Godzilla 2000: Millennium, or better known as just Godzilla 2000, is directed by Takao Okawara and stars Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe, Naomi Nishida, Mayu Suzuki, and Shiro Sano.
Determined to wash the foul taste of Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla out of their mouths, Godzilla fans of the world demanded Toho to bring their beloved kaiju back to the screen the way they know and loved: trampling Tokyo to bits and going toe-to-toe with other giant monsters who dared to stand in Godzilla's way. Merely two months after the 1998 Godzilla's release, production for a new Godzilla film began, and it was all about going back to Godzilla's roots and re-imagining what turned him into such a worldwide phenomenon. This was somewhat premature: Toho originally planned to bring Godzilla back for his 50 year anniversary in 2004, but even they couldn't have imagined the disaster that transpired when they handed Godzilla off to an American film studio and a director who had no passion for the project. There is some solace to be had knowing that Toho wouldn't allow the Godzilla fanbase to wait several, painstakingly long years until they could see Godzilla back in action. Anyway, Godzilla 2000 kicks off what is usually dubbed the Millennium Godzilla series, and while this would end up being the shortest of all the Godzilla eras, it's a burst of several exciting and enjoyable moments, especially since it's now Godzilla with more luxurious, modern-day technology.
The story takes place right in the year 2000 (supposedly). Godzilla is a threat to all of Japan, but he's also the subject of intense scientific study and analysis. The Godzilla Protection Network, or the GPN, follows Godzilla to learn more about his movements and behavior. The GPN was founded by Yuji Shinoda (Murata), and he studies Godzilla with his daughter Io (Suzuki) and news reporter and borderline love interest Yuki Ichinose (Nishida). Combating Shinoda's efforts is the Crisis Control Intelligence (CCI), led by the smug Mitsui Katagiri (Abe). The CCI looks to kill Godzilla, but their scientists uncover another threat: a sixty million year old UFO. It's an easy guess as to where the plot goes from there.
There are two different versions of Godzilla 2000: the gloomy, distressing Japanese version that tries to recapture the tone of the original 1954 Godzilla, and the cheesy, light-hearted English dub that is not meant to be taken seriously at all. Unfortunately, I have only been able to stumble across the latter, which I have no doubt is the worse of the two. The last thing we want is to have Godzilla harken back to the dark days of the late 60's and early 70's, in which Godzilla was an environmentally-friendly superhero monster that fought other kaiju like it was WWE wrestling, all the while being weighed down by a never-ending reel of stock footage. Godzilla 2000 should, in one way or another, reinvent the wheel for the franchise, because there's several decades of evidence of what works and what doesn't for a Godzilla film. The Millennium series should aim for the style and tone of the more successful films like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, or Godzilla vs. Destoroyah; the films with stories that have believable consequences and know how to keep the humor and general cheesiness at a distance. The English dub of Godzilla 2000 offers some awkward hybrid of doom and gloom Godzilla and cheesy, eye-rolling Godzilla, which means the whole thing is a bit of a wash.
- The most commendable thing about Godzilla 2000 is the way Godzilla is presented: as an invincible monster of destruction that is also a fascinating subject of science. The screenplay by writers Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura devotes a large chunk of time to showing us the science and mechanics behind why Godzilla is able to survive anything and everything thrown at him, which is arguably the most in-depth a Godzilla movie has ever gone towards explaining why the military and other weapons are useless against him. For the longest time, we were left to just assume that tanks, missiles, and electricity could do nothing against Godzilla simply because he's the King of the Monsters. In Godzilla 2000 however, there is a full-blown explanation to it all, and it's actually not the dumbest thing you'll ever hear. The opening scene of Godzilla rampaging through parts of Japan puts the film in a good spot to showcase Godzilla's invincibility and potentially establish it as the film's overarching theme, but unfortunately, all we get is the invincibility part as well as shots of Shinoda fascinating over Godzilla's presence.
The only thing that slightly diminishes Godzilla's invincibility aura is the suit. The suit shows far too many teeth, and the head is a bit smushed in. The eyes are a bit inconsistent: Close-ups make Godzilla look a little intimidating, but several zoomed out shots make him look like he's half-asleep. It's a bulky suit too, so props for giving Godzilla some actual muscle. I also like how Godzilla's atomic breath has been changed from its traditional white-blue to a new, fiery-orange color. Godzilla's signature weapon is now the true ray of fire it's always been.
- Godzilla 2000 is uneven all across the board, not just in its tone. For as much praise as I can give Godzilla's presentation, he disappears completely during the film's second act, in favor of the UFO and the threat its presence brings to Japan. It's never a good thing when there is a "Godzilla gap" in a Godzilla film, in this case the big G only showing up in the early and late parts of the film. The special effects are all over the place: a decent overhead shot of Godzilla walking is offset by a cheap-looking green screen or something that looks like it didn't quite make its way off a storyboard. Godzilla 2000 contains Toho's first full CGI shot of Godzilla: a brief moment of him swimming in open water, which looks....okay-ish for a 1999 film. The movie especially drops the special effects ball when it comes to the UFO; scenes of the UFO flying through the sky in broad daylight are a ghastly sight to behold.
Now to be fair, the uneven tone criticism doesn't apply to the Japanese version, so we might as well just leave that version alone. The most galling thing when it comes to the tongue-in-cheek approach of the English dub is how unnecessary it is. Like, why does the dubbing have to be purposefully cheesy? Why is the voice acting so over-the-top? Why does Godzilla 2000 try to be funny and light-hearted when the story works so much better when it's grim and cynical? Was this all some lame-brained effort by TriStar Pictures to make Godzilla 2000 more marketable by making it seem more "family-friendly?" This is nowhere near the kind of film a family can sit down and enjoy together, let alone be enjoyed by small children who know next to nothing about Godzilla. Whatever the reason, the alterations didn't work: the film only grossed around $10 million at the North American box office, which is pretty disappointing when you throw in that this was the first Godzilla film to be released theatrically in North America since Godzilla 1985.
In the end, Godzilla 2000 accomplished its ultimate goal: bring Godzilla into the new millennium and leave Roland Emmerich's 1998 flick all but forgotten. Sure, the Japanese version was taken to the woodshed and roughed up by the English dubbers at TriStar, but that's not to say that the film isn't still without its entertaining moments and its basic Godzilla appeal. Godzilla's sheer invincibility is nicely displayed and gives the movie a lot of potential to speak on the seemingly invincible forces that are human error and greed. Unfortunately, an uneven tone, uneven special effects, and a large gap in Godzilla screen time do not allow Godzilla 2000 to capitalize on this potential. This was a golden opportunity for the franchise to recapture a lot of what makes the original 1954 Godzilla so special, and believe me, if there's one thing we can say about the Millennium Godzilla series, it's that it is completely in love with the original 1954 film. The signs are there, but Godzilla 2000 doesn't quite recapture that magic of Godzilla's roots, and for that reason, it's understandable to think of the film as a bit of a disappointment. Regardless, this is still a perfectly watchable Godzilla film, and that ain't too bad of a starting point for a new stage in the franchise.
Recommend? If you're a die-hard Godzilla fan, then yes. I'd recommend trying to find the Japanese version of the film, however.
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