Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Run Time: 132 minutes
Tagline: “1998. The year of GODZILLA!”
Like most Godzilla fans, I remember the 1998 Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich (D&E) version with loathing. So enraged was I after sitting through the damn thing in the theater I toyed with writing a review then and there. It would have been my first. But it was getting plenty of trashing already, and to do a proper job, I’d have to see it again. Heaven forbid!
But now, with the release date for the new Gareth Edwards version fast approaching, I finally have the psychological strength to revisit this movie. Is it as horrible as I remember? Yes. Maybe worse! It’s a 138-minute horror that cost over $100 million and has nothing to offer but incompetence, tedium, insincerity, bad comedy, and a general contempt for its characters and the audience. – Other than that it’s great, of course. But I say it’s time to bring this dead horse back to life so we can beat it to death again!
THE DEVIL’S RAIN
Right at the opening credits my Godzilla-fan senses start tingling. Look how small and well mannered the font for the title of the movie is. Note how little space it takes up on the screen, and how it isn’t accompanied by a big fanfare of music. To quote Luke Skywalker, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” The bad feeling grows to alarm when we see iguanas witnessing an A-Bomb test before they die. Then we see a surviving egg. Uh oh.
It is a dark and stormy night when a Japanese fish-canning ship is attacked and sunk by a giant, and mostly unseen, lizard-thing. (I’ll call the monster in this movie The Lizard from here on, because Godzilla is nowhere to be found.)
It is a dark and rainy afternoon when happy-go-lucky scientist Nick Tatopoulos (the unfortunate Mathew Broderick) sings “Singing In The Rain” (ha ha!) while digging up radioactive earthworms near Chernobyl. But his idyll is interrupted when a large silver helicopter lands behind him and out pops a battalion of machine gun wielding Russian soldiers. Next follows some jerk from the U.S. State Department barking out orders for Nick to drop the worms and follow him – no explanation. A nonplussed Nick follows as the armed soldiers grab all his things and carry them to the big silver chopper.
Matthew is no doubt wondering, “Did I just make a big mistake by signing on to this movie?”
The sense of wretched Hollywood excess is already overwhelming. Note how a battalion of armed soldiers is sent to pick up one peaceable scientist so the audiences will worry he is in danger – for all of two seconds. (Bulletin from the future: when Nick comes face to face with a 300-foot monster, there is absolutely no sense of danger. Bravo D&E!) Note also the pointless hostility of the State Department jerk. This is another favorite technique Hollywood hacks use to create “drama.”
Next we’re off to Tahiti, and one of the many, many, many, many helicopter shots we will enjoy throughout this movie. Later we’ll enjoy helicopter shots that include helicopters – but for now we have to make do with a helicopter-free helicopter shot. But we do have a caravan of expensive SUV’s that pull up to a hospital and disgorge what looks like a squad of French speaking hit men. The leader of this group manages to be butch and suave at the same time. (It’s Jean Reno.) Inside they find an old Japanese fisherman, a survivor of the cannery ship. While they videotape him, he babbles the name Gojira, over and over again. (I’m going to pretend he’s saying “Goku” over and over again, because he’s a big Dragon Ball Z fan.)
Jean Reno as a soulful French spook.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
Now we are in Panama and the military is still abusing Nick. They love to touch and move his things without permission while he scampers about in hesitant confusion. But at least Nick finally meets someone in authority who might tell him what’s up. It’s Colonel Hicks, but he’s both curt and coy. We get a lot of nonsense as they walk around some sort of work site and Hicks gives evasive answers to Nick’s frantic questions. (Why for Christ’s sake, why? This guy is a scientist sent to help you understand the problem! – Oh, never mind.) Then we get a big reveal – it turns out they are standing in a giant footprint! Only Nick is somehow unaware he has stepped down into it, and he cries up to the heavens, “Where’s the evidence?” When he finally realizes he’s in a giant footprint, he then rushes to explain this to Hicks – Wow. Note how stupid Nick is, and what a jerk Hicks is. It’s another lesson from the Hollywood Hack School of Dramatic Writing. At the same time, please note that they’ve just brought in a radiation guy, but no one is wearing protective gear. Hmmm.
Matthew’s suspicion he made a mistake grows into foreboding….
This is the footprint Nick did not notice stepping into.
Having successfully embarrassed Nick, for no reason, Hicks introduces him to his new boss, paleontologist Elsie Chapman, A.K.A. Boss Lady. (She’s played by the unfortunate Vicki Lewis) Looking through her stylish shades she’s unimpressed by Nick, because giant lizards are not in his field. Cute introductions over we find out that the giant Lizard walked all the way across Panama without ANYONE seeing it. Uh huh. Probably because it was a dark and stormy night. We leave this scene with a helicopter shot of helicopters flying over giant footprints. (You can play the Drinking Game with helicopter shots in this movie. Replace drinking with masturbation and you’ll be blind before the end credits – which in this context would be a blessing.)
It is a dark and rainy afternoon in Manhattan as “adorable” aspiring reporter and glamour industry slave Audrey (a staggeringly bad Maria Pitillo) carries bags full of groceries into her office. Once inside, she informs a colleague that it is expected to rain ALL WEEK. Clinical depression starts to settle in on the viewer. (Even though this movie is reported to have cost $130 million, most of it takes place in a heavy grey overcast, at night, in tunnels, or under water. Who knew drab claustrophobia could cost so much!)
Maria isn’t so sure this movie was a good idea either.
