Monday, October 27, 2014
60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla 2000
Godzilla returns to Japan sooner than expected.
When Godzilla was killed off in 1995's Godzilla vs. Destoroyah and the franchise went dormant, it was the intention of Japan's Toho Studios to keep their iteration of Godzilla off of theatre screens until Big G's 50th anniversary in 2004. TriStar was developing the first installment in what was planned to be a trilogy of American Godzilla movies, and Toho didn't want to get in the way or flood the market.
Then the U.S. version of Godzilla came out and was received poorly both by critics and by a large portion of the viewing audience.
Toho had to make things right and restore Godzilla's good name. They put into a development a new Japanese Godzilla film that would be in theatres five years earlier than they expected to be releasing any new Goji, and just nineteen months after the U.S. Godzilla had made its premiere.
Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who had been with Godzilla since the beginning and was in fact the person who came up with the idea for the character, had unfortunately passed away in 1997, so the new film became the first entry in the series not to have his name on it.
Directed by Takao Okawara (who had previously directed Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, as well as having been chief assistant director on The Return of Godzilla), from a screenplay by Hiroshi Kashiwabara (Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla) and Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II), Godzilla 2000 is the start of a new era for the series. Gojira (1954) through Terror of MechaGodzilla had been the Shōwa era. The Return of Godzilla through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah encompasses the Heisei era. With this film we have entered the Millennium era.
A different approach was taken to the films of the Millennium era in that they largely throw continuity out the window. Their stories may harken back to the original Gojira, but all of the other movies are ignored. Only two entries in the Millennium era even have continuity with each other.
Godzilla 2000 begins with reporter Yuki Ichinose accompanying the Godzilla Prediction Network's Yuji Shinoda and his young daughter Io on a typical night of work for the pair. They are essentially the Godzilla version of storm chasers. They check equipment readings from around the country, go out into the Japanese countryside, monitor the environment, predict when and where Godzilla is going to show up, and then follow him around in their SUV as he wreaks havoc and causes destruction.
The GPN predicts Godzilla's presence accurately, and the king of the monsters makes his first appearance in this movie just 3 minutes in. He continues to rampage through Japan for the next 10 minutes - it's a great way to kick off the new era.
Wearing a suit newly created by Shinichi Wakasa, Tsutomu Kitagawa makes his Godzilla debut in Godzilla 2000. He would go on to reprise the role for every Millennium film except for one.
Yuki doesn't have a good experience with Shinoda and Io, they get a bit too close to Godzilla for her taste. They get very close indeed - at one point Godzilla has his face right up to the front of the SUV, his breath fogging up the windshield. A frightened Yuki snaps some pictures. The camera flash irritates Godzilla, he roars, and the roar is so loud that it causes the windshield to shatter. It's an iconic scene wonderfully realized, the only questionable special effects element to it is the exploding glass.
Unfortunately for Yuki, being so close to Godzilla also causes her camera to absorb some of the radiaction that emanates off of him, ruining her film. None of the pictures she takes while with Shinoda and Io come out, so her editor sends her back out with the pair.
While a Crisis Control submersible is dropping a sensor meant to track Godzilla's underwater movements into the Japan Trench, it discovers a large, strange object, presumably a meteorite, that consists of some kind of highly magnetic material. Thinking this material could be helpful in developing a clean energy source, government officials have the object lifted out of the trench with balloons.
As the object nears the ocean's surface, it begins to move faster - rising under its own power. Reaching the surface, it floats, even though it shouldn't be able to and obviously had sank before. Teams go to work attempting to excavate it, trying to dig through the rock that encases the material within. Whatever is inside the rock, it's too hard for their equipment to dig into.
A man named Katagiri, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary and the head of Crisis Control Intelligence, is called away from the meteorite by reports that Godzilla is heading toward the nuclear reactors in Tokaimura. Arriving in Tokaimura, Katagiri has an encounter with Yuki, Shinoda, and Io, during which it's made clear that the men have history with each other. Katagiri recruited Shinoda's former partner Miyasaka into the CCI and wishes he had Shinoda working for the organization as well, but Shinoda doesn't agree with Katagiri's mission to destroy Godzilla. He believes Goji should be kept alive for observation and study, with the Japanese citizens being kept as safe as possible through the prediction network.
