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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Countdown To Godzilla 2014: Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla is a 1998 American science fiction monster film directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich. It was a reimagining of the popular Japanese film monster of the same name. The screenplay was written by Emmerich and Dean Devlin. The plot of the film revolves around a giant reptilian monster, mutated by nuclear tests in the French Polynesia, who migrates to New York City to nest its young. The cast features Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn and Jean Reno.

The film was a co-production between Centropolis Entertainment and TriStar Pictures, with TriStar distributing theatrically, and Sony Pictures Entertainment for home media. On May 19, 1998, the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released Epic Records. It features songs written by several recording artists including The Wallflowers, Rage Against the Machine, Silverchair, and Foo Fighters. The film score was composed and orchestrated by David Arnold.

Godzilla premiered in theaters nationwide in the United States on May 20, 1998 grossing $136,314,294 in domestic ticket receipts. It earned an additional $242,700,000 through international release to top out at a combined $379,014,294 in gross revenue. The film was met with a negative reception from critics and fans alike. The negative reception highlighted by critics included the film's thin plot, acting, and directing while fans targeted the film's drastic reinvention of the titular character, which included its radical redesign and departure from the source material. Because of this, the film was nominated for and won multiple Raspberry Awards, including Worst Remake or Sequel, but received recognition in the field of computer-generated imagery by winning the Saturn Award for Best Special Effects. Planned sequels were abandoned, despite a well-received animated series airing September 12, 1998 on the Fox Kids network.

In later years, Emmerich's "Godzilla" became recognized as a separate, stand-alone character (unrelated to Godzilla) and was officially renamed Zilla by Toho, the character's parent owners, and has been featured in the original Godzilla universe.

Following a nuclear incident in French Polynesia, a lizard's nest is irradiated by the fallout of subsequent radiation. Decades later, a Japanese fishing vessel is suddenly attacked by an enormous sea creature in the South Pacific ocean and only one seaman survives. Traumatized, he is questioned by a mysterious Frenchman in a hospital regarding what he saw, to which he replies, "Gojira".

Dr. Niko "Nick" Tatopoulos (Broderick), an NRC scientist, is in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine researching the effects of radiation on wildlife, but is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of an official from the U.S. State Department. He is sent to Tahiti and Jamaica, escorted by the military, to observe the wreckage of the recovered Japanese fishing trawler with massive claw marks on it. The Frenchman is also present, observing the scene, and introduces himself as Philippe Roché (Reno), an insurance agent. Aboard a military aircraft, Dr. Tatopoulos identifies skin samples he discovered in the shipwreck as belonging to an unknown species. He dismisses the military's theory that the creature is a living dinosaur, instead deducing that it is a mutant created by nuclear testing. The large reptilian creature dubbed as "Godzilla" by the media, travels to New York City leaving a path of destruction in its wake. The city is evacuated as the military attempts to kill it but fails in an initial attempt. Dr. Tatopoulos later collects a blood sample and assumes that Zilla reproduces asexually and is collecting food for its offspring. Aspiring journalist and ex-girlfriend of Dr. Tatopoulos, Audrey Timmonds (Pitillo), uncovers a classified tape in his provisional military tent which concerns the origins of the lizard. Her superior Charles Caiman (Shearer) however, declares the tape as his own media discovery. The tape is broadcast on television embarrassing the military on the sensitive nature of the situation. Dr. Tatopoulos' team is kidnapped by Roché, who reveals himself to be an agent of the DGSE, the French foreign intelligence agency. He and his colleagues have been keeping close watch on the events and are planning to cover up their country's role in the nuclear accident that spawned the creature. Suspecting a nest somewhere in the city, they cooperate with Dr. Tatopoulos to trace and destroy it.

Following a chase with Zilla, the creature dives into the Hudson River where it is attacked by Navy submarines. After sustaining head-on collisions with torpedoes, the beast sinks after being rendered incapacitated. Believing it is finally dead, the authorities celebrate. Dr. Tatopoulos and Roché's special operations team, covertly followed by Timmonds and her cameraman Victor "Animal" Palotti (Azaria), make their way through underground subway tunnels to Madison Square Garden. There, they locate 200 eggs, having finally found the nest. As they attempt to destroy them by planting explosives, the eggs suddenly hatch. Sensing the human intruders as food, they begin attacking them. Dr. Tatopoulos, Palotti, Timmonds and Roché take refuge in the coliseum's broadcast booth and send a live news report to alert the military of what will happen if the lizards escape. A prompt response involving an airstrike is initiated as the four escape moments before the arena is bombed. Zilla however, survived the torpedo attack earlier underwater and emerges from the venue's ruins. Discovering all of its offspring dead, it roars in anger and chases Dr. Tatopoulos, Roché, Timmonds and Palotti through the streets of Manhattan. In pursuit of the quartet, Zilla eventually makes its way to the Brooklyn Bridge. The creature becomes trapped in its steel suspension cables, making it an easy target. After being successfully struck with missiles by military aircraft, it collapses (smashing the cab under its jaw) and slowly dies. Meanwhile, amidst the Garden's ruins, a lone egg has survived the aerial bombardment and begins to hatch.