Groceries taken care of, Audrey pleads with her odious boss (an unfortunate Harry Shearer) for a chance to be a reporter, and not just his assistant. He agrees to help promote her – if she has sex with him. As she refuses the music tell us this is funny. Wow. (Remember, this movie was made in 1998, not 1958.) But don’t worry people, it’s OK. The odious boss suffers some karmic payback when he sits down next to his new co-host.
How embarrassing! And I’m sure this happens all the time on network television.
We are not 15 minutes into the movie and we are already drowning in Odious Comic Relief. Time to lock away the razor blades and sleeping pills. Really.
On to Jamaica, and more helicopters! And a beached ship with giant claw marks. Nice shot, but I’m already in such a foul mood I can’t really enjoy it. ERSATZ SPIELBERG ALERT: Watch this scene. Then look at the scene in Close Encounters where they find the ship in the desert. Notice any similarities? Now, stealing from the best is usually no crime – IF you also bring something of your own to the table. But this is just lazy and blatant plagiarism.
Nice shot. Note the helicopters!
On the beach, our bossy Americans are running the show without any help from the Jamaican authorities, thank you. But they freak-out at the sight of some strange white people taking photos. Accosted by Hicks, we see the Reno’s Frenchman. Now posing as an insurance agent, he fails to get any useful information out of the colonel, who orders all the Frenchmen off the beach.
“Product Placement Does Matter”
A clue! The beach is littered with lots of little BumbleBee tuna cans. Nick, being a scientist, is seemingly the only one noting this possibly important detail. Nick, being dim-witted, creases his brow in earnest concentration. What could it mean?
We next get an expensive and (I hate to admit it) well-done nighttime scene where Atlantic fishing trawlers are pulled underwater by something that has grabbed onto their nets. It’s not played for comedy, but for creepiness. After jumping ship and treading water, the fishermen hear eerie sounds coming up from the depths. If only the rest of the movie had been like this.
When news of this disaster reaches the investigation, Boss Lady, having only seen footprints and claw marks, proposes something called Seropidus Allosaurus as the culprit. (?) Yet even her paleontologist assistant can’t believe a dinosaur has been in hiding for “60 million years.” Then why is he there? Never mind, Nick is piping up about the “traces” of radiation. He’s worried that no one is paying attention to these traces. Good point, but why should they, since he isn’t either?
“This animal is much too big to be some kind of lost dinosaur,” he continues. (Oh yeah?) Noting the recent French nuclear tests, he floats a bold and startling theory that we have “A mutated aberration” on our hands. Well yes, weren’t you put on the team to investigate that possibility? (This script is so stupid I can’t believe it!)
And it’s not just an aberration, it’s a “a hybrid.” (A hybrid? Part Iguana, part…what?) “We are looking at a completely incipient creature. The dawn of a new species.” Cue tones of Awe & Wonder from the Ersatz Spielberg Library of Almost Original Music.
THE LIZARD OF WALL STREET
It is a dark and stormy afternoon in the “City that never sleeps.” That’s how the subtitles I.D. New York. Oh how cute! Inside that city, spunky Audrey sits down with gutsy gal-pal Lucy and her regular-Joe husband “Animal” (cute!) at a diner. “My life sucks,” she moans. (No honey, it’s the movie that sucks.) “Pal” Lucy briefly insults Audrey’s odious boss before she gets down to the real job at hand – namely, ripping Audrey’s ego to shreds in the name of Good Advice. Audrey will never succeed in this business because she’s “too dam nice. Nice gets you nothing in this town.” Lucy concludes with some go-go 90’s wisdom, “You’ve got to be killer to get ahead.” So…..Audrey should boink her boss to get that promotion?
Weirdly, Lucy’s pep talk doesn’t cheer Audrey up, but thank God for television. Audrey notices Nick, her old “college sweetie” as he walks by some news cameras with Colonel Hicks, and this gives her a chance to tune her friend out.
Down by the East River, a bedraggled and possibly homeless old man walks out to the end of a pier to fish in the pouring rain. “Today could be my lucky day” he sighs in answer to the cheerful insults of two homeless bums who are sitting nearby. Ha ha! He’s about to die horribly, but don’t worry, it’ll be really awesome, and funny too. That’s because he catches a 300-foot monster with his little fishing line! The little float, with the little bit of bait below, is bobbing on the water about 15 feet from the pier when it is violently pulled below the surface. (Wow!) Then, the bedraggled little old man tries to reel in his lucky catch, but the rod is pulled violently from his hands. (Wow!) THEN, way out in the middle of the river a huge swell materializes and starts to travel towards him. How the hell did the Lizard get out there? Oh, never mind. The enormous swell soon washes over the pier and our bedraggled old man tries to run away, but he’s not fast enough. Ha ha!
I freely admit that the huge swell of water traveling toward the shore is a terrific image, as are shots of the Beast rising up and walking over the Eastside Highway. But it’s typical of this movie that it would screw up the star’s arrival in New York with some weirdly cruel and badly staged comedy. I mean really. The Lizard has already trashed two very large ships, and dragged a whole fleet of fishing boats under water. We’re supposed to be impressed that it can rip a fishing rod from the hands of a little old man? Really? And what’s so funny about a poor old man fishing anyways?
Possibly the best image from the movie. (And that poor little old guy!)
