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Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998)

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Today’s film is the ill-conceived and ill-executed American re-imagining of a Japanese cinematic ground-breaker: 1998’s Godzilla.

The plot of Godzilla is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A giant, reptilian monster surfaces, leaving destruction in its wake. To stop the monster (and its babies), an earthworm scientist, his reporter ex-girlfriend, and other unlikely heroes team up to save their city.

Godzilla had four credited writers: the screenplay is credited to director Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day), and story credits were given to Ted Elliott (Small Soldiers, The Lone Ranger) and Terry Rossio (Legend of Zorro, Deja Vu).

As mentioned, the film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who has made a name for himself by repeatedly destroying prominent metropolises in films like 2012, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down, and Independence Day: Resurgence.

The cast of Godzilla is led by Matthew Broderick (The Producers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jean Reno (Leon, The Professional), Maria Pitillo (Chaplin), and Hank Azaria (Mystery Men).

The cinematographer for the film was Ueli Steiger, who also shot 10,000 BC, Bowfinger, House Arrest, The Black Knight, Stealing Harvard, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Two editors received credit for working on Godzilla: Peter Amundson, who has worked on films like Pacific Rim, Gamer, Shoot Em Up, Hellboy, Blade II, and DragonHeart, and David Siegel, who cut Eight Legged Freaks.

The musical score for Godzilla was composed by two people: David Arnold, who has provided music for the BBC series Sherlock and Jekyll & Hyde, as well as films like The Stepford Wives and Hot Fuzz, and Michael Lloyd, who composed scores for Ghoulies Go To College and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

Godzilla wound up spawning an animated series that continued with the plot laid out by the film. The series ran for two seasons on Fox Kids, and was actually somewhat better acclaimed than the film itself.

A potential sequel was already in the works when Godzilla was released into theaters: it was to take place in Australia, and feature some sort of large insect (perhaps inspired by Mothra) as an adversary. However, the critical and fan reactions quickly put an end to these plans.

Godzilla wound up nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards, which are given out each year to films deemed to be the worst in any given category. It wound up winning two: Worst Remake or Sequel, and Worst Supporting Actress for Maria Pitillo.

The 1998 American design of Godzilla was parodied years later in Godzilla: Final Wars, which has created some confusion on how the American Godzilla is classified. It is officially part of the Japanese Godzilla mythos because of its inclusion in that film, but it isn’t always considered a proper Godzilla, often being classified as “Zilla” instead. Likewise, most fans of the series discount the inferior American rendition, often referring to it as G.I.N.O. (Godzilla In Name Only).

The promotional materials for Godzilla bore the tagline “Size Does Matter,” which was intended to be a slight towards Jurassic Park. The tagline was (and still is) frequently mocked in parodies and other film trailers.

A number of notable directors, including James Cameron, Tim Burton, and Paul Verhoeven, all ultimately passed on the project of re-imagining Godzilla. Then, a version got well into the conceptual phase with Stan Winston providing creature designs and effects and Jan De Bont directing, though it eventually fell apart just before Emmerich took the reigns.

godzilla2Another American take on Godzilla released in 2014, directed by Gareth Edwards. While better received than the 1998 incarnation, audiences were still divided on it. However, a combined franchise is being build around that film, which will be continued with the upcoming Kong: Skull Island.

The year after the release of Godzilla, Godzilla 2000 hit theaters in Japan. The plan had initially been to hold off on releasing a Japanese Godzilla feature until the 50th anniversary in 2004, which allowed plenty of time for American sequels to be produced. The scrapped sequel plans, in conjunction with fan outrage, pushed up the production of Godzilla 2000, which was seen as a direct response to the lackluster American outing.

Godzilla was made on a production budget of $130 million, on which it took in a lifetime worldwide theatrical gross of $379 million. While this was profitable, the negative reaction from fans and critics was substantial. Currently, the film holds an IMDb user rating of 5.3/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 28% from audiences.

godzilla4Something I have never been able to wrap my head around in regards to this film is why there was so much attempted humor injected into the screenplay. The original Godzilla, as well as the themes that surround it, are all very bleak. Humor just doesn’t match what these movies are about, unless it was written in a very grim and dark way. Godzilla, however, isn’t darkly-minded in its humor: it is cartoon-y and slapstick, which creates an effect of tonal whiplash. What is even weirder is that the humor clearly wasn’t added after some bad test screening: it was unquestionably designed that way. The comedy background of most of the cast makes it really hard to argue against this idea. Worse yet, the humor just isn’t funny. Despite the presence of some talented comedic actors, they all seem to struggle to make their material funny, which boils down to an issue of either direction or writing. In the case of Emmerich, it was almost certainly both.

