Film Reviews:


(Roland Emmerich, US, 1998)

Tell me I'm a dope, but before I went to a press screening of Roland (Stargate, Independence Day) Emmerich's latest SF epic, I still had hopes that I might be pleasantly surprised. After all, the teaser campaign was a corker. If only they'd let the guy who directed those trailers direct the film itself - 'cause what we have here is a 24-carat pile 'o shite.

How Emmerich has managed to make a film about a giant lizard trashing New York City that is actually BORING I'll never know, but he has. Almost everything that made those 60's Toho studio movies great has passed Emmerich by. I expect what fans wanted from a Hollywood version of Godzilla was exactly the same recipe but with top quality ingredients. The same city-stomping action but with a believable monster. This abysmal Hollywood effort starts well enough with a terrific, sepia-toned opening credits sequence - film of lizards overlaid with newsreel footage of nuclear explosions - all accompanied by David (Tomorrow Never Dies) Arnold's doom-laden music. But from then on it is a slow nose dive into yawn city.

Emmerich doesn't seem to know how to handle the material. One minute we have fleeting glimpses of tension and horror, the next out-and-out slapstick. I mean, what did the guy think he was doing? It was embarrassing to watch so many attempts at humour fall completely flat on a completely silent audience - was that what Emmerich was going for? A silent audience 'reaction'? I think not. Situations, characters, dialogue are all mind-numbingly dumb, clichéd and utterly uninspiring. And even the most kind-hearted viewer will find the mountain of inconsistencies and rip-offs of other movies (a staple of Emmerich's work) a frustrating and annoying pain throughout.

Easily the best asset of the film is Patrick Tatopoulos's creature design itself. A brilliant update that goes back to basics and has the 180-foot monster looking like a cross between a tower block-sized desert lizard and the classic Toho studio design. All too-brief shots of the monster screaming at a lightning storm whilst hanging onto (and towering above) a New York skyscraper, or when he is seen climbing onto Manhattan Bridge are superb images lost in a morass of noise, darkness and confused directing. The asset of having been shot on real New York locations is offset by the necessity to film at night; this means most of the interesting city-smashing action occurs in the dark. Not only does Ueli Steiger's dingy photography make the action sometimes nearly impossible to make out, but Emmerich makes it worse by having all the New York sequences take place during a rain storm.

More than half the Godzilla press kit was devoted to details of merchandise/marketing tie-ins. Sad indeed. As long as filmmaking of this kind remains a profit-before-creativity industry genre fans (myself included) must learn to set their hopes for new projects extremely low, in the assumption that they will be bad and when, on those increasingly rare occasions, they are great we'll be even more delighted. One can't help wonder what the results would have been if James Cameron had been in the director's chair. And I'm hoping against hope that Cameron is given the Spiderman project, 'cause if Emmerich gets it you can save yourself the trouble of going to the cinema by taking a dose of sleeping tablets instead. Godzilla the monster is great. Godzilla the movie sucks.

Rob Dyer