Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW


by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

reviewed by Don Harlow

Yeah, I already saw the damned film, way back when I was a kid in the fifties. It has to have been one of the earliest Japanese postwar films to get widespread American showing. You all remember the story, I suppose. American nuclear testing on Pacific atolls (Bikini, Eniwetok) stirred up something in the ocean depths that shouldn't have been stirred up, and it came lumbering up out of the sea to stomp Tokyo into rubble. He of the radioactive breath and flickering back-plates, the mythical monster the Japanese called "Gojira", a word that somehow mutated, when it passed into English, into Godzilla.

The Mighty One reappeared in many other films, sometimes taking on humanity (Godzilla 1985 in whose American version -- though not the Japanese one; Toho apparently believed that Japanese have better taste than Americans -- an older and fatter Raymond Burr pathetically reprises a part of his part in the original movie), sometimes taking on other monsters (Godzilla vs. King Kong for which, I am told, two endings were filmed, one for the Japanese market -- Godzilla wins the huge battle on the slopes of Mt. Fujiyama -- and one for the American market -- King Kong wins), sometimes defending humanity from other monsters (Ghidrah, for instance). (1) Along the way, Godzilla picked up, among other things, his very own island ("Monster Island") and a junior version of himself. Those interested in reviewing this history should rush right down to SunCoast, where you can pick up tapes of the various films involving Godzilla at war with Mothra, Rodan, Megalon, and a host of others. (Note: once, when I was in Mysterious Marrakech in the wilds of the Sahara Desert, I saw pasted up on a wall an ad for the forthcoming Godzilla film Destroy All Monsters! Proof positive, if any were needed, that Godzilla is a worldwide phenomenon.)

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, flushed with success from Independence Day, have now completed their follow-on movie, an updated version of the very first of the Godzilla films. Since it's American-made, they could no longer blame Godzilla's appearance on American nuclear testing, and so this time we find that the French are at fault; a French explosion on a Polynesian atoll irradiated an iguana egg, producing a 500-foot-tall fish-eating iguana, capable of shearing off the side of a giant Japanese cannery ship to get at its cargo of canned Bumblebee Tuna, or of pulling three trawlers, simultaneously, underwater to get at the catch on their decks.

Nothing is known about this monster, though the one survivor of the cannery ship keeps muttering "Gojira, gojira!" a name from ancient Japanese myths that date back to at least the mid 1950s; later in the film, a New York newscaster mispronounces the name as "Godzilla", to which one more savvy colleague, watching him on TV, cries out angrily "You idiot, it's 'Gojira'!" Godzilla, early in the film, makes his way from French Polynesia to New York without anybody happening to notice, though you'd think somebody would have figured things out from those giant footprints a hundred yards apart that lead across the Isthmus of Panama...

Enter Nick Tatopoulos, a.k.a. Matthew Broderick. Nick is a biologist with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, charged with finding new species that have come into being through nuclear actions. His greatest discovery so far is a new species of earthworm at Chernobyl, 17% larger than its ancestral worms, and hence he is affectionately known to his colleagues as "the worm guy", possibly because nobody can pronounce his real name, a point made half a dozen times in the film. Nick is charged with finding out what made those footprints in Panama (that they are indeed footprints, he must find out for himself -- with typical obtuseness, his army companions won't tell him). He's saddled with two colleagues, one of them a somewhat older woman who finds him attractive and actually sets the scene for an episode of sexual harassment -- it doesn't happen; this isn't a Michael Crichton film -- but these two characters are doomed to be cameos; Nick has aromantic interest, which he hasn't seen in eight years, elsewhere. Naturally, he will encounter it later in the film. Nick is also the person who figures out -- with some stuff he buys in an all-night drugstore -- just why Godzilla is so anxious to get to Manhattan.

Not to waste a lot of time giving everything away -- I will only say that this film owes very much indeed to Jurassic Park, Blue Thunder, and even a bit to King Kong. The comic relief overwhelms the drama in so much of the film (four agents of the Deuxième Bureau are named, believe it or not, Jean-Luc, Jean-Claude, Jean-Philippe and Jean-George -- s'truth, if you don't believe me watch the credits at the end!) that the one really dramatic scene, a reprise of the velociraptor hunt near the end of Jurassic Park, seems horribly out of place. (The reprise of the T-Rex car chase is a riot!) Some of the special effects (computer locating screens) are as primitive as those in Star Trek V; on the other hand, Godzilla itself, except for that stupid jutting lower jaw, is far more realistic than Eiji Tsuburaya's man-in-a-rubber-suit Godzilla. And anyone who has ever visited New York will probably cheer wildly at what happens to The Big Apple in this film.

This isn't the film that Independence Day was; it's probably on a dramatic par with Stargate from the same guys. It was fun to watch, and I'll probably buy the videotape when it comes out -- but don't expect it to be the big summer blockbuster. That's likely to be Zorro (oh, yeah, the film came with a completely new Mask of Zorro trailer).


(1) Since writing this, I've heard that this is an urban legend.

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