The Most Disappointing Films of All Time – Godzilla (1998)

Anghus Houvouras discusses the most disappointing films of all time; next up is Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla….

One of cinema’s most endearing icons.  An enormous budget.  A creative team known for delivering crowd pleasing blockbusters.  It couldn’t fail.  And yet, it did.  Epically.

If there was ever a film engineered for disappointment, it would have to be Roland Emmerich’s hollow, unsatisfying, and borderline insulting attempt at bringing Godzilla to the big screen. 

I remember when I first heard about a big screen Godzilla film being put together by the team of Devlin and Emmerich, the creative forces behind Independence Day.  It was the early days of the online film scene and it prompted a lot of discussions about everything they would need to do in order to maintain the integrity of one of cinema’s most enduring icons.  Countless hours were spent by fans talking about the best Godzilla movies and pouring over five decades of movies analyzing what worked and what didn’t.

Sadly, the filmmakers never had such a conversation.

The Hollywood remake of Godzilla is an exercise in futility.  A poorly constructed and fatally flawed film that brazenly steals material from other, better movies and delivers a pile of monster sized excrement instead of a movie.

Recently, with Star Trek Into Darkness, there have been a number of discussions talking about filmmakers who ‘don’t get’ the material.  J.J. Abrams readily admits that he was no fan of Star Trek before taking the directorial reigns of the franchise.  While he makes departures and deviations from the source material, there is still reverence to the original works.  Emmerich did not extend such a courtesy to Godzilla.  There’s no respect here.  Instead, they stripped down Godzilla like a stolen car and reduced it to parts and then tried to reassemble it using a flamethrower and some chewing gum. 

It seems obvious from the get-go that no one involved with the film really understood the mechanics behind making a good Godzilla movie.  Instead, they merely lift the idea of a giant irradiated monster stomping through a city and then pile on endless blockbuster tropes to fill in the gaps. 

The characters in the film are boilerplate cliches. There’s the well intentioned scientist (Matthew Broderick) who just happens to be linked to the spunky reporter (Maria Pitillo) who’s looking for that big story that will propel her into network news.   The supporting cast is a confederacy of dunces with broadly comic military and political types.  Hank Azaria chews scenery as the comic relief cameraman who seems incapable of providing comedy or relief.  Even the wonderful Jean Reno provides little respite as a French agent looking to tie up loose ends.  It’s difficult to fault the actors (other than Azaria) who seem to be under the impression that they are in a comedy.

I can forgive the bullshit science (pregnancy tests that apparently work on giant, irradiated lizards) and the mediocre acting.  What I can’t forgive is the amount of material seized from other films and horribly stitched together and passed off as something original.  The entire Madison Square Garden featuring smaller Godzillas running around was such a blatant Jurassic Park rip-off.  Emmerich has never been the most original filmmaker.  His films borrow heavily from other popular franchises.  His Godzilla was bordering on plagiarism.  People are forgiving of such creative license if the film is entertaining.  When it’s a boring, goofy mess, the knives come out. 

What’s disappointing about Emmerich’s Godzilla is how wasteful it is.  Wasteful of the source material.  A waste of a gigantic budget that could have been used to give Western audiences a more reverent adaptation.  The film has aged rather badly.  The special effects look almost comical.  The redesigned Godzilla looks even more hokey now than it did back in 1998.  Godzilla could have helped bring about a new age of Hollywood Kaiju films, but the film disappointed both financially and creatively putting the entire genre on a decade plus holding pattern.

There’s hope.  This summer brings us Pacific Rim, and in 2014 we will get a new Western version of Godzilla courtesy of Gareth Edwards.  Perhaps this is one disappointment that will soon be corrected.   

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the graphic novel EXE: Executable File, is available from Lulu.com.