Another issue that I have with the film were the general designs of the monsters: they just aren’t terribly interesting. Their appearances aren’t particularly imposing or intimidating, and it is hard to nail down exactly why. Apparently, Emmerich wanted his monster to be sleek and fast, which aren’t ways one would describe Godzilla. That focus on agility makes the beast seem a bit too toned and athletic, which just doesn’t fit for a creature that is supposed to be frightening. The color and texture doesn’t seem right either: the original Godzilla was designed to look burned, and was patterned after documented radiation burns from Hiroshima. That lack of scarring and texture robs the monster of a crucial tangibility, as well as further erases a subliminal aspect of the message of the original film. Replacing that texture and charred coloration just further drives home how much this film misses the point.

godzilla5Personally, I think the very concept of an American production re-imagining Godzilla is basically unacceptable. Godzilla is a film that is about Japan and the Japanese. It deals with the nation’s grief, pain, and politics in the wake of horrific war, and a subsequent conflict of identity that came about as a result. An American perspective just doesn’t add anything: at worse, it takes away.

That said, Godzilla is not a movie that can’t be remade well. In fact, I absolutely loved the updated themes and concepts addressed in Shin Godzilla, and I think it is a shame more folks haven’t seen it. While I can’t recommend the Godzilla from 1998, I can definitely recommend that people check out Shin Godzilla.

Overall, Godzilla was an ill-conceived and ill-executed cash grab intended to capitalize on the dinosaur craze in the wake of Jurassic Park. It is a wholly soulless endeavor. Every time I re-watch it, I forget why I did. If you have positive nostalgic feelings about it, I wouldn’t recommend casting your gaze backwards. However, if you are a bit of a movie trivia buff, the story behind this film’s production is pretty interesting, and might justify a re-watch to daydream of what might have been.

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Water Foul: Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster

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Today’s entry into the “Water Foul” spotlight on the worst aquatic monsters in movie history is 1966’s Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.

Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was written by Shinichi Sekizawa, the primary writer of the Showa era of Godzilla. His credits include the MST3K-infamous Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla’s Revenge, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Mothra, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The director for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Jun Fukuda. This was his first Godzilla movie, and afterwards he would direct four more in the Showa era of the franchise: Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The cinematographer on the film was Kazuo Yamada, who also shot Son Of Godzilla, Samurai III, and Samurai Rebellion, as well as Key of Keys, which was used as the source material for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

The editor for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Ryohel Fujii, who was yet another Toho regular, cutting such films as Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers The World, and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.

Executive Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was a producer of the Godzilla franchise from the original Godzilla all the way through the conclusion of the Hesei era, 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destroyah. He also frequently produced movies for Akira Kurosawa, such as Yojimbo, Kagemusha, and Sanjuro.

The music on Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was done by Masaru Sato, who accrued 236 score composition credits over his illustrious career, including Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, Godzilla Raids Again, and The Hidden Fortress.

The Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster effects team included Sadamasa Arikawa (Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Mothra, Rodan), Sokei Tomioka (Terror of Mechagodzilla, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Taka Yuki (Godzilla, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster), Fumio Nakadai (Son of Godzilla, Godzilla’s Revenge), Eiji Tsuburaya (Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Throne of Blood, Rodan, Mothra), Teruyoshi Nakano (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla 1985), and Akira Watanabe (The Green Slime, Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Destroy All Monsters).

The cast of the movie included a number of recognizable faces from other Toho films: Akira Takarada (Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothra, King Kong Escapes, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Kumi Mizuno (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Chôtarô Tôgin (Destroy All Monsters), and Tôru Ibuki (Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero).

