Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

Class: User
Author: Cody Himes
Score: (1.5/5)
August 30, 2009 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Please join me a minute and think back. Think waaayyy back. Not too far back though. Okay, it's 1999. December. The thirty-first day. 11:59 PM. What were you doing on the eve of the millennium? Were you waiting patiently for the ball to drop in Times Square? Were you spending precious moments with friends and family? Were you silently waiting Armageddon, ala Toho‘s Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974)? Or, by chance, were you watching events unfold live from Tokyo? A 55 meter green lizard has risen out of the bay to stop a hulking behemoth from the stars from creating a new nightmarish kingdom for the new millennium! Well, at least it happened that way in Japanese theaters. After 1998's GODZILLA came and went, fans around the world were screaming for the old Godzilla to come back and wash the taste of fish from their mouths. Toho caved and released Godzilla 2000: Millennium, but in the end, was it what we really asked for?

Professor Yuji Shinoda was once a great scientist at a Japanese university. Fearing that man would always trudge on without reviewing his mistakes, Shinoda left and founded the Godzilla Prediction Network (GPN), headed by himself and his daughter Io. It is 1999 and Godzilla has been traveling about Japan and trashing all the major power plants and reactors, and the people of the world don't seem the understand why. Along for the ride is amateur newspaper photographer Yuki Ichinose. Yuki doesn't really care for the Shinodas or GPN. All she wants is a nice opportunity to snap some close-ups of Godzilla.

A former peer of Shinoda's, one Mitsuo Katagiri, has just been promoted to the head of Japan's Crisis Control Intelligence Agency (CCI). Working with him is Shiro Miyasaka, a former friend of Shinoda. Katagiri doesn't particularly like what Godzilla's been doing with Japan's energy sources, so he feels the best bet is to kill the giant dinosaur. Meanwhile, Katagiri has given Miyasaka free reign to research a recently discovered meteorite at the bottom of the Japan Trench. Balloons are attached to bring the rock to the surface, but halfway up, it decides to surface on its own. Miyasaka and his team can only stare as the 70 million year old rock takes to the sky and heads towards Japan.

Godzilla has appeared in Tokai to raid another nuclear plant. Katagiri and Shinoda race to the scene. The Japanese self defense forces have employed new full-metal missiles to penetrate the monster's skin and stop him once and for all. Shinoda on the other hand only wishes to study the creature and limit his exposure to mankind. Godzilla surfaces, however, and CCI's plan goes forward. The missiles, needless to say, fail to stop the radioactive titan, but before he can wipe out the army, the giant space rock flies in to pick a fight with Godzilla. The two unlikely combatants exchange heat rays before the rock, now clearly an alien spacecraft, hurdles through the air and crashes in the sea. Godzilla retreats to the ocean to lick his wounds.

Shinoda walks the beach and finds skin samples of the giant monster in his enormous footsteps. To further analyze the DNA, he must ally himself with CCI, which Katagiri allows, as long as the professor shares his information. Miyasaka and Shinoda discover the secret to Godzilla's mysterious regenerative properties and name the gene Organizer-G1.

Outside, crowds gather as CCI anchor the UFO to the ground. Miyasaka theorizes that the UFO crashed into the ocean and remained dormant until the submarine lights struck its surface. Bright lights, typically the sun, are what power the ship! Failing to get another scoop, Yuki discovers that her laptop has been hacked into and a new file has been created. Furthermore, all the files on Godzilla have been opened.

The UFO takes off and sheds its skin, revealing a polished, streamlined spaceship. It lands atop a news building in Tokyo where it rests as the sun goes down. Noting that the ship is hacking into all the computers in Shinjuku, Katagiri requests the destruction of the building while Shinoda is still inside, collecting information on the mysterious beings. The building goes up in a ball of flames, but the UFO still hovers above the great city.

Shinoda escapes and reveals that the aliens plan to take over the world and change the atmosphere to suit their shapeless forms. Until then, they require Godzilla's Organizer-G1 to demolish the cities of the world. The monster king himself arrives for round two against the saucer but suffers another K.O. This time though, the aliens absorb the monster's cells and transform into the hideous Godzilla clone Orga. Godzilla comes around and the battle for the next millennium begins!

