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Movie Review

Believe it or not, Godzilla 2000 is the 23rd film in this popular sci-fi series about a giant radioactive lizard that first stormed Tokyo in 1954—a symbol of nature’s wrath in the wake of nuclear holocaust. Over the years, he has single-handedly leveled Japanese cityscapes and wiped out half of the country’s military with his fiery breath. Yet Godzilla has also battled other atomic monsters on the nation’s behalf, causing many viewers to wonder if the creature is friend or foe. ("He’s not a good guy or a bad guy," the press notes explain, "He’s more like an earthquake, a volcano or a typhoon. These violent eruptions of nature do not choose their victims. They just are.") The beast was actually killed off in 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, but a groundswell of demand inspired Japanese filmmakers to resurrect the franchise.

Thus, Godzilla 2000 is the first in a new series of movies that, despite advances in technical effects, will continue to feature men in increasingly elaborate rubber suits stomping meticulously designed miniature landscapes—which is probably part of the series’ charm and longevity. There seems to be an agreement between the filmmakers and audiences to accept Godzilla on those terms. The story lines are still cheesy and formulaic. The dialogue is as banal and poorly dubbed as ever. But fans who have grown up watching this silly escapism don’t seem to mind. It has become a form of pop art that defies the seamlessness of Hollywood moviemaking.

In Godzilla 2000, the beast (whose Japanese name, "Gojira," combines the words for gorilla and whale), once again rises from the sea to terrorize Tokyo, the only capital city where insurance contracts must now include an anti-Godzilla clause. Self-employed scientist Shinoda and his young daughter, Ito, operate the GPN—Godzilla Prediction Network—which tries to anticipate where the creature will show up (not that the little forewarning they might provide could possibly reduce the damage). They’re basically environmentalists eager to study Godzilla. Crisis Control Intelligence Agency chief Katafiri is Shinoda’s antithesis, a heartless Captain Ahab type obsessed with killing Godzilla at all costs. Yuki, a tenacious female reporter, tags along with Shinoda looking for a scoop on Godzilla’s next tirade. Meanwhile, a solar-powered spaceship wakes up from a 6,000-year nap and unleashes a monster that hacks into Japan’s computer network and threatens to consume the nation’s data. The aliens also want to adapt to earth’s atmosphere and take over the planet. To do so, they single out and attempt to clone the planet’s most durable life form—Godzilla.

positive elements: Unaware of the danger she’s in, Yuki sleuths in a building marked for demolition, causing Shinoda and Ito to risk their lives to pull her out. Yuki later returns the favor. Shinoda is presented as an ethical, compassionate protagonist.

spiritual content: After surviving a close encounter with Godzilla, Yuki remarks, "God must be punishing me for being ambitious."

sexual content: None.

violent content: There’s mass destruction by giant monsters unconcerned about the city blocks, skyscrapers, power stations or vehicles they’re reducing to rubble. The space ship uses a laser beam to toast a few army helicopters. The CCIA’s missiles blow holes in Godzilla. Many near-calamities where people are almost crushed by a rampaging Godzilla, explosions or flying debris. Katafiri eventually stares down the object of his obsession and is killed with one swipe of the behemoth’s clawed hand (not graphic).

crude or profane language: Just over a dozen profanities, many of which come from Yuki in an obvious attempt by the writers to convince viewers that this sweet-looking lady is really a hard-nosed journalist.

drug and alcohol content: Men drink beer in a pub.

other negative elements: Ito comes off as a disrespectful brat (she calls Yuki an "imbecile") with whom parents wouldn’t want children to identify.

conclusion: Growing up in the New York area, I remember the excitement my little brother and I felt when channel seven announced it would be running "Godzilla Week" on The 4:30 Movie. That meant five consecutive after-school adventures with our favorite radioactive reptile. In the mid-1970s, we devoured such classics as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Son of Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. Of course, I was easy to impress; I was only 10 years old. I mention that because the people in the theater who seemed most invested in Godzilla 2000 were nostalgic baby-boomer dads and their own wide-eyed 10-year-old sons. They marveled at the beast’s signature roar (a sound created by rubbing a contrabass with a resin-coated leather glove and then reverberating it). They loved the pounding of his footsteps (produced by beating a kettle drum with a thick rope knotted at the end).

More cynical adolescents, however, weren’t in nearly as much awe. One group of teenagers actually walked out halfway through, visibly offended by the PG film’s lack of Hollywood panache and visceral excitement. Sure, it’s cheesy. That’s forgivable, especially since the movie is also refreshingly devoid of sexual content and restrained in its depictions of violence. It’s just a shame that, when the editors redubbed the dialogue in English, they chose to include expressions like "a--hole" that make Godzilla 2000 inappropriate for that 10-year-old boy most likely to enjoy it. Nostalgic dads, take note.

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