The plot of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster has very little to do with the monsters themselves. A terrorist organization has taken over a small island, and is secretly developing nuclear weapons there. They use a giant shrimp, named Ebirah, to defend the island and prevent any of their captured slaves from escaping. However, they ultimately capture a Japanese citizen, and his family goes hunting after him, ultimately leading to the discovery of the secret base. Serendipitously, Godzilla is found sleeping in a cave nearby, and is awakened to fight Ebirah. Also, Mothra is hanging around on a nearby island (where the slaves were mostly kidnapped from), and eventually shows up to help towards the end of the story.

seamonster1Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was initially planned to be a King Kong movie, and many of that monster’s trademarks and characteristics remain in the movie. Godzilla’s uncharacteristic obsession with a woman and his awakening via lightning were both associated with King Kong as opposed to the King of the Monsters. The lightning revival came from King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was also due to a last minute monster replacement (King Kong for Frankenstein’s Monster), making the trait all the more confusing.

The Sea Monster itself, Ebirah, is named after the japanese word for shrimp, ‘ebi.’ This essentially confirms that Ebirah is supposed to be a shrimp, though it looks a bit more like a lobster.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster interestingly marks the last appearance of a full-grown Mothra in the Showa era of Godzilla, though the larval form pops up again in Destroy All Monsters in 1968.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, the popular bad movie television show, had an episode dedicated to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster in its second season. The episode immediately followed the more recognizable and terrible Godzilla vs. Megalon, which famously features the robot Jet Jaguar.

The reception to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was generally negative, and is regarded as one of the weaker entries into the series. It currently holds a rating of 5.1 on IMDb, along with a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

First off, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster definitely focuses far more on the human plot than the monsters, which is bound to be part of why it is so unpopular. Godzilla doesn’t even appear on screen until an hour into the picture. However, the story isn’t super-awful as far as the Showa era of Godzilla is concerned. The terrorist organization isn’t as memorable as sound-prone aliens from Planet X or angry cockroach people, but they serve well enough here.

The monster fighting that does appear in the movie is really lackluster. Ebirah isn’t particularly powerful, and doesn’t have any way to effectively compete with Godzilla, eand ventually gets his claws torn off without much fanfare. There are a couple of other minor battles, such as a skirmish between Godzilla and Mothra and the appearance of a Rodan-like bird monster, but they are both pretty brief and unmemorable. The movie does feature an infamous volleyball fight between Ebirah and Godzilla, which I believe pops up again re-purposed in the even more terrible Godzilla’s Revenge.

seamonster3My favorite part of the film by far is when Ebirah spears two people on one of his claws like a shish kebab, which both looks ridiculous and is kind of jarring. You don’t see the Toho monsters directly kill people very often, though death is heavily implied by their stomping and blasting. It definitely stands out as a highlight moment in the movie, and is one of the few clips worth checking out.

seamonster4Overall, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is a pretty mediocre entry in the Showa era of Godzilla. It isn’t particularly over-the-top or entertaining in comparison to the rest of the series, but also isn’t quite amusingly abysmal enough to make sitting through it much fun. The MST3K episode is pretty solid and the background trivia is interesting, so if you want to watch it, I’d recommend going that route with it.

Godzilla vs Gigan

I love Godzilla movies. I grew up watching both the Hesei and Showa movies on VHS, and actually remember waiting intently for some of the Heisei movies to premiere on video in the US. So, I have a lot of fond memories of watching old Godzilla movies.

With the recent Godzilla movie rocking the box office, a lot of the old flicks have been getting re-releases on blu-ray. Giddily, I’ve been revisiting a good number of them.

gigan1One of my favorites of the Showa era is “Godzilla vs Gigan”. There is a goofy human plot, lots of monster fighting action, cockroaches try to take over the world, Godzilla gets lines, Godzilla bleeds profusely, Godzilla loses a fight with a stationary object, Anguirus casually defies gravity, and the be-buzz-sawed Gigan gets introduced to the franchise. There is a whole lot to love/hate.

Godzilla get beat up by Gigan pretty bad, but beat worse by a stationary building
Godzilla get beat up by Gigan pretty bad, but beat worse by a stationary building
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Specifically, this building defeats Godzilla

I can’t recommend this movie enough. Outside of “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”, this is my favorite cheeseball flick from the Showa era of Godzilla. A lot of people point to “Godzilla vs Megalon” as the best of the worst of Showa, but “Megalon” doesn’t have cockroach aliens wearing human skin, or a Japanese Tommy Chong. It has nothing on this.

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Japanese Tommy Chong kidnaps someone with that ear of corn
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Space roaches have a divine sense of style

Trust me on this one, “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is well worth the watch. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is on Netflix or online anywhere at the moment, but the DVD and bluray are readily available.