Oh well, the “comedy” shifts its tone from weirdly cruel to cluelessly pathetic as we move to nearby Wall Street. Mayor Ebert (yuk, yuk!) is giving a speech where he gives a “two thumbs up” sign. (Yuk, yuk!) ….But then there’s another rare, good touch. As the Lizard approaches, cars near the event bounce up and down with each massive footfall. I hope you enjoyed that good moment. It’s the last one in the movie. OK, back to the scene – the monster is upon them! Then it walks by. Now it’s gone…and…cut!
Now the Lizard is walking quietly past the windows of Audrey’s office. Her odious boss is too busy yammering into a telephone to notice. Ha ha! Now the Lizard is gone…and…cut! (I remember my disgust breaking out into the open when I saw this in the theaters.)
Back at the diner, Audrey explains how she dumped Nick back in college. (Congratulations Nick!) Then the impact tremors from the footfalls hit, and everyone is confused and annoyed. We see the giant Lizard feet walk by, but this time something almost happens – a window breaks! Amazingly, people notice the feet, and the window, and Audrey even starts shrieking. Maybe she is too nice to make it in New York!
Animal races outside to get his camera, and we get a few coy glimpses of the Lizard’s giant tail as it disappears around a corner. As he runs off after the monster his wife shrieks at him, “Get back here you retard!” No PC bullshit for her! But she has a point, because after he magically catches up with the Lizard he nearly gets squished when it steps on him. Only the giant toes miss him, so he’s OK. Phew! Then the Lizard disappears around another corner. As it passes from sight its tail scraps a building, and a small amount of brickwork and terra cotta detailing falls forlornly down onto the street below…and…cut!
And so endith the most boring giant monster rampage ever put on film. In fact, it was more like a teaser trailer than a big set piece. And we saw it in the most expensive giant monster movie produced up to that time, and the first one to use state-of-the-art digital effects. WTF?
Wave goodbye to our star ladies and gentlemen, you won’t see it again for some time. (We hardly saw it this time!)
The sense of anti-climax gets even worse at the New Jersey HQ of our team. They are informed that the military has “lost sight of” the giant 300-foot Lizard that just came out of the East River. (!?!) This is a HUGE plot point, and for most of the remaining run time of the movie the authorities will be searching Manhattan, unsuccessfully, for a 300-foot monster. I feel like Robbie the Robot in a “That does not compute” moment. But Nick comes through with a theory: the great beast traveled half-way around the world to New York because it’s “just perfect” for hiding. – Uh huh.
All this is, of course, preposterous, but that’s not the problem. A 300-foot monster is also preposterous, and I have no problem with that. The problem is that D&E keep asking us to swallow stupid nonsense for no payoff. Why rush to bring your monster to Manhattan early in the movie, only to have it do nothing but walk past people? Why be so coy about showing us the whole beast? Why have it disappear? This all sounds like something the makers of a B-movie would do to deal with a money problem. But D&E had lots of money, and advanced CGI effects. The whole thing is confounding. (NOTE: I’m just guessing at 300 feet as the length of the beast. Its size varies widely from shot to shot, so who knows how long it really is?)
Another confounding thing about this movie is how long it is: almost two-and-a-half hours long, and we are barely at the 30-minute mark. Not being a sadist, I’m trimming a number of irritating characters, and a good deal of the horrible “comedy” from the rest of this review. FYI.
Back to the movie, where the monster is still in hiding, and everyone seems to be treating the event like a snow day home from school. At the undamaged TV studio, the power is still on, and jolly staffers cheer when Animal’s crappy, scrambled footage of the Lizard goes on-air. (D&E are still being coy about showing us the complete beast.) Seeing Nick again on TV, a light bulb goes on over Audrey’s head, and she tries to tell her boss she’s got a source inside the monster investigation team. Being stupid as well as odious, he blows her off without a thought.
More helicopters! – Manhattan is evacuated even as the giant Lizard is still in hiding. But we do see a big hole in the Met Life Building, so we can infer that the great beast jumped through it. Now that would be spectacular! Did we see it? No!
More helicopters! – Odious Mayor Ebert, and his assistant “Gene” (ha ha!) pop out of one and are intercepted by Reno’s sneaky French spy. He skillfully plants a mini-microphone onto the back of the Mayor’s collar. Down in the subways (which are running just fine! – and I’ll return to this point later) the horrid Lucy eggs on Audrey to forge a press I.D. so she can get into the Anti-Monster HQ. Lucy keeps popping up for the rest of the movie to provide an insulting picture of New York and/or New Jersey “spirit,” but having savaged Audrey for being a wimp, and then pushing her into fraud, her job is done, and we can forget about her. (Thank God.)
I don’t love Lucy
In a secret HQ of their own, Reno and his crew of sneaky French spies are suffering from New York’s bad coffee and lack of croissants (ha ha!) while they listen in on a meeting at the Anti-Monster HQ. In that meeting, colonel Hicks tells the frantic and obnoxious mayor that they have, get this, “strong reason to believe it may be hiding inside a building in the restricted area.” Again, wow. But not to worry, the military is sending out teams of men to check every building! This begs the question, how does one confirm whether or not a 300-foot monster is hiding inside a building? If you merely open the front door and look into the lobby, is that enough? Or must you walk up to the attic to do a thorough job?
Well, at least everything is under control, what with those teams of soldiers checking all the buildings in the “restricted area” to see if they are concealing a 300-foot monster. But now a frazzled junior officer (F.J.O., from here on in) appears and tells Hicks they have a “problem.” Oh no!
