Return of the King
It’s been 15 years since a real Godzilla movie has been released to U.S. theaters. Sony picked up North American (plus a few other territories) rights for a cool million, so they figure on recouping on opening day. But that didn’t stop them from treating it like Hollywood does every other foreign film: as raw material.
Surprisingly, they’ve been relatively gentle with Godzilla 2000. Since they figured on folks making fun of the dubbing anyway, Sony doesn’t go out of their way to do the best job possible (despite assurances to fans to the contrary), and they’ve made a lot of the dialogue sound nastier. However, at least they hired Japanese voice actors for the dubbing. Some scenes have been trimmed – including shortening some f/x shots and excising a nice shot of Godzilla swimming underwater – but this is a far cry from the punishment other Asian films have taken. It’s not unusual for whole sections to be ripped out, turned inside-out, and the entire orchestra score replaced with cheap library music. Takeyuki Hattori’s score has been revamped a bit stateside. However, this worked out to be an improvement, as some cues have been replaced with classic music composed for previous G-films by Akira Ifukube. Sony has also sweetened the sound effects tracks, increasing their power for the most part, while camping it up slightly in others (electronic beeps whenever a computer is on screen).
Though Big G died in the previous film (1995’s Godzilla Vs. Destroyah), he shows up here looking wicked and feisty. This is the first of a planned trilogy that takes place outside of any Godzilla continuity (or so says the guys at Toho Studios), but if you want to think this is Godzilla, Jr. all grown up, I’m sure that’s allowed. If you want to consider this a gentle raspberry blown in the direction of Sony’s Godzilla, that’s okay too.
The opening scene shows scientist Dr. Yuji Shinoda (veteran G-actor Takehiro Murata) and his brilliant and precocious daughter Io (Miyu Sizuki) setting up seismic wave measuring devices on a fogbound seacoast. Accompanying them is whiny reporter Yuki Ichinose (Naomi Nishida). In the Japanese version (Godzilla Millenium, hereafter G2kM), we’re not initially told what they’re up to. G2k blows the surprise by telling us they’re the leaders of the Godzilla Prediction Net, a freelance group of scientists and oddballs in the business of predicting Godzilla’s movements to benefit their client corporations, who are better able to protect their assets from the monster’s rampages.
Godzilla (Tsutomu Kitigawa) shows up and almost kills them, then stomps through a village to eat a power plant. Meanwhile, the government has set up their own agency to deal with monsters. Shinoda’s old college buddies Miyazaki and Katagiri are both working for the CCI, dedicated to stopping Godzilla by whatever means necessary, with Katagiri rising to the head of the agency (no doubt due to the fact that he’s been dubbed with a bad John Wayne impression). While setting Godzilla sensors in the ocean floor off the coast, CCI subs come upon a huge meteor. Oddly, they decide to attach it to balloons and raise it to the surface.
But the meteor actually disguises an alien spaceship that crash landed on Earth years ago (60,000 originally, G2kM multiplies it to 60 million!). When it rises enough to receive sunlight again, it absorbs energy and takes off under its own power. The alien visitor taps into humanity’s resources, soaking up data from every nearby system, searching for ways to either adapt to Earth’s environment, or change it for its own use.
When it encounters Godzilla, it finds the ultimate adaptor, instantly sensing the power that Shinoda has dubbed Regenerator G1 (Organizer G1 in G2kM, giving the alien the name “Orga” as it clones Godzilla’s properties). Already recovering from the hi-tech piercing missile bombardment dished up by the army, Godzilla is blasted into the ocean by the attacking intruder.
But, as is pointed out by a general in dubbed dialogue, Godzilla always advances when attacked. While Orga is plotting to take over Earth (G2kM: planning a “Millenium Kingdom” after wiping out the pesky hu-mans), and the CCI tries to blow it up, Godzilla takes a break – getting ready to take his revenge.
Godzilla 2000 features the best f/x of the series yet – all the more remarkable when you consider the film was made for just 11 million dollars. I’ve read other reviews that snicker at the “fake” miniatures, little realizing that those “miniatures” were often real buildings merged with the monsters via computer. There are some shaky traveling matte lines, but on the whole the visuals are remarkable.
And it’s just wonderful to see them on a big screen. Godzilla 2000 has some decent characters, a clever and imaginative story, and a fine director in Takao Okawara. It ain’t the best Godzilla ever, but it’s damn far from being the worst.