“Godzilla is the son of the atomic bomb. He is a nightmare created out of the darkness of the human soul. He is the sacred beast of the apocalypse.” Tomoyuki Tanaka, Gojira
Flawlessly capturing the core essence of who Godzilla is and his irradiated roots, the above quote should be the criteria for any film maker given the task of bringing the world’s biggest monster to life cinematically.
Godzilla’s come a long way since first appearing in Tokyo to leave a radiant wave of horror and destruction in his ineradicable path. The film was handled with effulgent respect and care for it’s subject material. That’s what sets it apart from other monster movies of its time and has given a timeless quality that new generations of fans come to discover and embrace.
Gojira is a masterpiece and cinematic legend.
I covered Gojira, in Part I which you can catch up on by clicking here.
Now the movie we’re talking about today lacks both respect and talent. And even though I’m sure most of us would much rather prefer drinking a big steaming cup of nuclear waste than revisit this film ever again, we’re still going to take a look back at the Godzilla movie that enraged fans, disgusted Toho, and keeps popping up like a turd that just won’t flush.
(Sigh) let’s buckle in and just brace ourselves. Because if I have to do this I’m not doing it alone. You all are coming with me!
But wait. I’m sounding harsh. Let’s get this out of the way. “Do I hate this movie?” I know a lot of my readers are assuming I do and those of you who go way back with me and my early days of writing, you’re probably expecting this to be the newest article of me Manicing Out.
Surprisingly I don’t hate it. It genuinely feels like a ’90s blockbuster. It has that ’90s look and feel. But I’ll save my final thoughts, well, until the end. Let’s Time Warp in the meantime.
Coming of Age
It was the 1990s and us ‘80s brats were nearing adolescence which meant our world was changing. We were growing up and so were our toys as well as entertainment. We were big kids now and it felt like everything we loved was maturing right alongside us.
Thanks to McFarlane Toys our figures were going from badass and fun to badass and wicked! Our comics became darker with introductions of new anti-heroes spawned from Hell, The Killing Joke made Joker scary again, and Spidey had to deal with some Maximum Carnage due to an asylum out break in New York. Things were bloodier and more violent and we were not complaining!
Cartoons got edgier too thanks to Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. Video games exposed us to Mortal Kombat and Doom where we bathed ourselves in blood.
So I still say the ’90s was a great time for coming to age and we were lucky enough to be part of it.
Everything we loved was getting bigger, better, and way badass(ier). But what about Godzilla? After all, you’d think this decade would have been the radioactive-rich culture for a proper Godzilla resurgence.
From 1985 to 1998
For us US fans the last time we ever saw any sign of Godzilla was back in ‘85. The movie was released theatrically in US theaters, something that seldom ever happened, and I remember getting a copy of it on VHS and wearing that poor thing out.
Godzilla 1985 was an updated take on the classic monster and the beginning of the Heisei era. It was darker, bigger, and a brilliant return to formula. Godzilla felt intimidating and, well, scary! I LOVED IT!
Humanity could do nothing against this newly risen (or resurrected) beast of the apocalypse. Godzilla was back and I couldn’t be happier. The effects were updated and the story was dead serious, perhaps to a flaw. But Hell I didn’t care. My Godzilla had returned!
And then … there was nothing!
Without a single rumor of any follow-up films it seemed as if Godzilla would just stay buried at the bottom of the volcano that swallowed him up. Godzilla might as well have been dead.
Little did I know – during this dry spell – Toho was still actively making Godzilla movies. But with no internet back then fans like me had no idea the King of the Monsters was still around.
In that time my family moved us to Russia and I was completely out of the loop. I still had a copy of Godzilla 1985 though and watched regularly, and introduced my fans to my love for kaiju.
And then dinosaurs walked the Earth!
Dino DNA and Godzilla Comes to America!
We got one helluva great movie that revived dinosaurs for all of us little brats and made kids want to go dig up dinosaur bones. And that movie was Jurassic Park!
Kids were excited about dinosaurs again and studios took note. It wasn’t long after we explored that dino-raging park that it was announced a new (NEW!!!!) Godzilla movie was being made with the same special effects that brought those dinosaurs to life!
Please keep in mind I had not seen a new Godzilla movie since the mid ’80s. So I was besides myself when I learned that not only was a new movie in the works but it would have state-of-the art special effects backing it up!
This was the first time an American studio would have the honor to interpret Japan’s greatest monster for, what would doubtlessly be, a fresh new beginning for Godzilla.
This would be the Godzilla movie to define all Godzilla movies to come. We just knew it… what little we knew though.
The Showa era had ended before many of us were even born but we grew up in the radiant shadow of those films and their greatness. The battles Godzilla had with King Kong, Monster Zero, Gigan, Megalon, and MechaGodzilla were forever branded in our minds.
We were way-passed starved to see the new era of the King of the Monsters…and now looking back it makes perfect more sense why the ’98 disasterpiece left so many of us feeling kicked right between the legs.
It was a betrayal of our innocent trust.
