GODZILLA: A Novelization
 H. B. Gilmour
Language: English Release: 1998
Publisher: Scholastic Pages: 137
Genre: Fiction ISBN: 0590282433

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Nicholas Driscoll

Thanks goes to Sam Messerly for sending this in for review!

Perhaps there is no Godzilla movie more viciously condemned by so-called die-hard G-fans as is the American remake from 1998. The reasons for that hatred are usually aimed at the film's controversial re-envisioning of the monster and the admitted low quality of the plot and acting. Even when the film was initially released, though, I was never one of its more vicious critics; while I will readily admit the film's numerous shortcomings, I prefer to enjoy the movie for what it is rather than overly criticize the film for what it really should have been. I've likewise always enjoyed Godzilla's many other cinematic adventures, even possessing great fondness for some of his most reviled escapades such as All Monsters Attack (1969) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). Considering the arguable idiocy of many of those older films, it seems hypocritical to be too hard on Devlin and Emmerich's take as far as dumb G-movies go. Thus when I approached the juvenile novelization of the 1998 Godzilla by the Clueless and T*Witches book series author H. B. Gilmour, I attempted to analyze the story outside of the controversy, although filmic comparisons are inevitable.

The story is now familiar to most of the Godzilla faithful, and this novelization takes no great detours from its source material. Godzilla begins as a lowly lizard (or, in this case, explicitly as a lizard egg) that is irradiated by nuclear tests performed by the French in 1968. That nuclear-powered egg would, over the course of the next thirty years, grow into a gargantuan, strangely intelligent, and exceptionally fertile monstrosity heading for Manhattan to lay its eggs. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear activist and biologist Dr. Niko Tatopolous is hired by the military to study the monstrosity when it begins to make its presence known, the French secret service led by charismatic Phillipe Roache is trying to "fix France's mistakes," Niko's ex-girlfriend Audrey Timmonds is failing to become a fully-fledged reporter while getting mixed up with the monster shenanigans, and so forth. Pretty soon Godzilla is dashing around Manhattan looking for a nest, the military is proving their incredible ineptitude by failing to shoot the monster, and Dr. Niko is making wild propositions as to the nature of the beast that almost always miraculously prove 100% correct.

The story in the novel possesses most of the weaknesses of the movie, although being prose rather than film, it's easier for the book to explain itself. Nevertheless, certain plot elements are brain dead no matter how they're presented, such as Godzilla's astounding ability to hide in a heavily populated city or Niko's unlikely pregnancy hypothesis. (A monster that size eating a lot of fish is hardly a reason to guess that it's pregnant—how much fish was that big pile for the Big G, anyway? A mouthful? Not that lizards feed their young anyway. Neither would Godzilla's migration necessitate a bun in the oven—it seems more likely Godzilla would be looking for a mate, considering how rare mate-less reproduction is in vertebrates. I was also under the impression that radiation usually causes infertility. And how exactly did those eggs gestate so quickly after they were laid?) Gilmour doesn't capture much excitement in the military battles, either, but this isn't entirely due to uninteresting prose; Godzilla is always running away and only engages the military in defense, taking pot shots at the harassing vehicles while it tries to escape, and none of the military are given compelling personalities to make us care about the outcome of their assaults—most of the soldiers don't even say anything before Godzilla blows up their vehicles while searching for a place to hide. To be honest, the sexually ambiguous beast itself isn't particularly interesting, either, although the book version contains a few monster quirks absent from the film which lend the creature some additional intrigue. The screenplay that Gilmour utilized when preparing the manuscript for her novel must have been an early one, because here Godzilla still has the ability to change colors like a chameleon—although the creature only uses this ability once. Godzilla also uses its "big breath" ability in one sequence, knocking military vehicles about with what might be described as a monstrous belch—although in this version of the story, the Big G's breath never ignites like it did in the movie. Furthermore, at one point in the book the monster snatches up two helicopters with its tongue, swallowing one of them whole, which I certainly don't remember ever happening in the movie version, but at least it makes a little sense, considering this Godzilla's lizard origins.

