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Review:
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

Class: User
Author: Patrick Galvan
Score: (3.5/5)
Published:
March 13, 2010 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

One of the earliest movie-going experiences that I can remember is seeing Godzilla 2000: Millennium when it was released theatrically in the United States at a time when I would have been about nine years old. I still remember to this day the apprehension I had going into the theater and the delight with which I was filled when I left. I was apprehensive because I thought it was a sequel to the Tristar GODZILLA (1998), a movie I was never particularly fond of (I was unfamiliar with Toho's films at the time.) What I saw on the screen before me was a film that was vastly inferior on a technical level but vastly superior on an entertainment level. A short while ago, I finally had the privilege to see the original Japanese language print of Godzilla 2000: Millennium, upon which this review is based; while it's a far from perfect film, it is one that I do still thoroughly enjoy.

Godzilla 2000: Millennium is, I think we all agree, a heavily flawed film. It strives and tries hard to be one of the best Godzilla movies yet and you can see the effort in many parts of the movie. Although it does not reach that level, it is still, I'd say, a very entertaining movie mostly because of the nostalgia that it stirs up and the way it embraces the goodhearted, innocent nature that these Japanese monster movies have made their fame on.

Like The Return of Godzilla (1984), the movie's plot is a reorganization of the Godzilla timeline. By erasing the events of all entries between itself and the 1954 original, it builds a new storyline in which Godzilla has been savaging Japan's coastal cities for quite some time, mostly in order to destroy mankind's power supply. The movie stars Takehiro Murata as an independent scientist who, with his daughter Io (Mayu Suzuki), run an organization called the GPN (Godzilla Prediction Network) whose purpose is to locate and study Godzilla (and warn the endangered areas in order to minimize impending damage). However, the authorities view Godzilla as a menace that needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. Anyway, as both sides struggle to achieve their objectives, the CCI (Crisis Control Intelligence) uncovers a mysterious meteorite which later reveals itself to be an ancient UFO capable of conquering the world. Mankind tries to fight the extra-terrestrial menace and fails; before long, it's going to be "You-Know-Who" to the rescue.

Now this premise is anything but original, but it's also the charm to this low-key science-fiction gem. It uses a nostalgia-stirring plot, but also invents some new tactics in the story as opposed to simply following through with the clichés. For example, let's look at the way the story is structured. Instead of focusing primarily on the battle between Godzilla and the alien menace, Godzilla is hidden throughout most of the movie. A majority of the running time focuses on mankind's efforts to deal with and understand the UFO and the life form inside. I also appreciate the fact that the filmmakers decided not to go with having the alien menace be a group of humanoids with silly-looking outfits, but rather have it be a craft that later evolves into a monster. I like not having to sit through another “final demands scene” from the aliens as they try to conquer earth. The fact that Godzilla's opponent, Orga, is not seen until the climax is a bold and surprisingly effective move. It's more effective than, say, if Orga were introduced midway into the story, as was the style in past movies such as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). I also like how Godzilla is mostly hidden from the audience throughout the movie and how he is built on three large scenes, in which he establishes his presence but does not continually appear to the point of boredom. Another thing I adored was the sense of awe that the filmmakers tried to instill in Godzilla. Whereas in the past he was mostly either an incarnation of evil or just there to eliminate the other monster, here Godzilla seems to have more of a purpose and a feeling of majesty to him, which is aided by Takayuki Hattori's daredevil and surprisingly gentle main theme. This, in turn, generates more presence when we do see him, especially during the climactic final battle. Ultimately, it was because of these reasons that we saw little of Godzilla and dealt mostly with the alien menace, the fact that the antagonist was not seen until the end, and the fact that the movie embraces its nostalgic qualities. These aspects add up to one enjoyable film.

