(A quick warning: as usual, there is a fair bit of plot synopsis and analysis contained in this review. If you're concerned about the plot being spoiled for you, even a standard-issue Godzilla plot like this one, you might want to wait until after you've seen Godzilla 2000 to read on.)
After it became obvious that 1998's TriStar Godzilla film was probably not going to spawn any sequels, Toho announced that they were going to make a new Godzilla movie for the year 2000. Actually, Toho had announced shortly after they killed Godzilla off in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah that they were planning on bringing back Godzilla in the new millennium, so they may have been planning the new film no matter what, if only to capitalize on the bigger budget American film. In any case, the rubber suit Godzilla is back. Did Toho make a better monster for the new era? Well...
The new film features a new continuity, and Godzilla appears quite different from what we've been used to in recent years. Some Japanese sources say that Godzilla 2000 follows Godzilla (1954) but Godzilla himself looks so different that it's tough to imagine that it could be the same creature from the earlier film. Since there are no references to any specific events from the past, all we know is that Godzilla has visited Japan often enough that a hearty few have dedicated their lives to tracking him. That's where our main (non-monster) characters come in.
"We should have taken that
left turn at Albequerque!"
Yuji Shinoda is the lead member of the Godzilla Prediction Network. As the film opens, he's near Nossapu Point, waiting for Godzilla, who has been setting off telltale warnings on Yuji's seismograph. Yuji has also brought his 10 year-old daughter Iyo, and a photojournalist by the name of Yuki Ichinose. They wait in the fog until Godzilla lands, then they begin chasing him, which seems like a really dumb thing to do. Once they catch up with Godzilla, he breathes heavily into their windshield, triggering flashbacks to Jurassic Park for all of the fanboys in the audience. Then Yuki sets off her camera's flash, angering Godzilla and forcing the trio to flee down a mountain tunnel in their SUV as Godzilla destroys the tunnel behind them.
This whole sequence is quite well done: it's atmospheric, with much of the action taking place in fog. But this sequence also foreshadows some of the stuff in this film that troubles us. Yuji doesn't want to kill Godzilla, only to study him and predict his movements. Godzilla holds the answers to mysteries, or so Yuji states. What mysteries? Agatha Christie novels? What a city looks like after a 200-foot lizard has stomped it flat? To keep Yuji a sympathetic character, the filmmakers can't really show Godzilla killing people. If they did, Yuji would appear unfeeling for those who have suffered from Godzilla's raids. So instead, Godzilla 2000's city destruction scenes play out very impersonally and sometimes even for laughs, like the early bit where Godzilla knocks over a radio tower on top of a lighthouse keeper, but the leaves the guy unscathed ala Steamboat Bill Jr. We hate to start making comparisons already, but there's nothing in Godzilla 2000 that comes close to the incredible city trashing scene in Gamera 3, and it seems wrong for Godzilla to come in second.
"Hey! Hey! You got a permit
to park that here?!"
Meanwhile, a large mysterious rock, 600 feet across, has been found in the ocean off Japan. Because of the rock's strange composition researchers decide to bring it to the surface. You just gotta love them researchers: no matter how obvious it is that something is a bad idea, they'll still do it "for science." (At one point, one of the lab-coated geeks even wonders aloud, "Am I one of those dangerous scientists?") Once the rock starts moving it begins to rise of its own volition. It surfaces among the research ships and floats there, in a scene that recalls Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The researchers determine that the large rock is alive, and has probably been on the ocean floor for 60 million years.
Back at Yuki's newspaper, Yuki is chewed out by her editor for ruining all her film of Godzilla. She's a girl, so of course she's incompetent! But apparently photos of Godzilla are so rare that the editor sends her out again.
"Godzilla -- hyper oral fire mega-attack!"
We find it tough to believe that photos of Godzilla could be that rare, especially in a camera-intensive country like Japan. Even if Godzilla only surfaces for small periods of time, you'd think there'd be plenty of pictures, not to mention videos. Just a month back we witnessed a waterspout off the coast of Clearwater, FL. It was huge, but probably lasted less than five minutes. That night on the 11 o'clock news, the local FOX affiliate had footage of the damned thing from three different angles. You can't tell us that Japan would do worse. Perhaps they've been fleeing from giant monsters for so many years that when anything vaguely lizard-like comes by, they drop everything in a reflex action. We should do some research into this phenomenon at Orlando's Gatorland.
Yuki hooks back up with Yuji and Iyo at the Godzilla Prediction Network. Now, as near as we can tell, the entire Godzilla Prediction network's assets consist of the following:
And we thought the Predator
One widower, named Yuji. He has lots of scientific theories that seem to come out of nowhere and is a moron when it comes to naming stuff. And ladies, he's available.
One sitcom-issue precocious daughter, who handles all of the GPN's financial dealings. Iyo offers Yuki a "discount membership" so that she may continue to hang out with the GPN crew.