Matthew Broderick as Dr. Niko "Nick" Tatopoulos
Jean Reno as Philippe Roaché
Maria Pitillo as Audrey Timmonds
Hank Azaria as Victor "Animal" Palotti
Kevin Dunn as Colonel Hicks
Michael Lerner as Mayor Ebert
Lorry Goldman as Gene, Mayor Ebert's Aide
Harry Shearer as Charles Caiman
Arabella Field as Lucy Palotti
Vicki Lewis as Dr. Elsie Chapman
Doug Savant as Sergeant O'Neal
Malcolm Danare as Dr. Mendel Craven
Frank Welker as creature vocals
Ralph Manza as Fisherman Joe
Glenn Morshower as Kyle Terrington

The first talk of an American-produced Godzilla film started in the early 1980s when director Steve Miner received special permission from Toho to produce an American Godzilla 3D feature film. Miner tried to find backers to finance the project, presenting concept art and storyboards from artist William Stout and a full screenplay written by Fred Dekker. Despite igniting some interest in Hollywood, studios were unwilling to gamble on Miner's proposed $30 million budget and the film rights died in 1983.

In 1992, TriStar Pictures acquired the rights to Godzilla from Toho to produce a trilogy of American Godzilla films, with the promise of "remaining true to the original series—cautioning against nuclear weapons and runaway technology." Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were tapped to write the script and submitted their final draft in late 1994. Earlier that year, Jan de Bont became attached to direct and began pre-production on the film for a 1996 summer release. De Bont's Godzilla would have had the character's atomic origins discarded and replaced as an artificial creation constructed by Atlantians to fend humanity against a shape shifting extraterrestrial monster called "The Gryphon" and having the final showdown on Ellis Island. Stan Winston and his company were employed to do the effects for the film. Winston crafted sculptures of Godzilla, in vein of the original design, and the rival monster, The Gryphon. De Bont later left the project after TriStar refused to approve his budget of $100–120 million.

Prior to the release of Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin signed on to do Godzilla under the condition they would be able to handle the film "their way." Emmerich and Devlin discarded Elliott and Rossio's script and provided a new script where the Godzilla character in general was rewritten as a whole. Production began in May 1997, in New York City, and moved to Los Angeles in June. Scenes in New York were filmed in 13 days; tropical scenes were filmed in the Hawaiian Islands.

Patrick Tatopoulos was contacted early on by Emmerich and asked to design the new Godzilla. According to Tatopoulos, the only specific instructions Emmerich gave him was that it should be able to run incredibly fast. Godzilla, originally conceived as a robust, erect-standing, plantigrade reptilian sea monster, was reimagined by Tatopoulos as a lean, digitigrade bipedal iguana-like creature that stood with its back and tail parallel to the ground. Godzilla's color scheme was designed to reflect and blend in with the urban environment. At one point, it was planned to use motion capture from a human to create the movements of the computer-generated Godzilla, but it ended up looking too much like a human in a suit.

The soundtrack featuring alternative rock music was released on May 19, 1998 by Epic Records. It was a success on the music charts, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum on June 22, 1998. The original score was composed by David Arnold. The film's score was not released on CD until 9 years later, when it went on sale as a complete original film score in 2007 by La La Land Records.

Theatrical Run
In interviews promoting The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich admitted regretting the production of Godzilla, particularly due to the rushed shooting schedule that was required for a Memorial Day weekend release and the studio's insistence on not test-screening the film. However, he defended the film as better than critics gave it credit for, as it was financially successful, and out of all the films he directed, it was the one which parents told him their children enjoyed the most. At its release, the film was much criticized by Godzilla fans the world over. Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who portrayed Godzilla in the Heisei series (1984–1995) walked out of a Tokyo screening and told reporters that, "It's not Godzilla, it does not have the spirit".

