Filmbuff: Godzilla deserves a second chance

In 1998's version of "Godzilla," the creature looks like a mutated lizard.

By Morgan Leger

“Godzilla” (1998)

Continuing where I left off last week, “Godzilla” was named No. 1 on my personal look at summer blockbusters that I felt were treated unfairly and deserved a second chance. Some of you are probably wondering why this heavily hated lizard deserves a second watch. Well, before I get into my review, let me explain a little about director Roland Emmerich.

While movies can entertain us, and sometimes enlighten or inspire the viewer with a simple message, most of Emmerich’s movies are popcorn entertainment. There are moments when he will make decent features like “ Independence Day” or “The Patriot,” but then there are times when he reuses his own style, batch of generic characters, and predicable storylines throughout features like ”The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012.”

One movie that is a prime example of this is his 1998 remake of “Godzilla.” The story is honestly nothing special, just Matthew Broderick as a Nuclear Regulatory Commission scientist who is hired by the U.S. State Department to examine some damage done to a Japanese fishing ship by an unknown mutated creature that proceeds to stomp around in Manhattan. There is also a clichéd love story between Broderick’s character and a journalist who wants to be a big-time news anchor.  Also, three of “The Simpsons” voice actors (Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer and Nancy Cartwright) make appearances while another subplot about a team of people from the French Secret Service are set out to destory the monster they feel responsible for creating, which are led by Jean Reno.

Interestingly, a Mayor Ebert and his top advisor, Gene, are included in the film, a clever nod to the beloved critics who gave their “thumbs down” to Emmerich’s films before this one. However, if he wanted to lampoon them in the first place, why not go further and humiliate or kill the characters off? To compare, the two were depicted as animated bunnies in “One Crazy Summer” and eventually killed off in Looney Tunes fashion. In short, there is no payoff to this clever parody.

While the plot is not cluttered and confusing, there is too much going on and it has some elements that don’t add to the story. Most of the time, the viewer feels bored with the characters and wants to see them crushed.

Speaking of monsters, Godzilla himself is not the rampaging beast we hoped for. While I didn’t mind him being computer-generated imagery, the design itself is too rough and far from close to being as good as his Japanese counterpart. This computerized upgrade doesn’t breath fire, is more of a mutated lizard than a dinosaur-like monster, and literally lays a big plot point in Madison Square Garden as they try to find a way to blow up the hatchlings before they run amok.

In fact, the major problem with this feature is that it tends to not feel like a Godzilla film or even have the qualities of being one. Take the title out and it’s your basic monster movie. The marketing and hype created, while creative I will admit, had very few looks of the monster and showed bits and pieces. The message seemed to be, “In order to see the monster, you must see the movie.” I can only imagine the many disappointed when they went to see it.

Over the years, this film has been shot down and criticized to the bone as being not true to the original spirit. I’m aware of that. But also, director Emmerich himself has regretted this creation, blaming a rushed shooting schedule, a lack of interest in the Toho series, and Columbia’s decision to not test-screen this behemoth for the bad taste the final product left behind.

However, aside from the basic nitpicks, I enjoyed this movie at a young age and that feeling is now somewhat gone. While it still proves entertaining in some aspects, the overall product is a mixed bag the leaves the audience unsure of what to say about it. As a monster movie or an action film, it’s OK. But to claim it as a remake of a classic icon seems sacrilegious

Forget that it’s a remake, don’t think of it as being a Godzilla movie, and just appreciate it for what it attempted to do.Aside being visually impressive, it’s a guilty pleasure in my book.

Honorable mention: “Congo” (1995)

While composing last week’s list, there was one title I forgot to include. However, the titles chosen were too good to replace and thus, I would consider this an honorable mention. The only difference is that it didn’t bomb at the box office and the critical reception was mostly decent. The only question that remains is, why is this Michael Crichton adaptation so underrated?

The story includes a lot of plot threads. First is the company of TraviCom, which sends some employees off to Africa to locate a diamond mine and expand on their satellite technology. However, the expedition runs into trouble and thus the boss (Joe Don Baker) decides to have a company member (Laura Linney) go down there and find out what went wrong.

Then there is a primatologist (Dylan Walsh), who is able to communicate with a gorilla named Amy with a device similar to the Nintendo Power Glove, which allows her to speak as he performs sign language. However, it turns out that Amy is homesick and he decides to return his experiment to the Congo. Luckily, a Romanian philanthropist (Tim Curry) is there to fund his trip while also on the journey for the diamond mines. As it turns out, Amy has continuously been painting the same picture, which is the symbol of an eye, which proves to be a clue to the existence of a lost city in the jungle. His purpose is to find this forgotten place and come home with as many riches as he can get.

Somehow, the two groups collide and find themselves searching for the same path, but for different reasons. On the plus side, they have Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”) tagging along to help them through the dangerous trek; he almost steals the whole movie with his cool, laid-back personality.

To viewers, the apes may have been a disappointment. After the success of “Jurassic Park” and its CGI effects, many thought the creatures would be seen in this digital form, but a variety of technical factors resulted in them using Rick Baker and his gorilla suits instead.

From time to time, these creatures can be very lifelike, and watching a fake ape doesn’t distract from the entertainment value.

What is rare about this feature is how it is part of a genre that is not in fashion much anymore: the jungle adventure story. Aside from some corny moments, it does hold up as thrilling and action-packed. While it suffers from numerous plotlines, “Congo” is held together with enough action, amazing sets, and unforgettable characters to make this hike into the jungle worth a watch.

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