1998 was not a great year for films. Top at the box office was Armageddon, a film so bad Michael Bay apologised for it. Elsewhere in the top ten are delights such as There’s Something About Mary, Dr Dolittle (Eddie Murphy version) and Lethal Weapon 4. But at number three, grossing almost $400,000,000 is Godzilla: surely the missing link between a lizard and a turkey.
In Japan, a huge and menacing creature emerges from the ocean, then heads to New York to threaten some real people. Here he emerges menacingly from the sea, meaning he either swims through the Panama Canal, or round the entire continent of South America.
Standing in his way is the US military and a worm expert played by Matthew Broderick, in what surely must be the first and only example of someone being miscast in a role that was written for them. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off he looked like a 30 year old pretending to be a 17 year old. Here, 12 years later, he somehow manages to look the other way round.
Elements of the effects are done well, mainly those that rely on practical tricks rather than CGI. They don’t cop out on showing the CGI monster (cough, Anaconda) but problematically it doesn’t look real, with the extensive NYC chase sequences looking like something from Time Crisis.
Disaster-prone director Roland Emerich helms the project, which is permeated by a sense that he had no idea how to dramatise Godzilla. The one dimensional characters, terribly acted, engage in drama more obvious that a 100ft dinosaur in Manhattan. The horribly written dialogue is almost unbearable to listen to, in soap opera quality scenes that are obviously only there to link the effects sequences together.
And this is accompanied by a series of sub-plots which are frankly bizarre. Broderick’s ex (Maria Pitillo) is a TV news journalist who can’t get her boss to take her seriously. This leaves a ludicrous finale in which the monster’s path of destruction has reached Snyder-esque proportions, yet we’re meant to feel happy for the woman getting a segment on the local news.
Equally bizarre is Jean Reno as the leader of a band of French outlaws intent on destroying the monster (for some sort of political aim?), with a sub- sub-plot about him not liking American coffee. News anchor Charles Caimain is one of the few enjoyable performances in the film, and that’s only because he’s played by The Simpsons’ Harry Shearer doing his Kent Brockman voice.
I could go into all the plot inconsistencies and unexplained leaps of logic but it would take too long. I’ll just give you one example. Broderick buys a human pregnancy testing kit and uses it to determine Godzilla reproduces asexually and has just laid 12 eggs which are going to hatch some time in the next couple of hours. I’m just impressed that he convinced the dinosaur to pee on it.
The film even shamelessly rips of Jurassic Park with a swarm of raptors (sorry, Godzilla’s babies) which are apparently able to double in number every half hour. But in spite of all this, it’s definitely in the ‘so bad it’s entertaining’ camp. If you’re going to have over-the-top action, terrible acting and a plot that doesn’t make sense, I’d much rather watch this than a dreary slog like Batman v Superman. Thank Godzilla.