By Carter B. Horsley
According to Jamie Leight, a 12-year-old film
buff, "Godzilla" was better than "Jurassic Park"
and "Deep Impact" and it inspired him to make a few
city blocks out of a stack of books for one of his monsters to
Indeed, this updated version of the classic
Japanese thriller not only has a good feel for New York City,
which it captures in many aerial views, but also a very frenetic,
fascinating and exciting perspective on its maze-like skyscraper
canyons. One whisks about the city, from panic to be sure, and
is awed, intimidated and bewildered by its compactness, its density,
its hiding places. Man-made mystery mingles here with unnatural
Although it begins rather slowly, which is
in keeping with thriller traditions, it works up quite a head
of steam, or, in this case, bad breath.
While the movie incorporates many clichés
of the genre, it delivers plenty of spectacular and memorable
scenes. It is a cross between the remake of King Kong and "The
Fifth Element" (see The City Review
article): big creature visits the city and gets carried away.
"The Fifth Element" gave us a vision
of a formidably precipitous high-rise city that was not quite
as lugubrious as the damp environs of "Bladerunner."
"Godzilla" gives us a vulnerable high-rise city seen
from a new perspective. Whereas "Jurassic Park" had
cute, agile velociraptors, "Godzilla" has a fast, headstrong,
heroic, hurtling creature that is not easily intimidated and doesn't
pay heed to traffic signs.
There are many good touches, especially in
the beginning. We get a sense of Godzilla's size by his footprints
and as we fly along with helicopters tracking them we are airborne
archaeologists and we happen upon a huge beached ship with enormous
claw marks across its vast hull. The beached ship set is one of
the great theatrical scenes in this genre.
The beast comes to New York, captioned as "the
city that never sleeps," and bites on a hobo's fishing tackle
on a pier. He doesn't get reeled in. He just follows the bait,
so to speak, in a stunning special effect of an emerging tidal
wave that raises and splinters the pier and the fleeing hoboes.
It is an unexpected and virtuosic effect.
Before long, we see his scaly, muscular feet
stomping through the city streets and the ensuing havoc as he
rushes, thumps, runs and crashes through the city, his long, heavy
tail occasionally creating great gashes in many buildings, such
as the Philip Morris building on 42nd Street.
In this version of the famous Japanese adventure
series, Godzilla is no plodding behemoth. He is agile enough to
avoid missiles from pursuing helicopters that instead impact on
several Manhattan landmarks including the Chrysler Building and
the toppling of the top third of the building is a marvel of special
effects. (Godzilla, of course, is cold-blooded and the surrounding
buildings are warmer and thus more attractive to heat-seeking
missiles, we learn.)
One of the movie's greatest images is of a
gaping hole Godzilla created on his midtown tour in the MetLife
(formerly the Pan Am Building) straddling Park Avenue. The hole
has removed about two-thirds of the middle of the structure, which
is still standing, and obviously he took a running leap through
it as the top and the bottom are still miraculously intact. Amazingly,
no one in the audience at the Sony cineplex on Broadway and 68th
Street applauded the destruction of the MetLife Building despite
the fact that many New Yorkers have long resented its dwarfing
of the great Helmsley Building. Incredibly, director Roland Emmerich,
who directed "Independence Day," does not linger to
savor this very dramatic image.
Indeed, the pacing of the movie is frustrating
as many of the initial sequences are a bit disappointing and for
a while it looks like everything is being shot in the dark, in
the rain and through thick mist. Artistically, of course, perhaps
this was intended as a homage to the archaic special effects of
the original 1954 black-and-white Japanese movie (that was released
in the United States two years later with added footage including
Raymond Burr as a reporter). As the movie continues, however,
it is clear that production values here are very, very impressive.
Indeed, the second half of the movie is too crammed with awesome
effects and one suspects that the producers felt that only a frenetic
pace of overkill can retain the audience's interest. The acting
here might appear better if the actor's voices were dubbed in
Japanese, but of course that might seem to be a parody and there
is a thin line between being a honest thriller and a hokey farce.
It didn't work in "Independence Day," but comes off
better here, thanks to the insouciant French insurance agent,
played well by Jean Reno, who has trouble adjusting to American
coffee and chews gum (see The City Review article)
to appear "more American." Too often, the producers
try to please everyone and throw in the kitchen sink, or in this
case, the city. Comic relief can be effective, but here the romantic
interludes and the dumb politicians and military are just dumb.
The film has a Mayor named Ebert, an insider's reference to the
fine film critic Roger Ebert, but Michael Lerner plays him too
Matthew Broderick plays a scientist, Dr. Niko
Tatopoulos, another insider joke since the creator of the new
film "monster" was Patrick Tatopoulos. Broderick/Tatapoulos
is studying the effects of radiation on worms at Chernobyl who
is called in to help U.S. forces in dealing with Godzilla, who
may have been mutated by French testing of atomic bombs in the
Pacific. Broderick is not bad in his role, but Mario Pitillo is
a bit too cloying as his love interest and an aspiring television
reporter although her sidekick, Hank Azaria is quite amusing as
a cameraman who comes very close to getting traumatically trampled.
Godzilla apparently believes that Manhattan
is a good island on which to nest. He lays his eggs in Madison
Square Garden, which has never looked so good and which does not
Even the Energizer Bunny would agree that the
chases go on and on and on, but one of the finales, or so it seems,
on the Brooklyn Bridge is a tour de force and great movie
Godzilla, who is known as Gojira, in Japanese,
a combination of the words for gorilla and whale, does not look
like his cinematic ancestors who were rather clumsy and slow and
puffy. Now he has a pronounced underbite very reminiscent of the
nasty creatures in the "Alien" series and his body resembles
that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The $110 million film, which uses many computer
effects, does not have the suspenseful intensity of a Spielberg,
or Hitchcock, and it uses the usual bag of tricks of the purported
dead villain not being dead, and the like. Emmerich clearly doesn't
understand restraint and some of the chase sequences have swarms
upon swarms of pursuit helicopters. This is a film about a concerned
parent, not a plague of locusts!
The 138-minute movie could have been considerably
shorter and used a better script. It lacks the majesty of "King
Kong" and the humanity of "Frankenstein," the sense
of dinosaur paradise hinted at in "Jurassic Park," and
the moral messages against nuclear war of the original "Godzilla,"
and the surreal effects of "Terminator 2," but it has
a New York where anything is possible.
The special effects are superb and very imaginative.
Demolition workers will be awed.
The audience was relatively docile and quiet
for the most part, if not shell-shocked. By the end of the film,
Godzilla is seen from just about every angle and when he smashes
through a building it does not seem like a set. He gets more real
as the movie progresses and in one sequence proves to be a very
Like the above-mentioned movies, this is a
classic because its technical achievements are so believable that
they change our perceptions, not in any important moral sense,
but in our gut perceptions of what we can make of our worlds.
It is terrifically exciting even if we don't care all that much
about the individuals portrayed, or rationality. Sometimes even
expensive shots still hit the virtual mark.
There will be a sequel.