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Vault Master Rants: GODZILLA (1998)

7 min read

The date was May 20th, 1998. School was nearly out for the Summer, and I was less than three months away from my thirteenth birthday. Most importantly, I was sitting in a packed theater with some friends, awaiting the opening credits of what was surely going to be the greatest movie ever made: GODZILLA! Ever since I first laid eyes on this teaser trailer a year prior, I eagerly awaited the debut of the new American version of the Big-G.

I recall the insane amount of marketing for the movie that touted Godzilla’s size. Huge signs were hung on buildings in New York City saying “He’s twice as tall as this sign” and “His Foot is as Long as This Bus” was emblazoned on public transportation. Then there was the blitzkrieg of commercials and teasers on television, none of which gave away what the revamped Godzilla looked like. The anticipation built by the genius marketing was maddening I tell you!

If I saw this drive through my hometown, I would have lost my freakin’ mind!

And then I saw the movie… and experienced the most crushing disappointment that only a passionate fan could feel. This abomination was not Godzilla! It was a giant, mutated marine iguana, with a big “Jay Leno” chin! It ran from the military, was mortally wounded by modern weaponry, didn’t breath radioactive fire, and tried to overpopulate us to death with an army of CGI mini-Zillas. This film was an outrage, and an affront to the character that so many of us grew up with!

Though the movie was deemed a commercial success, raking in $379 million dollars worldwide, the backlash from fans was instantaneous, and the response from critics was typically negative. It proved to be a deadly combination, because the next two entries for a planned Godzilla trilogy were halted in their tracks.

As of my writing this, over two decades have passed, but it seems that many fans have still not recovered from being slighted by Sony/Tri-Star’s GODZILLA. Some choose to ignore it, while others continue to heap anger and vitriol upon the movie and its creators: Modern day shlockmeisters Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Me? Well I’ve got an entirely different point of view on the film.

You may vehemently disagree with what I’m about to propose, but I urge you to at least hear me out: It’s time to let go of your hate and move on fellow Godzilla fans. We finally have an American Godzilla movie to be proud of (though it too has its share of naysayers) and an upcoming sequel to it that looks amazing! Gareth Edwards definitely hit closer to the mark with his GODZILLA than Emmerich did, and Michael Dougherty seems to be taking it to the next level with KING OF THE MONSTERS!

So, to begin the healing process, you will have to do the unthinkable G-fans and accept GODZILLA (1998) as official series canon!

Actual Godzilla fan reaction after reading that last statement.

How could I dare to say that GODZILLA ’98 is now canon? Well let’s look at the facts shall we? Shortly after Emmerich’s GODZILLA came out, Columbia/Tri-Star (now Sony Pictures) planned an immediate sequel, where the lone Godzilla hatchling would take on another monster (a giant wasp-like creature referred to as Queen Bitch) to save the world. But apparently the negativity towards Emmerich’s film changed their minds, so no sequel ever materialized.

However, an animated show called GODZILLA: THE SERIES resulted from this mess and it was actually very well done. Taking place moments after the film’s events, the newborn Godzilla imprints on Dr. Niko Tatopoulos, who then rounds up an international crew and studies the young monster. Other giant monsters and mutations begin appearing across the globe, so our intrepid heroes sail to troubled areas to study the new creatures, while Godzilla follows along as their bodyguard.

It was a perfect marriage between the cheesy old Hanna Barbera Godzilla cartoon and the 1998 film that so many love to hate. GODZILLA: THE SERIES was truly a case of turning lemons into sweet, sweet lemonade.

Oddly enough, I am suddenly thirsty for a glass of cold lemonade…

In 2001, Toho’s well-received (and lengthy-titled) GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (a.k.a. GMK) came out, and had a brief scene early in the film that actually references GODZILLA ’98. Two young Japanese Self-Defense Force recruits have a short exchange during a military briefing, that takes a jab at the Tri-Star film:

Soldier #1 (whispering to his neighbor): “Wasn’t that Godzilla?”
Soldier #2: “The Americans said it was Godzilla, but all the Japanese scientists denied it.”