More helicopter shots of helicopters flying over Manhattan! – Down on the streets, F.J.O. leads our investigation team down into a wrecked subway station. Turns out the 300-foot monster did not disappear by hiding in a building, but by digging down through the subway tunnels. And no one noticed as they evacuated Manhattan – BY SUBWAY! The level of “fuck you” contempt this movie has for its audience is just amazing. (Pardon my French.)
Poor Nick, for about the 10th time, gives a look that communicates surprise, disbelief, and general confusion. This is a feeling I have shared with him since the start of this movie. But colonel Hicks attempts to distract us by yelling at the F.J.O. -Find some way to keep the thing from leaving Manhattan by tunnel, he barks. “Ha-Ha-How?” quavers the F.J.O. “Fill them with cement! Anything!” – As we’ll see later in the movie, the F.J.O. “forgets” all about the order.
Nick recovers from his stupor just in time to shine! “He’s not some enemy trying to evade you. He’s just an animal,” he asserts. While he has just put his finger on one of the fundamental problems with this movie, it does seem “the animal” is indeed trying to evade them. No matter, he then suggests finding what the “animal” needs and luring it out. If you remember, he noticed the cans of tuna at the site of the beached ship – but no light bulbs go on over his head. However, in another part of the tunnel, military flashlights reveal living (?) fish flopping about on the broken concrete. Can our heroes put two and two together?
One of the movie’s awesome and expensive sets.
SEE SPOT RUN
It is a dark and stormy night when the military set its trap for the giant lizard. With more helicopters! And now we have tanks too. As the military dumps tons of fish onto the street in front of the Flatiron Building, and as the French Spy continues to suffer from terrible American coffee, Nick buys a little Kodak disposable camera in another “witty” example of product placement. Nick will stop frequently to take annoying flash photos for the rest of the movie.
Well, the fish are dumped on the street, but still no monster – excuse me, hybrid incipient animal. But inspiration strikes and Nick directs the soldiers to lift up the manhole covers. This shrewd move baffles the military brass! Yet now that the smell of fish is traveling through the subway tunnels, our monster soon appears with a mighty rumble and a cracking of sidewalks. Yes, NOW it’s apparent where the 300-foot lizard is digging!
As the great beast heaves itself up onto the nighttime street we finally get an almost good look at the thing, and more cues for Wonder & Amazement from the Ersatz Spielberg Library of Almost Original Music. Design–wise the beast is OK. But Leaping Lizards, this is not Godzilla.
This is about as good as it gets, monster-wise.
Nick snaps a shot with his product placement camera, and attracts the attention of the 300-foot flesh eater with his flash. He seems surprised when the animal focuses in on him to investigate. (Dr. Nick is a sweet guy, but a very dim bulb.) Alas, he is not eaten. Nothing against Nick, but I’m dying for the monster to do something. Anything! But it doesn’t. It just looks at Nick. Nick looks at it. And we get a wonderful moment from the Ersatz Spielberg Collection of Almost Genuine Emotions as they gaze dumbly and pointlessly across the great divide between Man and Beast.
This touching moment is interrupted when Nick notices that some nearby soldiers are getting ready to open fire, even though he is only 10 feet away from the Beast’s head. Showing a surprising degree of common sense, he gives a little hand wave to imply that would be a bad idea. Amazingly, the soldiers see this small gesture, in the dark, and do not open fire.
Yet… For of course they will open fire. But first a joke, as the F.J.O. looks at the giant Lizard and stutters a classic from the Ersatz Spielberg Library of Almost Original Jokes, “We need bigger guns!” (Another drinking game! – Guess which Spielberg movie they are ripping off now.) The military then waits a couple of beats to give the audience time to laugh before it finally opens fire. The Lizard ducks and the Flatiron Building goes up in impressive flames. Less impressively, the Lizard runs off. D&E were very proud of their running Lizard. They thought it would wow the audience, God knows why.
Are you ready for another let down? The Lizard does briefly stop running to roar at a convoy. Some cars near its mouth get caught up in its breath. They flip over and blow up. The CGI flames are pretty, but have no effect on anything. So much for Godzilla’s signature radioactive fire ray.
Back to the chase, and the ever present helicopters. They shoot, and miss, and shoot, and miss as the Lizard dashes around corners like a pickpocket evading the police. Then they launch some missiles – which destroy the Chrysler Building. Oops. Seems the pilots were using heat-seeking missiles to destroy a cold-blooded reptile, and only after firing the missiles did they realize this wouldn’t work. Well, live and learn. (Nice effects of the spire hitting the street below though. Must have cost several million dollars. Don’t suppose they could have spent that on, say, showing the Lizard punching through the Met Life Building? Never mind, just a thought.)
Distracted by the sight of their missiles blowing up a skyscraper, the helicopters lose the 300-foot monster that is their target! Flying down the streets, low and below the tops of the buildings, the pilots are baffled and confused. The military’s incompetence in this movie is truly awesome, if not wonderful. When they see a big hole in a building (more off-camera monster destruction!) they fire blindly into it. Nothing happens, which convinces the lead pilot to exult, “I think we got him!” Ha ha – the jokes on him, because the Lizard is hiding in the building behind him! (!?!) Out it leaps – yeah, right – but at least it is actually doing something. It knocks down a couple of the helicopters, and chases after a 3rd. This leads to a fever-dream of stupidity as the low flying chopper keeps zigzagging at mouth level. Turning a corner the monster disappears, again. The pilot breathes a sigh of relief – and doesn’t see that the 300-foot lizard is crouching down just ahead. When he flies over the great beast, his chopper is destroyed in one bite. – Watching this on streaming video again, I remembered how incredulous I was in the theater. Did a $130 million movie just toss that kind of shit at me? Yes, it did!
