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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Godzilla' Nothing but Monstrous Effects




A great, huge hulking beast has arrived in Moscow. Its massive shadow darkens the streets as the behemoth stomps by, the reverberations of its steps rattling windows and curdling hearts with fear, from the lowliest kiosk to the gilded boardrooms of the Kremlin. Every move of its sinewy mass, every twitch of its powerful tail can send whole edifices crumbling, leaving nothing but debris and piteous moans of grief in its wake.


But enough about the International Monetary Fund. Let's talk about "Godzilla," the 1998 exercise in computer-generated entertainment, or CGE, now showing at the American House of Cinema. As far as your typical CGE goes, "Godzilla" is a fairly superior product. It does steal pretty brazenly from "Jurassic Park" CGEs -- but if you're of a mind to mooch, why not mooch from the best? The biggest theft, of course, is the great green beast itself. Gone is the lumbering, lovable lump immortalized in the 1954 Japanese original and its countless sequels; instead, we are given something that looks remarkably like a combination of the Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" T-Rex and velociraptor.


Lean, sinewy, voracious, fierce, fast; this is definitely a '90s monster -- in fact, the very model of a modern major corporation. Perhaps, as the original "Godzilla" was sometimes seen as a metaphorical emanation of post-war Japanese consciousness, this new, Americanized version is embodying the ethos of its time and place.


Or maybe not. More likely it's just following standard CGE procedure, with nary a metaphorical conceit in sight. CGEs are not meant to be cinematic interpretations of reality. They are constructed as carnival rides, aimed solely at the production of adrenaline in the viewer. That is why their engineering is given over largely to computers, which not only generate the special effects, but also crunch the numbers gathered from focus groups and market surveys to determine the plot and characters as well. The procedure has brought the same kind of efficiency and standardization to the "art" of film-making that Henry Ford introduced into automobile manufacturing at the turn of the century.


So what have the engineers generated for us this time? Here's the plot: A nuclear test stirs Godzilla from slumber. In this version, the monster is some sort of asexual, self-impregnating creature, and once awakened, must lay its eggs. Naturally, these eggs must be laid in New York City. So it crosses thousands of miles of ocean, wreaking mysterious havoc along the way, and eventually arrives in the Big Apple.


Meanwhile, a worm scientist named Niko Tatopoulous (played by the exceedingly Greek-looking Matthew Broderick) figures out what's going on. Together with his ex-girlfriend, Audrey (Maria Pitillo), a French team led by Philippe Roche (Jean Reno) and various other quirky, quipping characters, they try to save the city from Godzilla's severe case of post-partum crankiness.


They do a pretty lousy job, actually, but that's all to the good, of course: The whole point of this particular engineering feat is to thrill us with the destruction of several well-known landmarks of Manhattan while providing ample opportunity for chase scenes (the heroes chasing the monster, the monster chasing the heroes, etc.). All this is delivered with admirable efficiency, negligible wit and zero originality; not unlike, say, a nice, sturdy 1955 Ford Rambler.


If you enjoy computer-generated entertainment -- and who doesn't, once in a while? -- then "Godzilla" will probably not disappoint you. If you're in the mood for a movie, however, you may want to look elsewhere.