Following the French atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, an unknown creature is spotted passingwestward through the Panama Canal. Scientist Niko Tatopolous is called in to investigate the matter, and he quickly arrives at the conclusion that a giant, irradiated lizard has been created by the explosions. Godzilla® then makes its way north, landing at Manhattan to begin wreaking havoc in the big city. Even with the combined forces of the U.S. military to fight the monster, will it be enough to save the people of New York?
Having already destroyed large portions of the world (and many of the most famous landmarks) with 'Independence Day,' the team of producer/co-writer Dean Devlin and co-writer/director Roland Emmerich set their sights on reviving 'Godzilla,' the iconic Japanese monster movie icon, for Western audiences. They failed, big time.
Part of the reason that 'Godzilla' was such a bust was the production team's decision to stick to their same tired formula (one that director Emmerich has repeated with his most recent, most laughable movie '2012'), in which one plucky scientist (in this movie Matthew Brodrick, in 'Stargate' it was James Spader and in 'Independence Day' it was Jeff Goldblum) discovers the key to bringing down the city-threatening event. Throw in their penchant for blowing up key buildings (here both the Flatiron Building and the Chrysler Building are brought down not by a rampaging monster but by the army's faulty missiles) and focusing on a kaleidoscopic array of characters (including Hank Azaria's news photographer and Jean Reno's shadowy French operative) and you've got everything that spells Emmerich/Devlin summer blockbuster.
Except, of course, it wasn't. If 'Godzilla' was a smash than this Blu-ray would be released alongside one of the film's sequels. As of now, the only thing the remake inspired was a minimally animated Saturday morning cartoon. Quite frankly, the goofy-scary climax to Steven Spielberg's underrated 'Jurassic Park' sequel, 'The Lost World,' packed more into its final twenty minutes than 'Godzilla' does in its entire 139 minute running time.
Revisiting the film, it's every bit the disaster that it was back in 1998. If anything, it's even worse, looking sillier and even more dated, like a long line of incredibly bad decisions. Why set the entire movie in a monsoon-like rainstorm? It makes the movie drab and oppressive. Why insist that Godzilla be a computer-generated character when, at the time, the technology wasn't up to snuff? Keep in mind that the original incarnation of the project, with a script by the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy screenwriters Terry Russio and Ted Elliot and direction by 'Twister's Jan de Bont, would have featured towering, real-life creatures by the legendary Stan Winston. (There's even a photo floating around online of Winston with a puppet of Godzilla's foe, called the Gryphon.) This would have continued the Godzilla tradition of the monster being a man in a suit, but with an updated design that would please modern audiences. More often than not, the Godzilla in this remake looks like a stampeding screensaver.
Combine all that with a truly awful screenplay (sample dialogue: "He's a burrower!" Ye gads!), some atrociously hammy acting (including Harry Shearer as a blowhard news anchor), and some comatose pacing, and you have a sludgy, nearly unwatchable monster movie that symbolizes the worst in excessive, artless Hollywood filmmaking. There isn't a moment of lighthearted fun in this entire belabored thing. For a supposedly joyous summer movie, it's a real drag.
It's saying something that diehard Godzilla fans have dubbed the creature in the American remake GINO, for Godzilla in Name Only, and that in Ryuhei Kitamura's 50th anniversary Godzilla movie 'Godzilla: Final Wars,' GINO fights classic Godzilla and gets put down in about ten seconds. After revisiting it more than ten years later and really feeling how awful the movie is, you recognize that those ten seconds the original Godzilla gave GINO were generous.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Godzilla' arrives on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc along with a digital copy. The disc automatically plays, ramping up that annoying Blu-ray ad from Sony that advertises cutting-edge discs like 'Men in Black' ("Go interactive - with Men in Black!") and runs a healthy 2 minutes and 27 seconds. The disc is Region free.
'Godzilla's 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer, in its original 2.39: 1 aspect ratio, is actually fairly solid. This isn't the knock-it-out-of-the-park home video presentation some might be expecting, but it's a perfectly fine transfer in its own right. (Especially of a movie I have no intention of ever, ever, EVER watching again.)
The movie is drenched in persistent rain, which adds a blurry, oppressive look to the entire film. While there is a fair amount of grain on the transfer (more than you'd expect for a relatively recent film), sometimes it became unclear whether or not the image was muddled or grainy or if it was just the added element of rain.
That said, other aspects of the transfer fare better. There are no wonky technical issues, skin tones look good, detail is heightened, and blacks are deep and dark.
The only other major problem has nothing to do with the crispness of the image, but rather the newly presented high definition presentation, in which the visual effects (of which there are many) look even lousier. Watch those baby Godzillas bouncing around Madison Square Garden and you'll wish Ray Harryhausen had bitch-slapped the filmmakers.
This is a solid presentation but far from noteworthy.
On the other hand, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is truly impressive. Literally from the opening frame, when the dirigible in the logo for Emmerich and Devlin's Centropolis Films production shingle flies through your living room, you'll know you're in for a treat.
This is one of those kick-ass mixes where, if you turn it up all the way, you'll probably get complaints from the neighbors, while at the same time there's enough nuance, subtlety and directionality of the mix that you'll actually be impressed, and not just for its sofa-shaking prowess.
Literally, the action sequences spring violently to life. Rubble cascades from buildings, suspension bridges snap and sway, and Godzilla lets out his piercing roar with such lifelike force that you'll wonder if the dinosaur-ish creature is in your home. There's always so much going on, with an emphasis on bowel-rattling bass that you'll wonder if you can take it all. You do, because it's that good.
That said, every effect is crisp and clear, the atmospherics (like that persistent rain) remain admirable and in the few sequences with dialogue, that too is crisp, clear and also well prioritized, even when competing with the on-screen mayhem. David Arnold's fantastic score, which is often overlooked, also sounds spectacular.
This mix really is reference-quality and was almost enough for me to watch the movie again. I said almost.
Also included are mixes in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
The extras included here are all ported over from the recently released 'Monster Edition,' with a couple of high-def exclusives, which we'll get to in a minute. This disc is actually lacking three episodes of the animated series, which was spun off from this 'Godzilla' movie, and a Production Photo Gallery - both of which appeared on the 'Monster Edition.' With all the time and work that went into this movie, you'd think there'd be some better behind-the-scenes stuff. As it stands, this is a pretty pathetic collection of extras, complete with a collection of disparate 'Previews' for stuff like 'Monster House' and 'Year One.'
Shockingly, the HD-exclusive extras suck just as much as the ones from the previous releases. If you have a PSP, though, you can beam the digital copy to your portable device if you have a PS3, which is kind of neat, I guess. It's also BD-Live ready, although no additional content was up at the time of this review.
'Godzilla' has one of the more kick-ass sound mixes that I've ever heard on the format, and while that is saying something, it doesn't eclipse the fact that the movie it accompanies is lousy, the video is only adequate, and the supplements (both traditional and HD) suck. So, I'll offer a recommendation of renting it (if you must). Take it home, invite your buddies over, watch 'Godzilla' tear up Manhattan in deafening surround sound, and then take it back (or slip it back in the Netflix envelope). Everybody wins.