Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:12 - Released 5/20/98

As another cherished TV classic of the '60s-'70s comes to life on the silver screen, one looks back fondly on many Saturday afternoons spent watching a dinosaur-like puppet knocking over little pretend models of the Tokyo skyline. How cute he looked, sometimes a model, sometimes a man in a foam rubber suit, breathing fire and stomping around the city while hundreds of panicked Japanese people moved their mouths silently and then shouted with their mouths closed. And now, one thinks, what fun it will be to see Godzilla again, jerking along, scaring (but not killing) all those wide-eyed natives as his tail flops rubberishly back and forth.


In the computer-generated world of '90s special effects, that floppy monster is long gone. In his place we have a truly fearsome lizard with no heart, no personality, and no compassion. Where the fabled Godzilla of old was more amusing and sympathetic, sort of a Barney's Badass Brother, the new Godzilla is more akin to one of the cast members from Jurassic Park. Not that this is a surprise. That's the whole point, isn't it, of resurrecting him from the old days of stop-motion animation and introducing him to all the technological wonders of late 20th-century Hollywood? We want to make him scarier, bigger, more authentic, more real. Well . . . so he is, but something of him has been lost along the way.

I think the first mistake made by writer/director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin is to make this a human drama. Godzilla is and always was a cartoon--at least to Americans. Even if the Japanese originators intended him to be fearsome and realistic, the reason he had such a cult following among us baby boomers is that the effects were so hokey. So now that we have the effects at the ready, we must infuse the script with more humor. There is some there. But not enough.

Not that Matthew Broderick doesn't do a good job with what he's given. Broderick is great for comedy, and could have had a lot more laugh-out-loud moments if only they were there. He plays Nick Tatopoulos, a biologist working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, analyzing new species created by radiation. And he's got a whopper here. His ex-girlfriend Audrey (Maria Pitillo) is a newswoman who wants to lauch a career, and along with a photojournalist called "Animal" (Hank Azaria), she uses her former relationship with Nick to get an inside exclusive.

The movie is basically spent in New York City with the big beast looming and everyone either chasing or being chased by him. His size seems to vary from about 10 stories to about 100 stories high, and no weapons in the current U.S. arsenal seem to have any effect. After he is thought to be vanquished, our friends find a nest with about a zillion eggs, and the problem is multiplied.

Despite a long dead spot in the middle, this movie is reasonably entertaining. In addition to Broderick, Azaria also adds much needed humor, and there is plenty of high-tech warfare with the beast. If you like your movies big, loud, and shallow, you'll be like a pig in slop. If you remember the old Godzilla movies, you might be a little disappointed with what amounts to Jurassic Park in New York City. Of course I don't expect the '90s Godzilla to look or act like the '60s version. But at least he could have kept those beautiful bedroom eyes. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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