Leaving Netflix: Godzilla (1998)

"Leaving Netflix" is a segment in which we try to hype up a movie that's slated to get the axe on Netflix's line-up.

This week, we're doing Roland Emmerich's "Godzilla," the 1998 attempt to make an American version of the Godzilla franchise, preceding Gareth Edwards' and Legendary Pictures' "Godzilla" from 2014. The '98 "Godzilla" will be pulled from Netflix by July 1.

The late 90's were a great time to be hater. I mean, right now is also a great time to be a hater. But as far as the peaks of hater-dom go, Hater Nerds had some primo targets before Y2K rebooted our cultural Matrix.

In addition to George Lucas proving that the corruption of late modernism can poison what would seem like an inherently good concept, American movie studios unleashed a formidably offensive example of botched cultural imperialism with 1998's Godzilla.

Look, man. Godzilla ain't even upright in this movie. That's not cool.

Look, man. Godzilla ain't even upright in this movie. That's not cool.

We can actually discuss the overlooked merits of this movie all day, but let's focus on the current views on this film.

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: 16% 
IMBD Consensus: 5.3 out of 10
Metacritic Consensus: 32

Generally, critical audiences seemed most offended at the fact that Godzilla was basically a generic monster movie with the Boss Kaiju's brand slapped on the marquee. It was another excuse for Roland Emmerich to lay waste to New York City after Independence Day, but it wasn't evocative of the reason people watched Godzilla movies in the late twentieth century. The American Godzilla (henceforth referred to as "Zilla,") didn't fight any other big frickin' monsters as part of a thinly-veiled metaphor for the flaws of modern society.

And even as an origin story goes, Zilla carried no significant commentary regarding nuclear weapons or man's dangerous attempts to overreach through science. Yes, Zilla was a result of military nuclear testing, but the human relationships underpinning Emmerich's film hinge more on the narcissistic culture of the American late 90's. Careerism. Trying to find love while advancing in a capitalist society. The deep-seated fear of losing major Brands like the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden to forces greater than the Free Market itself.

In short, Godzilla could easily have been named Giant Dinosaur Attacks New York City and been largely the same movie. Few, if any, of the themes that made Godzilla such a mega-franchise carried over. This was something the 2014 Godzilla tried to correct to varying success. At the arguable expense of its human characterization, this decade's US Godzilla-film seemed more preoccupied with a global society's response to a monster threat. Most importantly, in the newer movie, Godzilla f***ed up some weird-ass monsters. And that's really what people want to see when they commit to these things.

Still, when we pick the brains of Twitter citizens, largely comported of younger Millennials who expect their entertainment conglomerates to pump out a reboot every decade, we see that the attitude toward '98 Godzilla has softened a bit.

So what we're seeing here seems to be a nostalgia-fueled pardoning of the 1998 Zilla film. People generally assume that everyone doing things 15 to 20 years ago were kind of Neanderthals. Thus, they assume a movie is corny because of the time, not because a studio was stripping down a screenwriting process until it produced something with mass, shallow appeal. And it's certainly a much less heavy envisioning of the franchise, whereas Gareth Edwards' solemn approach may leave a viewer drained. 

We may also warm up to '98 Zilla, because we've also seen that our global entertainment overlords will stop at nothing to keep old blockbuster franchises relevant. At the time, many probably felt resentment that American studios blew their one shot at making a respectable Godzilla film. These days, Emmerich's movie can be entertained as an aberration. Hell, after seeing 2014 Godzilla, some people might miss some of the levity and pacing of the Zilla-flick. 

In retrospect, '98 Godzilla wasn't necessarily a bad film when compared against its other disaster-movie peers. And part of the fun of watching the cultural products of previous generations is applying what you know now, as a member of the post-apocalyptic future society, to what we saw then, when we were young and naive. Here's a few themes that might make 1998 Godzilla more enjoyable as you visit it on Netflix Death Row:

  • Matthew Broderick's character, Nick Tatopoulos, represents a version of science that tries to be more independent of the American military industrial complex. Ultimately, catastrophe escalates when the Military Jocks fail to listen to him. By contrast, 2014's protagonist, Ford Brody, is a soldier with the United States Navy. Something to think about.
  • The lead woman character, Audrey Timmonds, has to fight the blatant and egregious sexism of her superiors to achieve credibility as a television journalist. Were Audrey Timmonds a character twenty years later, she would probably be facing similar circumstances working for a large, New York-based blogging, gossip, and web content farm company.
  • For some reason, the movie really wants you to see French people as badass. Is this movie responsible for the election of right-wing former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy?
  • Without directly spoiling, the concept of progeny and passing the torch become an important theme in this movie. With your film-watching group, discuss how 1998's Godzilla, particularly the Madison Square Garden scenes, represents the latent fears of multiculturalism and immigration present in the mostly-white, upper middle class audience. 

Godzilla (1998) will be off the Netflix queue for an indeterminate amount of time after Tuesday, June 30. Happy watching.