Victorious, the lizard affectionately hugs a skyscraper in the murky gloom of this movie’s never-ending night and gives a great roar. After which it promptly goes back into hiding. This is a truly disgusting movie.
Hug your favorite skyscraper tonight – if you can see it, that is.
Back in New Jersey Nick goes to a drug store and asks for a home pregnancy test kit. Yes – a pregnancy kit. Does this ever make sense? No. But it does give Audrey an opportunity to run into him by chance. And so the weird and dismal romance between our two leads begins. Remember, “nice” girl Audrey needs Nick as her inside source, so she asks him if he’s still mad that she dumped him without warning or explanation 8 years ago. He is. So she gets hurt and defensive. “Some people change,” she pouts, without showing any evidence of this. “Some don’t,” he justifiably answers. Stung by this proof she wounded him, she gives that classic non-apology-apology, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.” Have you fallen in love with her yet? Nick has, the poor schmuck, all over again. He gives a genuine apology and offers to make her some tea. Realizing she’s “in,” “nice” girl Audrey lights up with a big smile. (EEEEEEK!)
Back at his tent, Nick happily blabs everything he knows to Audrey, who told him she’s a reporter. Think about that. Granted, a lot of what he knows would be obvious to anyone watching the TV News, but still. He tells her that the lizard “eats lots of fish. That “he’s amphibious,” and “a burrower.” And now for a new development; looking up from his store-bought kits, Nick announces that, “he is pregnant.” “He?” she says. “He. A very unusual he.” No mention of what inspired Nick to check for pregnancy. But now a light bulb goes on over his head, and he gives another rationale for having a Pacific monster travel to New York – “He’s nesting.”
OK, time out! Just when you think the coke-addled Philistines who made this piece of expensive crap can’t trash Godzilla any more, they pull another one. Let’s review:
1. Godzilla is not a dinosaur, but an iguana.
2. Godzilla is not an awesome and destructive force of nature, but a shy and colorless recluse.
3. Godzilla has no radioactive fire ray.
4. Godzilla has just been given a sex-change operation.
D&E sort of acknowledge they went too far with this last one by having everyone refer to the Lizard as “he,” even though it’s a she. All very weird and very “1984,” as in “peace is war” and “freedom is slavery.” And again, this is a truly disgusting movie.
Anyways, Nick leaves the tent, and Audrey sees he’s kept lots of photos of the two of them together, proof of his continued love for her. Then she sees a video-tape marked Top Secret – which she promptly steals to launch her career as an investigative journalist. Have you fallen in love with her yet?
No monster, but plenty of helicopters!
Back in Manhattan we get more helicopters! But the monster has “disappeared” again. Seriously. Even knowing that a 300-foot monster is digging around under the mid-town area, our military cannot find it. Seriously. And we are treated to a surreal and baffling scene that demonstrates how this could happen. Two soldiers, armed with flashlights, walk down what looks like the inside of a gigantic pipe. One stops, for no reason, while the other moves forward about 20 feet. The forward soldier sees that the pipe is blocked by something. Without examining the blockage, he turns around and heads back. Behind him the “blockage” reveals itself to be a giant eye. Slowly, silently (?!?), the 300-foot monster moves away. Neither of the two nearby soldiers notices anything……As I said earlier, D&E didn’t care. They just didn’t care.
Don’t turn a blind eye towards giant monsters! Or do. Who cares?
Up above, the astoundingly incompetent Hicks is still in charge at a briefing when Nick drops his bombshell about the pregnant male monster. This leads to much talk about asexual reproduction, because Nick is convinced there cannot be another giant lizard out there. His conviction is interesting, because if one 300-foot monster can hide in Manhattan, couldn’t another one be out there somewhere in the world? No time to ponder that, because Nick explains that the fish down in the subway mean that “he” is preparing to feed “his” young. So they must search for the nest ASAP! The military, of course, rejects this advice.
ONE OF OUR MONSTERS IS MISSING
Up above, “killer” Audrey has failed to parlay her stolen video into a promotion, because her odious boss finally gets to screw her – professionally, not sexually. In a crowded bar full of remarkably unworried “refugees” she watches as her boss steals her scoop. (All everyone does in this movie is drink and watch TV! – Nothing wrong with that, of course.) They are also watching this report at the briefing, because someone there magically knew it would be important. When Nick’s revelation about the pregnant male monster is included everyone turns on him. Knowing he’s been screwed, professionally, not sexually, the now fired Nick leaves the meeting. Whether or not he understands how stupid he was is anybody’s guess.
FYI – the monster is still AWOL.
I’m not sure why, but I find this “TV News” graphic hilarious. Note the radiation sign that’s added to give a sense of menace. Ha ha!