This was one of the most anticipated movies of the decade. Toho was thrilled by the deal and couldn’t wait to see their prized monster introduced to a larger audience. For many American viewers, Godzilla was just a rubber suit and bad dubbing so this would be the first time to prove the might and majesty of the Child of the Apocalypse.
This project was a big deal to all of us… and it tripped on its own two feet and fell face-first into a pile of rat dicks.
Actually, it didn’t trip because that would imply it was an accident. No, this thing purposefully jumped headfirst into that dick pile and then dared to try and convince us it was some misunderstood masterpiece. And we weren’t buying what it was selling.
If you really wanna get mad you should just look and see what the movie almost was. But would I put you through that? I’m Manic Exorcism, of-fuking-course I am! So come on.
The Movie That Almost Was
Tristar purchased the film rights from Toho in 1992 with an elaborate plan to make a three-part Godzilla saga. Ambitious but not unobtainable. Today we’re seeing Legendary building a successful Godzilla trilogy of their own and fans praise their efforts.
The difference is Legendary, unlike Tristar, has respect and appreciation for the colossal task of bringing Godzilla to life. Their movies feel like fan-made monsterpieces and Tristar’s movie was nothing but a cash grab. One that never saw any future after its first film.
Originally the picture was set to release in 1994 with a lore steeped in Atlantian mystery. Godzilla would have been a magical product of Atlantis, a creature created to be the protector of the Earth.
Godzilla would have battled a brand new terror to the planet, a shape-shifting beast from the depths of outer space called the Gryphon.
One can imagine the Gryphon undergoing different evolutionary stages that would challenge Godzilla’s wits and might to find a way to ultimately defeat his newest foe. It sounds like a classic Showa Era showdown.
I especially like that Godzilla would have dealt with aliens again. Some of his greatest enemies come from other planets. So far so good.
It would seem the project was in safe hands with Jan de Bont set to direct. Godzilla may have gotten away from his atomic roots but overall the movie sounded like a hit waiting to happen.
The man in charge of bringing Godzilla to life was none other than Stan Winston!
That’s right. That guy! The man who brought the Alien Queen to life in Aliens. The artist behind the menacing presence of the T-800 from Terminator. And the very guy who made dinosaurs walk in Jurassic Park.
Stan Winston was going to design Godzilla and bring him to life for Western audiences. This was a big fucking deal!
Luckily concept art and designs still exist for this lost project.
And looking at the Godzilla designs Winston had in mind, well he looks damn good. You look at this and know you’re looking at Godzilla.
This movie would have worked and most likely would have inspired a franchise. This could have been just what we all needed.
(I wish it could at least have a comicbook adaptation. I would still like to see this project come to life somehow. It just sounds cool.)
So what went wrong? It really boiled down to budgetary issues. The project cost more than the studio was willing to pay and a new director and a new story were demanded.
And that’s where it all goes to shit.
Roland Emmerich was called in as director and since he had no more ideas as to how he could rip Star Wars off anymore (at least at that particular moment) he took over the most ambitious monster movie of the decade….yaaaay….
It was later announced that Emmerich had not grown up with Godzilla and admitted he had no passion for the project.
No passion and no respect. That’s a real nice attitude to have while directing a franchise that’s adored by millions across the globe.
A studio wanted money and the director wanted the same thing. What could possibly go wrong?
The New York Lizard
Whereas the Gojira serves as a catastrophic warning of impending doom at the hands of mankind’s carelessness, the 1998 film serves more like some big-budget sitcom episode. It has no political statements to make, there’s no philosophy behind it, and the human characters aren’t facing any kind of judgement-day peril at the hands of a beast born of atomic energy.
It’s only recurring message is French people can’t find good coffee in America. That and we see a lot of tuna as if any one of us gave a shit.
Ok, so I get it. It’s not always easy (I suppose) to have a powerful message driving your movie project. It could be argued that all the best ideas have already been used up. Gojira’s message was powerful and frightening.
So if it doesn’t have a message it had better have some badass destruction, right? And…no it doesn’t. Whenever the monster is on the screen it’s not ripping a path through New York’s plenteous skyscrapers. It’s not crumbling businesses, endangering lives, or burning the city to the ground. You know, like we’ve come to expect out of Godzilla movies!
In fact, the damage that is done is caused mainly by the military as they chase the big lizard through New York. That’s right, the monster doesn’t even fight the military but runs away like a wimp!
Such wasted opportunities! Could you imagine seeing the monster wreak havoc across New York? It was a chance to bring Godzilla to the States to do what Godzilla is known for. But instead, we got a scared lizard who was too busy laying eggs than actually living up to its titanic name.
Now let’s talk about the look. Yeah, there actually was some thought put into this thing’s appearance. Like they tried extra hard to fuck this up.
So ya know how Stan Winston was originally behind the project? Yeah, they let him go and Patrick Tatopoulos was brought in. Tatopoulos says Emmerich gave him specific direction for the monster’s look too.
