I don’t think there’s a way I can really objectively review this movie. There’s a lot of emotion tied up to this film for me. You see, Godzilla was a huge part of my childhood. I don’t know how I first came across him, but like characters like Batman or Superman, you just know who he is, because you’ve always known. I remember recess in the second and third grade, re-enacting classic Godzilla battles with a good friend of mine, play wrestling out in the yard, having to reassure teachers we weren’t actually fighting. I remember borrowing books on the guy from the library, to see pictures of monsters from movies that I didn’t have access too, Manda, Varan, Mothra. I remember owning three VHS tapes, Godzilla’s Revenge, Godzilla v. Gigan, and Godzilla v. Megalon and watching those three movies so much, not only were the cardboard cases that held the tapes nearly destroyed by the end, but I practically had the movies memorized. I drew pictures of him, I had toys of him, I wrote stories in my head about him. To a lot of people, Godzilla was just a goofy character that was to be enjoyed, but not taken seriously. To me though, Godzilla was an awesome, goofy character that was not only to be enjoyed, but enjoyed seriously.
Then a random year came about, 1998, and it became known to me that the guys behind Independence Day, a movie that young me found to be an absolute treat, were gonna be releasing a Hollywood budget, American made Godzilla film. The hype was real, the hype was inescapable, and since the moment I saw the teaser trailer where Godzilla’s foot stomps a T-Rex skeleton in a museum, I was wallowing in that hype. Then I saw the film. I don’t remember my exact reaction to it, I remember liking parts of it, but I distinctly remember leaving the theater feeling disappointed and confused. Why was he a she? Where’s the awesome fire breath? Where’s the giant monster battles? What was going on? Did the two who shall not be name not understand Godzilla or did they understand Godzilla, find him to be a joke, and then rewrite him because the real Godzilla wasn’t any good?
I’m ashamed to say, my love for Godzilla died a bit that year. I don’t know why, but that sub-par film made me look at that character in a different light, and suddenly, I had a hard time taking him seriously. I know that part of it had to do with the fact that by the time this movie came out, I was no longer an eight year old kid play fighting in school pretending to be a giant fire breathing monster, and I had long since put away the toys and the drawings, so the childhood magic and wonder, while not dead, wasn’t the same. But still. It’s amazing to think that one bad movie could ruin my love of something like that.
Then again, it’s amazing to think that one good movie could rekindle that love all over again. I can honestly imagine that Toho wasn’t too pleased with what those two did to their star character. After that movie came out, they rushed a script, slammed $13 million on the table, and said “We’re gonna make a Godzilla movie.” And they did. And they released it in American theaters. And I saw it. AND IT WAS AWESOME! This was the Godzilla I knew and loved, but sleek and modern and aggressive and angry and ready to kick ass. I loved every minute of it and this movie, this hour and a half or so of time spent in a theater on a Saturday afternoon not only erased ’98 from my memory, it revalidated and reignited my childhood love for Godzilla all over again. To me, Godzilla went from being a hero to a joke to a hero again.
Toho took some jabs at ’98 in this film, nothing I caught when I first saw it, but picked up years later. From subtle lines like “Everyone knows that when Godzilla attacks, he doesn’t retreat, he advances” to more overt hints like an alien that coincidentally looks like the aliens from Independence Day or a monster that tries to copy Godzilla’s DNA and ends up looking a bit like Tri-Star’s Godzilla in the process. I think the best part is, they don’t tease around that this is a Godzilla film, waiting for some dramatic reveal halfway in, but show him in all his glory in the opening scenes. They’re all wonderful little jabs, not petty, more tongue in cheek, and like a wink and a nod and a smile of friendship to the viewers who care about these kinds of things.
Wow. Look at this, five paragraphs already and all you get is me waxing nostalgic about my past and nothing really about this movie itself. Talk about a ramble, huh? You know, I’m just gonna say it outright. It’s a good film and a wonderful start to the Millennium Era. The plot is a pretty good alien invasion plot, where a group of scientists stumble upon and wake up a UFO that was sleeping at the bottom of the ocean for 60 million years. These aliens, being clever as aliens tend to be, end up hacking some computers to get more information about Earth and Godzilla specifically, all so they can terraform our atmosphere, copy Godzilla’s super special regenerative DNA, and take over the earth. The characters are all wonderful and their narratives intertwine in realistic and believable ways and everyone gets a good amount of screen time and appropriate focus and motivation. As far as Godzilla stories go, I think it’s one of the better written ones.
There are some flaws here and there. I think the biggest of which, even for being a low budget film from 1999, is that the CGI is very week in some areas. Very week. While it doesn’t detract from the story, it does detract from the viewing experience a bit, just because it stands out enough to be distracting at times. Additionally, like Godzilla v. Megaguirus, the fight choreography in the final battle between Godzilla and Orga is a bit oddly paced. While it’s not awkward, like in Megaguirus, it’s kind of slow and plodding, and while it looks great visually, it doesn’t really feel all that exciting.
That said, there’s some really great things to enjoy from this movie. Special effects wise, Godzilla and Orga’s suits look amazing and the city and destruction in the final battle equally look amazing. There’s a lot of attention to detail and with the amount of pyrotechnics used, as far as practical effects are concerned I think their special effects budget was well spent. Script wise, this movie also holds up, with an interesting and believable story with interesting and believable characters to carry the non-monster plot forward. Compared to modern action films, especially if you’re a fan of the MCU, it might seem a bit slow and dry, but honestly, there’s no rushing through scenes and relying on heavy exposition to drive the plot and for that, it feels like a more solid film.
I gotta throw a random aside. The special cells of Godzilla in this movie are named “Regenerator G-1” if you’re to believe the subtitles, but the characters say very clearly, every time, “Organizer G-1.” Hence, Orga’s name. The aliens are trying to steal Godzilla’s cells, they make a monster out of it. Organizer. Orga. Get it? I mean, honestly, they could have named him Regen for the American audience and that would have worked too, but I wonder why they renamed Godzilla’s cells and not Godzilla’s villain. Mysteries.
Look. If I were to rate this movie based upon how I feel about it, I’d give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. It’s special for me. But if I were to rate this movie based upon how I think you guys would feel about it, I’ll knock it down to a 3 out of 5. It’s a solid film, but it’s got a few flaws, so it won’t blow you away. But for me, this movie is more than just the movie itself. In a single afternoon, twenty years ago, it revived my love for a wonderful, goofy monster.