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GODZILLA 2000

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Takehiro Murata, Naomi Nishida, Hiroshi Abe, Mayu Suzuki, Shiro Sano
Director:  Takao Okawara
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1. Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  December 19, 2000

Film *** (on the Godzilla scale)

I’m not informed enough to get into debates about autos, computers, cameras or other electronics, but I can offer this opinion:  the Japanese definitely make a better Godzilla movie than we Americans.  And Columbia Tri Star, being an affiliate of Sony, have made a sort of act of contrition to the big fella’s international fan base:  after releasing the big budgeted, highly touted Americanized version of Godzilla, a movie whose name became synonymous with large-but-empty special effects extravaganzas for the end of the millennium, they’ve brought the latest Japanese opus, Godzilla 2000, to America and the rest of the Western world.

Which is not to say that any Godzilla film equates to great filmmaking per se, but fans (like me) will always appreciate the hoakiness of knowing we’re watching a person in a rubber suit trashing a miniature set.   And yes, special effects and CGI technology have improved to the point where such low tech filmmaking isn’t necessary anymore, but the backlash against the American made version proved that without that old fashioned style of doing things, it just isn’t Godzilla.

However, this new Asian offering does make tremendous steps forward in the scientific departments.  The Godzilla suit is still intact, but computer generated effects make the big guy blend into his scenes even better for some amazing and well-executed perspective shots.  They even find ways to improve upon the picture’s villain, Ogra, a UFO that turns into a monster, while keeping him effectively cheesy.  And heck, the miniature sets themselves have only gotten better and more intricate over the years, so give them credit, too.

Some slight alterations were made for the American release…the Japanese film company Toho usually just dubs their own English version of their films, but a special team was constructed to re-loop the dialogue and make one or two editing changes for effectiveness.  Certain parts of the score were enhanced or altered (rather seamlessly), but nothing was done to take away from the fun of these films:  the mismatched dialogue, the soapbox speeches about how abuse of science and technology brought this on us, the lack of any real or brutal on screen violence, and of course, the big showdown between the titans that usually reduced Tokyo to rubble.  The scene in the park with parents taking their kids and fleeing was a favorite of mine…after 46 years, you’d think parents would realize Tokyo is not a safe place to raise children, what with all the Godzilla attacks…

As the film opens, Godzilla is awake and restless again, and miniature buildings and cars are about to feel the worse for it.  Turns out, there’s a reason for his tantrum:  a scientific team has just discovered and surfaced an ancient rock, buried under the seas for millions of years.  Much to their dismay, it turns out to be a UFO/life form, is still alive, and is ready to do inflict some damage upon Japan.  It does so by landing on top of the building of the scientific firm and using its infrared tentacles to hack the computer systems.  It’s learning everything it can about Godzilla.  Is there going to be a fight?  Oh, yes.  Orga, the villain, learns how to shape shift himself as he fights.  He begins to become a Godzilla clone, though he looks amusingly more like the recent American version of Godzilla than the traditional one in this film!

Of course, there are human characters and interests, but I wouldn’t feel right talking about them…in these movies, they really only exist to lend perspective to the battling monsters and provide bogus theories about whatever the plot calls for.  The Americanized dialogue in this picture is a little surprising, but welcome and funny, as the characters actually say things like “bite me” and “quit yer bitchin’”.

In the end, though, Godzilla 2000 joins the ranks of the other Godzilla films as being one designed for the fans of the series…those who aren’t already aren’t likely to see anything in this latest effort to warm them to it…but for those fans, this represents a good entry into the library:  a film with all the flavors we know and love, but with some added technical marvel that enhances, rather than detracts from, the goofy fun. 

Oh, and Godzilla looks great for over forty years in show business…wonder who does his scales? 

Video ***1/2

Because of lack of film preservation, many Asian films don’t look good.  This one does.  CTS did a good with this quality anamorphic transfer.  The colors are vivid and natural looking, even in darker settings, and images are quite sharp and clear and maintain good contrast throughout.  Aside from an occasional bit of noticeable grain on really dark images and one or two spots on the print itself (again, much less than might normally be expected), there are no complaints here.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix included on this DVD is a potent one, with surprising bits of dynamic range, including many explosions and crashes that radiate through with startling loudness and clarity.  There is modest but effective use of front to rear stage crossover signals, particularly in the big event showdown at the end, as well as other generous scenes of general chaos and destruction.  The musical score and Godzilla’s roars also sound extra-sweet.  Fans are going to be pleased all around at the efforts that went into this disc.

Features ***

The commentary track, by the American release production team, is an absolute treat for me.  Being a huge and long time fan of Asian cinema, I always wondered what the thought processes were when it came to altering an Eastern film for mass Western consumption, and these guys lay it all on the line, from the most subtle changes to the most elaborate, as well as why each was done.  Thankfully, they were all big Godzilla fans, and knew not to trim the awkward cheesy scenes that make these films what they are to the fans.  Their comments are detailed right down to the names of the actors in the film AND those who looped their lines for the American release.  It was a real treat.  There’s also a couple of trailers, for this and for the recent American film version of Godzilla, talent files on the director and Godzilla himself, including career fight stats (29 wins, 10 losses, 12 ties for the curious) and a short but nice behind-the-scenes look at the film.  I’ve always wanted to see the sets and the guy in the costume in action, and this was my first opportunity.

Summary:

Godzilla is still the undisputed king of monsters…with more than twenty films under his belt, don’t look for that to change just because we change millennia.  Godzilla 2000 proves the big lizard still has plenty of fight left in him, and just enough well-packaged cheese, to keep his fans around the world looking to Tokyo for the next destruction party.