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Columbia-Tristar/1998/139m/ANA,WS 2.35

     Godzilla stomps! The big lizard treats Manhattan with all the disdain of a mean kid having his way with sandcastles. Monster movie logic rules much of Godzilla. A beast the size of New York City’s Flatiron Building that can run 200mph can’t quite catch four spry movie stars on foot and then can’t quite catch four movie stars racing to the Brooklyn Bridge in a battered New York cab. Matthew Broderick, playing nuclear nerd Mike Tatapoulos can force a nine-foot baby Godzilla out of an elevator with his legs. We’ve got a beast load of movie cliché running wild in New York in this Godzilla. There’s a smarmy news anchor trying to seduce his assistant, a pretty would-be television reporter. And of course, she’s in the thick of things to grab the real poop on Godzilla. The military butts heads with a loud New York Mayor in several piddling confrontations and the Air Force can’t hit a skyscraper-sized target until it tries crossing the bridge in too big a hurry.
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Typical Garden crowd.©Columbia-Tristar

     What you get with Godzilla ain’t story and that’s probably the most consistent monster movie convention of all. Hell, why expect story in a remake of a 1950’s monster movie. We’ve got the effects to blow movie-goers out of their seats these days(No, not Sensurround, the process installed under seats for the movie Earthquake.)and Godzilla runs full tilt with those. A phalanx of missile armed helicopters chase Godzilla through the streets of New York and then Godzilla chases them. I never could figure out why they didn’t head to the sky to avoid the big guy. There are some tanks that get crushed by a Godzilla paw, big guns firing away, and finally some swift jets packing some hot shots. There are fewer one-liners than I would have expected from this effort and I was grateful for that.
     The effects team and director Roland Emmerich have a monstrous good time in destroying New York landmarks, but ever since he blew up the White House in Independence Day, Emmerich will have a hard time capturing an equivalent moment. This time he gets to knock the Chrysler Building in half. I wonder if he needed permission to do in the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers or maybe they’ve been downed in too many movies already. The effects are very good indeed. Swipes of Godzilla’s tale cut slices through buildings, half the city shakes when the big beast comes roaring down the street. Take it from me, the Godzilla team does not skimp on destruction.
     Matthew Broderick is less than effective as Mike Tatopoulos. Broderick handled lizard duty in The Freshman with the right touch, but this time he can’t figure out how to make a lizard souffle. Maria Potillo is positively right out of Nancy Drew as Audrey Timmons(Do we have an allusion to Little Shop of Horrors here?). Hank Azaria gets to run around with a camera lot, but whatever happened to Agedor Spartacus in The Birdcage? Well, I guess it’s a good payday? What’s Jean Reno doing here playing a French Secret Service Agent? He’s going to get a reputation as a car chase specialist what with his recent work in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin.
     So, how good is the disc. It’s terrific. The Godzilla DVD is big, bold and noisy. Most of the action takes place either in the rain, at night, or in dimly lit interiors, but the outstanding transfer contrast balance provides sustained image clarity in every situation. Explosive transitions are smooth. The Dolby Digital 5:1 surround is commensurate with the sheer size of the film. During many of the destruction sequences, surround information is all over the place. The subtlety and accuracy of the mix shine in the quieter patches. Check out the dripping in water in the left surround. And Godzilla’s heavy breathing feels like its spewing the hot breadth of monster all over you. Front to rear and side to side pans are swift, defined and dynamic. When those helicopters are buzzing through the city, they are buzzing through the home theater as well. Bass is big enough to shake the foundations of most home theater chairs. The sound mix pushes enough air through the speakers to shake with every Godzilla gyration.
     DVD menus are displaying increasing creativity. Ease of interface is most important, but Godzilla’s rockin’ menu system is a small bonus worth a broad smile. The Godzilla special editon includes an audio commentary by the effects team which consistently explains the marvels of the new movie technology. Also included is a short featurette that was obviously made as a promo film. A single screen shot comparison of before and after effects of computer animation simply serves to whet a viewers appetite for a more thorough treatment of the effects.

filmhead1.gif (2331 bytes)  ã1998 Stuart J. Kobak , all rights reserved.