[Screen It]


(1998) (Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A small team of specialists tries to find a reptilian behemoth that's ravaging Manhattan.
Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (MATTHEW BRODERICK) is a biologist from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who's studying the molecular effects of nuclear radiation on earthworms near Chernobyl. Suddenly whisked away by Colonel Hicks (KEVIN DUNN) and his military team, Nick discovers that he's been called in for a bigger problem. It seems that a several hundred-foot tall reptilian behemoth, called Godzilla by a survivor, has attacked a Japanese ship.

Paleontologist Elsie Chapman (VICKI LEWIS) thinks Nick is the wrong guy for the job, but the radioactive debris left by the beast confirms Nick's belief that they're dealing with a completely new species of animal. Worst yet, its trail of destruction is heading for Manhattan.

Back in the Big Apple, a young and eager research assistant, Audrey Timmonds (MARIA PITILLO), is begging her boss, TV news anchor Charles Caiman (HARRY SHEARER), for more exposure, but he's too busy and vain to help her. Once Godzilla roars into the city and destroys big parts of it, however, she believes she's got her scoop.

That's because she and Nick used to be a couple years ago in college and when she sees him on TV, she sets out to find him. Learning that Nick believes that Godzilla can reproduce asexually and may have already laid many eggs, Audrey airs that story. Even so, no one, including Mayor Ebert (MICHAEL LERNER), believes that notion, and all it does is get Nick kicked off the case.

Philippe Roache (JEAN RENO), a French secret service agent who's working undercover as an insurance company representative, however, scoops up Nick and they set off to find Godzilla's nest. Worried that she may have ruined Nick's career, Audrey sets off with her cameraman, Victor "Animal" Palotti (HANK AZARIA), and follows Nick and the French team through a harrowing journey in and under New York. As the military deals with Godzilla above ground, Nick and the others must deal with both the beast and what they find in its nest.

If they like/love the original and quite campy Japanese "Godzilla" films, or have been subjected to the massive hype surrounding this movie, they probably will.
For sci-fi monster action/violence.
  • MATTHEW BRODERICK plays a somewhat nerdy biologist who believes Godzilla has laid eggs and races to discover them before they hatch.
  • JEAN RENO plays an undercover French secret service agent who helps Nick find those eggs.
  • MARIA PITILLO plays an aggressive TV research assistant who behaves unprofessionally so that she can possibly get her first big break as a TV reporter.


    OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
    I'll be the first to admit that I'm a big Godzilla fan and have been since I begged my father to take me to see "Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster" back when I was eight-years-old (a brave and generous move on his part). He had no idea what the film was about and told me that I had to keep my eyes open for the whole movie (I did, except during the preview for "Tales From the Crypt" which was quite spooky for a kid my age in those days of the early 70's), and of course there was absolutely nothing at all scary about Godzilla.

    The creature (clearly a man in a rubber suit) was even campier than the original who had debuted some eighteen years earlier in the original "Godzilla" (better known in native Japan as "Gojira" the domestic release hit American shores two years later with added Raymond Burr scenes), but the big guy was still as much fun. Equally goofy and charming, and eons before Barney or "Jurassic Park" was even a glint in their creators' eyes, the big, lumbering fella (with a penchant for throwing in some martial arts moves), entertained kids of all ages with appearances in some twenty-two films.

    So, with much excitement and trepidation about how the filmmakers were going to update my childhood favorite, I attended the screening. Well, to no one's surprise, the guy in the rubber suit is gone (replaced by computer generated images), they have reduced Godzilla's height (from the original 400 feet), and he's been changed into something of a hermaphrodite. This new condition which would make for an interesting topic on a midday talk show, "My childhood movie monster is now a he/she" not only adds some extra complications for this movie, but opens the doors for the inevitable sequel.

    That said, this isn't your father's Godzilla, and unlike the big lug from the past, this one is anything but loveable. Essentially a supped up, oversized byproduct of an iguana mixed with a T-Rex, Godzilla is now nothing more than a wild animal on the loose. The filmmakers, however, and for whatever reason, have removed any sort of "fun" personality traits, and instead have made the creature quite intelligent without any proper explanation. Not only is he able to dodge missiles fired at him, but he's also smart enough to lead a volley of torpedoes back toward the attacking subs (he must have watched "Jurassic Park" and figured he must outdo the raptors who -- also inexplicably -- figured out how to open doors in that film).