Leaving the HQ in a taxi, Nick runs into Audrey again, by chance! It’s another big scene. He “never said it was off the record” she volunteers. When this doesn’t work she brings out the violins with an anguished confession of professional failure. Her tale of woe climaxes with, “That’s why I needed the story so bad. I just couldn’t tell you I’m a failure.” Holy cow! But before judging her too harshly, let’s re-work it a bit and see how it plays:
1. That’s why I knocked you over the head and stole your wallet. I just couldn’t tell you I’m broke.
2. That’s why I falsely accused you of child molestation. I just couldn’t tell you I’ve embezzled the company funds.
3. That’s why I burned down your house. I just couldn’t tell you I’d stolen your furniture.
Oh, I guess that’s not so bad after all! But Nick is petulant and immature, and he doesn’t forgive her. Even though she feels really, really bad – for herself. So off he goes in a taxi. Which turns out to be driven by our French Spy! (We learn his name is Philippe.) Thus is Nick kidnapped by the French, which is OK, because they seem to be the only competent people in the movie. But not too competent, for our master spy does not notice he is being followed by Animal. Why did Animal drive off after Nick? Because he heard everything while standing some 30 feet away from the unhappy couple. Right. And he’s so offended that Nick is offended by Audrey’s betrayal, that he’s going to drive after the guy and give him a piece of his mind… Uh huh.
The upshot of this is that Animal spies on the spies, and learns of their plan to search for the giant lizard eggs – with Nick along to guide them. (Nick presses them on why they are acting in secret, but given how stupid the U.S. military is in this film it seems the only way to go. And Philippe, in wanting to “clean up the mess” created by France’s nuclear tests, shows a degree of conscience that Animal would probably disapprove of.)
FYI – the monster is still AWOL. But not Audrey – I just can’t get enough of her! Following her whiny confession to Nick, she whiningly confesses to Animal that she regrets what “she’s become.” Animal displays that American talent for turning a pep talk into a reprimand against ethics by snapping, “You made a mistake. It happens!” But she sobs on, “I totally screwed up with the only man who will ever care about me.” – from hard-driven, if sleazy career woman to insecure boy-crazy ditz in under 60 seconds! Neither she, nor the movie, have any idea what professional pride is.
It’s hard to describe how bad Pitillo’s acting is here. She manages to sound immature, insincere, self-pitying, and manipulative. It even feels like she could be making a play for Animal! Actually, that makes it sound like some sort of thespian masterpiece, and maybe it is, but it’s still amazing that Emmerich allowed it into the finished movie.
Happily for Audrey, Animal, who is remarkably un-busy for a news cameraman during a giant monster invasion, can help. He proposes that they sneak into Manhattan to spy on Nick and the French spies. He heard they plan to start at the 23rd Street Subway Station, so finding them won’t be a problem! Uh huh. Once they do meet up, she can “make it up to him.” Uh huh. So later that day, or early the next day, who knows, he takes her to an unguarded and unlocked entrance to a rail tunnel which goes under the Hudson River to Manhattan, and “should connect with the 23rd Street Subway Station.” Uh huh. (Remember Colonel Hick’s order to fill all these tunnels with concrete? No? Good.)
At the French HQ we’ve finally moved past the croissant and coffee jokes. Now we’re on to chewing gum. They chew gum to “look American.” (My stomach is starting to hurt.) The gum, some stolen uniforms, a (hilarious!) Elvis Presley accent, and the ever-present incompetence of the U.S. military ensure that they get past the checkpoint and into Manhattan. They drive to the subway station and clamor down into the darkness. At almost the same time Audrey and Animal arrive, having completed their 5-mile underground walk from New Jersey in great time.
More excitement and spectacle from Devlin & Emmerich!
Finally, our hybrid animal decides to re-enter the movie, and with some noise and a little vibration the gigantic yet elusive beast crawls past our heroes. Nice to see that the enormous spines on its back don’t bring the entire city down on everybody’s heads, BTW. Then it climbs up to the street through a gigantic pre-existing hole, and disappears. That was exciting!
The mighty Lizard crawls past our heroes. Seriously, this is a screen shot from that scene. (Keep repeating to yourself – “$130 million. $130 million. $130 Million.)
SEE SPOT RUN. PART TWO
Once above ground, the Lizard’s magical powers of invisibility disappear, so the military can once again lock on to their target. Displaying some new, if primitive, powers of reason, they plan to wait until the Lizard enters Central Park – before shooting at it with weapons that miss cold-blooded targets. So AGAIN, it is a dark and rainy night, and AGAIN, the military sets a trap for the Lizard, and AGAIN search lights are aimed at the great beast (?) – and AGAIN, it runs off with low-flying helicopters chasing after it. And AGAIN, the missiles miss the monster and blow up buildings. Am I really seeing this, or have I gone mad? I feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”
From the Flatiron to Central Park, it’s deja-vu all over again! (Just to play fair, I’m providing a screen shot of a rare instance where we can actually see the monster.)
Something different does finally happen, or does it? The monster jumps into the Hudson, and this lets some Navy submarines shoot torpedoes at it. But a strange and horrible sense of deja-vu returns as AGAIN the military’s weapons fail to hit the beast, and this time blow up a submarine.
Fortunately for the Navy, the Lizard, still under water, tries to borrow back under the city. This gives them a stationary target, and for once they manage to hit the proverbial side of a barn. The Lizard, poor thing, proves no match for conventional weaponry and, all blowed-up, sinks to the bottom of the river. The all-purpose Awe & Wonder theme from the Ersatz Spielberg Library of Almost Original Music plays loudly on the soundtrack.
Just kidding! No, we’re not going to get off that easily. In fact, we have almost 50 minutes of run time left in the movie. 50 minutes!?!? Yes!
It’s time, sigh, to return to the subway tunnels. Again. And to our cast of delightful heroes. Sigh. It’s kind of like going back to prison. But anyways, they separately notice a big hole in the roof of the tunnel, and this turns out to be (big music fanfare!) Madison Square Garden. Animal, seeing that the Garden is trashed is “now pissed.” Ha ha! Once inside, they discover that the remarkably intact Garden is full of giant lizard eggs – in short it is now an ersatz nest of Alien eggs, a la Ridley Scott. (Congratulations Mr. Scott – you somehow broke through D&E’s Spielberg fetish!)
