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Godilla: Monster Edition (1998)

When Godzilla first appeared in the summer of 1998, the Internet was flooded with commentary pointing out all of the plot's logic-bombs. You didn't even have to plunk down money for a budget matinee to nod in agreement: A reptile (even a radioactive one) isn't likely to lay eggs in such a non-tropical climate as New York; an over-the-counter pregnancy test designed to detect human hormones would be entirely useless to determine pregnancy in other species, especially cold-blooded ones. It was a nit-picker's feast. Nonetheless, there are plenty of movies out there that don't make any sense. Even Raymond Chandler admitted he didn't understand The Big Sleep, and he wrote it. Fiction is merely the suspension of disbelief. Keep the theme consistent, the protagonists interesting and sympathetic, and the action moving. Which, unfortunately, isn't much of a defense of Godzilla either. It's pretty hard to enjoy a movie when you find yourself aroused from a contented reverie by constantly asking "What the frick? Huh?" Matthew Broderick stars as Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, a biologist who finds himself abruptly pulled away from his tropical research by U.S. government officials who are worried about… something. Something big. A beached cargo ship is found with inexplicable gashes in its hull several stories high, which draws the attention not only of the Feds, but also Philippe Roaché (Jean Reno), a Frenchman posing as an insurance adjuster. Thrown together with a team of researchers, including Dr. Elsie Chapman (Vicki Lewis), the group can't decide if they're searching for a dormant dinosaur or a radioactive anomaly. But in short time the creature swims to Manhattan, where it unleashes the sort of indiscriminate, wholesale destruction that looks best on gigantic movie screens.

Godzilla does a better job of raising questions than delivering cineplex entertainment. And perhaps the most salient query concerns the creature itself: Are we meant to love 'Zilla, or should we hate him? His journey to Manhattan leaves us largely ambivalent, and even when he's wrecking Fifth Avenue it's hard to know if he's a calamity or genuinely amusing. When he first appears in full form, the orchestral score implies that we're in the presence of a noble creature. His curious encounter with Nick — and the scientist's ability to keep the military from shooting the creature — is one of the few genuinely interesting moments of the picture. Godzilla's further ability to outsmart the military (whom the filmmakers clearly want us to regard as incompetent buffoons) cause us to admire this radioactive reptile even more. When he's seared by missiles while helplessly entangled on the Brooklyn Bridge, it's oddly sad — and yet the moment is met by throngs of celebrant humanity, protagonists included, who look like they just killed a great big rat. It isn't even clear just what Dr. Nick thinks of Godzilla. A specialist in earthworms, we're led to believe that he appreciates diverse life-forms. But instead of insisting Godzilla be somehow captured, he cooperates with the military in a strategy of extermination — at best, it's a cheap excuse to avoid the larger ethical conflict of how scientists should deal with a new species when said species has just trod upon the New York Stock Exchange; at worst, it's lazy screenwriting. Smaller details fall by the wayside as well. Nick's love interest, Audrey (Maria Pitillo), is presented as a former girlfriend, but it's a pretext without a purpose — they could have been strangers who meet during the course of the story and nothing would have been different. There's one scene that's bound to make folks say "Hey, velociraptors!", while two bit parts are clearly meant to be prominent movie critics ("Hey, the bald guy and the fat guy!"). And Godzilla himself disappears for something like 30 minutes, but without any information as to his whereabouts, the opportunity to mine suspense from the plot is squandered for the sake of "fooling" the audience. In its way, Godzilla can be considered "entertainment," although it's not quite Saturday night with beers, and instead more like intercontinental flight with two Maker's rocks and a Vicodin chaser. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich are capable of setting up shots and putting actors in front of the camera, and post-production appears to be their raison d'etre. But as cultural recyclers, they don't think in terms of complete events, instead drawing bits and pieces from their collective memories to create a marzipan of myths — Godzilla might be fun at times, but it's merely fragments of complete ideas, which Big Summer Movies are perfectly entitled to offer amidst all of the noise and carnage.

Sony's "Monster Edition" single-disc DVD release of Godzilla offers only a few supplemental updates over the previously released disc, including "All Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes" (10 min.), three episodes from the animated "Godzilla" TV series (with expanded TV collections released concurrently on DVD), and a Production Art Gallery. Returning from the previous edition are a commentary by visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Karen Goulekas, a production featurette presented by co-star Harry Shearer (7 min.), the stills collection "Godzilla Takes New York," and The Wallflowers' video for "Heroes." The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is not promoted as improved from the original DVD, and while everything comes across well with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, the disc's menus looks largely unchanged, making this Godzilla DVD more of a re-promotion than a new special edition. Keep-case.
—JJB



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