Godzilla: Jurassic Park IIIBy Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
With Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria
Written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Here's the one-line review: Godzilla is Jurassic Park III. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) is no Steven Spielberg, of course, but on the other hand, the two Jurassic Park movies can hardly be considered the pinnacles of Spielberg's career. They were two movies about big lizards running amok, occasionally stepping on and chomping up non-computer-generated characters, also known as actors. Story didn't matter in the least - I dare you to remember the sequence of events of either one of them. Most likely, all you remember are the spectacular moments - T-rex ripping apart the car with two kids inside, velociraptor springing at Laura Dern from behind, Julianne Moore in the over-the-cliff trailer on the pane of breaking glass. That was all that mattered.
Godzilla follows Jurassic Park in its giant footsteps, and succeeds quite well if you want to see a big computer-generating beast lay waste to New York City. Jurassic Park operated in the "wonder of discovery" mode; The Lost World had a few excellent action set pieces. In the case of Godzilla, as we all know, all that matters is size.
By far, the best part of the movie is the thrilling opening credits sequence: nuclear weapon tests in French Polynesia, which result in a lizard egg being irradiated. This sequence is utterly spectacular, putting all other nuclear explosions in recent movies to shame. The reason for this, of course, is that what we see is real - Godzilla's filmmakers used real-life footage of explosions.
Something hatches out of the egg, grows 400 feet tall, crosses Panama on foot, swims across the Atlantic to New York, and starts stomping around. Said stomping comprises the first half of the movie and, while it's fun at first, the novelty wears off pretty fast. See Godzilla's foot. See Godzilla's tail. See Godzilla walk, see Godzilla run. See stupid humans try to shoot Godzilla, see stupid humans shoot themselves in the foot - figuratively, of course; what they really shoot are several Manhattan skyscrapers.
The effects are generally proficient, but there's not much that you can do with a huge lizard in New York City, and after a while boredom commences. The effects are still kind of cool, but we've seen that several times already, and there is pretty much nothing going on otherwise.
Unless you count humans. As expected, they function mostly as cinematic filler - we're still a long way from Emmerich and Devlin writing recognizable human beings. Anyway, it is still a step in the right direction from Independence Day. In that movie, human interactions were often painful to watch, and I groaned aplenty. At least it's not embarrassingly bad in Godzilla. The human part of the film lies on the shoulders of Matthew Broderick playing Jeff Goldblum - sorry, I meant to say playing Dr. Niko Tatopoulos, a radiation expert. His part is mostly limited to standing around and staring, eyes and mouth agape, at the place where the special effects are digitally inserted. Broderick can't do much with a severely underwritten part, but his charisma does make his character less then annoying.
This is more than I can say about other characters. Most of them are utterly forgettable - shame on them for wasting Hank Azaria in the thankless role of a sidekick cameraman. However, there is an exception in Jean Reno (The Professional, Mission Impossible), who was cast as a mysterious Frenchman. Reno gets the best part and runs away with it, with precise timing and wit.
However, just at the time I was about to start furtively glancing at my watch, the plot made a twist, and the movie became much more fun. It acquired a certain visual verve, the pacing picked up, and the excitement level increased. To quote Dr. Malcolm from The Lost World, "running and screaming started." Two excellent set pieces, one with the humans besieged inside Madison Square Garden, and another, the elaborate chase sequence across the city and Brooklyn Bridge, are definitely fun to watch. While the first part of the movie is size-consciously infused with testosterone, the second half makes the adrenaline flow - always a harder task.
Still, for a movie which doesn't even purport to work on any but the hormonal level (and I'm not even going to start discussing numerous plot holes and impossibilities), there are a few things worth thinking about.
First, there's the question of Godzilla's origin. In the original 1954 Japanese movie, the lizard's mutation was caused by the American nuclear tests, making the story work on the subtext level as well, with the monster personifying the nation's fear of the foreign superpower. In this version, the cause is French nuclear testing, and it's really hard to make any kind of subtext out of that. Of course, Godzilla is not interested in establishing any kind of subtext, which is a pity.
Second, there is the ubiquitous matter of the movie's advertising slogan, "Size does matter" - Dr. Freud would surely comment on that. Godzilla is, in essence, too big. He's hard to see as a whole, as anything other than a collection of body parts, hard to compare with everyday objects, simply too huge. The same is true of the movie as well - Godzilla is often too big. There are too many crowds running around, too many helicopters flying around shooting at the beast, and too many action set pieces. Some of them, like the underwater one, were totally unnecessary. Size, of course, matters, but bigger isn't always better.