Godzilla is a 1998 American Kaijū film directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich. It is a remake of the 1954 classic Japanese monster film Godzilla (known in Japan as Gojira; released in the United States in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!) and it was dedicated to the co-creator and producer of various Godzilla films Tomoyuki Tanaka, who died in April of 1997.
The film begins in 1968 during a nuclear test in the Mururoa Atoll Islands of French Polynesia, where a marine iguana nest is irradiated by the fallout. Thirty years later (after the test and after the iguana's irradiation) in the South Pacific Ocean, a gigantic reptilian-like aquatic creature attacks a Japanese freighter ship called the Kobayashi Maru, killing the majority of the people inside it and sinking the vessel in the process. Meanwhile, we cut to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine where NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) biologist Dr. Niko "Nick" Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is experimenting on worms, however, he is interrupted when a U.S. State Department official named Kyle Terrington (Glenn Morshower) arrives with an important mission for him. At a hospital in Papeete, Tahiti, a mysterious Frenchman (Jean Reno) asks the sole survivor of the shipwreck regarding what he saw. The survivor simply replies by saying "Gojira" three times. Nick is sent to the Golfo de San Miguel (Spanish for "Gulf of San Miguel") in Panama by the military to study a huge footprint. Meanwhile, in New York City, a woman named Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) wants to try and get a reporting job from news anchor Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer), whom she works for. Nick is later sent to Great Pedro Bluff in Jamaica where he finds the wreck of another freighter ship with huge claw marks on it and the mysterious Frenchmen arrives, revealing his name to be Philippe Roaché and claiming to be an "insurance guy". Nick gets a skin sample and rejects the military's theory that the monster is a living dinosaur (since it's too big to be one), deducing it to be an animal mutated by nuclear testing while the monster sinks a fishing boat on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Meanwhile, Nick is seen by Audrey on TV and he turns out to be her ex-boyfriend. Later, the giant monster emerges from the river to wreak havoc upon New York and almost squashes one of Audrey's friends, cameraman Victor "Animal" Palotti (Hank Azaria).
After the destruction, the monster suddenly disappears and the city is ordered to be evacuated. Roaché puts a network bug on Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) so that he and the others can listen to the military meeting. That night, the army, on Nick's advice, attempts to lure the creature to Flatiron Square with 20,000 pounds of fish for it to reveal itself. The giant lizard comes out of the sewers to finally reveal itself and Nick takes a picture of it. As it's eating fish, Nick starts taking more picture of it and the military opens fire, causing the creature to run away, knocking down a statue of James Madison in the process. They try to shoot it down with missiles but, because the creature is really fast, they accidentally destroy the Chrysler Building instead. Meanwhile, while two guys are robbing a video store, they see the giant lizard running away from the military and are shocked to see it. The military tries to kill the monster, but it manages to destroy three attack helicopters and, after roaring in front of a building, disappears again. Nick collects a blood sample and meets up with his ex-girlfriend Audrey. After performing a pregnancy test, he finds out that the creature can reproduce asexually, calling it "a very unusual he". Audrey sees one of her ex-boyfriend's classified videotapes about the monster and steals it, intending to use it to advance her aspirations to be a news reporter. Nick tells the government that the creature is collecting food for its offspring, but gets fired for accidentally leaking classified material about the monster, with Caiman identifying it as "Godzilla" after mispronouncing "Gojira". Audrey tries to apologize to him for stealing his videotape, but Nick blows her off and gets a taxi to the airport. However, the taxi driver turns out to be the "insurance guy" Philippe Roaché, who reveals himself to be a French secret service agent who plans, along with his colleagues, to cover up France's role in the nuclear testing which mutated Godzilla into a giant monster. Animal follows them and tells a crying Audrey that they are going after the nest while Nick and the French secret service agents decide to find and destroy it. Audrey and Animal go into the tunnels while the military tries to lure the creature with fish again. While the heroes are in the tunnels investigating and looking for the nest, Godzilla appears, which causes them to run away and when it appears near Central Park for the fish, the military starts shooting at it again, which causes Godzilla to run away.
