Godzilla 2000
directed by Akao Okawara
(Toho/Columbia TriStar, 2000)

The Japanese are known for many things, and one among them is that they strive to never lose face -- especially to us gai-jin. In 1998, when Dean Devlin & Co. made the infamous heat-seeking missle dodging Godzilla, the Japanese smiled politely, then turned around and cranked out what their movie should have been. And even though they won't admit it, the Japanese were pissed.

Enter in the 23rd official Godzilla movie, Godzilla 2000. Back in town is the huge, thermonuclear fire-breathing, plodding, building-smashing, toy-tank-crushing behemoth we all know and love. In this go-around, the King of Monsters goes head-to-head with a spaceship buried under the sea for 6,000 years. Starring in the human cast are Takehiro Murata as Shinoda, the head of the GPN (Godzilla Prediction Network), a service dedicated to minimizing the destruction caused by Godzilla; Hiroshi Abe as CCI (Crisis Control Intelligence Agency) chief Katagiri, who is obsessed with the goal of destroying Godzilla forever; Naomi Nishida as science magazine writer Yuki; Shiro Sano as CCI scientist Miyasaka, Katagiri's assistant; and 12-year-old Mayu Suzuki in her screen debut as Shinoda's daughter, Io. The little girl is precocious, the scientist and the reporter hint at a possible romance, and the CCI chief is coldblooded and fearless in his pursuit of the monster. However, the humans are around to provide necessary backplot and act as our window to the destruction that ensues.

I'm going to admit right now that I actually watched the Japanese version of G2K, not the Americanized version. I say this because any plot points I get wrong on the American version will be evident. For example, the American version actually names the spaceship monster, while the Japanese never bother. However, we are talking about Godzilla here. If you are watching this movie for plot, may I point you to the other 22 versions out on tape that have a big lizard trashing large sections of Japan for reasons never fully explained. Nothing changes here. Sure, there's some exposition on the part of the scientists as to what motivates the big lizard, but nothing definite is shown.

The sad thing about this movie is that while movie-making technology has progressed to never-before-seen heights, the majority of the technology behind the latest Godzilla flick hasn't changed much. Toy tanks still rumble across the ground, toy helicopters still buzz by the actors in their rubber suits, and the explosions still look the same. However, some things have been updated -- when Godzilla gets prepared to blast some thermonuclear payback onto Tokyo, his numerous spikes on his back glow like lava (as opposed to that weird light blue glow from prior films), and you can see the beginnings of the blast start deep in his throat and crest before it screams out. A lot of CGI shots -- most involve the spaceship -- prove the Japanese are moving away from models finally. There were some beautifully crafted scenes combining Godzilla, the human cast, and the scenery -- making you forget about those models from the past. However, a lot of the effects still look hokey, the blue-screening doesn't mesh and the CGI doesn't blend into the scenery. Toho still has a way to go before their effects rival Hollywood's. And while Godzilla's form did change slightly (he's bulked up a little, with a mass of spiky frills on his back that for once don't look made of paper), it's nothing as drastic as his new look in the 1998 eyesore.

While I still believe that Dean Devlin has a crack squad of ninjas tracking him down, waiting for the assassination orders for desecrating one of Japan's greatest film icons, this movie does a splendid job of reminding everyone who the real King of Monsters is. (Watch and see how many "homages" to the various Devlin movies and other Hollywood blockbusters you can spot. The nod to Independence Day was one of my personal favorites.) Godzilla movies are supposed to have a minimal plot so the monster can destroy lots of models and stomp off into the sunset, and that's what Godzilla 2000 provides.

This is also proof that a monster movie can be made without buckets of blood and gore. You don't need to see the effects of someone dying, just the looks on the faces of the witnesses to know the horror. This movie reminds me of the days I would spend as a youngster watching Godzilla and friends beat up on each other, and the magic is still alive. Go see this movie, and revel in the glory that is the true Godzilla.

Hail to the king, baby.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.