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GODZILLA

by: Michael Dequina

Reviewing a much-ballyhooed "event" movie like Godzilla is a pointless task. No matter what I or any critic might say about it, everyone and their mother will still rush out to the theatre to see the movie just to say that they did. But in the event that anyone out there is listening, be forewarned that this lavish take on the classic Japanese monster movies is a technically superb but flavorless piece of sci-fi hackwork.

Godzilla's mediocrity should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the work of the "brains" behind the project, the team of co-writer/producer Dean Devlin and co-writer/director Roland Emmerich. As the film's many trailers so bombastically boast, they are the creators of that overhyped sci-fi phenomenon of a couple year's back, Independence Day (they were also behind another inexplicable success, 1994's ridiculous StarGate, as well as 1992's unspeakably horrid Jean-Claude Van Damme-Dolph Lundgren battle royale Universal Soldier). I was lukewarm on ID4 (it earned a fairly charitable ** 1/2 on my **** scale--which elicited a rather snottily sarcastic e-mail from Devlin himself), which had top-flight effects, a charismatic lead (the incomparable Will Smith), but a sloppy script populated by poorly drawn characters with vapid individual storylines.

ID4's "human dimension" (which a lot of people actually bought into) is as profound as Schindler's List's in comparison to what is on display in Godzilla--or, rather, what isn't on display. Our primary human guide throughout the giant lizard mayhem is Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a nuclear scientist who is enlisted by the military to investigate the origins and analyze the behavior of the behemoth reptile that is destroying New York City. There, he is reunited with his college sweetheart, aspiring reporter Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo, sporting wild Sarah Jessica Parker-ish locks--a coincidence?). Their love story is supposed to be the emotional hook, but Devlin and Emmerich scarcely bother to give them any quiet scenes alone together, so what's the point? Broderick and Pitillo appear to not see one either, woodenly playing their already-plywood roles and failing to generate any romantic spark whatsoever.

But the flat lead characters are the least of Godzilla's problems. The film's fundamental flaw can best be summed up in the scene where the creature's appearance is fully revealed. The work of creature designer and supervisor Patrick Tatopoulos does not disappoint; sort of a mix between a T-rex, stegosaurus, and velociraptor with a little iguana thrown in, Godzilla's look is truly menacing, and the big visual revelation should be a moment of genuine fright and tension, much like the grand T-rex entrance in Jurassic Park. But Emmerich completely misdirects the moment. The audience's first, uninterrupted glimpse is scored with some uplifting, awe-inspiring music not unlike Jurassic's main theme, and Niko's aghast look is one more of wonder than fear, which is what I'm sure any person, scientist or not, would feel in the presence of a giant, hungry lizard.

This is but the first instance in Emmerich's complete botching of what should be a key element in Godzilla--terror. For all the destruction Godzilla causes, and the threat he poses to everyone's lives, the purported "thrill ride" feels safe and is not scary in the slightest. This is especially the case in an extended sequence set in the destroyed Madison Square Garden. Without giving away a key plot "surprise," the sequence's obvious model is the showcase raptor sequence in Jurassic (in fact, so much of Godzilla is derivative of Jurassic it might as well have been called Godzilla Park), but Emmerich and Devlin mistake quantity for quality. If you see the film, you'll know what I mean--the threa

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