As this year marks its 25th anniversary, Sony has released Godzilla (1998) on Blu-ray in glorious 4K. The first American reboot of the Kaiju franchise we love, the film follows the titular character as he terrorizes New York City, leaving a scientist named Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) as one of the only ones who stop him before it’s too late.
The 1998 iteration was infamously panned upon its release by fans and general audiences alike. The lack of fidelity to the Godzilla franchise’s atmosphere is almost always cited as the biggest factor behind its negative reception. The main kaiju, renamed Zilla, was even featured in 2004’s Final Wars, being destroyed by the classic Godzilla in a brief fight. 25 years and another reboot later, is there merit to the film? Or does it rightfully deserve the criticism? Come with me to find out if this new transfer can usher in a revaluation of the maligned remake.
My History With Godzilla
Godzilla (1998) is the earliest Godzilla film I remember watching. I was born the very year it came out, so I didn’t watch it in theaters, but it was definitely a television staple. Granted, I don’t remember the first time I watched it on television. I’m certain it had some kind of presence in my childhood, as I remember having a dinner plate themed around it.
In the times I’ve seen it, I didn’t feel it was a terrible film, though it really blends in with the other ’90s disaster films like Twister. The constant comparisons to Jurassic Park don’t help its lack of originality either. I actually haven’t seen this movie in a while, so I was hoping a new look at it could help me appreciate it more.
Do We Have An Underappreciated Remake Here?
After rewatching it, the movie is a mixed bag. While the first act’s build-up and action set-pieces are great, the plot woven around those strengths stumbles by the second act, where it becomes more concerned with meaningless subplots.
Watching this movie again, with the knowledge of later films like Cloverfield and Godzilla (2014), is extremely fascinating. Looking at the film’s characters like Tatopoulos and Animal (Hank Azaria), everyone is some kind of inflated character cliché. I couldn’t tell who was meant to be the de facto main character, since they’re all some form of comic relief. It’s a major difference with Godzilla (2014), since the characters there have comparatively understated characterizations. I have to admit though, Godzilla (1998) has a much better grasp of effectively spacing out each of Godzilla’s scenes than Godzilla (2014).
Looking at the big-G himself, Toho making this incarnation its own separate character was for the best. While the design is cool on its own, the overtly dinosaurian features distract from what makes Godzilla what he is. Part of the character’s charm is rooted in how he’s clearly a guy in a suit in the original films, removing this aspect means something essential is missing. The film’s attempts to ground Godzilla in our reality (more animal-like behavior, no atomic breath, much smaller than regular Godzilla) are a bold choice but clash with the silliness around the title character.
Is the Movie at Least Worth Buying on 4K?
My favorite part of rewatching the 1998 remake was appreciating the way the 4K transfer brought out the awe of the film’s sound design and score by composer David Arnold. The various sounds and music can be clearly heard, and no muffling of any kind is present in the remaster. The 4K transfer’s picture quality isn’t as impressive in comparison. The transfer just makes the dated CGI more apparent, and grain is visible in some Godzilla-less shots.
I know the 1998 film has some fans in the present day, who praise it for being a fairly enjoyable monster movie in its own right. The immense nostalgia for the ’90s now also helps. I’d wholeheartedly recommend the release to them, but it might be a harder sell for general audiences.
Ultimately, the digital re-release’s 4K transfer elevates the film’s blockbuster strengths. However, its faults are still there. The 4K transfer gets an 8/10 and the film itself gets a 6/10.
About Godzilla (1998)
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria
Based on the hit phenomenon that started in Japan, this reboot chronicles a series of tragedies after French nuclear tests irradiate an iguana into a giant monster that heads off to New York City. The American military must chase the monster across the city to stop it before it reproduces.
Will be buying Godzilla (1998) on 4K? Do you think Zilla is an underrated kaiju? Do you prefer this American take on the King of Monsters or 2014? Let us know by giving The Illuminerdi a shout-out on our social media, we’re always watching.