It’s interesting, in a useless sort of way, to note that the Lizard knew exactly where the Garden was located!
As the French go about setting plastic explosives, an egg near Nick hatches. Right on cue, the others do too. Nick realizes that they all smell like fish, and Philippe suggests they leave. Good thinking!
The gloomy egg-laden Garden. Assuming this is not a mock up, it’s the movie’s big climatic set. I’m playing fair by showing the best screen shot I could get. But I don’t buy for a minute that the Lizard could fit in there to lay those eggs.
Now we return to Ersatz Spielberg Land, and lots of running and chasing as the velociraptors, I mean baby lizards, prove to be more menacing than their parent. But not to worry, only the French extras get eaten. (No doubt they taste better than the Americans!)
During all of the running and chasing our two groups meet up, and the noble Philippe tells the Americans to find a way to alert the military to bomb the Garden, while he and his remaining extras hold the fort. A lot of run time is taken up by a lot more running, chasing, product placement, and stupid jokes, but I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say everyone ends up at the broadcast booth, and Audrey gets her big break into television. Yeah!
Once on live TV, Audrey and Nick redeem themselves to the world and each other, and they nobly beg the military to blow up the Garden even if they are still inside it. OK by me! Alas, they just make it outside before the Air Force blows up this “treasured” New York landmark. (Joking! The horrid building looks like a giant toilet. I’m surprised the Lizard didn’t use it to take a dump.)
Oooh, that felt good.
THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE MONSTER
OK readers, we’ve reached the home stretch – the long, dark, rainy, boring, weirdly repetitive home stretch. Our heroes are breathing a sigh of relief when the Big Lizard makes a “surprise” reappearance. Rumbling up from underground, it sees its dead babies everywhere. Then it notices 4 little humans gaping up at it like idiots. Being smarter than your average colonel, it pins the blame for the murdered babies on them, and gives chase.
You might think that would be the end of our band of happy warriors. If a 300-foot monster is standing 50-feet away and decides to kill you, that would seem to be it – but not in a D&E movie. Our 4 escape by running down a narrow alley, and driving off in a taxi! Again, wow. The Lizard, suddenly as incompetent as the military, misses again and again as it chases the taxi all over town. My head hurts, again, so I won’t go into details, they are just too stupid. But while still in the taxi, Nick manages to contact the military, and together they decide the taxi should lure the Lizard out onto the Brooklyn Bridge so the Air Force can destroy it.
Unbelievably, they do – Audrey and Animal comically arguing about what road to take the whole damn way. At the entrance to the bridge, however, the Lizard pulls its old “pop out of nowhere” trick, and snatches the taxi into its mouth. That would seem to be it, again. But not in a D&E movie! While the Lizard was able to destroy a military chopper with one bite, now it is unable to crush a taxi, despite chewing on it for what seems a good 10 minutes. Grabbing a live cable out of nowhere, Nick shocks the Lizard in the gums. Dropping about 50 feet down onto the road, tires and passengers intact, the taxi drives off across the bridge! …Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.
Seems we’ve entered the world of old Hanna-Barbara cartoons, and I am officially going on strike. Fuck you D&E – if you don’t care, neither do I.
The monster gets blowed-up, again, and dies. – OK, that’s that. Who wants some pie?
Even more heartbreaking than the death of Kong in the 1976 remake fiasco!
P.S. – Down below in a basement of Madison Square Garden, an undamaged egg hatches with a sequel-ready baby Lizard.
Sean Ledden (May 2014)
God that was awful. And it went on forever! (Why? Why??) And while everyone is now free to run joyfully into the light of a new Lizard-free day, I hope you’ll stick around for the autopsy. Hold you noses, I’m going in!
I’ll start with the cast. For the most part they are professionals slumming for a decent paycheck, and you can’t fault them for that. Whether they play stuttering idiots, course buffoons, or hostile blowhards, they may not be much fun to watch, but they deliver what the producers want. Of all the cast, Jean Reno may come out the best. First, he’s a good actor, and second, his character is surprisingly competent and principled. He even manages to survive all those horrible coffee, croissant, and chewing gum jokes. (FYI – My favorite Jean Reno performance is as a rueful veteran of the Cold War in John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin,” also from 1998. It’s a terrific spy thriller with an amazing chase through the tunnels of Paris that is done with stunt driving, not CGI. Check it out!) Poor Mathew Broderick came in for a lot of ridicule, and true, his performance doesn’t really succeed, but he’s never annoying, even in a role that is too cute, and too clueless by half. To appreciate this, just imagine the following actors in the role of gullible nice-guy scientist Nick:
The stand out, in a bad way, is Maria Pitillo. I’ve never seen her in anything else, but it’s clear she was immature at the time the movie was made, and didn’t show much talent. Add that to a terrible script, an annoying character, an incompetent director, and you get a jaw-droppingly bad performance.
On to the money. Show me the money! Well, this movie does that. Sort of. I mean, it’s obviously an expensive production, but it lacks the satisfaction of well-done spectacle. For instance, it has a number of very large and costly sets. But they are things like wrecked subway tunnels, or egg-laden sports arenas. (As I noted in a caption, the Garden set might even be a small mock-up.) And as shown on the screen they are really nothing more than large, gloomy spaces filled with trash. Meh.
