I watched the 1998 version with Matthew Broderick because I could not find the original 1954 Gojira version anywhere on TV, or even the bastardized, Americanized 1956 version starring, of all people, Raymond Burr. And because I just wasn’t that thrilled with the Bryan Cranston 2014 version.
Let me say right off the bat that Godzilla will always be “King of the Monsters” to me. I grew up watching this guy destroy Tokyo, and breathe his “atomic fire” breath at all the planes and Army tanks that tried to kill him. Even though Godzilla was originally intended to be a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear annihilation, he quickly became a “good guy” in all of the sequels he starred in. It was always “Godzilla vs. The Bad Monster”. Whether this was a kind of political flip-flop on the part of the studio that owned Godzilla – nuclear power was bad, but now it’s good (doubtful) – or just that Godzilla was just so awesome as a character and as a monster that he transcended his original bad guy role. Personally, I vote for the latter.
Be that as it may, the 1998 version with Matthew Broderick was an odd mess. First, we have in Matthew Broderick, an actor who is gifted, and charming, but one who is best suited, in my opinion, to light comedy, ala “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” How he got the lead role in an expensive monster movie is beyond me. All I can think is that someone owed him money. His “smart, gentle science nerd” character fell flat. As in “from a great height” flat. Disaster.
Hank Azaria, on the other hand, as the TV station cameraman, Victor “Animal” Palotti, was great. I could watch him all day long.
The 1998 movie boasted a Godzilla redesign – faster, smarter and toothier – along with, mysteriously, a LOT of humorous bits in it, mostly with the characters’ names. The TV anchor, a deplorable human being played by Harry Shearer, was called Charles Caiman (an alligator-like lizard); then we had Mayor Ebert, and the actor looked a lot like film critic Roger Ebert. The mayor’s “sidekick” was a fellow named Gene, and he looked a lot like Ebert’s film critic partner, Gene Siskel. The French intelligence agents trying to help Matthew Broderick kill Godzilla also had “cute” names – Jean-Luc, Jean-Claude, Jean-Pierre, and Jean-Philippe. They were on a never-ending quest to find some “real” coffee in America. Ha-Ha.
This movie also suffered from a director who did not appear to take Godzilla seriously. Despite having directed some good movies — like “Stargate”, “Independence Day”, and even, “The Patriot” — this version of Godzilla was loaded with scenes showing how much Roland Emmerich just LOVED Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” Along with a nice dose of “Alien”- lust thrown in for good measure.
(And don’t even get me started on the whole “parthenogenesis” storyline in this version. While technically, some lizards do reproduce that way, it was obviously just an excuse to scatter the aforementioned “Alien”-like eggs all over Madison Square Garden.)
Since Japan was occupied by U.S. forces until 1952 – during which time there was a ban imposed on any, and all, information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including about atomic radiation and its lingering aftereffects – Japanese filmmakers who wanted to show the outside world all the horrors of the atomic bomb had to tread carefully. So it was in that repressive, tense climate that Godzilla was conceived. Designed as a complex, anti-war, anti-nuclear power, anti-U.S. – occupation, rocking, stomping metaphor, Godzilla kicks ass.
What I’m saying — Roland Emmerich should have shown a little more respect.