The quintessential Hollywood Blockbuster is a curious and divisive beast, generally sneered at by the intellectual cinnephile, whilst being lapped up in their thousands by the popcorn guzzling general public. Like it or loathe it, there's no question that American cinema has more or less been governed solely by the economics of the blockbuster since those days in the mid seventies when Roy Schieder blew up a giant rubber shark off the American coastline. This last twenty years or so has seen an infusion of larger stars, larger budgets, and larger explosions in a valiant effort from the studios to dazzle audiences and get backsides planted firmly on the seats of cinemas worldwide. Although many look upon the right-wing Reaganite culture of eighties American cinema as being an affront to the standards of quality and intelligence forged during the postclassical period, there's no argument that as far as blockbusters go, the decade ruled the roost. If the high concept movie was the work of the Devil, it's certain that he held the best tunes back some twenty years ago, with stonewall classics such as Back to the Future, Aliens and Raiders of the Lost Arc proving that although the new format could be big and stupid, it could also be damn good fun. Of course nothing lasts forever, and all cycles run their course. Unless you're the blockbuster that is. You see, Hollywood is only as good as its last hit, and the business has proven time and again that it's not really that good at adapting. The marketing strategy in film (as it is for TV and for music) is to flog that mule until it's crippled and blind, panting at the roadside. With so much money riding on each film, the industry is terrified of what's around the corner should that bubble burst. Heaven forbid they are plunged into a scenario as they were in the late sixties, where they had no inclination of what the audience wanted from films anymore. Should such a crisis arise once again, they may be forced to hand control back once more to the directors, and then where would their marketing strategies and merchandise tie-ins fit within the new economy? So what do they do? They stick to what they know, and churn out more and more extortionately budgeted tat, each time crossing their fingers that this latest clunker won't be the one that sinks the ship for good. This quandary has seen the summer event picture limp on, ever more redundant and bereft of inspiration, a good decade past its pasture. By the onset of the nineties virtually every good idea had been mined and used, and by the mid-nineties even Arnie, the totem of right wing big-budget cinema, was struggling to land a decent movie. Now today we have the situation where virtually everything released is a remake or a sequel, and more often than not is also watered down shtick with the sole cynical purpose of fitting as many obnoxious kids into the multiplex as humanly possible. Simultaneous releases worldwide are the now the order of the day, to prevent vicious word of mouth and to recoup as much on lame duck productions as possible in the opening week, before people see sense and stay away. The blockbuster is dead, and has been for some time. Why this outburst? Well, it's there purely to help provide background on a simple, yet pertinent point. The blockbuster movie, God rest its soul, served a purpose. Not since the heyday of the studio system had such manpower and ambition been shoehorned into projects with the express mandate of making something spectacular. On its day the blockbuster movie could create something no other can replicate, with the budgets and technology to make dreams come alive and be realised. When coupled with a great script, there is the potential to make some truly great cinema. On the other hand however, the event movie for event movie's sake represents the very antithesis of this. Millions upon millions poured into projects with no real purpose other than to make one or two decent set pieces utilising the latest technology, then building a cack-handed film around them. If you aren't very careful you could end up with an overpriced disaster on your hands. If you're really unlucky, you could end up with something akin to Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, a film so terrible in almost every way that you would have to hold a gun to my head to ever make me sit through it again. Surely if anything was enough to signal the death knell for the blockbuster format, it was this, a turkey of monumental proportions that would dwarf the mighty 'zilla himself. Come to think of it, Godzilla versus a giant turkey would probably have been superior to this trash. The synopsis for the film (I hesitate to call it a plot) is basically some cock and bull constructed in ten minutes on the back of a beermat for the sole purpose of working out how the filmmakers can squeeze in as much CGI related madness as possible. Basically the gist is that French atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific has somehow managed to mutate DNA and create a great big lizard, namely Godzilla. Scientist Niko Tatoplous (the bemused Matthew Broderick) is called in by the military due to his experience of studying earthworms in the Ukraine (yep....), and before anyone knows it, Godzilla has arrived in Manhattan and proceeds to create a bit of a mess of the place. Hot on his tail is a French secret service division, headed by Philippe Roaché (Jean Reno) who have the preposterous mission to try and keep it all hush hush. Throw in a weak romantic subplot involving Niko's ex, and aspiring reporter Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo), and that's pretty much your lot. Now I'm sure there will be people out there in internet land that will be keen to lambaste me over my views here, to accuse me of being all poncey and superior, that it's 'just good fun' or 'was never intended to be an Oscar winner'. This is all fair enough, but the fact is I actually wanted to enjoy this film. I was never under the impression that Godzilla was going to bowl me over with powerhouse acting, well thought out character development, or shocking scenes of intensity. All I wanted from the movie was a couple of hours of throwaway brainless entertainment. The sad truth is that the film can't even manage that. It's bloated, dull, and unfeasibly stupid. This is essentially a piece of trashy hokum about a giant lizard banging about in the city, yet its paper thin plot is stretched to nearly two and a half painful laborious hours. Who needs that? Not me that's for sure. The actual build-up to the main course of the movie isn't actually that bad. The arrival of Godzilla in the city is pretty well done and entertaining, in a special effects bonanza kind of way. After that though, it's all rapidly downhill, and we are only half an hour into the thing. Basically once you've seen one episode of a gigantic reptile bashing about you've seen them all. Thus follows Godzilla being chased a bit, doing a bit of chasing himself and generally being a bit of a nuisance. Following this poor mans King Kong, we have a bit of a rehash of Jurassic Park, where Broderick and company get chased for an age by a host of baby Godzilla's which mimics much of the velociraptor action of Speilberg's earlier adventure. With these films it's always a case of wading through the ill-thought out nonsense to get to the set pieces, but here they prove just as boring as the rest of the film. Such is the nature of CGI that effects-heavy marathons like this will unavoidably show their age after a given time, and Godzilla is no exception, with the big fella looking decidedly ropey when viewed some eight years on. It doesn't help that he's paraded around left right and centre and some scenes do have you nostalgically hankering for a man in a rubber suit piledriving a giant moth. This effects-driven bonanza ensures that the human content plays second fiddle to the smug displaying of the marvels of computer technology. This is a shame, as the film has assembled a more than capable cast, and it's a depressing sight to see stalwarts such as Broderick and Reno slumming it in this mess. At least Harry Shearer provides a humorous supporting role as an unscrupulous TV anchorman, even if he is just playing a real-life Principal Skinner. In fact one of the sole reasons for enduring the movie is to see how many Simpson's characters pop up, with Hank Azaria and Nancy Cartwright joining Shearer in attendance. What we have here is a big, dumb mess of a movie. Incoherent, dull, and repetitive, this was bad back in the late 90's and it's even worse now as not even the effects hold up any more. The fact that this disgusted Godzilla diehards, and was met by indifference by the public at large should tell you all you need to know, and thank the Lord the mooted sequels never reared their ugly heads. Ever the public servant, I watch this nonsense so you don't have to.
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