    That's not the biggest problem, however, as director and co-writer Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "Stargate") along with his producing partner and co-writer Dean Devlin (with the same credits) have taken this movie's slogan of "Size Does Matter" a bit too seriously. That, combined with the sloppiness and errors usually found in early Screenwriting 101 projects, makes for a Godzilla with a lot of bark, but little bite.

    Just like any novice screenwriters are apt to do (and just like they did in "Independence Day"), Emmerich and Devlin have liberally "borrowed" so many scenes from other movies and then just increased their amplitude that this should be case study of how not to write a screenplay. Of course this film will make a gazillion or so dollars at the box office thus insuring that these two won't care and that future filmmakers will copy this formula.

    For those who do care about the cinematic pillaging, here's a quick look at the looting spree. From "King Kong" they've obviously borrowed the New York "concrete jungle island" concept and have replaced biplanes with helicopters and jet fighters for the big finale atop another landmark piece of architecture.

    From "Jaws" they not only steal and then modify the film's best line, "We're gonna need a bigger boat" (substituting gun for boat), but they also lift the scene of the creature destroying a dock and nearly getting the man on it. Additionally, they copy the scene where Bruce the shark pulls the Orca backwards through the water while Robert Shaw and company try to cut the lines. Here, they've made it three boats that get pulled under water (because, you see, Godzilla is bigger than a great white shark -- don't forget that saying about "size").

    The most obvious pilfering, however, obviously comes from the "Jurassic Park" movies. Not only has Godzilla been sent to Weight Watchers (he always was a little chunky), but he's been remodeled into just a bigger and meaner T-Rex. Of course that doesn't prevent him from chasing after vehicles just like in "Jurassic" (including nudging a taxi with his head), nor does it keep the filmmakers from stealing the horrific thundering footsteps that made water ripple in Spielberg's film, but here have to make cabs bounce off the street.

    Finally, there's a whole long sequence that just an amplification of the wonderful raptor scene from "Jurassic," where we have scores of similar looking critters that look and behave just the same (screeching, banging at and denting doors, snapping at each other, etc...). Come to think of it, they should have just named this movie "Jurassic Central Park."

    The bad part about all of that is the scenes don't have as much impact as they should since we've already seen them in other movies. Worse yet is that Emmerich and Devlin were so busy raiding those other movies that they forgot to pay attention to the rest of their script that should have included an interesting plot and non-stereotypical, developed characters.

    Essentially a find and chase or be found and chased by Godzilla (or other creatures) plot, there's little room for anything else. A subplot about a failed romance between the human leads is given neither the time nor thought to be anything near convincing, and as an afterthought it only bogs down the film's momentum.

    Not surprisingly, the performances are quite wooden, with Matthew Broderick ("Addicted To Love," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") leading them off in his horribly miscast role. I'm assuming that the filmmakers were going for that Jeff Goldblum type of quirky nerd performance, but as much as I've liked Broderick's previous performances, he's the wrong guy for the part. Instead of Goldblum's fun reactions, we're left with Ferris and his limited array of astonished expressions.

    Jean Reno ("The Professional," "Mission Impossible") brings some class to the cast -- and presumably is supposed to be the macho hero -- but his character is so underwritten he can't do much with it. Maria Pitillo ("Bye, Bye Love") is not very good in her stereotypically written role, and even Hank Azaria ("The Birdcage") is left high and dry from the lackluster writing.

    Perhaps sensing this, Emmerich and Devlin try to throw in some humor, but like most of the rest of the film, it falls flat. Attempts include Reno's French character continually complaining about American coffee, people mispronouncing Nick's last name, and repetitiously boring bits featuring the "thumbs up" Mayor who's named Ebert, and his partially bald assistant Gene (gee, I wonder who they're supposed to be?) that aren't anywhere near being funny and certainly didn't elicit even a chuckle from our audience.

