Cyberlizard goes to the movies


Starring Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria

With the current Hollywood fashion for remaking virtually every old film in a Nineties mould, it was probably inevitable that some of the old science-fiction films would be given the treatment. However, in some ways remaking Godzilla was a brave step, given that (a) the film was originally a Japanese invention, with certain resonances that the Japanese themselves would probably feel most deeply, and (b) that unfortunately, the once-fearsome radioactive reptile had become associated latterly with a series of risible, low-budget-played-for-a-laugh movies (monster A gangs up with monster B and C, Tokyo gets trashed, nice kids turn up in the script, etc).

The film

The basic premise of the story at least has a reasonably topical twist. The much-denounced French nuclear test programme in the Pacific proves to be the villain, having mutated the area causing genetic mutations on a wild scale to create - you've guessed it - Godzilla. In some ways the opening shots of the film were for me the most impressive: pictures of various lizards (including monitors and iguanas) and turtles, going innocently about their business, interspersed with shots of the French countdowns and explosions, all filmed in sepia. These shots then suddenly give way to a close-up picture of an enormous egg sitting on the sand of some island. Next a huge Japanese fishing vessel is suddenly attacked and destroyed by a fearsomely huge force or forces unknown. The hero, Dr Nick Popodopolous, is then brought back from Chernobyl and his examination of irradiated earthworms to join a team of scientists and the US military in trying to fathom out what has trampled across a Pacific island, crushing houses and leaving crater-sized footprints in its wake. Unknown to them, they also have company in the form of French Secret Service agent Philippe (Jean Reno, perhaps the best actor in this film) and his team, who are trying to repair the damage done by their country. Godzilla then turns up in Manhattan and begins to destroy the city, but his purpose is other than trampling on New Yorkers. Both the Americans and the French have to race to stop the giant lizard from unleashing a whole nest full of his progeny on mankind.

I still find it hard, nearly a year after watching the film, to make a balanced judgement on this film, which is a mixture of strength and weakness. First, let me say that Godzilla himself (400 feet high, several hundred tonnes and a genetically mutated creature of scales, claws, jaws and stubby wing-like structures on his back) is superb. The technical achievement at least is fantastic, and light-years removed from the men in rubber suits that used to stomp around Tokyo. Other special effects, such as the attack on ships and buildings, not to mention the helicopter chase, are also fine. There are also a few climactic moments of awe and poignancy, such as when Godzilla shakes off a torpedo which instead destroys one of the US submarines hunting him. The plot itself is fairly straightforward, on the lines of "how do we defeat this huge beast and save mankind?", a classic monster movie feature which more or less defines the genre. The weakest point, I'm sorry to say, is the human element. Broderick is a nice guy but not particularly winsome as the scientist, while his ex-girlfriend was (for me, anyway) just irritating - either Godzilla should have toe-punted her into New York harbour, or Broderick should have paired up with the much sexier lady scientist instead. Jean Reno is quite cool as the Machiavellian secret agent serving his country, but the rest of the characters, I'm afraid, didn't really make me care enough about them. Maybe this was deliberate: perhaps we are supposed to feel more for Godzilla, who was always the monster brought out by human recklessness. Either way I was rooting for the reptile to at least escape to fight another day, even if it would be disaster for mankind for him to multiply.

At the end of the day, really, this is a monster movie, with the monster as its star. Go see it if you like this sort of film. If you want something else, like sophisticated human interaction, then don't.

For the scientifically-orientated or herpetologically-inclined who might balk at the idea of a 400-ft monster, it is worth reading the paperback novel of the film, which is slightly more than a simple rehash of the script and does try to give some decent ideas, as well as maybe making one or two things clearer.

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