Godzilla: 2000 (1999)

As I’ve said many times to my friends at Centropolis, nothing is better then seeing a daikaiju movie in SURROUND SOUND! Regardless of the movie’s quality, this is one movie ticket that’s going in my wallet. Right next to the ticket from my last Godzilla Theater Experience, two years ago.

And, yes, thank you, I did like Godzilla (1998). I’m not scared to admit it. But that has nothing to do with this review.

Okay, maybe a little. After all, if it weren’t for G98 (as it has become affectionately know), G: 2000 would probably not even exist, and it certainly wouldn’t be getting the red carpet treatment it’s getting from fans now. Especially not with the monstrosity that’s been released into American theaters.

Yes, after the waiting and the hype and the built up expectations, the theatrical release of G2k falls right smack on it’s face, thanks in no small part to a rushed script and one of the worst dubbing jobs it has ever been my displeasure to sit through. I’m disappointed…but more to the point, I’m mad. I hate it when a movie teases me with greatness. And oh does it teas, like a drunken cheerleader who absolutely knows just how hot she really is, and how badly you really want her. Teases you with the greatness that it almost is and it probably already was in its home country. But, like Godzilla: 1985 before it, the movie got pissed on by its American distributors. All because of the fact that it’s titular character is a guy in a rubber suit.

Wait. You’re probably getting the wrong impression. The movie isn’t all bad. Little pieces of what it once was and what it could’ve been shine through. From the pieces, I can see that the movie wasn’t exactly King Kong vs. Godzilla, but it doesn’t have to be. It would have been better had the movie tried to carve out it’s own niche in the G-universe rather than take a bold, opening stab at  Newness to cover up its own decided lack of original trappings.

Screenwriter’s Hiroshi Kashiwabara & Wataru Mimura seem to be going for that. Right off the bat they wipe out all the previous Godzilla continuity and start anew. In this move’s parallel dimension, Godzilla is a constant threat, so nobody’s all that surprised when he shows up. Keeping that surprise to a minimum is the Godzilla Prediction Network, a research team (seemingly made up of 3 people) that monitors the big lizard and tries to predict where he’ll land. Like that team from Twister.

In Bill Paxton’s role is the scruffy looking Yuji, leader of the GPN. Yuji is a bit out of favor with his colleagues and the government considering he wants to study Godzilla before the monster is blown to bits. Noble. A little stupid (considering how close he gets to the monster), but noble. Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe), one of those old colleagues, fills in the other end of the spectrum. Katagiri not only wants to kill Godzilla, he seems to have adopted a mentality about the whole subject more befitting Colonel Kurtz than at a hot, young salaryman. Sanctity of human life? What sanctity of human life? The script makes him so idiotically evil he need only a twirlable pair of mustachios and a suitably-bass laugh to complete his image. It already screams “Drop the bomb! Exterminate them all!”

Oh, and there’s Yuki, who will be our Reporter for the remainder of the film, in which she shall spend the whole flick trying to get a picture of Godzilla. Apart from being a girl, Yuki’s quest for G-snaps will stand as her only character trait. Okay, next topic.

Things are going just fine (meaning Godzilla’s risen from the sea to smash things once again) until a huge UFO rises from the sea floor and begins causing its own kind of havoc. Apparently powered by photosynthesis, the ship not only deals the G-man some serious punishment, it also settles itself on top of Yuki’s newspaper building and resists all human attempts to dislodge it. Once again, it falls to Godzilla to defend the Earth from alien incursion, and in the great tradition of alien races from the Godzilla-verse, the UFO grows it’s own monster from Godzilla’s cells to counter the G-man’s nuclear anger (like we’ve never seen that before).

The monster, Orga morphs to life in a great little CGI montage (tease of greatness) . . . only to come out looking like a juvenile Alien Queen. That’s one thing that can’t be lain at the feet of bad dubbing. The script lacked originality even before Tristar got their claws on it. Key scenes are lifted from, of all things, Independence Day. It’s as if the writers, and director Takao Okawara, looked  to beat Centropolis Entertainment at its own game of “paying homage” to so many movies the end product assumes a patina of originality. Sorry, guys, but we’re America. We built an entire country on unapologetic theft, and while Japan’s efforts in that regard are well appreciated, they tend to come to naught. (See, for example, the puppet states of Nanjing or Manchukuo.) So too here, where the attempt to pay homage only encourages viewers to scratch their heads and think back to all the other, better movies (daikaiju or otherwise) we could be watching at the moment, other than this.

Special effects are hit and miss throughout, though Toho seems to be learning from Gamera‘s recent adventures. Gone are the firecracker missiles and “futuristic-looking” laser tanks. In their place are CGI missiles (with CGI smoke trails) and realistic looking model tanks. Godzilla’s ray (volcanic yellow-white) boils from his throat like the dragon breath it’s supposed to be. And director Okawara gives us some of the most beautiful, almost downright naturalistic, shots in daikaiju history. G’s re-designed suit lends itself well to this, looking like a cross between his old, reptilian form from the early 60s, and his new reptilian form in that other movie no one likes. It’s impressive, at least. The neck looks especially versatile, while reduced bulk makes for more physical fighting. Those dorsal spines are out of control inspiring Space Godzilla flashbacks. Nothing’s all good here.

Here’s the Dark Side. Orga, ungainly alien-lookalike that he may be, is hardly a challenge for Godzilla. And Orga isn’t given enough screen time to be the villain he needs to be, making Godzilla hero by default (G’s best role). Plus, Orga makes the mistake of trying to swallow Godzilla head first, something that would win anyone a Darwin award.

Then there’s the UFO, which is so badly integrated into the flick that my date couldn’t help by laugh. I couldn’t help but join her. To say nothing of the fact that the UFO is nowhere near as menacing as the ships it blatantly imitates. And why doesn’t this thing cause, oh, I don’t know, gale force winds as it flies over Tokyo?

Godzilla’s face is not nearly as expressive as it once was, or Gamera’s currently is. At least the Mock Turtle can blink his eyes. Come on, guys, what’s the problem? This is a giant step backward from the Heisei series in terms of characterization, a critique I’d lob at the screenwriters as well.  Our human heroes are little more than a conglomerate of stereotypes, and like so many humans in these movies, the pitiful excuses for character archs  fall by the wayside to clear space for the Climactic Kaiju Big Battle. Not that we care, right? As long as Godzilla looks like a guy in a rubber suit…

It just makes me so sad. I wait all this time, and I should have waited for video. The script is weak (thanks to Toho’s own rushed production schedule), and made even weaker by the dubbing (thanks to Tristar’s). Oh, my Gods, the dubbing. Not even Godzilla: 1985 got the stick this bad. With lines like, “Why does Godzilla always protect us,” (said by Yuki as she watches Godzilla rampage through Tokyo, destroying everything he sees) or “There’s a little Godzilla in all of us” . . .  well, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

The Godzilla in me felt the strong urge to rampage through Toho’s studio complex, torching every producer I see, executive or otherwise. Runners blaze like human comets, Starbucks coffee cups melting like surrealist clocks in their fiery, Darkman hands. The Godzilla in me would then like to take quick swim across the Pacific, with Hollywood firmly locked in his sights. If those alien bastards aren’t going to do the job Roland Emmerich requested of them, then I suppose its up to us. Burn Hollywood, burn.

GG

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