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movie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Philippe Bergeron

Review by Shane Burridge
No Rating Supplied

It's getting harder to stay ignorant. In the mid-80s it was possible to see films like ET or GREMLINS without knowing what the effects-generated critters looked like beforehand. It was a luxury that imbued these films with a sense of mystery and event. Godzilla (the monster, not the movie) has been a different matter. Toy catalogues, film reviews, television advertisements, and every other medium have been spewing out images of the Scaly One with such prevalence that sneak previews of the lizard itself are almost unavoidable. And if it's not pics of Godzilla then it's the gossipy giveaways of the storyline, or the reviews that get released even before the movie makes it to the local multiplex.

I generally shut myself off from such spoilers, but this time around the tone of the local reviews has made itself quite clear: The lizard is a turkey; GODZILLA bites; the movie is a bomb. So it was hardly surprising by the time I got to the cinema that the non-expectations I usually try to maintain had given way to very low expectations indeed. It was after seeing GODZILLA for myself, however, and thinking "This isn't that bad…actually it's fun", that I suddenly realized I had been missing the point all along: GODZILLA had been made specifically for an audience of middle-aged film critics! Not the teenagers and families and SF/Fantasy/FX fans that filled the screening I had attended. They're not the target audience. Obviously: they're not the ones writing the reviews. How could I have been so blind?

I'm aware that this is an old argument, and that sarcasm is a shoddy platform on which to build it, but I don't see that it is any less true. Reviewing the reviewers, I discovered that every last grumpy reptile-hating one of them had been over the age of 45. I would propose from this sample that this age henceforth be the point at which all critics in the public domain are reassessed, in much the same fashion that drivers licenses are renewed at certain age limits. It's clear to me that there are quite a few current reviewers licenses that need serious re-examination, if not revoking.

It's clear also that the writing-directing-producing team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin knew the kind of critical reception their popcorn movie would get, which explains why the film's most ineffectual character is a non-too-subtle lampoon of critic Roger Ebert, who had panned Emmerich and Devlin's earlier collaborations INDEPENDENCE DAY and STARGATE. I wouldn't think they are singling Ebert out personally; it's just that he represents a critical homogeneity they resent. The collective hostility of this faction will, I guess, be mainly directed to the contrast of two films, JURASSIC PARK and the 1956 GODZILLA. It's true that GODZILLA poaches a lot of imagery from JURASSIC PARK and then simply amplifies it under its self-promoted precept 'Size Does Matter', but if you view it in terms of how Spielberg's film would look under the influence of a couple of bennies then I don't see how you can miss the trippy, demented fun of it all. If it's not a rush, it's still a ride.

It's the original GODZILLA, a cult movie with a huge following, that provides the more challenging comparison. It was a landmark film of its type which established a new export market for Japanese films, but at the risk of offending all Gojira fanatics, I have never understood the appeal of the Toho-produced Godzilla films. It was only when the momentum of the series reached DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, in which every available rubber suit was brought out of mothballs for one last free-for-all scrap, that I could appreciate the divine absurdity of it all. Also going for the original was the large-scale destruction of Tokyo (Godzilla's a lot meaner in his first appearance) which, again, must have been impressive in 1956 - but isn't the destruction just as impressive in 1998, even taking into account the current sophistication of CGI? And even the appeal of seeing cities flattened was lost in the original series when the studios realized it was a lot cheaper for Gojira and his cronies to slug it out in open countryside. From this point on it simply became men in costumes wrestling each other, a trend which has still, mystifyingly, remained popular today with such shows as POWER RANGERS.

But finally, I suppose, it is the allegorical connection that critics will play as their trump card. The original GODZILLA meant something: it was a national psyche which watched itself being destroyed over and over again, still smarting from the humiliation and disenfranchisement of losing the war and the traumatisation of genbaku-sho and other effects of the Holocaust. How can the 1998 version compete with that? It can't, and it doesn't try. Instead, it's a calculated, hypermarketed cash cow. If Godzilla allegorizes anything , then it is the seemingly unstoppable power of the Hollywood money machine, trampling merry hell over all those who have grown out of its demographic. GODZILLA becomes a battle of beasts; not just Ebert versus a lizard, but the Godzilla of film critics against the Godzilla of summer blockbusters.

At the end it appears I have not said one thing, good nor bad, about GODZILLA itself. But that's okay. It may leave you free to see it for yourself without any expectations. And if you still have no idea what the monster looks like, I take my hat off to you. By this stage that would be no mean feat. But I should point out, however, that I still do not know what happens in the final episode of SEINFELD. Beat that if you can.

Copyright © 1998 Shane Burridge

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