The nuclear reactors are shut down and surrounded with "blast bombs" buried in the ground. Mines are also set up at the shore. Military forces are set up in Tokaimura, with the intention of driving Godzilla away from civilization and into the mouth of the Kuji River. There, Godzilla will be blasted with "full metal missiles" that are said to be able to penetrate anything, they'll even be able to drill into Godzilla's skin.
As Godzilla reaches Tokaimura, the meteorite begins to move on its own again, rising up on one edge and soaking up solar energy. Whatever life form is within the meteorite, it scans people watching from the boats surrounding it, its vision zooming in on them until it's examining them on a cellular level. Not finding anything of interest in these humans, the meteorite takes off, flying through the air.
Godzilla is pummeled with military weaponry and withstands it all, even the full metal missiles. The flying meteorite shows up on the scene. It examines Godzilla on a cellular level... and sees something it likes. It blasts Godzilla with some kind of energy beam - and this weapon definitely has a strong effect, knocking Goji backwards.
The meteorite and Godzilla trade hits, the meteorite knocking Godzilla into the water, his atomic breath blasting away some of the meteorite rock to reveal metal beneath... The meteorite is actually a flying saucer.
Godzilla disappears into the sea, so the flying saucer settles down again to absorb some more solar energy. Officials deduce that the flying saucer reached Earth sixty to seventy million years ago and sank into the sea, where it remained dormant because sunlight couldn't reach it in the depths of the trench. It was revived when the submersible's light hit it, and even more so when the balloons lifted it back toward the sun.
Following the first meeting between Godzilla and the flying saucer, there's a stretch of film that's all about different entities trying to glean information about Godzilla.
When Yuki is near the flying saucer, which the military attempts to hold in place with electro-magnetic cables, her laptop comes on by itself and her file on Godzilla is accessed.
Shinoda offers to give Crisis Control Intelligence everything he has on Godzilla in exchange for being able to use their equipment to analyze Godzilla skin samples he picked up in Tokaimura. With his old pal Miyasaka at his side, he discovers why these skin samples were able to regenerate within five hours: there is a unique cell in Godzilla's system that he names Organizer G1. This cell is the secret to Godzilla's healing ability, and the scientists begin to think that Organizer G1 could be put to medical use for human patients.
Io doesn't agree with her father's willingness to hand over their research to CCI, so she gives the organization her schoolwork instead.
It's been a cloudy day, but when the clouds part, the flying saucer, which has by now shed all of its rock casing, takes off, snapping the supposedly unbreakable cables attached to it as if they were nothing. It then proceeds to fly into Tokyo and park itself on top of the Shinjuku City Tower, which houses the news company Yuki works for, among many other businesses. All of the computers in the area go on the fritz as the alien life form uses them to gather as much information as it can on people and the world. Infrared filters show tendrils, invisible to the naked eye, running from the saucer into the building. These tendrils are hacking the tower's supercomputer.
In an effort to stop the saucer's intelligence gathering, Katagiri has the tower packed with bombs, unaware that there's still a person inside; Yuki, who has gained access to a computer and is trying to figure out why the saucer seems to be so interested in Godzilla.
Shinoda and Io rush to the tower to find Yuki and get her out of the building before the bombs are detonated. Rather than run out with Yuki and his daughter, Shinoda just sits down at the computer himself and continues what Yuki was doing.
Despite the knowledge that Shinoda is on the 48th floor of the building, Katagiri orders that the bombs be detonated on schedule. The bombs go off, but Shinoda survives unscathed. Also unscathed is the saucer. As if to say "I can do better than that," the saucer then sends a blast of energy through the remains of the building that destroys it floor-by-floor as Shinoda tries to escape.
By the time Shinoda has made his exit from the tower, he has figured out what the alien wants. The plan is to change Earth's atmosphere to be suitable for their living conditions, turning our world into their own Millennium Kingdom. The being within the saucer shed its physical form to be able to live for millions of years, and its interest in Godzilla comes down to Organizer G1. It wants to use Godzilla's regenerating cells to create a body for itself.
When that exposition has been delivered, Godzilla arrives in Tokyo, seeking revenge against the creature that blasted him down earlier.
