Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Godzilla 2000

(1999) ****

For some of you, this might top off as a three-and-a-half star movie, but it holds a special place in my heart. I saw it by myself when it was released in the USA in 2000. I didn't bother to invite anyone along because my NYC movie posse had all gone out on opening night for the dreadful American Godzilla two summers earlier; based on that, I doubt anyone would have come anyway. And I was pleasantly surprised by at least one excellent idea: the Godzilla Prediction Network.

The GPN is a collective of various Godzilla nuts who pool their talents to figure out where the big guy's going to surface next, and then gather data. And it's a "collective" in the purest, most guerilla-charming way, because basically it's this guy above and his young but savvy daughter.

Where the caption says "mobile unit," it really means their van, in which they drive around chasing the world's most famous atomic lizard. The GPN headquarters is their house, and only twice do we see other members besides these two: guys working on their computers in their respective houses miles away from where any of this is happening.

Anyone remember Twister? Right, the tornado movie. The heroes in Twister were a lovable, ragtag group of scientists crammed into a caravan of dirty pickups, vans and VW buses. They hurled around the American midwest chasing tornadoes, with a research mission that could help save lives -- but they were really in it for the Science. And the bad guys... (giggle) the bad guys were a coporate-sponsored group of tornado-chasing scientists who followed the good guys around in a strong line of new, black SUVs. They had to follow the good guys because despite the money, the good guys were better scientists, and then they'd try to rush ahead and look at the tornado more than the good guys. This results in Cary Elwes glaring from the front seat of his black SUV with a look of mingled resentment and entitlement to match every evil "establishment" frat boy in every campus comedy you stayed up late to watch on cable.

It's RIDICULOUS! At one point, the good guys' leader Bill Paxton actually says of his rival: "Aww, he's not in it for the tornadoes, he's just in it for the money." It's like that Far Side with a group of scientists with glasses, beards and lab coats throwing beakers at each other like little kids.

But in this movie they do the same thing, and it actually works! The father-daughter scientist duo is just the best idea. They're tooling around in the rain with all this science stuff, they're really good at their jobs and see Godzilla a lot. Their geeky friends are a great touch. In a world where humongous monsters wander out of the ocean and stomp on stuff, it makes perfect sense.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have it's share of silly. There's a girl reporter character who tags along with the GPN (you can see her hand back there), and some low-level comic relief is to be expected. The special effects have a notably wide range in quality, from cheap-but-servicable to downright laughable.

But this is the genre that can dish out some silly and still deliver, maybe. And I think this one rides the razor's edge with a wonderfully naive sincerety.

And the plot is better than Twister; eventually the GPN dad and his old partner who sold out join forces and make some science happen. (Did I mention that there's a big flying saucer thingie slowly busting out of a centuries-old meteorite dredged up from the ocean floor? No? Hmm, I'm pretty sure I did.) They discover the cellular property of Godzilla's that makes him so invincible: a sort of hyper-healing enzyme.

Sellout scientist: You discovered it, you get to name it!

(Octopunk thinks "Aww, he's gonna name it after his daughter, and she'll be immortalized as part of this amazing creature she's destined to study.")

GPN Dad Scientist: Oh! Okay... how about... Regenerator G1?

(Octopunk slaps forehead, realizing that this scientist character presumably grew up watching the same endless frieze of giant robot anime as everybody else, so of course he'd pick a name like that.)

Later, I named the Lego robot on the left "Superguardian Robot One" to honor this moment of cinematic foolishness.

As a last word on the characters, around '03 and '04 I made a casual foray into the latest Godzilla movies, and I was pretty disappointed. Godzilla Final War, for instance, skimped on monster action because it was trying to be The Matrix, the good guys being a crack team of government mutants with karate powers or something. And another flick heavily featured this airplane that could turn into three airplanes. Not so much, thanks.

So what else does this movie have going for it? Some good Godzilla, that's what. In addition to the traditional shots of foreground panicking people and background Godzilla (separated by a visible matte line, of course), they try to shift up the perspectives some.

Here's the good guys tracking the G-man from across a river.

And the shot turns as the road curves, and we get here. They still remembered to distill Godzilla to his essence: something big and dark that towers above the horizon and is going to do whatever it wants to. But they tweaked it nicely.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, all he wants to do is cross the street behind you. I loved this shot. I might be wrong, but I feel like I haven't seen a shot quite like this in any other giant monster flick.

And I would call no Godzilla movie worth your time* if it didn't feature a knock-down fight between two huge rubbery monsters. The flying saucer turns into this for about five seconds...

*(Except the first one)

And then it turns into this.

And then Godzilla's all like "oh NO you DI-int!"

The ending fight is gloriously long, just on the edge of tedious. Personally I can't see enough little balsa wood buildings crushed by monsters, so you may want to consider that. In the end, one of the characters delivers this hilarious "there's a little Godzilla in all of us" speech, which is only funny because the city is still getting mercilessly trashed as he says it.

If you see one Godzilla movie, see the original Gojira. If you see two, see Godzilla 2000.

1 comment:

Catfreeek said...

I was so glad to find another monster movie fan here. I grew up on these great rubber beast and will still spend an occasional Saturday night tying figures to pillows with dental floss and photographing them like here Excellent review, I loved this version too.