In the previous twenty-two Godzilla films, Toho rarely broke from their established formula. Typically a giant monster would ravage the world for some reason or another and in the end, the giant Godzilla would come and beat it into submission. In 1998, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich broke from this time-honored tradition and delivered their scaredy-cat American Godzilla, which was ultimately killed by the American military. The fact is that this monster wasn't Godzilla, and fans felt cheated. Toho didn't much like this either, so they rushed out Godzilla 2000: Millennium. The team behind the movie hadn't changed much since the VS series of Godzilla films during the mid-90s. Writing the screenplay was Godzilla veteran Wataru Mimura, this time teamed with newcomer Hiroshi Kashiwabara. In the director's chair was Takao Okawara, the director of Toho's most successful monster bash of the 90s, Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). Also returning from Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) was star Takehiro Murata, this time around playing the optimistic scientist Shinoda. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had passed away, may he rest in piece, but in his place was Shogo Tomiyama, a man who was certainly no stranger to the series, having produced all the entries from 1989 to 1995 alongside Tanaka. Even composer Takayuki Hattori was allowed to tag along and redeem himself for the disaster that was Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994) (and here's a hint: he didn't.) Clearly Tomiyama had hoped for another success in the vain of Toho's earlier films of the decade. Times clearly had changed.

Perhaps the most noticeable problem here is that longtime special effects director Koichi Kawakita had passed the reigns on to Kenji Suzuki. Suzuki-san had previously directed the minimal effects for Rebirth of Mothra III (1998) the previous year, but here he fails to live up to the scope of the last few Godzilla films. While Kawakita's work had grown tired and repetitive, at least it showed more inspiration than Suzuki's lifeless effects. Suzuki relies on a lot of matte work to bring Godzilla to life, and I do mean a lot of matte shots. Unfortunately, Suzuki and his team are not quite as good at the illusion as former teams had been. What we see in the movie is a Godzilla clearly pasted onto the screen. Suzuki also experiments with CGI a lot more than previous attempts but here too he misses the mark. The Millennium creature (Millennian) is the first Toho monster fully realized in CGI, but its quick scene looks like it was lifted from a SyFy movie. Perhaps the only good CGI scene is of Godzilla swimming under water, but even this appears cartoony. Compare this to Tristar's big budget CGI monster from the previous year and it's almost embarrassing.

The new Godzilla suit, built by Shinichi Wakasa, is a radical new design which has proven to be the Godzilla of the new millennium. The production model by Yuji Sakai showed a feral, animalistic Godzilla; this beast was clearly more a wild animal than anything previous. Wakasa and his team at Monsters Inc. (I'm not making this up, I promise) took the monstrous design and produced a very mediocre and rubbery lizard suit. Almost all of the advancements that had appeared during Kawakita's run as SFX director were gone. No more could the great Godzilla turn his head. Not coincidentally, this Godzilla appears stiff and unanimated, a far cry from the design originally intended.

As Godzilla, Tsutomu Kitagawa turns in a surprisingly good performance for a newcomer. Whereas he isn't given the best of suits to work with, he manages to bring some life to the beast. Of note is the scene where Orga tries to swallow Godzilla. Kitagawa really manages to project a feeling of confusion, matching the audiences' shocked reactions. Orga, played by Makoto Ito, doesn't have too much screen time but even then, the monster is unoriginal (the design looks like a cross between Devlin's Godzilla, the Predator and the Rancor from Return of the Jedi [1983]) and looks too bulky for fighting, which was a problem encountered by the crew of the earlier 1990s films. This creature, named for Godzilla's regenerative gene, is just another monster. There really isn't much that makes it stand out from the dozens of foes that Godzilla has shared the screen with. Worst of all is the monster's roars, obviously lifted from Desghidorah's elephantine cries. Very weak stuff. By far, Orga's best scene and the only memorable thing about the creature is its stupid attempt to swallow Godzilla, which certainly could only happen in a Japanese monster film.