That doesn’t make Emmerich’s GODZILLA canon, but it is the first time that a Toho-produced Godzilla movie ever made reference to the unpopular American film. Two years later however, something happened that lends some credence to my argument here: The film rights, and character designs of the American Godzilla, reverted back to Toho. This means that as of 2003, the radioactive super-iguana (renamed ZILLA) was officially part of the Toho kaiju stable!

In 2004, Toho celebrated Godzilla’s 50th Anniversary by getting the Big-G a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was done in conjunction with the release of Ryuhei Kitamura’s GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, which was declared as Godzilla’s “last adventure” for at least another decade. As a send-off film, FINAL WARS left a lot to be desired, but there is one short sequence in the movie that many of us Godzilla fans found pleasing. Of course I’m speaking of the brief scuffle between Toho’s Godzilla and Tri-Star’s pretender to the throne. It’s only a minute-long sequence (watch it HERE), but it’s still satisfying to see the CGI misfit bite the dust when trying to take on the real King of the Monsters.

Since then, the character of Zilla has appeared in IDW’s GODZILLA: RULERS OF EARTH comic series, where the monster has yet another showdown with the Big-G. Zilla puts up a decent fight, but ultimately is the weaker of the two monsters, and manages to escape before Godzilla can finish him off.

Sigh… if only more love and attention to detail went into their duel in FINAL WARS.

The artwork in this series is fantastic (thanks to IDW’s talented roster of artists, including Jeff Zornow and Matt Frank) and the story is pretty cool. Almost every single Toho kajiu ever created makes an appearance, and they all get a fair amount of love and appreciation throughout the panels. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of them, I highly suggest you pick them up! And since grabbing all of the single issues can be a challenge, you can enjoy the four-color kaiju brawls in trade paperback form.

So to recap: The ’98 GODZILLA was ill-received (and ill-conceived), but led to a decent Saturday morning cartoon series. Eventually, the character became an official part of the Godzilla universe when Toho acquired the rights and rechristened it as Zilla. (He even has his own Toho logo; you don’t GET more official than that!)

Now you may be wondering why I’m going out of my way to point all of this out. It’s because I’m trying to illustrate the fact that even though the heads of Toho were not pleased with the 1998 film, they eventually accepted Zilla as a legit part of their extended kaiju family! If the company that created the most beloved giant monster of all time can accept Zilla, then why shouldn’t fans follow suit?! To paraphrase a joke from one of my all-time favorite shows: GODZILLA ’98 was our “Thunderdome.” Can’t we just get beyond it?

It clearly wasn’t the film any of us expected or wanted, but it did result in an entertaining cartoon show, and gave the real Godzilla a new kaiju to interact with. In my opinion, we should try to view this cinematic debacle as a sort of companion piece that takes place in an alternate Godzilla timeline.

I personally like to think that the events of GODZILLA ’98 occurred at some point in the GMK universe, and I often wonder if the Zilla in GODZILLA: FINAL WARS was the hatchling from the final scene of Emmerich’s maligned monster movie. Maybe it’s some sort of “coping mechanism,” but I feel that as a fan, it is our duty to take something lousy, reconfigure it, and make it better!

Pictured: A coping mechanism.

Now, I’m not saying that you should all look upon Emmerich’s Godzilla in a kinder light, and I’m not insinuating that it’s actually a good movie in disguise. (It’s not.) What I am saying is that GODZILLA ’98 is a part of Godzilla history now, and we the fans should embrace it as we embrace GODZILLA’S REVENGE, and all the other weaker entries in the franchise. Rather than saying there’s only thirty-four Godzilla movies in existence, let’s start saying that there’s thirty-five!

What say you Godzilla fans? ARE YOU WITH ME?! [Cue chirping crickets.]

Feel free to comment on my unpopular opinions below or on the Vault’s Facebook and Twitter pages. And as always, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts Vault Dwellers!