Godzilla and the alien wade into battle on the streets of a model Tokyo. During the fight, the saucer sends out its tentacles out to sap some Organizer G1 from Goji. With those cells, the alien is then able to build an entire body for itself, becoming a kaiju called Millennian, which looks sort of like an octopus crossed with a Grey alien.
Millennian doesn't last very long, collapsing to the ground and continuing to transform.
With the alien out of the saucer, Godzilla is able to destroy it with some blasts of his atomic breath.
When the Millennian rises again, it has become a creature called Ogra, which has a bit of Godzilla to its appearance. As soon as Godzilla sees Ogra, he walks over to it and starts beating on it.
Ogra isn't much of a physical threat, but it does have some tricks - one being the ability to shoot an energy blast from its left shoulder, the other the fact that it can draw more of Godzilla's genetic material out of him by clamping down on Goji with its teeth. Ogra does this trying to further mutate itself into a clone of Godzilla.
Eventually, Ogra opens its mouth wide to reveal that it has some kind of strange extended throat, and Godzilla's reaction to this sight is priceless. As Ogra opens its mouth and throat right up to Godzilla, Goji gets an idea... And when I was sitting in the theatre watching this movie back in 2000 and saw him do what he does, I wanted to cheer.
Yes, Godzilla 2000 got a wide theatrical release in the United States, becoming the first Toho Godzilla movie to do so since The Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985. The American release was dubbed in English and edited down a little, but wasn't altered too much. Because of this release, 2000 is to this date the only Japanese-made Godzilla movie that I've ever seen in the theatre.
For that fact, and because it brought the real Godzilla back to the screen after he had seemingly been "killed off", Godzilla 2000 is a somewhat special installment in the franchise. However, it's not one of the best.
There's not much at all to 2000. It was a rushed production, and that kind of shows through. The story is as simplistic as it gets and, for a lot of the running time, rather dull. The saucer/Millennian/Ogra isn't a particularly interesting opponent for Godzilla to face off with, either.
The old school effects on display are great, but the modern stuff is lacking. This is the first Toho movie to feature a CG Godzilla in it, for example, and that CG isn't exactly top notch. Thankfully, Godzilla was still brought to life primarily through suitmation. There are some wonderful shots of Godzilla in the Japanese countryside, and there are some dodgy composite shots.
Godzilla 2000 did what it was meant to do - it got the Japanese Godzilla back on the screen quickly and painlessly after the TriStar movie and it's adequate overall, but there's not much in there that goes beyond adequate.
Interestingly, there was some consideration given to making an American sequel to Godzilla 2000. Since TriStar still had the Godzilla rights at the time, they handled the U.S. distribution of Godzilla 2000 as well. Toho was very pleased with the work American writer/producer Michael Schlesinger had done in putting together the American version of 2000 and, emboldened by Toho's approval, Schlesinger came up with the idea of working with TriStar to make a follow-up for around $20 million, with suitmation creatures and the effects work to be handled by Toho's team.
Schlesinger wrote up a script for a sequel entitled Godzilla Reborn, which would have seen the return of the Miyasaka character from 2000 and would have been set on the Hawaiian islands. There, an ensemble of characters including an L.A. reporter on vacation, a hotel owner, an Army general, and a convention of scientists (including Miyasaka) would witness as Godzilla made his way across the islands, headed to Mauna Loa just in time to battle Miba, a giant bat made of lava that emerges from within an erupting volcano.
If Godzilla Reborn had gotten made, Joe Dante (Gremlins) was attached to direct, and names on the Schelesinger/Dante dream cast included Bruce Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Scott Bakula, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Ken Takakura, Robert Picardo, Belinda Balaski, and Dick Miller.
Schlesinger's screenplay was approved by Toho, but unfortunately by the time it was finished, the head of production at TriStar who had been interested in the project was replaced by a head of production who had no interest in it at all. Previous iterations of an American Godzilla movie had been rejected by studios because they would have been too costly. This time around, it was the opposite - this head of production felt that a $20 million Godzilla movie wasn't worth bothering with. And so, Godzilla Reborn died.
There wouldn't be another American-made Godzilla movie for more than a decade, but Godzilla would return in Japan just one year after the release of Godzilla 2000.