Get ready to crumble.

After Roland Emmerich’s Americanized Godzilla (1998) became a critical and fan disappointment, the venerable Toho Studio bounced back with its own revival of the big lizard, in Godzilla 2000. Unlike most of the modern Godzilla flicks made by Toho in the 1990s and 2000s, this one got a theatrical release in North America, a way of proudly declaring, “Here’s the real Godzilla, all rubber-suited and stomping on model tanks.”

It’s been several years since Godzilla has attacked Japan, to the point where the Godzilla Protection Network consists of only one guy and his daughter driving up and down the beach in a van. A reporter is doing a story on them when (of course) Godzilla rises from the ocean and attacks. What has brought Godzilla back? It might have something to do with scientists discovering an ancient UFO on the bottom of the ocean and bringing it back to the surface. Once exposed to sunlight, the UFO springs back to life, trashes part of Tokyo, and seeks Godzilla’s fast-regenerating DNA. It (of course) unleashes a giant monster on the city, only for it to square off against Godzilla.

Right from the start, the creators of Godzilla 2000 give fans what they want. First and possibly most importantly, they don’t make you sit and wait for Godzilla. Three minutes into the movie, and Godzilla is on screen, doin’ his Godzilla thing. There’s no spending the first 45 minutes of the movie developing the human characters’ interpersonal dramas before getting to the monster action. The filmmakers know we’re there to see Godzilla, so they give us Godzilla right away.

Godzilla 2000 zips right along, with a lot of action and little down time, even when Godzilla disappears for the middle stretch of the movie so we can get to know our new monster. The UFO transforms into a creature the marketing calls “Orga,” even though that name is never spoken on screen. (Though Some Godzilla fans, I’ve learned, prefer to call the monster “The Millennial.”) Rather than just have it smash things, they’ve gone all sci-fi with Orga, having it absorb DNA from other life forms, and even hacking into all the computers in the city to the point where it later uses the city’s structure against Godzilla. All this makes Orga come off as a genuine threat, and different sort of adversary than the other giants the big G has fought.

All Godzilla movies have to deal with those pesky human characters, yet Godzilla 2000 is one of the better efforts in this case. If Godzilla never showed up, and the whole thing was just the guy in the van, his wise-beyond-her-years daughter, and the na├»ve lady reporter running around having Scooby-Doo adventures, I’d be fine with that. They’re a fun group, and the filmmakers do a great job of having them form a family of sorts, accomplishing this nice character dynamic without it ever being a distraction from the giant monster carnage. This applies as well to the movie’s human villain, a scientist whose ambitions get the better of him. His final confrontation with Godzilla at the movie’s denouement is pure camp, yet fitting with the overall tone of the film.

The attention to detail is another bonus point for the movie. By this point in the Godzilla franchise, filmmakers had stopped trying to convince audiences that these aren’t models and rubber suits, and instead turned their attention to the models and rubber suits looking really cool. Buildings and bridges fall apart with remarkable detail, and appropriately explosively. Godzilla gets redesigned in every movie, and this one he looks really fierce, with more spikey, hard edges than ever before. This is one of the first Godzilla flicks with CGI. The digital effects are a little clunky when the UFO is flying around, but the oft-discussed CGI swimming Godzilla shot holds up much better than I remembered.

Of course, when you’re talkin’ Godzilla, you’re talkin’ the big fight at the end. As noted above, there’s a bit where Orga uses it’s sci-fi tech to tap into the entire city and use it as a weapon against Godzilla, wrapping him up in big cables and stuff. It’s a different type of obstacle than what Godzilla normally faces. Then there’s the final showdown with Orga, which goes to extremes at the end, with Orga going to extremes to chow down on Godzilla’s DNA, and Godzilla fighting back with extremes. Not to be outdone, an earlier scene has some jets attack Godzilla with some precision Blue Angels-like flying, which makes for another great action scene.

Not that the Godzilla series has had a lot of rock-solid continuity, but it’s not entirely clear how Godzilla 2000 fits into the chronology. Godzilla flat-out died in the previous film, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and there’s no explanation as to how he’s back. Is this the baby Godzilla from earlier movies all grown up now? Or, are we to assume that none of other sequels happened, and this is a continuation of the first one? I don’t know.

This Blu-ray contains both the original Japanese cut of the film and the American version. The American version is 10 minutes shorter, with rewritten dialogue and different music and sound effects. This sounds like a lot, but watching both versions back-to-back reveals that they’re minor alterations, really. This is further elaborated on in the commentary, with producer Mike Schlesinger, who oversaw editing the American version. Some might not like how he apparently claims ownership of the movie, seeming to disregard the efforts of director Takeo Okawara. I don’t believe that’s the case, though, as Schlesinger is passionate about the movie and the Godzilla franchise in general. Even more, it’s fascinating to hear this commentary about how the American version was made, with a lot of tidbits about the filmmaking process you don’t usually heart about in commentaries. The disc also has a behind the scenes featurette, a trailer, and a digital copy.

With a lot of scenes shot at night, this tends to be a dark film, with some shots looking almost pure black except for a thin silhouette of the monsters. Whether the original picture is too dark or the 2.40:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer is too dark is unknown. It’s not an excessive problem, but you’ll get more from the movie’s visuals at night with all the lights off. Other than that, the picture quality is good, so you’ll be able to enjoy all those small details in the model work.

Godzilla 2000 is a pleasant surprise. Great effects, likable human characters, and big big action. Pure popcorn fun!

The Verdict

Not guilty 2000.

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