After Tri-Star’s “Godzilla” gobbled like a turkey instead of roared, Toho Pictures was quick to return their creation to the big screen. The first film in the “Millennium” Godzilla series ignores all the previous entries that came before it and starts over with a fresh continuity for the filmmakers to work with. The result is a film with some very imaginative ideas that never achieves its full potential.
“Godzilla 2000 Millennium” starts off with a bang, as Godzilla pays a nighttime visit to Japan and destroys a power plant. Pursuing Godzilla is the Godzilla Prediction Network; essentially the storm chasers of the monster field, they want to study Godzilla to predict when and where he will appear. Meanwhile, an ancient meteor is discovered in the ocean depths off Japan. The meteor is revealed to be an alien spacecraft that crashed to Earth 60 million years ago. Inside the meteor is an extraterrestrial entity that wants to destroy Godzilla and use his cellular structure to create a new body for itself. Once in its new physical form, it will radically alter the Earth’s environment to make it more like its home planet. Godzilla squares off against this alien menace, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.
The first half hour of “Godzilla 2000 Millennium” gives Godzilla plenty of screen time, exactly what the audience came to see. Whether he’s fighting the military or the alien craft, Godzilla is a lot of fun to watch — definitely an actor with terrific on-screen charisma. Godzilla has also been given a makeover, looking sleeker with long, spiky back fins. His trademark fire breath has also been spruced up; his back fins crackle and glow before fire explodes from his mouth. This is the best Godzilla has looked since his 1954 debut.
But without Godzilla, the film dramatically slows and becomes a lot less interesting. A subplot involving the discovery of Godzilla’s regenerative abilities is nothing any fan doesn’t know, and bogs the film down unnecessarily. The idea of Godzilla being attracted to man made power sources is brought up, and then largely ignored. The main villain of the film, the alien, never has any direct communication with the human characters. It would have made the film a lot more interesting if we were able to learn more about what the alien was and where it came from, or what it plans were once it has taken over the Earth. Instead, it just flies around in its spacecraft and hacks into Tokyo’s computers, completely devoid of any personality that would have livened up the film when Godzilla was off-screen.
The human players are basically one-dimensional cardboard characters. There’s the scientist father and his precocious daughter, a whiny female reporter, and the ruthless head of the Japanese defense forces. Although the actors and actresses give good performances, their characters are not realized enough to be particularly memorable. Their scenes seem to be there to pad the film in between Godzilla’s appearances.
The special effects, a vital part of a film like this, are particularly well done. The new Godzilla suit seems to be less constricting, and gives the actor inside more maneuverability in the battle scenes. The miniature work is impressive and quite detailed. A good job is also done in melding the special effects to the live action footage, making the battle scenes very realistic. However, the computer-generated effects leave a lot of room for improvement. While depictions of aircraft and tanks look pretty good, a more complicated sequence of Godzilla swimming underwater looks cartoonish. Most impressive is the film’s closing shot, with Godzilla surrounded by an inferno in downtown Tokyo.
This is a good Godzilla film, one that will satisfy his legion of fans. But you can’t help watching it and not notice room for improvement. There is plenty of Godzilla action, but the film drags when its main star is off-screen. Hopefully in the future filmmakers will work on making subsequent movies as exciting when Godzilla is off-screen as when he’s on. Then Godzilla films can stop being just good, and be as great as they have the potential to be.
Takao Okawara (director) / Hiroshi Kashiwabara, Wataru Mimura, Michael Schlesinger (screenplay)
CAST: Takehiro Murata …. Yuji Shinoda
Hiroshi Abe …. Mitsuo Katagiri
Naomi Nishida …. Yuki Ichinose
Mayu Suzuki …. Io Shinoda