Takao Okawara is a very hit-or-miss type when it comes to directing. This film and Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) show his worse side, but when he hits the mark, we get action-packed films such as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). With this movie, Okawara seems to follow a very subdued and almost apathetic approach. The characters are good, and he manages to direct them well, but he and his editor really must not have cared. Scenes drag on and on while nothing important happens. Yuki asks two men where the GPN headquarters is, but the scene is played for laughs as one man is continuously hit on the head with a plank. Yuki then proceeds to wander through a warehouse before entering the main “office”. She announces she's arrived but nothing happens. It's as boring as I just described it. Mimura and Kashiwabara write scenes into the story for no reason more than to rip off the American remake. Shinoda digs around in the monster's footsteps, Godzilla menacingly chases our heroes in a tunnel, Godzilla first appears at Tokai as his ridiculously large fins break the waves, etc. For a movie that's intended to remind audiences what the real Godzilla is. Okawara, Mimura, and Kashiwabara really go overboard with the lifted scenes from America's Godzilla! It should be noted though that Okawara does direct some scenes excellently. Shinoda outrunning the explosion in the building is well done and harkens back to the more action-oriented Godzilla films for which Okawara-san is known. Another great scene has Shinoda and Miyasaka (Shiro Sano) discover Organizer-G1. Had there been more scenes like these two, perhaps the movie wouldn't drudge on. Perhaps we the audience would care about the troubles of the leads.

The main characters here are derived from the standard clichés (the reporter, the scientist, the military men), but one actually starts to feel for the characters. The only character with a real back story is Shinoda, although hints are dropped that Katagiri is the reason he left his former job. Io, Shinoda's daughter, doesn't really do much and it's disappointing she isn't explored more. Why is it that Shinoda and Io live alone and constantly chasing Godzilla? Well, the movie doesn't really try to explain. Wouldn't it have been so much more interesting if Shinoda had held a grudge against Godzilla because his wife, Io's mother, had died at the hands of the great monster? Yuki Ichinose, played by Naomi Nishida, is the only character with any sort of development, but it's incredibly weak. At the beginning of the film, she doesn't care about the Shinoda family, but at the end, she has warmed up to them (as evident in the aforementioned scene between Shinoda and Miyasaka). The real stand out in the cast is Hiroshi Abe as the villainous Katagiri. The actor just oozes evil and surprisingly doesn't overact. Katagiri is a minor villain when compared to Torahata in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), but Abe's excellent performance makes the character so much more memorable.

By far the most disappointing aspect of the entire picture is the more than lackluster score by Takayuki Hattori. I'll admit that I am one of few people who enjoy his brassy score for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), but here he writes mostly mediocre arrangements for decent themes. The new Godzilla theme is extremely repetitive and used in probably every scene in the movie. Unfortunately it's not that interesting and it easily attaches itself to you. The overall instrumentation of the score is very weak. At least one track has what appears to be a MIDI voice setting one would typically find on an old keyboard! No single track has any sort of power. Actually, when Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay, Akira Ifukube's great Godzilla theme starts up and it's quite a shock to hear something powerful in this movie! Hattori really fails to engage the audience, and alongside the poor pacing and stale direction, it wouldn't be surprising to see some fans fall asleep.

In the summer of 2000, American fans were treated with a new Toho produced Godzilla film in theaters for the first time since the ‘80s. Tristar pictures dubbed and edited the film for American release, dropping eight painfully long minutes and adding extra music and sound effects. Excluding Godzilla 1985, this is the most a Godzilla film had been edited since Continental's 1965 release of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). Typically fans frown upon this treatment of the films, but fans who had previously seen Toho's cut of the film praised Tristar's edits, obviously an unprecedented moment in the history of Godzilla movies in the western hemisphere. Tristar's cut is superior in every way to the film scene in Japanese theaters only months before and is clearly the definitive way to watch the film. In my eyes, the people of Tristar redeemed themselves for the bomb that was 1998's GODZILLA.

Without a doubt, Godzilla 2000: Millennium is a less than mediocre entry in the long-running series. Is it fair to call it that? Probably not. Toho had just allowed a large corporation to take over the Godzilla franchise and it backfired in everyone's face. There's no doubt that Toho rushed this film out to keep Godzilla alive, and for Toho, it proved to be a success. Beyond that, however, this film managed to be a bridge between the previous era and the five films that followed. Godzilla 2000: Millennium has all the markings of the earlier Heisei films and the later Millennium films. Like the Godzilla seen in the film, it was something we had seen before, yet it was new enough to keep us guessing as to its nature. This much can be said truly though: Had this not been a film to start a new era, it would have been forgotten long, long ago.