    The only thing that works in the film are the special effects and fortunately they are quite spectacular. Forgetting for a moment the "Jurassic Park" comparisons, the scenes of Godzilla racing and smashing his way through Manhattan are a lot of fun as is most of the end of the movie (as long as you can turn your brain off the creature that can outrun an attack helicopter can't catch a taxi driving down a debris filled street). Kudos should go to cinematographer Ueli Steiger and effects supervisor Volker Engel (and his company of visual artists) for capturing and creating some wild cinema.

    Unfortunately, effects alone don't make for a good movie. If Emmerich and Devlin had created some original set pieces (instead of stealing, borrowing or paying homage to others), the film might have been more enjoyable. Yet there are so many other plot and character problems scattered throughout the production that even such remedies probably wouldn't have saved the picture.

    Moderately thrilling whenever Godzilla is on screen, but comatose when he or his offspring are not, the film might fit the bill for those looking for brain dead escapist pleasures, but will probably insult nearly everyone else's intelligence just as is expected from a summer blockbuster film. We give "Godzilla" a 3.5 out of 10.

    If you or your kids were scared by the dinosaurs and suspense scenes in the "Jurassic Park" movies, then the material in this film might be too much for them or you. Although it's not crafted as intelligently as the scenes it's copied from those movies, the filmmakers have cranked up the mayhem, size and number of the beasts and the scenes where they chase people. While some kids will groove on all of that, younger kids might find all of it overwhelming.

    Beyond all of the mayhem, destruction and related scenes, the rest of the film is relatively mild. Profanity, while varied, doesn't include any use of the "f" or "s" words, and the film's sexual content is limited to a few bits of innuendo. Drinking and smoking are barely present and there are only a few bits of bad attitude. Even so, and mainly due to the rather intense and often long monster chase/suspense scenes, you may want to carefully consider whether your kids (or you) can handle the film's intense material.

