Thursday, August 19, 2010

Godzilla 2000

(In 2000, I won tickets to a special sneak preview screening of "Godzilla 2000". Here, then, is my next-day quickie review.)

Let's get one thing right out in the open. The effects aren't as good, the dialogue is clunky, and Matthew Broderick is nowhere in sight. And yet, this film is STILL ten times more entertaining than that so-called film Sony saw fit to inflict upon us two years ago.

Forget that wimpy computer-generated iguana. This is Godzilla as he's meant to be acted - by a MAN in a RUBBER SUIT. This is a movie where badly-dubbed scientists make dire predictions as a model Tokyo is destroyed behind them through the miracle of explosives and optical printing, where shots of panicky crowds are scattered like rice at weddings, in which even the uranium hell-beams of sixteen-million-year-old flying saucers from outer space are unable to destroy our big green hero.

There is no attempt to connect this film with any other Godzilla film, American or otherwise. So the last Japanese film, Godzilla Versus Destroyer, ended with Godzilla being destroyed? Big deal. Godzilla 2000 starts from first principles - there's a giant monster named Godzilla - and the ride starts there. Re-introducing Godzilla to America by ignoring every movie since the first one isn't a new idea - they tried it sixteen years ago with Godzilla 1984. It led to a new series of films in Japan which completely failed to make it over here except on video, and that wasn't until a few years ago. Will Godzilla 2000 open up America to new theatrical Godzilla releases? On the face of it, I don't think so; but on the other hand, Jean-Claude Van Damme movies keep showing up in the multiplexes, so who can say?

I'd say a few words about the plot, but let's be honest. This is a Godzilla movie; the plot of this movie is two guys in rubber suits pound each other while the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance. Sure, there's a conflict between the amateur science otaku of the Godzilla Prediction Unit and the Government suits who see Godzilla as nothing but a target. There's the dedicated Godzilla hunter who brings his little girl along in the minivan to chase down the big G, the intrepid reporter's award-winning photos are ruined by Godzilla's radiation, and the chief Government scientist is torn between friendship (saving friend) and duty (defeating invaders). In short, there's enough human interest to make us care when Godzilla destroys things. It's not as convoluted as, say, the time-travel back-and-forth of Godzilla Versus King Ghidorah, but that's a good thing.

Like all the best Godzilla movies, the latent heroism in the title character is brought out by the introduction of a monster that's even WORSE, in this case an energy-sucking whatever-it-is that crashed into the ocean millions of years ago. When our government pals dredge it up, they find out that their potential new energy source is instead a malevolent being from outer space capable of hacking into our computers, using up all of our electricity, and extruding parts of itself to form a really ugly giant monster that attempts to absorb Godzilla in one big gulp, meaning, we now have two giant monsters with which to destroy twice as much HO-scale Tokyo real estate.

I'll be blunt. If you're a Godzilla fan, you'll enjoy this movie, and if you think the whole idea is stupid, then you will not. If you expect Hollywood stars and Hollywood special effects then you will be disappointed; Toho's better than ever, but still not up to the standards of expensive old ILM. Old-time Godzilla buffs such as myself will enjoy G's updated, well-wicked look and the frequent directorial nods to classics like Godzilla Versus The Thing and Monster Zero. Of course, old-time Godzilla buffs will also be distracting their fellow movie patrons with comments about how Godzilla really could use Mothra's help or how the Super-X or a Markalite or two is really what's needed in this situation, so choose your movie partners with caution. The dubbing is adequate but rushed in spots, and there are several attempts at humor, some of which actually work. The effects are excellent for a Toho film, which is to say some of the optical printing is not quite as bad as it used to be. The model work is up to their usual high standards, and there's a fair amount of CG that works surprisingly well. On the whole, a lively and welcome return of the one, true, Toho Godzilla.

-D. Merrill