Saturday, June 7, 2014

Godzilla: The Series (1999) animated series review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: sleek and smooth animation, detailed monster designs, fun and frantic monster fights, well written dialogue, decent character development, does not shy away from darker stories.

The Bad: flat looking backgrounds, formulaic episodes, character designs take some getting used to, no definitive conclusion to the series.

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none

Picking off moments from the end of the 1998 GODZILLA movie, Dr Nick Tatopolus discovers and befriends the last remaining baby Zilla. It imprints on Nick as his parent but is chased away when the military comes calling. Baby Zilla soon grows to full size and although he displays an undying loyalty to Nick, Nick can no longer hide it. While the army is hell bent on exterminating this beast, new monstrous behemoths start to emerge across the world, some the result of mutation, some ancient, others extraterrestrial. Teaming up with former co-scientists Elsie and Craven, along with mysterious French secret agent Monique, Nick forms the H.E.A.T team aiming to track down these giant creatures for scientific purposes before the military blows them apart. But not all these monsters are friendly, and that's where the now adult Godzilla comes in to take them down. 

Clearly inspired by the Showa era of heroic Godzilla movies, as well as the Hannah Barbara GODZILLA power hour cartoon, Godzilla the series ranks among the better animated shows based on movies. It is arguably better than the movie itself, returning a generic giant monster premise to its Japanese roots. Where most animated adaptations/continuations dumb down the story (see Robocop, Rambo, Star Wars Droids), this shows ups the ante in action, scale and enjoyment. 

The plots could be a tad formulaic: new threat shows itself, H.E.A.T team investigates, gets into trouble, Godzilla helps, monster attacks, fights Godzilla who may or may not be evenly matched, Godzilla ultimately wins thanks to its own cunning or human assistance. Thankfully, the execution is top notch. For a start, the characters are well written with snappy dialogue and good chemistry among the voice actors. There are hints of character development across the series. They start off one dimensional but as episodes go along, they change slowly, subtly adding depth to their personalities. For example, Nick outgrows his geeky personality into a confident action leader type by the second season.

On the production side, Godzilla the series looks quite good for a 1999 animated show. Animated by Korean studio DR Movie, this show displays a good balance of art detail and animation fluidity. Shadows are consistent, clothing show folds; only the backgrounds come across a little half baked. The backgrounds are flatly colored with the odd scene looking a tad unfinished. Though the character designs may also take some getting used to, coming across like Rugrats mixed with bad early 90s Japanese anime, the monster designs are marvelous. You can tell that most time and effort went into the monsters themselves. They are drawn with an insane level of expertise and animated very smoothly.

Fans agree that this series is what many wished the 1998 Godzilla remake delivered. It is not shy to delve into darker territory, such as the acclaimed "monster wars" 3 part saga, and manages to balance a coherent plot with some timely humor. (Poor N.I.G.E.L). Initially only selected episodes were released on DVD. But now, A complete series DVD set has been released to coincide with the 2014 GODZILLA movie from legendary studios. The late 90s and early 2000s was a new renaissance for American animation, with GODZILLA THE SERIES right there among the best.

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Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Characters: B+
Animation: A-
Art: B+
Music: B-
Voice work (English): A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C-

Godzilla (1998) remake review

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Well written comedy, top notch special effects, memorable characters, good acting from veteran comedians, intense action sequences.

The Bad: Does not work as a Godzilla remake, bland main protagonists, cliched plot

3D Readiness: not filmed in 3D.
IMax-ability: dark cinematography and tight shots negate imax experience


Before the critically acclaimed GODZILLA 2014, Hollywood had attempted an Americanized remake of the classic Japanese monster back in 1998. They turned to Roland Emmerich, the man responsible for turning old B movie genres (alien invasion, otherworldly adventures and genetically enhanced soldiers) into big blockbuster hits. Hoping that he would do the same for the giant monster movie. To that end, Hollywood gave him Godzilla, the much beloved Japanese giant monster, to remake to his vision.

Americanized, neutered and changed beyond recognition, GODZILLA came out as a decent monster movie, but a disappointing Godzilla movie. That issue lies in the portrayal of the titular Titan. Gone is the thought provoking nuclear disaster allegory, replaced by a feeble "man is the real monster" Aesop. Nuclear tests in the 1960s gave rise to a giant mutant bisexual lizard. This creature makes a beeline for Manhattan where his arrival is met with mass hysteria and chaos. Named "Godzilla" by the media (thanks to a misinterpreted comment from a dying Japanese sailor), America sends wave after wave of military hardware against the beast, causing more destruction than ever but failing to bring it down. Into this chaos comes dr Nick Tatopolus, an expert on radiation mutations. As the military tracks the monster through new york's concrete jungle, nick discovers that the creature may not be the only one of its kind for much longer. The hunt is on with French secret agents, a budding romance with a wannabe reporter and a parody of some well known movie critics all thrown in. 

The first thing that stood out for me in this movie was how enjoyable the scenes with the human characters were. Like INDEPENDENCE DAY, Roland Emmerich peppers this movie with a healthy dose of humor. This makes the one dimensional characters less of a pain to sit through. Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Henry Shearer, all renown comedians, shine in their respective roles, delivering appropriate drama and laughs. Even Jean Reno does well as the offensively stereotyped French agent Philippe. Their scenes are fun, making an overall cliché ridden story more enjoyable than it is. Only the lead characters turn out a tad flat. Dr Nick, played by baby faced Matthew Broderick, brings his best "wide eyed" expressions to play as a man child caught up in the wonder of this giant beast yet running for his very life so he does not become dinner. Wide eyed shock, wide eyed awe, wide eyed terror, that seems to be his only expression. And the redundancy of Maria Pitillo's character Audrey cannot be understated.

Of course, the true star of any Godzilla movie is Godzilla himself. This leaner, faster, velociraptor inspired look by designer Patrick Tatopolus is a terrific looking beast brought to life by cutting edge special effects. For a 1998 production, the effects still hold up well till today. The creature is elegant yet menacing, grand yet grim, with twin rows of fierce spikes on it's back, unbelievable agility and that trademark big chin that is common in Patrick Tatopolus' designs (eg: underworld's Lycans, pitch black's creatures, outlander's moorwen). However, it just isn't Godzilla, the unstoppable force of nature. It shows none of Godzilla's powers, nor his intelligence, nor his durability. Where the original Godzilla would be unfazed by missiles, smash tanks and planes out of his way, and carry on, this remade Godzilla squeals, runs and hides! 

Perhaps it would not have gotten that much hate had it been billed as a remake of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, rather than a Godzilla movie. The basic plot of a lost giant creature drawn to New York and ultimately taken down by sheer luck and superior military firepower already mimics the broad strokes of that stop motion classic. Godzilla can easily pass off as a redesigned Rhedrosaur. But alas, here it is billed as a Godzilla movie. 

As a Godzilla movie, Roland Emmerich's multi million dollar blockbuster would rank in the lower thirds. Better than the likes of GODZILLA VS MEGALON, GODZILLA's REVENGE, GODZILLA FINAL WAR and GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER. But compared to the rest of the Heisei era Godzilla movies, the early millennium era, and especially the original 1954 classic, this American remake is a disappointment. So disappointing in fact that the titular Titan of a lizard has been officially renamed "Zilla" by the original creators of the Godzilla franchise. I for one enjoyed this purely as a modern monster movie. It entertains, it has cool special effects, and it is good fun. Nothing much else though.
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Entertainment: A-
Story: C-
Acting: B+
Characters: B-
Music: C
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C-