Saturday, 21 September 2013

Godzilla (1998)

Roland Emmerich's stab at Godzilla is desperate to stress its weaknesses. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, the film spends an inordinate amount of time in the company of sitcom rejects hamming up an ugly New Yorker routine. Godzilla seems to think of itself as a Big Apple slice of life comedy that just happens to have a mammoth lizard in it - Friends with a radioactive guest star. Maria Pitillo is particularly lost, her performance nothing more than a series of vapid frowns. Likewise Matthew Broderick approaches the material with a complete absence of machismo. I don't think I've ever seen an action lead so devoid of bass. His boyish simpering is actually kind of revolting at times, particularly towards the end of the film when the actor insists on waving his arms around whilst running away from several million dollars worth of Spielberg steals. If Broderick can't even be bothered to act scared, why should we be thrilled when he escapes?

This Godzilla begins with stock footage of America's hydrogen bomb tests overlaid with French radio chatter. I presume this is supposed to illustrate the French weapon tests at Moruroa in the mid-1990s that led to a worldwide moratorium on their wine? If so, why use antiquated footage of Bikini Atoll? Those images are seared into the collective conciousness as gross examples of Cold War dick-waving. You can't add a bit of looping and pass them off as something else. Regardless, Godzilla is apparently a mutated iguana caused by the dastardly French. Their government feels so bad about it they've dispatched Jean Reno to keep an eye on the situation. From an anthropological perspective this makes Godzilla 1998 kind of interesting. The Japanese Godzilla was born from American hydrogen bomb testing, yet there was never any attempt in those films to demonise Japan's post-war allies. The original Godzilla is repeatedly considered as a punishment for mankind, Japan assuming responsibility for the creature and what it represents. All humankind has erred by allowing nuclear weapons to come into existence, not just individual countries.

In this American Godzilla the buck is passed. France is solely to blame for this terrible lizard, despite having conducted roughly a fifth of the nuclear weapons tests America has. This disingenuous white-washing harms the film. Why shouldn't Godzilla be about a country confronting its misdeeds? How patronising is it to think the filmmakers felt these questions couldn't be asked during a Summer distractor? If Godzilla can't be about national introspection, why does it instead have to revolve around drippy journalistic sabotage? Why is more time dedicated to taking pathetic potshots at Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel than considering American culpability in nuclear cataclysm? For that matter, why is Roger Ebert the mayor of New York? Wasn't he based in Chicago? This staunch empty-headedness is symptomatic of a film allergic to even the most basic level of seriousness. Godzilla has been designed as product, an anodyne unit shifter free of artistic expression or intellectual consideration. It's a contemptuous thing, riddled with antagonistic pitch think and directed at an audience it assumes to be brain dead.

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