I don't think I have to waste any of your time telling you that the 1998 version of Godzilla with Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno which was directed by Roland Emmerich isn't the classic Japanese Godzilla your parents - and probably you too, if you're anything like me - grew up knowing and loving. But this complaint has really run its course, and it always got on my nerves. You could tell from the advertisements that Emmerich's Godzilla was going to be different. Well, at least I could. And frankly, I didn't care. The question of the day is: Just because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich decided to Americanize Godzilla, does that mean Godzilla 1998 isn't worth watching? To give the quick blunt answer, no.
Godzilla is different, make no mistake about that. The original Godzilla lumbered along like an oversized zombie just crushing everything that happened to get in its way. Emmerich's Godzilla speeds along at a rate which would get him pulled over on the freeway. The original Godzilla was taller than just about everything. Emmerich's Godzilla is limited in height - he might be around ten stories tall. The original Godzilla went on his classic destruction sprees in just a handful of movies before morphing into Japan's savior, a good guy who fought equally impressive monsters of supernatural origin; he was the King of the Monsters! Emmerich's Godzilla hasn't destroyed any monsters of equal size, but it does have a whole ot of kids and is capable of asexual reproduction. The original Godzilla breathed fire. Emmerich's Godzilla, contrary to a popular belief, is seen breathing actual fire during the movie, but he also has a nasty case of halitosis. Emmerich's Godzilla lost weight and looks more like a Tyrannosauros Rex than anything else.
The original Godzilla plots weren't quite as thick as paper. They were just there to give Godzilla an excuse to come out of hiding. Emmerich's Godzilla does give you an actual plot. It's a very hackneyed excuse for a plot, yes, but it's there. There are characters and everything. The main character is known mainly as "The Worm Guy" because he's best known for his work studying worms. Everyone also mispronounces his last name, Tatopolous. One day, out on one of his frequent worm excursions, he gets called by the military to investigate a big footprint. Meanwhile, a television station gets footage of an injured guy who keeps whispering "Gojira" (little in-joke there; Godzilla's original name was Gojira), which id renamed the easier-to-pronounce "Godzilla" by a reporter. One of the reporters at the TV station, an old flame of Nick Tatopolous, doesn't think she's getting the respect she deserves. Naturally, they come back together. Throw in an overzealous TV cameraman played by Hank Azeria, a French secret service worker who is trying to cover up his country's mistake, a fat Mayor named Ebert and his right hand man Gene (seriously!) and a whole bunch of lizard kids. Voila! Instant big monster disaster movie!
None of the actors, with the possible exceptions of the guys playing Gene and Mayor Ebert, give any heart to their roles. But that's no problem; if you're complaining about performances in monster movies, the filmmakers weren't trying hard enough.
The sad part about Godzilla is that for most of the first hour, you WILL be noticing how awful the performances are. Roland Emmerich apparently directed with the idea that he was actually trying to bring his characters to life and not set them up as what they really are - background noise. This unfortunately clashes with the actors, who are clearly doing their best to remember that a big digital monster is going to arrive soon and steal the show. Roland Emmerich has managed to squeeze decent performances out of good actors a lot in the past, but for the first hour he doesn't seem to remember that people don't see his movies for Oscar-caliber performances. They see his movies for escapist bombast, which is Emmerich's speciality. We're talking about the director of Stargate, Independence Day, The Patriot, and 10000 BC here. People who pay to see Emmerich's movies don't care about characters!
Godzilla has two big destruction scenes in the first hour. Both times, as Mayor Ebert points out, the military is doing more damage to the city than the monster. Both scenes are great fun to watch, but just when you think things are going to pick up, they slow right back down for more of what can only loosely be called character development. One of the weird things you notice about Godzilla during these scenes is that he can disappear out of sight. How can you lose something that big?
After the first hour, things just pick right up and they don't let you stop for air. The French resistance led by Jean Reno infiltrates Godzilla's underground lair and discovers a small army of baby Godzillas which are just starting to hatch. The ensuing scene takes place in Madison Square Garden. The heroes have standard machine guns, which as we all know are useless against Godzillas. So there are some great moments of suspence - or at least pseudo-suspence - as they try to dodge and weave their way out of the Garden and get the word out to the military about the mini-zillas. The finale takes place in a cab with the few surviving good guys leading the oversized lizard on a fast, intense chase through the streets of Manhattan. Then Godzilla receives the ultimate slap in the face as he is killed by standard missiles from standard military jet fighters.
No, this doesn't work as a Godzilla movie for a great many reasons. But it works great as a simple, fun movie starring a big monster and its children. You get two scenes of Godzilla being destructive old Godzilla, then after the first hour the fun simply doesn't let up. Emmerich allows his bombastic side to take over, and so the cheese starts to get smelly. Any cheese nut will tell you that it's the aged cheese which the best. Although good old Big G isn't in a massive portion of the movie, his kids are more than enough to make up for his lack of screen time. They seem curious at first, but they turn out to be just like their parent in the end, eating any human being they happen to see. And the car chase at the end is well-choreographed and spectacular.
Godzilla may not be the same, but it's time to get over that. It's the name which is holding it down. But Emmerich's Godzilla has all the key ingrediants for an excellent monster movie. If you've never seen a Godzilla movie before, start with the real original from Japan, and look at Godzilla vs. Mothra or Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. This Godzilla is just a good-old fashioned disaster movie which makes the mistake of taking the name of a sacred cow.