Which brings us to the monster, which is mostly conspicuous by its absence. When it does show up we only get glimpses on rainy days, rainy nights, in dark tunnels, or underwater. All the better to avoid expensive details like skin texture. How much did this thing cost again? The official number is $130 million, and I’ve used it a lot in this review. That’s over $200 million in today’s money. And they still couldn’t give us a convincing daytime look at the star of the movie? You know, I have no inside information on this, but I can’t help suspect that the official movie budget we have is inflated bullshit.
Speaking of bullshit, how about that script? Inspired by a “who cares, its just a stupid movie” philosophy, it makes every mistake imaginable. It has off-putting characters and stupid hand-me-down jokes. It has no villain, since it tries to make the monster sympathetic – by making the beast passive, dull, and without any character whatsoever. Its “rampage” in New York is treated as a joke, as is the military incompetence responsible for most of the destruction. And so, having killed any possibility for genuine tension, we get those endless and breathless shots of helicopters flying around doing who knows what. The final indignity, and piece-de-la-resistance of cartoon silliness, is the giant Lizard’s failed attempt to destroy a taxi-cab.
This script is so bad, in fact, it holds a morbid fascination for me. Something this awful couldn’t be the product of chance, could it? Like the Bermuda Triangle, it cries out for explanation. I’ve mentioned in a previous post my theory that D&E were so angry at being consigned to the sci-fi ghetto by Hollywood, that they destroyed their own movie in an act of perverse retaliation. It’s either this, or something to do with aliens and time travel.
Yet for all its horrible qualities, this movie does have its defenders. Over at IMDb it currently enjoys an unbelievable 5 out of 10 star rating. And someone, either a legitimate member of the Great Unwashed, or an undercover PR flack for the studios, recently posted this gem of lowbrow praise:
Alright, I’ve had enough. Godzilla was a GREAT movie, and I’m just sick and tired of all the critics and others who view the movie as a complete disaster due to its lack of a story and other problems.
Personally, I don’t care. The movie, from day one was meant to be just a big effects laden action movie. It’s just for fun. I understood the story. The movie should just be viewed as a fun, blow everything up in your way movie. Don’t be so hard. Sit back and enjoy.
I hope the alien overlords from the Beta-Delta galaxy never read this, because that will be the day they finally decide to blow up the earth. Which would no doubt be “fun,” and which they could “sit back and enjoy.”
OK – first off, I think I’ll call this guy (surely a man who wrote this) on his lie about “not caring.” He starts off with “This is a GREAT movie,” so we know he does indeed care. And we know that he loves to roll around in manure. Which is all perfectly A-OK. Only he gets all pissy and sensitive when some people start holding their noses.
No, the D&E movie was never meant to be a highbrow masterpiece of subtle human psychology – which is something I understand he doesn’t understand. It’s a genre entertainment – but genre entertainment is not another way to say “lazy, cynical, unimaginative shit.” Good genre filmmaking respects the audience by serving them a plausible story, even when starting with a fantastic or preposterous idea. The original “King Kong,” “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” and the original “Godzilla” are all smashing entertainments – and all are completely impossible. But in each case you can tell the cast & crew worked hard to create a sense of excitement or even dread, and a key way they did that was to keep the story as consistent and plausible as possible. It’s also clear that each film respects its monster. They didn’t tell themselves, “all we have to do is throw some missiles at it, blow up some buildings, and the audience will be happy.” In each movie the monster’s impact on humanity is important, and the monster itself has presence, mystery, and dramatic or even symbolic meaning. Unlike the poor thing in the D&E movie, which has nothing.
Some might argue that D&E can be forgiven because they went for comedy, not drama or tragedy, but again, comedy is not another name for “lazy, cynical, unimaginative shit.” “Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster” is very light hearted, has some pretty goofy stuff, and the duel between Godzilla and Rodan is staged as comedy. But it’s one of my all time favorites. The humor isn’t a lazy excuse to trash the premise, but a way to bring optimistic fun to Honda & Company’s colorful adventure of giant monsters, alien prophetesses, and international assassins.
D&E, on the other hand, insulted us all by spending an obscene amount of money on something that is dull, smug, repetitive and empty. The commercial tag line was “Size Does Matter,” but the spirit of the movie is “Nothing Matters.” Except the box office returns of course!
In “Ghidorah” the alien prophetess goes to Mt. Aso, a live volcano, to warn that Rodan will soon emerge from it. She is ignored by the prosperous tourists who surround her, but one man’s hat gets blown down into the crater. His wife starts nagging him to climb down and get it, but he isn’t very enthusiastic about that. Then a day laborer comes up and offers to climb down for 1000 yen. Suddenly, the wife becomes parsimonious, and she has her husband bargain the poorer man down to 200 yen. He’s desperate for money, so when the prophetess warns him not to do it, he shrugs her off and descends down into the crater. This is the last mistake he will ever make.
It struck me the day laborer could be the inspiration for the poor old fisherman who “catches” the monster, and is the first to die when it comes ashore. These two scenes give a master class on how to do it, and how not to. Built into the “Ghidorah” scene is a nice little jab at the petty selfishness of well-off people, as well as the self-defeating tendency of the working poor to ignore the Big Picture, and their own best interests. In contrast, the homeless men in “Godzilla” are merely a bunch of comically dirty losers. The sad old man who goes fishing does it merely so D&E can stage their clumsy little joke with the fishing rod. The men’s just off-screen deaths are also treated pretty much as jokes. – “Nothing Matters,” indeed.
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