My first in a series of articles exploring my most unpopular opinions in the world of media. We start with a film that many have taken pleasure in deriding over the years; with Roger Ebert lambasting the film, describing it on his website as “a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie.”
He was not the only one to think so, with the film only managing to garner a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Joe Leydon of Variety claiming the movie was “lacking in heart” and Michael Dequina of TheMovieReport.com describing it as a “Flavorless piece of sci-fi hackwork.”
However, not all critics were so unforgiving, with a select few willing to leave their intellectual caps at the door and enjoy Emmerich’s work for what it was, a summer popcorn flick. Bob Bloom of REC.ARTS.MOVIES.REVIEWS suggested that you “Grab your bucket of popcorn and check your thinking cap at the door. Godzilla is pure summer candy.”
With this in mind, I am going to explore why I loved this film, and continue to watch it a handful of times in the year; but first of all, some context…
When this film released in 1998, I was but three years old yet I had already had developed a huge fascination with dinosaurs and a religious addiction to Jurassic Park. Therefore, the thought of a giant dinosaur stomping around the city was hugely appealing to my innocent mind. That awe has stuck with me into my adult years, now 23, I still tune in and watch Godzilla with as much enjoyment now as I had 20 years ago.
Initially, I understand what is required going into this film, the suspension of disbelief and the expectation that a barrage of stereotypes and cliches to be thrown at me for the duration of the film. This is something that is normally difficult, as stereotypes can be disrespectful and cliches can be boring. However, there is one simple point I feel that a lot of people tend to miss when sitting down to watch this movie, IT’S GODZILLA! Most importantly, it’s a Roland Emmerich Godzilla! There is no point in raising my expectations for a movie involving a giant lizard terrorising New Yorkers, especially when it’s made by a man who has already built a fine reputation upon tired and cliched storytelling and filming techniques!
That is not to do the original 1954 Godzilla a disservice, the original was incredibly insightful and provided a thought-provoking glance into post-WW2 fears of nuclear technology. However, did anyone really expect such an eloquent masterpiece from Emmerich? Whoever did deserves all of the disappointment they received.
Ultimately, I feel that this film is a victim of our own expectations. The equivalent of expecting a Uwe Boll video-game adaptation to be good, or expecting Tommy Wiseau to deliver a believable performance. A similar phenomenon happened with the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001, due to its short run time of under two hours, people managed to lower their expectations and enjoy the film for what it was, a low-budget monster-movie, rather than expecting a grand epic similar to the first. This did not happen with Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla.
Being able to suspend my disbelief was a key component in my ability to enjoy this movie; I think if others can do the same then they might just find the experience as enjoyable as I have.
Secondly, many have taken issue with Godzilla himself. Yet, (surprise surprise) I bear no ill will towards the titular monster. First of all, I enjoyed how, in the 1998 rendition, Godzilla’s origins are not ambiguous, in fact, it is heavily alluded to that he is simply a French-Polynesian water iguana; mutated due to an exposure to radiation. Whilst some may enjoy the mystery of a giant Kaiju that comes from the depths of the ocean, I found it more pleasing to have a concrete explanation of the creature’s origins. This makes the film’s (brief) nuclear message more obvious, something I appreciated (i am NOT a fan of subtlety).
I also find it extremely irritating that the film-going public seems to be divided on the nature of Godzilla, is he a mutant? Is he a lizard? Is he an alien or a supernatural being? The one option I can feel confident in denying completely is the commonly touted theory that Godzilla is a dinosaur, as big as dinosaurs grew, they never came close to the heights of the monster that stalked the streets of the Big Apple. However, I digress, I think a significant amount of the hatred for the creature comes from our inability to give him a label that suits our needs, in a way he defies our understanding. Almost all other classic movie monsters are clearly defined in what they are: Imhotep is a mummy, Dracula is a vampire and Frankenstein is a science experiment gone wrong.
Godzilla, however, (at least in 1998 edition) is not as easily defined. This appears to be a source of contempt for many as the creature’s ambiguity niggles and irritates the audience’s as they fail to find a satisfying answer to the burning question of the monster’s identity.
Thirdly, what makes the film so enjoyable is the overall tone that is set and maintained throughout.
A viewing of Godzilla feels like a fun romp from the first minute until the last. Despite using the explanation of nuclear testing as a means of explaining the existence of the creature, the film does not have any detectably pretentious feel that suggests Godzilla is being used a metaphor for the destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons. There is no forced messaged where none need be. Where so many other films would have jumped at the opportunity to preach a message, Gozilla eschews this in favour of a genuine attempt at a fun adventure.
Instead of a nuanced examination of a world alert to the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the film races towards destination entertainment. The titular monster arrives at New York city relatively quickly; the visual treat of a destroyed metropolis is given shortly after. From there, audiences are treated to intense action sequences, awe-inspiring vistas of a broken city and a simple yet pleasing narrative that ends with our heroes victorious.
To conclude, the movie that many are quick to quash as a piece of cinematic garbage on par with the slew of B-movies produced by the Syfy channel can be enjoyed if is viewed as just that, a B-movie (albeit one with a AAA budget). Like such gems as Sharktopus, Lavalantulas and, of course, Sharknado, Godzilla is a pleasurable rollercoaster that isn’t meant to inspire thought or provide meaningful commentary. Most importantly, it is one person’s take on a story that has been told and retold countless times, simply because there is no perceptive commentary or interesting characters (I dislike Matthew Broderick in this movie just as much as you do) there is no need to sacrifice our ability to enjoy what is placed before us.
Next time I shall be explaining why I find Night of the Living Dead straight-up boring!