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Godzilla (1998)

Year: 1998
Production Co: Independent
Studio: Columbia
Director: Roland Emmerich
Producer: Dean Devlin
Writer: Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich/Terry Rossio/Ted Elliot
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Kevin Dunn, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria
Producer/screenwriter Dean Devlin and his long-time partner, director/writer Roland Emmerich, have copped a lot of unfair flack over the years.

Independence Day reinvigorated the medium of cinema and ushered in the current climate of May/June/July season big dumb action adventure movies designed to earn their money back in the first weekend. Yes, it was full of gag-worthy, pro-US jingoism. Yes, the characterisations were juvenile, the dialogue hokey and the plotting airport-thriller standard.

But the pair and their production company Centropolis films made movies like movies used to be made; for the spectacle, to see something amazing we'd never seen before. But there was an important difference this time; they no longer had to rely on guys in clumsy rubber suits, upside-down streams of water going down bathroom sinks for waterspouts, ants crawling over a Lego-model city, a tiny silver disc with a soft metho flame a l· Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The newest tool in the filmmaker's canon - the computer - was putting the most powerful effects potential ever in their hands. And when Emmerich dreamed big, it gave him the power to realise it. However the critics panned it, we'd never seen a gigantic lizard crash through a big city like this before, and that's what we went to see it for.

But the tide of critical (and increasingly audience) hatred grew, and after only a few years, Godzilla hammered the last nail in their partnership. After a couple more years, Michael Bay hammered the final nail in the whole fantastic-for-it's-own-sake genre with the reviled Pearl Harbor (reviled, but just awe-inspiring to look at as Godzilla ).

Just watch the sequence of Godzilla's initial arrival in New York. We hardly ever see his head or body. When 'Animal' (Azaria) runs outside the bar to get some footage of the approaching monster, all we see are its enormous, 20-storey tall legs crashing down the street. Look at this beast, Emmerich is saying, it's too big to even fit on the huge screen of this movie theatre! Schlock, but it's that eye that makes him a great director.

It was the same approach taken by the very visible ad campaign that generated the buzz for the film; ads on buses saying his foot was 'this long', etc. (in the most extreme example, a massive vertical billboard in New York proclaiming 'he's this tall').

Emmerich went on to produce B movie homage Eight Legged Freaks a few years later and then revisit the larger-than-life genre once more with The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, when the screens were jammed with big CGI spectacle movies and it didn't make much of an impact. Devlin is still producing but doesn't own summer like he did a decade ago as I write this.

Toho didn't like it, and neither did fans. The studio issued a list of points Columbia were required to adhere to in order to use the name and copyright for the monster, and all Devlin and Emmerich kept were the name and iconic roar. In fact, the whole thing was a political nightmare for several; critics Siskel and Ebert were parodied in the mayor and his minder, Pirates of the Caribbean writers Elliott and Rossio's draft was jettisoned when Emmerich and Devlin came in, the movie even parodies itself, when misogynist reporter Charles Caiman (Shearer) calls the creature by it's English name on TV and his frustrated assistant Audrey corrects him by saying 'it's Gojira, you moron.'

The premise is basically that of the Toho Studios classics. After years of irradiating the seas through French nuclear testing (funnily enough, all the footage of nuclear detonations during the opening credits is from American tests), a giant mutated iguana/dragon/dinosaur arrives in the Big City and proceeds to paint the town red.

While the military fumble around with the city government trying to work out how to catch up to and destroy the creature, the scientist they bring in, Nick (Broderick) is aided by a clandestine French secret service unit who has the inside tack.

It's a gloriously fun chase movie. The story, characters, dialogue and plotting are all crap, and you'll spend the whole film waiting for the real star to appear and wreak havoc. Commensurate with the budget, he gets plenty of screen time in stuff most filmmakers would hardly dare imagine, let alone pull off in one bigger and more thrilling set piece after another.

It's old style spectacle moviemaking where it was enough for everything to be big, you just can't do that anymore.

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