Godzilla manages to dive into the Hudson River to try and escape from the army. However, underwater, a U.S. Navy submarine (the Los Angeles-class Nuclear Attack Sub Anchorage) ambushes Godzilla with homing torpedoes, but the monster redirects them back towards the sub, blowing it to pieces. Fortunately, two other submarines (the Ohio-class Utah and the Ohio-class Indiana) finally manage to directly hit Godzilla with several torpedoes, seemingly killing it. As the army celebrates, Godzilla's body sinks to the bottom of the Hudson. Meanwhile, in Madison Square Garden, Nick, Audrey, Roaché, and Animal find the nest and locate at least 288 eggs that start hatching. The baby Godzillas see the humans as food because they smell like fish, so they chase after them. Two of Roaché's colleagues see the baby Godzillas and manage to lock a door, but the other two are killed by them. Meanwhile, Dr. Elsie Chapman (Vicky Lewis) says to the military that they should probably look for the nest. Roaché tells Nick to get a hold of the government to call in an airstrike, but he can't get through. Meanwhile, two of Roaché's colleagues are cornered and killed by the baby Godzillas, whom they tried to shoot at. Nick is cornered by them, but manages to take an elevator and goes to the third floor, but finds the other baby Godzillas waiting for him, so he goes to the fourth floor where he and Roaché run into Animal and Audrey. They figure out that they can use the broadcasting room to get a message to the government, with Nick stating that Godzilla's species may presumably replace humanity as Earth's dominant species. After the heroes get out of the building and barricade the doors, the military arrives and blows it up, killing the majority of the baby Godzillas. Nick and Audrey become a couple again by kissing each other, but after they kiss, they hear something and it turns to be the adult Godzilla, who has survived being shot by the torpedoes and emerges from the building. After emerging, the giant lizard looks at the carcasses of its deceased children and looks at the heroes with an enraged glare. Roaché decides that it would be best for him and the others to run away as a vengeful Godzilla attempts to eat them, but they get inside a taxi to flee from it. Sergeant O'Neal (Doug Savant) sees the creature and informs Colonel Anthony Hicks (Kevin Dunn) that Godzilla has survived. After a long chase sequence, the heroes get stuck inside a tunnel, but they manage to get out and run onto the Brooklyn Bridge, only for Godzilla to trap them in its mouth. Fortunately, Roaché uses a gun to destroy one of Godzilla's teeth, which causes the monster to let go of them. Eventually, Godzilla is entangled in the bridge's cables, allowing it to be shot with missiles by a squadron of F-18 fighter jets. Godzilla bleeds to death and finally dies. Nick gives one last look at the creature before it closes its eyes and the NY citizens celebrate, with Roaché thanking Nick for helping him. However, in the ruins of a destroyed and burnt Madison Square Garden, the last remaining egg hatches as a baby Godzilla roars. The scene cuts to black and "Come With Me" by Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page plays as the credits start rolling.
- Poor acting, even from Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo, and Kevin Dunn.
- To get the elephant out of the room, the monster's design (Godzilla-wise) and behavior are simply way too different from the various Toho Godzilla incarnations. For instance, the Toho Godzillas are either an ancient prehistoric amphibious reptile or a dinosaur (a member of the fictional Godzillasaurus species, as identified in the 1991 film Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) awakened and mutated by radiation from a nuclear bomb test, while Tristar's Godzilla is a mutated marine iguana. In the original 1954 Godzilla film, it was implied that an American hydrogen bomb test destroyed Godzilla's habitat and irradiated him while Tristar's Godzilla is mutated by radiation from a French hydrogen bomb test (see other bad qualities for more discrepancies). For examples:
- The original Godzilla was a male (though he is referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as "it" in the Japanese dialogue of the films), but the monster in this movie has no discernable gender since it has the ability to reproduce asexually and designer Patrick Tatopoulos has admitted in the "DVD Special FX Supervisor Commentary" of the film that he sculpted female genitals onto the creature's CGI model, which are barely visible. Regardless of this, Toho still considers the monster a male, and throughout most of the movie, it is referred to as he, though technically it is most likely hermaphroditic. There's bad grasp of the source material:
- The giant monster can disappear completely in the narrow streets of New York and it has both the abilities to burrow and camouflage.