A pretty cool SUV. Watch the computers in the back fry as Godzilla's radioactive body comes near.
Yuji's motorcycle, which looks and sounds like it is powered by gerbils.
Six fax machines, which are all presumably in use sending Yuji's resume out to Tokyo's employment agencies.
One iMac, in the coolest flavor of all, Tangerine, and various related Apple Computer equipment. After all, countless Heisei movies have taught us that you can't hunt Godzilla without a Macintosh.
...and you can get it at Office Depot!
An acronym that would sound pretty cool if James Earl Jones were to say it.
The headquarters of the GPN looks like it may be in Yuji's mother's garage apartment. And when Yuji works there, he has to keep the window open or the fumes from gas and gerbil droppings will overwhelm him. In any case, it doesn't look all that professional. Of course, how hard can it be to track Godzilla? It's not like he is a 1943 copper penny or something. He's huge!
It quickly becomes obvious that the giant rock floating in the ocean actually an alien vessel (or creature?) of some kind is up to no good, especially since it has the annoying habit of re-writing the hard drives of nearby computers with its own web site apparently, a Godzilla fan site! Its interest is in Godzilla's amazing regenerative properties, powered by something in Godzilla's cells that Yuji calls "Organizer G-1." That's the last time we let Yuji name anything -- It's obvious that he can't handle the responsibility.
Before you can say "Holy genetics, Batman," the alien(s) whip up a giant monster of their (its?) own using the Organizer G-1 and then, of course, it's time for the giant monster smackdown. The newest addition to Bandai's army of vinyl figures, Orga, takes on the big G in downtown Tokyo in a climactic battle to the finish. Orga uses his shoulder-cannon and power-absorbing bite, while Godzilla relies on his tried-and-true tail-whip and atomic breath strategies. Whose cuisine will reign supreme?
We don't know. Did you have
anything to do with the Flowbee?
Human villainy is provided by Katagiri (played by Hiroshi Abe, who also played the villain in Yamato Takeru), an old colleague of Yuji's who now works for the Crisis Control Institute. The only evil thing Katagiri ever really does is try to kill Godzilla, which doesn't seem particularly evil to us. Not that he's any better at killing Godzilla than anyone else. When Godzilla surfaces near the nuclear power plant at Tokai, Katagiri employs "penetration missiles," which we are told can pierce three thick concrete walls. Hey, that's great if Godzilla happens to be behind three concrete walls and you want a missile to bounce harmlessly off his hide, or if you are running from Godzilla and there are three concrete walls in the way, but other than that, they work about as well as any other weapon ever used against Godzilla has.
Sadly, most of the human drama in the film is limited to a scene in which Yuji and then Yuki stupidly stick around in an office building which has been rigged to explode. Why would they do this? To retrieve a computer to which the alien spaceship (which is sitting on top of the building) is inexplicably downloading its plans. If that led to anything, that would be great. But other than explaining the "Millennium" in the Japanese title (long story don't ask), it never really goes anywhere.
True story: Bandai made an
action figure of this.
There are some pretty impressive special effects this time around. The sequence in which the Japanese Special Defense Force (JSDF) takes on Godzilla at Tokai is probably the best military vs. Godzilla confrontation Toho has yet filmed. The tanks look authentic (none of the usually laughable miniatures here) and the missiles are done in the same whooshy CGI style that has worked so well for the modern Gamera films. And in a nod towards the American Godzilla movie, a squad of attack helicopters makes a real nuisance of itself for our favorite giant radioactive reptile.
The Big G himself has been radically updated for this film; his spines are much more prominent than before and have a more pronounced curvature, and his teeth are elongated and give Godzilla a more predatory look one certainly more menacing than the iguana-like TriStar Godzilla. While Godzilla is still too intelligent-looking to be called an animal, he has certainly returned to his "force of nature" status with a vengeance, laying waste to whole stretches of Tokyo with atomic fire-breath while his spines glow with a white-orange light. Orga is a particularly bland opponent for Godzilla. It looks like the filmmakers may have meant him as a dig at Gamera, because he does look a bit like a turtle.
So where it really matters, Godzilla action, Godzilla 2000 delivers fairly well, if not spectacularly. We really wish they had tried a little harder to keep Godzilla in the action, because he disappears for the middle 40 minutes of the film. While the human drama is particularly flat this time around, it is great to see the man-in-suit in action. Godzilla fans disappointed by the TriStar version of this screen legend will welcome the return to old-school monster movie-making, but we suspect that if this film had merely followed the 1990's Heisei films, it wouldn't have been received with such open arms.
Our advice to Toho for the next film, reportedly titled Godzilla X Megaguiras: spend some money on a talented writer, and start with a solid script. After the example Daiei's recent Gamera series has set for what giant monster movies can be, anything else is bound to disappoint.