Discrepancies or no, there are many sequences of peril throughout the story, and Gilmour has variable success in capturing them with her marginally bland prose. The action is neutered; though people die, there is no detail or much weight in their passing. Still, Gilmour's action sequences are passable, and some of them manage to be exciting; the climactic action actually proves gorier than the movie. Because I was already familiar with all the suspenseful moments of the film, and I was in a hurry to read through the book, my excitement level may have been a bit blunted, but it's best not to expect high suspense from a junior novelization anyway.

As for the main human characters, their portrayal no longer relies on the acting abilities of the cast, but rather on the imaginative capacity of the reader and the writing craft of the author. This actually comes out in favor of the book, as the emotional depths of the characters can be more fully explored and no lousy performances are there to grate against the audience's sensibilities. This doesn't help the often cheesy dialogue, however, which is for the most part taken directly from the screenplay, with the curse words trimmed away. Thus we still have the dumb running gag of Niko Tatopolous's name being mispronounced, but Audrey's remark about Godzilla's means of sexless reproduction ("What's the fun in that?" or something to that effect) is completely removed. A number of the characters, especially the mayor, come across more like goofy cartoon characters, but at least the dialogue is lively.

The most important characters are really Niko Tatopolous and, strangely enough, Audrey Timmonds, and the format of a novelization really helps their relationship, which becomes more believable through Gilmour's romantic sensitivity—the author's experience writing the Clueless series of books shows through here. Tatopolous, though, is a dull man whose quirky love of invertebrate life forms and ingenuity in the face of death are a lousy replacement for a personality. The only character who has a meaningful character arc is Audrey Timmonds. Throughout the story she has her priorities and beliefs challenged and stretched; she is the one who, through exploring her dark side, realizes the costs of a life badly lived, and experiences a moment of catharsis and repentance, abandoning her shallow past and reconnecting with those parts of her life she values most—in this case, predictably, her love for Niko, and her moral integrity. None of the other characters go through any significant character arc—Niko is the same nerd he was at the beginning, with the same beliefs as before albeit perhaps with more self-confidence; Animal is still messy and irrational in the face of danger; Phillipe Roache follows through with his plans faithfully, never hesitating, certainly never changing. Gilmour seems to have a knack for quick-sketching female characters, and thus Audrey makes the strongest impression, for better or worse. Personally, I was impressed at how well Gilmour was able to carry off the character, even with some of those dumb lines, especially considering the hatred Audrey Timmonds often receives from the fans. It's a shame that none of the other characters are fleshed out, but such is more the screenplay's fault than Gilmour's.

A few words should be said about the design of the book. One major disadvantage the Scholastic release has against the Random House junior novel series is the lack of Bob Eggleton's art. Instead, we get an ugly cover showcasing a close up on the American Godzilla's spikes with the familiar glowing logo in surprisingly small font across the top and a lurid, almost Nickelodeon-style garish green background. At the beginning of each chapter are illustrations of warped monster footprints (with four prominent toes, so it must not be the American Godzilla), and don't be fooled by the page count—at the end of each chapter, of which there are thirteen, there is a blank buffer page before the start of the next chapter, and thus the text takes up only about 124 pages. Nevertheless, the font chosen for the book is very readable, with sufficient white space to facilitate easy reading for youths. Eight color pages towards the center of the book (which aren't counted in the numbering of the pages) showcase photographs of most of the cast, with one shot revealing the Godzilla design for those who simply had to see the monster before going to the movie.

The Godzilla junior novelization isn't wonderful reading; it is, after all, still the same often lame story from the movie, but Gilmour provides decent, lightweight prose with a little serviceable character work. The monster and military writing is weaker, especially after coming off my reading of Godzilla Returns, but this is, after all, aimed at a younger audience. For rugrat Godzilla fanatics, this is a better choice than letting them watch the movie, and I'd even go so far as to say that it's superior to some of Ciencin's Godzilla stories. As an adaptation of the movie for young people, it functions well. For older fans of the movie, it can be mildly interesting to poke around for plot elements that didn't make it into the final picture. If nothing else, Gilmour's work gives Godzilla fans an excuse to get away from the television screen for a while.