Home Media
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on November 3, 1998. Special features for the DVD include; photo galleries, visual effects and special FX supervisor commentaries, the music video of "Heroes" by The Wallflowers, Behind the Scenes of Godzilla with Charles Caiman, theatrical trailers, a featurette, director/producer and cast biographies, a photo gallery, music video, and Godzilla Takes New York (before and after shots). Additionally, a special edition DVD was also released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on March 28, 2006. The DVD contains all of the above features as well as the "All-Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes" featurette, 3 episodes from Godzilla: The Animated Series, and a "never-before-seen" production art gallery.

The widescreen high-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was released on November 10, 2009. Special features include the visual effects commentary, the "Behind the Scenes of Godzilla with Charles Caiman" and "All Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes" featurettes, as well as the music video of "Heroes" by The Wallflowers. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of video on demand is available as well.

The film was re-released on Blu-ray 1080p "Mastered in 4K" format on July 16, 2013.

Box Office
Godzilla premiered in cinemas on May 20, 1998 in wide release throughout the United States for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Godzilla was initially projected to break the four-day Memorial Day long weekend opening record of $90 million (set by The Lost World: Jurassic Park a year earlier). Instead, it grossed $55,726,951 in business showing at 3,310 locations over the four-day weekend. The film Deep Impact opened in second place during that weekend with $19,381,788 in revenue. The film's revenue dropped by 59% in its second week of release, earning $18,020,444. For that particular weekend, the film remained in first place as the romantic drama Hope Floats overtook Deep Impact for second place with $14,210,464 in box office business. During its final week in release, Godzilla opened in 19th place grossing $202,157. For that weekend, Lethal Weapon 4 starring Mel Gibson made its debut, opening in first place with $34,048,124 in revenue. Godzilla went on to top out domestically at $136,314,294 in total ticket sales through an eight-week theatrical run. Internationally, the film took in an additional $242,700,000 in business for a combined worldwide total of $379,014,294. For 1998 as a whole, the film was the ninth highest grossing film domestically and the third-highest grossing film worldwide.

Critical Response
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received generally negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that only 25% of 63 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 4.7 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 32 based on 23 reviews. In 1999, at the Huntley Hotel Garden Room in Santa Monica, California, the film won Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Supporting Actress for Pitillo and Worst Re-Make or Sequel. The film was also nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.

Barbara Shulgasser, writing in The San Francisco Examiner, said in a one star review, "OK. Maybe the special effects are slightly more sophisticated than they were in Jurassic Park, but the techno-stuff is all getting a bit boring. When a movie is nothing but relentless action, there's little chance for dramatic tension to develop." She wrote that the film was, "devoid of any discernible plot logic." Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that the film was "an overblown action monstrosity with no surprises, no exhilaration and no thrills... What passes for thrills is a succession of scenes lifted and extended from Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Godzilla, shot mostly from the waist down, steps on cars and strafes the sides of buildings with his tail." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post, said the film "neither draws upon our fears nor revels in the original's camp charms. The picture really isn't about anything unless it is the deep pockets and shallow minds of the honchos who begat this colossal bore." She wrote further, "Size vanquishes both substance and subtlety in the overhyped, half-cocked and humorless resurrection of dear old Godzilla. It might well be titled Iguana Get You Sucka The film however, was not without its supporters. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the film was an "An expertly designed theme park ride of a movie that packs nonstop thrills." In a slightly positive fashion, Gary Kamiya of Salon.com commented that "The plot is about as ridiculous as you'd expect, but for the most part its absurdities are tolerable." Joe Leydon of Variety, contributed mildly to the positive sentiment by saying "Throughout Godzilla, New York endures the most sustained rainfall in all of movie history. Most of the action takes place at night, but even the daytime scenes unfold under darkly overcast skies, which, of course, makes it all the easier for Emmerich to obscure Godzilla's features for the maximum amount of time to generate the maximum amount of suspense."

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, bluntly noting that "One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film. The movie makes no sense at all except as a careless pastiche of its betters (and, yes, the Japanese Godzilla movies are, in their way, better - if only because they embrace dreck instead of condescending to it). You have to absorb such a film, not consider it. But my brain rebelled, and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome." In an entirely negative review, James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "one of the most idiotic blockbuster movies of all time, it's like spitting into the wind. Emmerich and Devlin are master illusionists, waving their wands and mesmerizing audiences with their smoke and mirrors. It's probably too much to hope that some day, movie-goers will wake up and realize that they've been had." Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the film "is so clumsily structured it feels as if it's two different movies stuck together with an absurd stomping finale glued onto the end. The only question worth asking about this $120 million wad of popcorn is a commercial one. How much further will the dumbing down of the event movie have to go before the audience stops buying tickets?"

Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post queried, "The question is this: Are the awe-inspiring creature effects and roaring battle scenes impressive enough to make you forget the stupid story, inaccurate science and basic implausibility?" Thoughtfully disillusioned, he wrote, "The cut-rate cast seems to have been plucked from the pages of TV Guide. There's Doug Savant from Melrose Place as O'Neal, a scaredy-cat military man who looks like Sgt. Rock and acts like Barney Fife. There's Maria Pitillo (House Rules) as Nick's soporific love interest, Audrey; The Simpsons‚ Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer as a wise-cracking news cameraman and superficial reporter; Vicki Lewis of NewsRadio as a lusty scientist. Shall I continue?" However, in a more upbeat tone, Owen Gleiberman writing for Entertainment Weekly thought "There's no resonance to the new Godzilla, and no built-in cheese value, either. For a while, the filmmakers honor the sentimental paradox that seeped into the later Godzilla films: that this primitive destroyer, like King Kong, doesn't actually mean any harm." He opined that the film contained "some clever and exciting sequences", but ultimately came to the conclusion that, "It says much about today's blockbuster filmmakers that they could spend so much money on Godzilla and still fail to do justice to something that was fairy-tale destructo schlock to begin with." Film critic Aladino Debert of Variety was consumed with the nature of the special effects exclaiming, "the title creature is wonderfully designed and the animation is excellent." Complimenting the technical aspects of the film, he summarized, "The integration of the lizard into its surroundings is for the most part very well accomplished, with rigged cars collapsing under the massive weight of Godzilla, and buildings either demolished or partially damaged. The compositing of the debris and pyrotechnics is generally good, especially when the monster runs or walks on the streets: The asphalt gives way convincingly every time the massive feet touch the ground, and a variety of CGI elements are seamlessly composited. Debris flies off buildings with every touch of the monster."

Veteran Godzilla actors, Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma were also critical of the film and its character. Nakajima stated "its face looks like an iguana and its body and limbs look like a frog." Satsuma walked out of the Japanese premiere of the film and commented, "it’s not Godzilla, it doesn’t have his spirit." The "Godzilla" on the film was considered so different from the original Godzilla that the term GINO, "Godzilla In Name Only", was coined by critic Richard Pusateri to distinguish the character apart from the original Godzilla. Toho (Godzilla's parent owners) later recognized the creature as a totally different monster and officially renamed it as Zilla for later appearances.

In a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly, co-writer and producer Dean Devlin admitted to "screwing up" his version of Godzilla. He commented, "I know I screwed up my Godzilla. I'd be very happy if they pull it off and do a great one. I always wish I had another shot at it. But, listen, Godzilla is something that I grew up loving. We worked hard to go make one. We kind of blew it. I think everyone gets one." In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, Devlin blamed the script he and director Emmerich co-wrote, stating, "I think the problem with that movie was the script I wrote. I think Roland did an amazing job directing it, I think the actors are great, I think when people look back now on the Blu-ray and see the visual effects, it's a lot better than what people said at the time. The problem was the script! I made some big errors in that script. I wish I hadn't, I wish I had a chance to fix it."

When asked about his thoughts on Gareth Edwards' upcoming Godzilla film, Devlin has expressed his support of the project, having said, "I'm happy. You know, to get another shot at getting that one right, I understand why they want to do it, and I really hope the best (for them). I hope they get it right." He also added, "I wish them nothing but the best. I would love it if the whole Godzilla franchise was revitalized for a new generation."

Canceled Sequels
TriStar planned to produce a trilogy of American Godzilla films upon acquiring the license for Godzilla in 1992. TriStar went as far as tapping Tab Murphy to write a treatment for a sequel. Not much is known about the third installment in the trilogy, but the second movie, 'Godzilla 2,' would involve the friendlier offspring that survived in the 1998 movie fighting a giant insect named 'Queen Bitch.' However, due to the overwhelming negative reception the first film received and a lack of enthusiasm from fans, audiences, theater owners, and licensees, the planned sequels were abandoned and the rights to Godzilla sat on TriStar's shelf until they expired in 2003.

Animated Series
An animated series was produced as a continuation of the storyline of the film. In the series, Dr. Tatopoulos accidentally discovers the egg that survived the aerial bombardment before it hatches, in a minor change from the ending in the 1998 film. The creature hatches after Nick Tatopoulos stumbles onto it as it assumes him as its parent. Subsequently, Dr. Tatopoulos and his associates form a research team, investigating strange occurrences and defending mankind from dangerous mutations. Actor Ian Ziering voiced the character of Dr. Tatopoulos throughout the series.
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