  • Some guys on a fishing boat have beer on the table while they play poker.
  • An old fisherman on a dock drinks something that may be liquor, and some other old homeless guys drink from brown paper bags.
  • Godzilla has some bloody wounds on his side after being hit with missiles.
  • Audrey's boss, although married, says that he'll discuss the future of her career over dinner at her place (he says it as a "come on").
  • Animal's wife playfully calls him a "crazy WOP."
  • Audrey steals her boss' press pass so that she can get in on the action. Later, she steals Nick's top secret videotape and broadcasts a story for which he didn't give permission.
  • We briefly see two guys looting a store after everyone has evacuated the island.
  • The very religious might not like the following: Upon hearing that Godzilla probably reproduces asexually, the mayor asks, "What is this, the Virgin Lizard?"
  • Audrey's boss steals her news story and delivers it on TV as his.
  • Most of the following will be quite scary to younger kids (on a stepped-up level from the "Jurassic Park" movies), but older kids will probably like it and not be frightened. If your kids were scared by the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park," they'll definitely be scared here. Also, if the theater you're seeing this in has a loud sound system, the overall effect will be that much more frightening (pounding and reverberating footsteps, loud roars, massive destruction, etc...).
  • Godzilla's huge size and menacing appearance (something akin to a T-Rex mixed with an iguana but on a gargantuan scale) may scare younger kids (both when we see only glimpses of him, as well as full body shots), but older ones will probably find that he looks "pretty cool."
  • Additionally, the many scenes of Godzilla crashing through buildings and running from or attacking the military forces, as well as a prolonged chase of Nick and his crew in a taxi cab will probably be rather tense to many viewers, and especially younger kids.
  • A mostly unseen Godzilla attacks a large ship (at night during a rainstorm) and knocks the ship and the crew around. Finally, a large clawed hand rips through the ship.
  • Three fishing boats pulling a large net are suddenly pulled backwards through the water. As the crews desperately try to cut the lines, the boats are all pulled underwater.
  • A huge mound of water (caused by Godzilla) approaches a fisherman on a dock and then rips through it as the old man tries to run back to shore.
  • Godzilla ravages Manhattan and much destruction follows. A man hangs and then falls from his truck that Godzilla has in his mouth. Some people are squashed under the giant reptile's foot and Animal nearly gets stepped on himself.
  • The street cracks open underneath Nick as Godzilla rises up through the street. Nick then takes a picture and the flash draws Godzilla's attention and Nick has a very close encounter with the beast.
  • The military opens fire on Godzilla with machine guns and missiles that miss the beast and destroy many buildings instead. Additionally, Godzilla causes more destruction as he flees the attack, but he also breathes a wide path of flame that kills many people and he also destroys several helicopters, killing all of those on board.
  • Audrey and Animal follow Nick and the French team through the debris filled subway tunnels and the fact that it's dark, wet and that monsters may be lurking nearby may unsettle younger kids.
  • The military opens fire on Godzilla again, as do several submarines (in an underwater sequence where a sub is blown up by torpedoes).
  • Nick, Philippe, Audrey and Animal find themselves in Godzilla's egg nest that's filled with six to seven-foot high eggs that begin to hatch. After that, there's a quite long sequence where the foursome must avoid the many creatures (very similar to the raptor scene in "Jurassic Park" multiplied by many more creatures) that lash out at them, pound and dent locked doors and chase them throughout Madison Square Garden as they try to get out before the military destroys the building.
  • The "smaller" creatures (six to seven feet tall) attack and kill several French team members (most occurs off camera but we hear screams and crunching/biting sounds).
  • Godzilla chases the foursome in their cab through much of Manhattan (cornering them in a tunnel where he tries to get at them with his jaws or clawed hand, later nearly crushing the taxi in his jaws, etc...).
  • We see several nuclear blasts going off (which is Godzilla's genesis).
  • Machine guns/Missiles/Helicopters/Jet Fighters/Tanks/Torpedoes: All used to fire upon Godzilla and they consequently destroy much of the city when they miss.
  • Phrases: "Dope head" (not referring to drugs), "Sucks," "Scum," "Dog crap," "Douche bag," "Bastard," "Geez," "Crazy WOP" (what Animal's wife calls him), "Freakin'" (instead of the "f" word), "Moron," "Screwed up," "Pissed," "Shut up," and "Idiot."
  • We briefly see two guys looting a store after everyone has evacuated the island.
  • A few scenes might make the youngest of kids jump (huge claws suddenly come through a wall, or out at another person, etc...), but they most likely won't affect older kids or adults.
  • The film contains an extreme amount of action-oriented and traditional suspense music, particularly at the end.
  • None.
  • At least 15 hells, 11 damns, 2 asses, 1 crap, and 10 uses of "Oh my God," 2 uses each of "G- damn," "Jesus," "God" and "Oh God" and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ," "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," "Holy Christ," "Oh Jesus" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • On TV we see part of several Sumo wrestlers' bare butts (as they wear the traditional wrestling costumes).
  • Animal's wife tells Audrey that her boss only sees her as "a pair of breasts."
  • When Animal's wife tells him that Audrey is spending the night with them, he jokingly says, "Great. A threesome. I'm a little tired, but..."
  • Upon hearing that Godzilla probably reproduces asexually, Audrey asks, "Where's the fun in that?" Later, the mayor asks, "What is this, the Virgin Lizard?"
  • One of Philippe's assistants smokes a few times.
  • Philippe opens a pack of cigarettes, but doesn't smoke.
  • None.
  • The effects of radiation on living creatures.
  • Creatures that can reproduce asexually.
  • Godzilla attacks a freighter ship (and presumably kills all but one of the crew).
  • Godzilla sinks three smaller fishing boats (by pulling them underwater).
  • Godzilla surfaces in Manhattan and by simply running down the streets causes a great deal of destruction to buildings and vehicles. In addition, people are squashed under his enormous feet (not graphically seen) or by falling debris, cars, etc...
  • Animal's wife smacks him on the back of his head.
  • The military opens fire on Godzilla with machine guns and missiles that miss the beast and destroy many buildings instead. Additionally, Godzilla causes more destruction as he flees the attack, but he also breathes a wide path of flame that kills many people and he also destroys several helicopters, killing all of those on board (none of the deaths are actually seen).
  • Godzilla has laid waste to the subway tunnels as he's burrowed through them.
  • The military opens fire on Godzilla again, as do several submarines (in an underwater sequence where a sub is blown up by torpedoes).
  • Godzilla's offspring attack and kill several French team members (most occurs off camera).
  • The military blows up a large building with missiles (that kills many creatures inside).
  • Godzilla causes more damage as he chases a taxi before being shot with missiles that critically wound him.

  • Reviewed May 19, 1998

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