Now the movie is not without its flaws. In fact, it has quite a few of them; unfortunately, they mostly revolve around the screenplay and the human level of the story. Takehiro Murata does what he can, but he does not have enough of a character to flesh himself out as a human being. He does not have a really detailed relationship to his daughter Io; she really serves more as a prop and a character to fill up cast space. And the most saddening part is the relationship between Murata and Naomi Nishida. It builds and shows promise, but does not quite fulfill expectations. If they had only strengthened the interaction between these characters, then we would have had a better film. I like Shiro Sano as the scientist Miyasaka, but he has no more personality or purpose than the kaiju scientists of the past, where all he does is explain the origin of the monsters and fret when things go awry. The strongest and most credible performance goes undoubtedly to Hiroshi Abe playing the CCI agent bent on killing Godzilla. The character is two-dimensional in his motives and personality, and Abe mostly glowers throughout the whole picture. It is the naturally strong presence that he delivers and the unexpected and deservedly memorable move his character makes at the end of the movie that has him stand out among the others (who mostly just stand around, point at Godzilla, and run for their lives).

But then again, how many of us go to see a Godzilla movie expecting great character study? I don't, I didn't here, and it was only a minimal detractor for me.

In regard to the special effects, it ranks with others in the saga as a mixed bag. There are moments where the effects are brilliant, moments where they are merely passable, and parts that look mediocre. The opening scene where Godzilla makes his appearance boasts some very nice special effects. The camera angles and lighting that build up Godzilla's arrival work very well, and a particularly nice shot features the GPN jeep driving in the foreground while Godzilla tramples Nemuro behind them. As for the new Godzilla suit, it has its moments where it looks good and parts where it looks a little unrealistic. I love the new design, with a larger head and more prominent dorsal fins, unfortunately it's just a little too stiff for my liking (I still cringe at the fact that Godzilla has to turn his whole body in order to look in a different direction). There are also some badly processed shots such as a scene where Godzilla comes ashore on Tokai and the camera pans back, and also there's a moment where he seems to shift suddenly from left to right while wading through the water. CGI effects in the picture are a little stodgy as well, particularly the full shots of the UFO. One particularly bad shot is where Godzilla slams the UFO with his tail in a wide-shot, at which point you can clearly see the CGI UFO slowing down so that it can be hit. Godzilla's new opponent, Orga, looks really cool; it's refreshing to see a new monster with some different kinds of weapons and tactics up his sleeves. The only problem is that Orga's notably large hands and claws have no movement and just sort of hang on his arms as he fights Godzilla. Overall, the special effects are more or less exactly what you'd expect from a movie of this category.

The musical score for Godzilla 2000: Millennium was composed by Takayuki Hattori, and, like the film itself, has flaws and weak moments, but I felt was fairly suitable for the movie. Just for example, Godzilla's theme in the picture is a little more majestic than the usual bombastic cues that we get. It does not match Akira Ifukube's theme for Godzilla, which appropriately makes an appearance in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, Hattori's fair does fit the mood of the picture. He also composed a very mysterious and unsettling cue for the UFO. The only parts of the soundtrack that do not work and the only ones that I do not miss while watching the U.S. version are the cues for Orga's appearance, which, in the Japanese version, are too gentle, soft, and anticlimactic.

Like most Godzilla films that were given theatrical releases here in the United States, Godzilla 2000: Millennium was reorganized and reedited by its American distributors. Most changes were editing decisions done to improve the pacing and some of them do work. A pointless scene of Naomi Nishida walking through a manufacturing station to meet again with the GPN was discarded, but a rather wonderful moment where the UFO casts out a display of images and words on all the computer screens in Tokyo detailing its plan for a kingdom on earth was unfortunately dropped as well. In addition, some of Hattori's music cues were replaced, some for the better and some for the worse. Which version do I personally prefer? The Japanese version.

Part of the reason why Godzilla 2000: Millennium holds a special place in my collection may be because it was the film that introduced me to the kaiju genre and to Toho as well. But that aside, I still say that it is a very enjoyable movie even though it has it's fair share of flaws. It has a nice atmosphere, an interesting musical score, a nice sense of awe about Godzilla, and an enormous amount of nostalgia that I really enjoyed. If you're a Godzilla fan, this is a treat not to be missed. However, if you aren't into Godzilla or the low-key sci-fi genre that it falls under, there is no reason to see it. Is it one of the classics? No, but is it a fun science-fiction movie nevertheless? Absolutely.