! Here are just some of the ones I saw:

That's me in the black Godzilla T-shirt, by the way....

Later, I changed into my tuxedo [a very clever plan, as you will shortly see], and my date and I made our way back to Madison Square Garden:

Well, we got there a bit early, but there were already huge crowds gathered near the main entrance. Police had blocked off the streets, and there were limos and cameras everywhere. There didn't seem to be any way actually in, so I told a policeman that we had tickets to the premiere and we were wondering how to get in. He took one look at my tuxedo and ushered us past the barricades. Suddenly, we found ourselves standing on the "Green Carpet" -- the VIP path to the main entrance!

As we walked up the green carpet, arm-in-arm, people started cheering and cameras started flashing. Video crews from dozens of countries turned our way and started filming. We were on the green carpet and all dressed up, so we had to be important, right? So, we did what anybody else would have done in the same situation -- we smiled, waved at everybody and kept on walking down that green carpet! Of course, when we finally got to the entrance and they checked our tickets, we were told that people with general seating tickets had to enter the building around the back. Fortunately, the security guards let us go around the side instead of sending us back down the carpet in shame and defeat....

Once inside, we took our seats way up in the bleachers. Security guards were checking everyone's bags to make sure that nobody brought cameras or camcorders or anything, but I was able to slip my little snapshot camera in my pants pocket and conceal it with my tuxedo jacket....

The hype inside the Garden was incredible! Approximately 12,000 people were in attendance, and the entire floor was covered with folding chairs for all the people with VIP passes. The entire Garden was festooned with posters and banners, there were green spotlights dancing around, and they showed trailers and live footage from outside on the overhead monitor. It was so intense! My only regret was simply that I was way up high away from all the famous people. And then I remembered -- I was wearing a tux!

Slowly, carefully, I made my way down to the floor. One usher caught my attention, and I was sure I was going to be sent back to my seat. Instead, however, she just wanted to compliment me on my outfit. Apparently, most of the VIP's had come casual, and she was glad to see somebody in a tuxedo. Score!

The first person I recognized was Kevin Dunn, who plays Colonel Hicks in the movie. I wasn't able to get his picture, but we were able to chat for a few minutes. Real nice guy. I then saw Mohammed Ali, but was unable to get close enough for a picture. Too bad!

Never fear, though! I next bumped into two extremely lovely ladies:

The woman on the right is, of course, the inimitable Arabella Field, one of the stars of Godzilla. The woman on the left is the equally inimitable Shae D'lyn, star of ABC's "Dharma and Greg." I told them who I was and even gave them one of my "Temple of Godzilla" cards. They thought it was "so cute!" Aw, shucks....

An announcement was then made that it was time to head to our seats, so I started making my way back. And then, to my utter amazement, I saw one of my favorite actors, Hong Kong Cinema's number one action star, Chow Yun Fat! This was too good to pass up! I cautiously approached and told him how much of a fan I was. I then politely asked it I could take his picture. To my surprise and utter delight, he not only agreed but actually took my camera and gave it to his wife, who took the following picture [I'm the handsome guy on the left, in case you can't tell]:

Five minutes before the movie started, there was a loud BOOM which reverberated throughout the garden, and a loud voice called out "ONLY FIVE MORE MINUTES UNTIL GODZILLA!" This was repeated at at four minute mark, the three, the two and the one. Then, the last five seconds: BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!!! All the lights went down, and a single spotlight lit the center of the floor, where the "Let's Get Ready to RUMMMMMMBLE!" guy [Michael Buffer, I believe] was standing with a big microphone. He then went into his spiel, saying something like "in this corner, weighing 200 million pounds, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, GODZILLA!!!"

The crowd, needless to say, went wild! I mean, really wild! It was mind-numbing!

Well, the movie was a lot of fun [click HERE to read my review]. There were a lot of friends and family of the the various actors and crew in the audience, and everytime someone's name was mentioned in the opening credits or made their first appearance onscreen, different sections of the audience started cheering. And everytime anything exciting happened in the movie, all 12,000 people burst into applause and cheering. I swear, this had to be the world's most enthusiastic audience! The entire experience was completely overwhelming, and it was great to see Godzilla on a really big screen!

One funny thing happened toward the end of the film. I won't give away the plot for those of you who haven't seen the movie or read my review of it yet, but there's a point toward the end where you think the movie is over. At this point, hundreds of people stood up and started making a break for the exits. Having read the script, however, I knew that there was still a lot of action to go, so I started yelling "it's not over yet! Sit down!" Nobody listened to me, of course, but 30 seconds later there were a bunch of people trying to find their seats again in the dark....

After the movie ended, I decided to give the tux one more shot, so my date and I threaded our way back down to the main floor. Most of the big names at already left, but a few were still chatting. I recognized Nick Nolte right away, and politely asked if I could take his picture. His response was something like "well, you're gonna take it anyway, so you might as well." Not exactly Chow Yun Fat, but at least he didn't sic his security guards on me:

Note the woman on the right? Well, that's Vicki Lewis. Not only does she star in Godzilla, but she's one of my favorite TV actresses for her work on "News Radio". I managed to catch her a few minutes later, and told her that I thought she acted circles around her co-star, Matthew Broderick. She thought that was sooooo sweet of me to say, and then let my date take a picture of us together [and just for reference, I stand about 5' 10" tall]:

Well, that was about it. I didn't get to meet Dean Devlin, Ronald Emmerich and Matthew Broderick as I had hoped, but I still had an amazing time! Which just goes to show that you should never underestimate the power of a good tuxedo....

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