Saturday, April 26, 2014
Series Report Card: Godzilla (1999)
Gojira 2000: Mireniamu
“Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” was supposed to be the last Godzilla movie, at least for a while anyway. Toho fully expected TriStar’s 1998 “Godzilla” adaptation to be a roaring international success and to spawn a long running series of its own. That, needless to say, didn’t happen. The American Godzilla film was so badly received that it forced the original, real Godzilla to come out of retirement early. Rushed into production and released a year after TriStar’s fiasco, “Godzilla 2000” would launch a new series of Godzilla films.
“Godzilla 2000” is set in a Japan where Godzilla has been accepted as a regular occurrence. The Godzilla Prediction Network, run by middle-aged scientist Yuji and with his genius daughter Io, attempts to understand the kaiju. The two-person operation works to predict Godzilla’s appearances, study the monster, and divert him away from populated areas. On the other hand, Japan’s Crisis Control Intelligence, run by Yuji’s professional rival Miyasaka, seeks to destroy the creature. Meanwhile, the military discovers an ancient object on the ocean floor. Once brought to the surface, the object reveals itself to be a solar-powered flying saucer. The revived UFO starts to wreck havoc on Tokyo, taking a keen interest in Godzilla. Once again, quite unintentionally, the giant mutated dinosaur has to defend Earth against a nefarious invader.
At the on-set of the Millennium era, as the new series of films would be called, a decision was made. Each of the films would tell a stand alone story, sharing continuity only with the 1954 original. “Godzilla 2000” doesn’t even go that far. It barely references the first entry in the series. Instead, the script treats Godzilla as an every day part of life. He’s as much of a natural disaster as an earthquake or a tsunami, unknowable and unstoppable. Few minutes are wasted on his origin or exposition. Godzilla exists, simple as that.
science vs. the military. Yuji and his Godzilla Prediction Network wants to study the monster, thinking of him as a natural wonder. Miyasaka’s Crisis Control Intelligence considers the monster a threat to be eliminate. However, the debate is treated with more nuance then those fifties B-movies. Neither side is wrong. Godzilla is responsible for the loss of countless lives and the mass destruction of property. He’s also a truly unique creature, deserving of scientific inquiry. Realizing the audience has a built-in affection for the monster, the movie plays the military as antagonists, albeit understandable ones.
Most of the previous Godzilla films revolve around a hot-shot journalist, adventurer, or military man. One of the charming elements of “Godzilla 2000” is that its protagonist is different from the norm. Yuji is middle-age, chubby, and nerdy. Though motivated by pure scientific curiosity, he’s also willing to use the Godzilla Prediction Network to make some easy cash. Mostly because he’s broke. However, he’s a scientist through and through. He drives up right to Godzilla’s face, getting scientific readings. He might be afraid but the research is more important. When he discovers Godzilla’s healing factor, Yuji cheerfully declares that this could lead to a cure for cancer. Takehiro Murata is affable and funny in the part. My favorite bit is, after Godzilla blows the glass on his car away, he activates the windshield wipers.
Yuji’s relationship with his daughter is another strong aspect of the film. Mayu Suzuki plays Io. We are introduced to the girl, who looks to be about ten years old, when she raddles off a list of scientific buzz words. She is clearly some sort of genius and, compared to her whimsical father, sometimes appears to be the more mature of the two. The brief glimpses into their domestic life, where Io cooks and cleans while Yuji works on his research, are charming and interesting. When her father is endangered, Io’s mask of maturity cracks, the young girl crying. Suzuki is excellent in the part, possibly the most likable character in the film.
Of course, her most important co-star is the big man himself. For his return to theaters, Godzilla got a major redesign. The King of the Monsters resembles a dinosaur more then ever. His posture is slopping, head and hands forward, tail back. His scales are jagged and pointed. The more rounded head is topped off with snaggled teeth, always jutting out of his mouth. The most notable design change are his spines. Godzilla’s spines are bigger and sharper then ever before, sticking out like giant cartoon lightening bolts. It’s one of the most distinctive suits ever built for the character. While the movement is a bit stiff, the design is still impressive and memorable.
Disappointingly, Godzilla isn’t in that much of his own movie. There’s the fog-filled opening appearance, the kaiju attacking a light house and tearing through a tunnel. A lengthy march across the coastline includes the monster getting pelted with hi-tech bunker-busting missiles before being blown away by the rival kaiju. Both scenes work fairly well, however… After that, the focus shifts to the alien invader. The space ship looks cool enough, sleek and smooth, and is brought to life through a combination of fine model work and sometimes shaky CGI. Much attention is paid to the space ship touching down in Tokyo and the military’s various attempts to destroy it. Here, we learn more about the so-called Millennians' origin, where they come from and what they plan to do. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this section of the film but it drags a bit.
The aliens realize quickly that Godzilla is the most powerful creature on the planet and sets out copying his genetic make-up. A moment that was heavily advertised in the trailers has the ship producing a giant monster, resembling H.G. Welles’ Martians and rendered in primitive CGI. That creature plays a tiny role in the finished film. Instead, the Millennian quickly degrades into an entirely different monster. Named Orga, the creature is a cross between Godzilla and the alien space ship. It’s an awkward design, with his giant snapping claws and bent posture limiting movement. Because of this, most of the fight between Godzilla and Orga involves the monsters trading energy blasts. A little more wrestling and grappling would have been nice. Rumors persist that Orga was inspired by the TriStar Godzilla, which might explain why the real Godzilla takes him down without too much effort. The absurd conclusion to the all-to-brief battle comes when Orga unhinges its jaw and attempts to swallow Godzilla whole. Turns out, sticking your fire-breathing enemy’s face right in your mouth isn’t a great plan. Godzilla blows Orga apart from the inside out. An ennoble ending to a less-then-impressive threat.
One interesting thing “Godzilla 2000” does is that it finally confirms why Godzilla is so hard to kill. His cells regenerate rapidly, producing a Wolverine-style healing factor. Super-missiles might blow chunks of his skin away but, within a day or two, he’ll be better. A theory like this was discussed by fans for years but its nice to have Toho finally confirm. The so-called G-Cells is actually what motivates the plot. Proving so un-killable, Orga attempts to adsorb the real Godzilla’s several times. Weirdly, it’s the enemy we actually see regenerate, his skin bubbling with weak computer graphics.
As of right now, “Godzilla 2000” is the last Godzilla film to receive a theatrical release in America. The dub recorded in this country is intentionally campy. It features such howlers as “Great Caesar’s ghost!,” “These missiles will go through Godzilla like crap through a goose,” and “There’s a little Godzilla inside of all of us.” The tongue-in-cheek, winking tone isn’t always appreciated and is frequently distracting. However, the American cut is also ten minutes shorter. Most of the edits are minor and successfully up punch the film’s sometimes maudlin pacing. The deliberately cheesy tone originally wrapped up with a big, stupid “The End… Question Mark!” appearing before the credits. This was so ridiculous that it was cut from all home video releases. Even if the tinkering wasn’t completely appreciated, it arguably makes the film smoother.