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Godzilla Goodness: GODZILLA (1998)

What happens when Americans try to make a Godzilla movie? As it turns out, a rather notorious turkey. #25: Godzilla.

We all remember this one, right?

Few people like this film. It was a big hit when it came out, but many fans have, since then, come to loathe this film as a notorious bomb and the worst thing one can possibly do with a Godzilla film. At 138 minutes, this the the longest Godzilla film by a substantial margin, and features long, long scenes without any Godzilla in it at all. What’s more, the tone is jokey and almost slapstick, rather than little-boy-fantasy fun. Most controversially, the film featured a dramatic redesign of the star creature, transforming him from an upright growling fighter into a lean, iguana-like animal.

It’s not a very good film. It may not be as bad as its reputation as the worst thing ever, but it is still bloated, clumsy, and dumb. And not fun-dumb like most giant nuclear lizard movies. Just dumb. The tagline for the film (which I remember with clarity; I was in college when this film was released) was SIZE DOES MATTER. This is ironic, as Godzilla 1998 features the smallest iteration of the monster yet. Toho signed off on the film, but were perhaps so embarrassed by its eventual reputation, that they – after the fact – decided that the creature in this film was not Godzilla, but a creature that the Americans only mistook for Godzilla. This creature is actually just a giant lizard named Zilla.


What is Zilla compared to Godzilla? Godzilla is, I will posit, a bouncer. He’s a thick-armed, none-too-smart-but-plenty-tough Dalton-type character who kicks unwanted monsters out of Japan. He rules monster island. If the original Godzilla were a person, he would be a guy at a bar, working on his 10th beer, holding a skanky-but-very-hot chick under his arm, talking about how he once drove a truck from New York to L.A. in 48 hours, all while dodging Smokey, and beating up rivals. If Zilla was a person, he’d be a whiny, thin-armed college-aged fratboy at the bar who gets too drunk too quick, sings a bad rendition of “Crazy Train” on the karaoke stage, and embarrasses his girlfriend who is beginning to have second thoughts. Zilla will end up puking in the back alley. Godzilla will hold his hair and tell him to drink more water. Godzilla knew Ozzy personally. Zilla only went to a Nickleback concert.

The origins of Zilla are classical: A lizard egg was exposed to radiation, creating a giant fire-breathing monster. Zilla behaves more like an animal, and is clearly less intelligent than the Godzilla we’ve come to know. It appears, attacks New York, and quickly hides out somewhere in Manhattan while various human characters played by Maria Pitillo, Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and others, try to find it and do it in. It turns out that Zilla wants a place to lay its eggs. It’s male, this creature, but still lays fertilized eggs.


This leads to a long, long scene wherein the human protagonists flee from Zilla’s 400 BABIES in the halls of Madison Square Garden. The babies look and movie a lot like velociraptors from another movie. Indeed, the similarities to Jurassic Park are palpable, and many complain that this film is more a dinosaur mayhem film than a Godzilla film. I feel their pain. The spirit is not present. The bonkers elements. Where are the aliens? The nuclear meltdowns? The other monsters? Some other than director Roland Emmerich’s multi-culti jokeyness and ineffectual military?

I do admire that this American film finally addressed the famed mispronunciation of “Gojira.” A pig-headed journalist played by Harry Shearer heard a Japanese man say it, and thought he said “Godzilla.” Overall, the film is classic Hollywood bloat. Too much money, too many ideas, not enough intelligence. And, to restate it, the spirit is gone. Toho was so grossed out, they had to reboot Godzilla again the following year.

Up next: Godzilla 2000 (1999)

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  1. Zach says:

    I always likened this film to a remake of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. You know, where an oversized iguana rampages through New York City? Yeah. And actually, I think that if they called it what it was, instead of using the Godzilla name as a draw, it would have been remembered much more favorably.

  2. Kam Miller says:

    As a dino-disaster flick, this film is kinda fun. Hank Azaria is good for a few laughs, and the overacting is amusing. 
    Other than the obvious shouldn’t-be-Godzilla complaints, my only other issue is the helicopter chase scene. Emmerich should have been reminded that helicopters can indeed climb above building tops. 

  3. PaladinPool619 says:

    I really like that Toho brought Zilla back for Final Wars in 2004. His appearance in that was awesome. 

  4. Joe Reil says:

    I remember being really excited about this one when it first came out. The team had previously done good with ID4 (also dumb fun, but much more effective about it), so I had high hopes. At this point I wasn’t really all that familiar with Godzilla, but still felt like this wasn’t hitting the spot.

    I think an argument can be made that, if it had been called anything other than Godzilla, it would be a decent giant-monster movie and I plan to rewatch it at some point to see if I agree.

    Looking forward to the discussion on Godzilla 2000. I’ve since become much more familiar with the big guy’s movie appearances and, along with the original (54) the Millennium series is where I’ve spent most of my time.

  5. Nigel Hirth says:

    I really liked the creature design, just not as Godzilla. If they had marketed it as a completely different Kaiju, I think nostalgia would have been kinder, but it’s initial box office wouldn’t have been as large.

  6. Jeff Edsell says:

    Add me to the list of folks who don’t think this film deserves its awful reputation.
    True, it’s not a fantastic movie. It’s sloppy — Zilla seems to change size between scenes, and the baby Zilla scenes in Madison Square Garden (though fun) are really a cheat to avoid dealing with the difference in scale between the titular monster and he human protagonists.
    But really, its greatest “crime” is in disappointing kaiju fans by not actually being a kaiju movie. (Despite starring a version of the best-known kaiju in history.) It’s a Hollywood disaster picture, and when taken as one, it’s not bad. And I find it pretty fun.

  7. Kevin Mathew says:

    Maybe it was because I was 10 when this movie came out but I loved this movie then and I still love it now. I don’t care what movie critics say! 

  8. Brian Bouton says:

    When has there ever been a good Godzilla movie? I feel like I’m in some crazy world where I missed out on this experience and my only memories are of guys crashing cardboard buildings on obvious sound stages wearing rubber monster suits with zippers. When was this Godzilla renaissance?

  9. Mike says:

    I really enjoyed this Godzilla.  Even thought the new look was great.

  10. Mike says:

    I really liked this Godzilla movie. 

  11. Johnny says:

    The whole bit about the French being ultimately responsible for the monster’s existence due to their nuclear testings in the Pacific is really gross.  The writers were fully aware that the original film was a reaction to the real life nuclear testing American’s conducted in the Pacific that killed several Japanese fishermen which sparked the interest in making the original Godzilla.  So what do they do?  Shift the blame to the French because who likes them anyway right?

    • I actually came away with the opposite impression of the movie’s treatment of the French. I thought it was interesting to see the “weak French” trope turned around, with this handful of French soldiers playing as big a role against Zilla as the combined might of the US military.

      • +1.  Also, the movie came out shortly after the last French nuclear test at Moruroa in 1996 when disturbing the wild life of the uninhabited island was considered a much greater crime than Hiroshima.
        Overall, I really liked this movie, too.