Firstly, the monster was to run really, really fast. You know, like Godzilla always does. I mean you look at Godzilla and just think fuck! He must run so fast! Like I always think of Godzilla as a big-time runner. Like I mean Godzilla must jog, right?
Emmerich was also adamant that this wasn’t a monster but an animal. I mean it’s not like the guy was directing a monster movie or anything. And not just a monster movie but the most famous monster of all time! But Emmerich in his brilliance decided we deserved a movie about a very big animal lost in a bigger city. OooooOOOOoooooOOOOoooh!!!!
Not only that, but the monster’s stupid looking jawline was based on the tiger’s face from Disney’s The Jungle Book.
(Moment of silence) *pouring drink*
So never mind the fact there was a rich library of films to base your Godzilla movie on. Not to mention all the creative hands behind the Toho legacy who gladly would’ve aided their advise and input to help further this big-budget project.
Oh no, Emmerich thought it much too bothersome to look into the lore, look, and temperament of Godzilla. His team chose Disney as inspiration instead.
And those assholes knew the look sucked. They kept that shit hidden as best they could before the movie was released. Even though the advertisement for this film was ridiculous they only dared to show us the monster’s eye, or foot, or hands and claws. They knew they made a big mistake and it was way too late to take it back.
A week before the movie released I remember opening a magazine and seeing the first full glimpse of ‘Godzilla’ and thinking to myself, ‘are you fucking kidding me?!’ I thought maybe I was seeing a monster the real Godzilla would fight in the movie. But oh no, I was seeing a thing Emmerich thought was Godzilla.
If you’re disappointed in the monster’s stupid look you’re not alone. Every veteran Godzilla suit actor hated the Emmerich look. Haruo Nakajima, the original suit actor, said “Its face looks like an iguana and its body and limbs look like a frog.”
Shusuke Kaneko, the Heisei Gamera director had to say about it: “it’s not Godzilla, it doesn’t have his spirit.”
Bottom line: none of the kaiju masters of the past approved of ’98.
This monster can’t even breathe fire. It doesn’t rampage across New York City. It runs away from the military. It’s just a useless kind of beast. It is not Godzilla and Japan took care of that for us.
The Final Nail in Zilla’s Coffin.
Toho, the studio who owned the rights to the Godzilla franchise, was appalled by the movie Hollywood puked out. Toho was so pissed off by this American embarrassment that they set the record straight and removed the God from Zilla.
They even went out of their way to address this.
In the movie Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), it’s mentioned that a monster attacked New York and Americans confused it for Godzilla. But the monster who hit New York was a different monster called Zilla, not Godzilla. I’m hammering this in I know, but you get the picture.
Toho further erased Zilla’s dignity by forcing it to fight the real Godzilla in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). In that film, Zilla is straight away hit by a radiant blast of Godzilla’s atomic breath and explodes into little fried atoms. The end.
I know you want to see that. Here you go.
The worst part about this imposter film is for many this is the one and only Godzilla movie they will ever watch. This was a monumental opportunity to introduce new viewers to the world of giant monsters and it failed so fantastically.
Gone are the scenes that echo the results of atomic weapons melting a city as the Beast walks slowly along the glowing skyline. Gone is the desperation of man battling a nightmare of his own making.
Perhaps as a direct result of Emmerich’s stupid movie Toho began making all-new Godzilla films which are now known as the Millennium Era. And one of my all-time favorites is part of this section, Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla!
And thanks to Legendary we’re getting quality American-made Godzilla films in the MonsterVerse.
The ’98 film was a missed opportunity but great things have come out of it.
It makes me wonder what kind of American Gojira remake we could have had if the team behind it had taken the project seriously. You can tell they were mimicking the original movie straight away. It’s opening credits show us atomic bombs blowing the Hell out of an island and an iguana basking in the neon light. We all knew where that was going.
Then a fishing ship, reminiscent of the Lucky Dragon and the opening of Gojia, suffers a fatal collision with the monster made of radiation. The monster later arrives on land and accidentally breaks up the harbor and fishing district, kinda like when Godzilla brought a typhoon to the village when he first set foot on land.
Was this an attempt to remake Gojira? Yes, even if it was nothing more than a subconscious one. It could have been great but the damage it caused is thankfully contained. And Japan would later give us the true successor to the movie that started it all.
I don’t hate the movie. Oh it’s a helluva lot of fun to hate on it, sure. But It has a stupid kind of charm about it. I can look back on it now (and with so many newer Godzilla entries since then) and nod with nostalgia at it.
As a Godzilla movie it’s just awful. It doesn’t work at all. It sucks, it sucks, it blows donkey balls. But as a monster movie it’s not all that bad. If you can view it as only a monster movie then you’ll have fun with it.
It’s good to watch for some ’90s feels I guess. But I strongly recommend any and all of the Hesisei era Godzilla movies to this one if you want GODZILLA from that decade!
So stick with us and stay tuned for Part III as we take a look at the award-winning Shin Godzilla.
In the meantime I know what you all want.
Long Live The King!!!