- The monster can somehow run faster than helicopters or tanks, with a top speed estimated between 300 to 500 miles per hour (482.8 to 804.6 kilometers per hour). Not to mention, the monster is also afraid of the military since it runs away from them while the original Godzilla was a fearless brute.
- Speaking of which, the original Godzilla behaved like a destructive force of nature while the Godzilla in this movie behaves more like a dumb animal, but is still somewhat clever. In the film, Nick regarded the creature saying "He's not some monster trying to evade you. He's just an animal. If you find what he wants, then he'll come for you".
- The monster doesn't have Godzilla's iconic atomic breath or fire breath (one of the most notable Godzilla misconceptions), it just blows on cars and causes a fiery explosion (which is accompanied by the sound of a panther growling for no reason). This ability is called the "Power Breath" since Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin never intended for this incarnation of Godzilla to have any type of atomic or fire breath.
- However, in some artwork and merchandise related to the film, the monster is depicted firing atomic breath (in the video game Godzilla Trading Battle, the creature possesses a blue atomic breath, just like the original Godzilla). And in Godzilla: The Series, when the monster was revived as "Cyber Godzilla", he possessed a blue atomic breath while his asexually-produced son possessed a green atomic breath and did not possess his father's ability to reproduce asexually, and later mates with a female mutated komodo dragon named Komodithrax to act as a substitute father to her offspring.
- The monster also dies too easily since it can be killed with missiles, which is not the case with the original, nigh-invincible Godzilla. However, in Godzilla: The Series, his son had an incredible resistance to conventional weaponry, even though as a juvenile, he was injured by missiles.
- These problems were so bad that Toho now classifies this monster as a new creation known as "Zilla". In Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, a character mentions that the Americans think that the original Godzilla was the monster who attacked New York, but the Japanese government knows it was actually a completely different creature, and in Godzilla: Final Wars, Zilla fights the original Godzilla in Sydney and gets annihilated in 13 seconds flat. This scene very definitely shows Toho's displeasure towards Sony with their handling of the Godzilla franchise. Since then, this movie has created the extremely annoying misconception that Godzilla is a lizard.
- None of the characters from the early Godzilla movies or the classic themes appear in this movie.
- Most of the destruction in the movie is not caused by Zilla, but by the US military, who are unbelievably and impossibly bad at hitting a 180-foot tall monster, accidentally destroying buildings and monuments like the Chrysler Building instead.
- The baby Xilla chase scenes are a blatant rip-off of the Raptor scenes from Jurassic Park, and the egg nest scene before it also rips off a similar scene from Aliens.
- The scene of Zilla chasing the taxi is also obviously just copied from the T. rex car chase in Jurassic Park.
- At one point in the movie, a reporter mentions that Godzilla attack is "the worst act of destruction in New York since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing!". After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in which the World Trade Center was destroyed, the aforementioned line ends up being a lot more disturbing than originally intended.
- False advertising: The poster makes Godzilla look gargantuan when in the actual movie, he's not as tall as you think he is. As mentioned above, Godzilla stands 180 feet (54.8 meters) tall, measures 300 feet (91.4 meters) long from head to tail, and weighs 500 tons (according to the film's novelization) while the biggest Godzilla incarnation at the time, the Godzilla from the Heisei era (from 1991-1995), stood 100 meters tall, measured 200 meters long and weighed 60,000 metric tons. However, the Godzilla from the 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, The Godzilla Power Hour, stood 400 feet (122 meters) tall (according to the Godzilla 1954-1999 Super Complete Works informational book), but was lighter than the Heisei Godzilla, weighing at only 600 metric tons.
- To make matters worse, Godzilla noticeably changes size thought this movie for no apparent reason.
- Horrible visual effects that are extremely outdated and terribly unconvincing, with the vehicles, landscapes and even Godzilla itself sticking out like a sore thumb. This is the reason why most of the movie takes place at night. The fact that Godzilla even changes sizes randomly through out doesn't help either.
- Some incredibly laughable dialogue, like when Nick says That's a lot of fish! during the scene where the Army is preparing a trap for Godzilla.
- Excessive amount of product placements like Pepsi, Blockbuster, Taco Bell (which promoted the release of the movie and also aired a commercial featuring Godzilla) and KFC (which also promoted the release of the movie and released toys based on it).
- The incompetent Mayor Ebert and his bumbling assistant Gene are obvious caricatures of popular film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. This was done to get back at the two for giving Roland Emmerich's previous movies negative reviews. Mayor Ebert also spends most of his time eating candy, which even then, they don't mock them very well. In his review of the movie, Siskel asked, "If you're going to have us in a monster movie, why don't you have the monster eat or squish us?".
- It's been speculated that the film played a part in causing toy company Trendmasters to go bankrupt. Trendmasters, who previously found success with their toys based on the main Godzilla films, also created toys for this film. However, the toys sold horribly and many retailers refused to stock them.
- Scientific inaccuracies, much like Roland Emmerich's other movies:
- When Dr. Elsie Chapman theorizes that Zilla is a living Allosaurus, she mentions that the genus of theropod dinosaur lived during the late Cretaceous period when it in fact lived during the late Jurassic period 155 to 150 million years ago.
- Some geographical errors and plot holes:
- It is shown that Zilla, prior its mutation, was a marine iguana living on the island of Mururoa in French Polynesia, even though marine iguanas are native to and can only be found in Galápagos Islands (Ecuador). However, it might've been a test animal.
- The army helicopter that picks up Nick from Chernobyl obviously has the red star insignia of the Russian Air Forces, although Chernobyl is located in Ukraine, not Russia. Then again, Ukraine used to be part of Russia, and as of 2022, Russia is trying to reclaim Ukraine.
- There is a scene where Zilla chases a helicopter around, but the pilot has apparently forgotten that helicopters can change altitude.
- A stupid running gag in which everyone in the film mispronounces Nick's last name, which gets annoying fast.
- Almost everyone who made this film clearly had no experience or knowledge with the Godzilla franchise.
- Just like most Roland Emmerich movies, this movie shoehorns in pointless American patriotism and pointless American government scenes. This could possibly put a bad taste in some viewers' mouths since Godzilla was initially a Japanese franchise and can at times unironically feel racist, although that was clearly unintentional.
- Roland Emmerich's direction isn't that great.
- The ending was anti-climcatic with Zilla getting stuck on the bridge and gets killed by jet missiles and easily dies, while everyone else celebrates.
- After the New York citizens celebrate Zilla's demise, the only surviving egg in the ruins of Madison Square Garden hatches as the baby Godzilla roars. But due to the film's negative reception, it never had an actual sequel.
- The very decent Japanese dub.
- Although most of the acting is not that great as mentioned above, there is a little bit of good acting, for example:
- Jean Reno as Philippe Roaché is one of the few highlights of the movie, and in the European/Parisian French dub of the movie, Reno did his own lines.
- Hank Azaria as Victor "Animal" Palotti can get a few good laughs at times.
- It has good songs (such as "No Shelter" by Rage Against the Machine and "Deeper Underground" by Jamiroquai) and an awesome soundtrack composed by David Arnold.
- Some funny moments here and there, such as the "wrong floor!" moment.
- Although some of the effects are outdated as mentioned above, there is a ton of good practical effects and miniatures, like the destruction of Madison Square Garden.
- Some action scenes, such as the taxi chase scene, are intense and decent.
- The TriStar Godzilla's design was actually not bad as its own creature.
- However, it was the bad CGI and poor design choices that ruined it.
- The opening credits are a good homage to classic monster movies.
- The film moves at a pretty good pace.
- Zilla's death (while underwhelming) is pretty emotional and heartbreaking.
