Not This Again

Home studio Toho made mistakes with Godzilla. Born from radioactive fire and analogizing nuclear war, by the ‘70s, Godzilla actively defended the use of nukes. Luckily, Toho recovered.

Then Godzilla, a 1998 American bastardization with no heart, no sense, and genuine animosity for the character. The ‘70s were kinder, and that was a period when Godzilla learned to fly.

Godzilla’s a movie awash in crude lore changes, removing any American fault. The French – they popped nukes. That’s an alarming revision of history and shift in blame. Immediate post-Hiroshima popular media dodged showing empathy; by 1998, everyone knew better. Scenes of Chernobyl casually use marginally oversized worms to show fallout’s harm. Not Geiger counters, not hazmat suits. Worms.

When Godzilla jumps onto New York’s shoreline, he’s met with military might. Everyone involved is an ignoramus. The bumbling Mayor Ebert and useless assistant Gene (crass caricature in retrospect given Siskel’s passing the following year), a commander who can’t hold on to anything, and pilots who hit landmarks more than Godzilla. After all, why have the beast break up skyscrapers in a giant monster movie?

The idiots win though. By the end, Godzilla is defeated. Even at the most incompetent (like losing a 100-foot tall iguana in Manhattan), American might will shred any foreign threat. That goes for a creature previously depicted as nearly invulnerable, purposeful as to embolden the radiation metaphor. Not here. It’s okay France – America can police your errors. At least in Independence Day, the jingoism was upfront, absurd, and played up to entertainingly satirical extremes.

None of this considers the overall vapidity, from wasting Jean Reno in a thankless role or deciding on Matthew Broderick as the lead. In his first scene, Broderick drives through a downpour, humming along to “Singing in the Rain” playing over his headphones. That’s the joke. Because it’s raining.

Godzilla isn’t important here. He doesn’t represent anything. Nothing in his baseless movie does.

Godzilla never lets the rain stop. New York is besieged by water and thunder, seemingly a greater threat since Godzilla nimbly dodges contact with buildings. Overhead storms set an erroneous mood and tenor. It’s gothic and cold in aesthetics. Meanwhile, the hammy, farcical dialog plays up the worst of Hollywood tropes, notably a barren relationship between Broderick and co-star Maria Pitillo.

Editing on this movie was never finished. Between the busy visual effects and the immovable, over-advertised release date, Godzilla dropped into theaters with an agonizing 138-minute runtime, with an hour – right in the center – missing Godzilla. That’s for the best. Creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos deserves derision, imagining Godzilla as a mutant iguana. If so, it’s a wonder why only one iguana sprouted to life given the number of them depicted behind the opening credits.

After breaking through New York’s sewers, Tatopoulos’ design is seen in full for the first time, some 45-minutes into Godzilla. A symphonic score, suggesting majesty, roars to life. There’s no sense of dread or fear in the music; it’s awe and wonderment for this bizarrely malformed thing. Considering no one (not even scientists) preach about preserving the species, the score never fits either. Godzilla isn’t important here. He doesn’t represent anything. Nothing in his baseless movie does. Rather, it’s insulting, and doesn’t even understand why.

Video

Sony remastered Godzilla 4K a few years ago for a Blu-ray release. This is certainly the same master. Note a few things will naturally impact quality. French subtitles mar the image (first noted as Reno enters the hospital room) and some digital effects reduce available resolution. No amount of mastering can fix that.

For the rest, this is gorgeous. Ill-fitting as it is, the bleakness of New York in Godzilla benefits from HDR. Looming shadows display immense density, giving the look weight and stability. This isn’t one for highlights outside of say, gunfire or explosions, but depth is attained and preserved with consistency by way of pure black levels.

Preserved grain is pinpoint and natural from a Super35 source. 4K rendering adds sharpness levels rare to Super35, extracting details of the city and faces. Miniatures hold their own, while CG loses its edge with this presentation. There’s marvelous texture everywhere though.

Dominated by grays and blues, there’s little color impact although UHD brings organic flesh tones to the front. A few primaries show up in the first act, especially in the news room. That’s a fine intro for the designed blandness to come.

Audio

Always one of the home theater standouts, a new Atmos mix debuts here and once again, over 20 years later, Godzilla retains its power. Every Godzilla footstep brings hefty bass, powerful and rich. Helicopter engines push the low-end with tank rounds rattling any room. Explosions dominate. Madison Square Garden’s end is a prominent thrill.

In terms of position, few do it better. This is undoubtedly one of the top and most aggressive tracks for showing off rear channels. Persistent rain hardly stops, always filling the soundstage. Dialog scenes plant helicopters all over, panning about to maintain activity. When it comes to action, this is stellar. The key scene remains the helicopter chase, a mixture of all elements, with choppers bleeding over into the surrounds and stereos as they go. Gunfire switches channels as needed, as do Godzilla’s roars. When destruction comes, debris fields fall accurately. For the finale, infant Godzilla’s call out from each speaker. Splendid.

Extras

On the Blu-ray, a commentary, used since 1998 on the original DVD, features special effects supervisor Volker Engel and assistant visual effects producer Karen Goulekas actively chatting about their work. Behind the Scenes of Godzilla is a dated featurette with Harry Shearer in-character as he discusses the basics.

Godzilla’s All-Time Best Fight Scenes is a joke, using only clips from the Sony-owned Godzilla films, and mostly just the modern ones. The Wallflowers video for “Heroes” is up last.

Godzilla (1998)
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Movie

A ludicrous and insulting translation for American audiences, 1998’s Godzilla mocks the creature’s nuclear history – and it’s awful overall too.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 59 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: