Yuji Shinoda (Takehiro Murata) clutches the wheel of an off-road vehicle jammed with high-tech equipment. The scientist seems to pilot the four-wheeled lab more by instruments than sight, chasing a phenomenon they have been tuned to detect. Yuki Ichinose (Naomi Nishida) grips her camera and curses her ambition, along for the teeth-rattling ride. Io (Mayu Suzuki), Shinoda’s girl-genius daughter and caretaker, rides shotgun monitoring the detectors. The trail of the high-tech safari heats up. Shinoda slams on the brakes, his face awe-struck. The source of the signal, the object of his research, rears its ugly head. Meet Godzilla.
If you’re a real Godzilla fan, I’m preaching to the choir: You’ve anticipated Godzilla’s Y2K return like a holy roller impatient for Armageddon. But if you first met the 60-story tall, nuclear fire-breathing dragon in director Roland Emmerich’s (The Patriot) new and improved Godzilla (1998), Godzilla 2000 may surprise you, and not pleasantly. Emmerich created a new-jack monster from the gargantuan feet up. His Godzilla is more the bastard child of Jurassic Park’s computer-generated Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor on nuclear growth hormones than the eponymous Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956), who looked and acted like a Sumo wrestler on crack in a B-movie rubber dinosaur suit.
Godzilla 2000 is old-school Godzilla Classic: The man in the rubber suit is back. Director Takao Okawara has given his fortysomething star a facelift for the new millennium, but hasn’t liposuctioned the potbelly or those thunderous thighs. Baby still has much back: That monstrous tail remains adequate to level the model train set buildings we’re asked to believe are Japanese cities.
Okawara also refuses to completely shun computer-generated effects. Godzilla’s lethal nuclear halitosis is effective, but some of the permutations of his monstrous opponent, Orga, are rendered with the graphic quality of a second-rate rave video.
Any Japanese Godzilla movie is more or less part disaster flick and part WWF Monster Smackdown. This millennium’s version follows suit and borrows some action and screwballish romance moments to add a pinch of American spice.
King of monsters or the emperor’s new rubber suit? In Godzilla 2000, it’s a matter of taste.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.