- A few weeks after this movie came out in theaters, it gave us an epic animated series called Godzilla: The Series, which was a follow-up, and was a slight improvement over this movie because it was at least more faithful to the original movies and had plenty of unique monsters.
- Several great moments of suspense, such as Zilla's attack on the Japanese cargo ship and the fishing boats being dragged underwater.
- The cinematography isn't too bad.
- Zilla has a fine amount of screen time.
Godzilla received generally negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 15% "rotten" rating based on 78 reviews, which is lower than Godzilla 1985, the Americanized version of The Return of Godzilla (which has a 20% rating) and All Monsters Attack (which has a 25% rating and is widely considered to be worse than this movie). The site's critical consensus reads: "Without compelling characters or heart, Godzilla stomps on everything that made the original (or any monster movie worth its salt) a classic.". Metacritic has a weighted average score of 32 out of 100 based on 23 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B-" on a scale of A to F. Criticism highlighted by film critics included the film's script, acting, and directing, while fans targeted the film's reinvention of Godzilla, which included its redesign and departure from the source material.
Roland Emmerich later admitted that he regrets making this film during promotions for The Day After Tomorrow.
After the rights to the TriStar film reverted back to Toho in 2003, an almost identical character named Zilla was introduced in the Tohu universe, making their first appearance in 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars. Zilla has appeared in many comics such as Godzilla: Rulers of Earth, where he's actually a formidable opponent. He has also appeared in two video games Godzilla: Generations and the aforementioned Godzilla Trading Battle alongside the original Godzilla. Zilla was also supposed to appear in the game Godzilla: Unleashed, but he was scrapped due to not being popular with Godzilla fans. However, he appeared in the mobile game Godzilla: Kaiju Collection and Godzilla: Monster Apocalypse, the prequel novel to the 2017 anime film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. In this novel, Zilla attacks Rouen, France in October 2039 (this is likely a nod since the French were responsible for mutating Zilla in the 1998 film). However, he is easily killed by the French military, who claimed him to be Godzilla, but he really wasn't.
Toho hated the movie so much that they brought the original Godzilla (who had been killed off in 1995's Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) out of retirement early in Godzilla 2000 (which was actually released in Japan in 1999). Sony and TriStar would later release a well-received English dub of Godzilla 2000 that has been considered to be an apology for their involvement in the 1998 film. In the movie, the final design for the alien monster Orga was heavily influenced by Zilla's design, with the modelers (Shinichi Wakasa and Kenji Suzuki) deliberately basing Orga's design on Zilla so that "the Japanese Godzilla could defeat the American Godzilla".
Despite the mostly negative reception of the past, some Godzilla fans and most audiences in recent years now see Godzilla 1998 as a decent standalone monster film and consider it to be far much better than some of the other bad Godzilla movies. However, many fans, audiences, and critics still consider it to be the worst Godzilla movie of all time if not the worst.
The film opened up at #1 on its opening weekend grossing with a domestic gross of $44,047,541. The film's total domestic gross was $136,314,294. In foreign markets, the film made $242,700,000. Overall, the film made $379,014,294 worldwide against a budget of $130 million. The film was deemed a box office disappointment.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for four Golden Raspberry Awards including "Worst Picture". It managed to win two: one for Maria Pitillo as "Worst Supporting Actress" and another for "Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel". The film also won a Saturn Award for "Best Special Effects" and a BMI Film Music Award for David Arnold.
- Before Roland Emmerich was chosen to direct, Jan de Bont (the director of Speed) was picked to direct the film, which had the original 1994 script that was more faithful to the Toho films, such as the design of Godzilla, his atomic breath and his rivalries with other monsters.
- Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were considered for the lead characters after starring in Twister.
- Sarah Jessica Parker, Renee Zellweger, and Jennifer Aniston were considered for the role of Audrey.
- Believe it or not, this incarnation Godzilla has a little bit more screen time than Godzilla in the 2014 MonsterVerse film.
- As mentioned in BQ #3, according to the novelization of the film, this incarnation of Godzilla stood 54 meters in height, 91 meters in length, and weighed 500 tons, making him the lightest known interpretation of Godzilla.