On paper Roland Emmerich was the perfect choice to wrangle Godzilla on his first American funded rampage. Seriously, check it. The stats all line up.
With Independence Day he proved he could handle massive scale devastation, with Stargate he proved he could handle broad sci fi and with Universal Soldier he proved with Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme he could direct vast shambling lumps of destruction.
Surely Godzilla’s trip stateside was an utter lock, and yet, how could it have gone SO utterly fucking wrong?
Sony/Tri Star’s massively hyped, atrociously miscast and vastly overblown dud proved to be the worse kind of cynical, soulless cash grab that the 90’s seemed to spawn with alarming regularity and buried the notion of any more U.S. funded Godzilla movies for a staggering 16 years. It’s a well documented fact that Emmerich and co-scripter and producer Dean Devlin spent sizable amounts of pre-production time in meetings about merchandise and even had a say in what kind of toys what where produced which goes a long way to explain the undercooked proceedings that opened in cinemas in 1998.
To be ruthlessly fair, Godzilla for it’s first third isn’t actually half bad. In fact, build ups and foreshadowing is one of Emmerich’s major talents as a storyteller, as is the initial burst of action and everything leading up to and including the towering lizard making landfall on the Island Of Manhattan is no exception. But then the filmmakers have to back up those first 30 minutes and it soon becomes worryingly apparent that they have no idea what actually makes the terror of Toho tick.
Throughout his 40 odd year career Godzilla has been everything from a marauding metaphor for nuclear warfare, to crusading eco-warrior, to googly eyed superhero; what he is NOT is a giant, irradiated, pregnant iguana who is addicted to fish and flees from the military because they’re being a bit loud. Aw, bless it…
It simply shows that Emmerich and co. has spectacularly missed the point of making such a simple disaster movie out of such an icon with such a rich history. Godzilla’s Shere Kahn chin is fucking stupid too.
As the film picks up pace, Emmerich seemingly bored with homaging Steven Spielberg’s work, out and out steals from it instead with virtually every set piece simply a larger version of something you’ve seen before just with wankier CGI. The pier scene from Jaws? Bigger. The T-Rex chasing a vehicle scene from Jurassic Park? Bigger. And don’t even get me started on those Raptor happy ‘Zilla babies.
The plot is utter A to B bobbins, with scientist Ferris Bueller – sorry, Matthew Broderick- being bought it to help identify what mysterious beast is causing such damage across the oceans. He’s surrounded by a forgettable cast made up of either a crop of what-do-I-know-him-from actors or half the voice performers from The Simpsons (Harry Shearer’s slimy news anchor is just essentially Kent Brockman) saddled with consistently unfunny personality quirks (horny, shouty, stutterer) who literally just stand and stare. Thank Christ for Jean Reno then as an uber-French secret agent (no, really) who seems to have instantly spotted that the script was duff and hung around just to see what all the fuss was about. And while we’re chucking around rare praise, David Arnold’s verbose score deserves a subtle nod of respect too.
But these are small examples of an oasis of good in a vast sea of uninteresting blandness devoid of character or point.