Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2/5)
November 18th, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Back in 2000 many were excited to hear that a Japanese Godzilla movie was finally going to hit the big screen in the States. In fact, it had been 15 years since the last Godzilla movie had been given the theatrical treatment overseas, which means this was going to be a new experience for a whole new generation of fans. Unfortunately, for those of us who had already seen Godzilla 2000: Millennium, our excitement turned mixed. I don't think it would be fair to say that the average Godzilla fan hated this movie, but all in all Godzilla 2000 was certainly one of the lesser entries in the long running series. A movie that gets bogged down by its lackluster premises and sluggish pacing, while the acting, characters, special effects and even music fail to really make the movie very enticing in the least.

In regards to the story, the movie starts out near the coast of Nemuro, as a nearby lighthouse picks up word of a missing fishing vessel. The whereabouts of which are quickly revealed as Godzilla appears with the ship still locked between his jaws. The creature, after plowing his way through a neighboring town, makes his way to the local electric power plant and proceeds to tear the structure apart. Yuji Shinoda, head of the self proclaimed Godzilla Prediction Network, witnesses the destruction and comes to the conclusion that the creature must have the motive to destroy all of humankind's energy sources.

Meanwhile, the government run Crisis Control Intelligence Agency has discovered a mammoth rock in the Ibaragi Prefecture, which has levitated itself to the surface. The discovery is interrupted, though, as the GPN tracks Godzilla heading toward the Takaimura Nuclear Plant just as Tetsuo Katagiri, the head of the CCI, is notified of the same information. Both parties head out to the area to formulate a plan of action, as the head of CCI and the GPN meet in an unlikely confrontation. The two voice their different ideologies surrounding the beast, while Shinoda's hope of preserving the creature for research is ultimately disregarded as Katagiri and the SDF plan a full out assault near the Fuji River.

As day breaks and the attack forces are in position, the nuclear leviathan appears. The full might of Japan is unleashed at the creature, yet, despite their technology, his advance isn't halted. The situation is complicated, though, when the rock in the Ibaragi Prefecture miraculously takes flight and arrives on the scene. The large slab of earth unleashes a concentrated blast from its hidden cannon just as Godzilla releases his ray. The resulting exchange sends Godzilla collapsing into the water as the UFO, with part of its metal exterior revealed, crashes near a bridge.

With the battle over, Shinoda surveys the area and comes across a tissue sample of Godzilla. Making an uneasy alliance with the CCI, Shinoda is allowed to use their advanced equipment to better study the sample. Upon further research, Shinoda stumbles across a property that he dubs Organizer-G1, which is the key to Godzilla's regenerative powers. The remarkable discovery is overshadowed, though, as the UFO, after breaking through cables that the SDF had used to keep it in place, flies toward Tokyo. In route, the craft destroys three nearby helicopters before landing atop City Tower. In the face of the casualties, the SDF immediately plans to exterminate the unearthly invader, planting bombs in the top stories of City Tower that they hope will eradicate the ship. The plan gains a sense of urgency as the UFO begins hacking the nearby computers by stealing their data and leaving a cryptic “Millennium” message behind. It's then revealed that the dilemma is spreading, as the alien invader is following the fiber optic cables to neighboring areas which could affect all of Japan, and eventually the world, in a “Y2K” like scenario.

Unfortunately for Katagiri, Shinoda enters City Tower to try and stumble upon the invader's intentions. Unwilling to accept this setback, Katagiri detonates the bombs anyway just as Shinoda stumbles upon what he was looking for. The head of GPN, laying in the bottom stories, is left unscathed by the destruction of the top of the building; however, the UFO, unaffected by the explosion, retaliates by destroying the rest of the structure just as Shinoda goes below ground and to safety.

Determined, Shinoda makes his way to CCI's temporary outpost at the top of a neighboring rooftop. He reveals that the aliens are, in fact, after Godzilla and the Organizer G-1. No sooner then this discovery is revealed, though, does the King of the Monsters himself rise from Tokyo Bay. The creature makes a direct line for the UFO, eager for a rematch with the craft. The two skirmish briefly until the UFO gains the upper hand by burying Godzilla beneath a fallen building and extracting the needed genetic makeup. With the Organizer G-1 in its possession, the Millennian, the alien race in control of the ship, basks in the Earth's atmosphere. Unfortunately for it, the creature miscalculated as the sample causes a sudden mutation to occur, transforming the alien into the massive Orga. Just then, Godzilla reappears and does battle with both Orga and the UFO. Due to Orga's stolen regenerative powers, the battle is fierce, but Godzilla eventually destroys both opponents after completely obliterating Orga's upper half. With the alien menace ended, the King of the Monsters approaches the CCI outpost, killing just Katagiri who accepts his fate, before destroying most of the neighboring buildings with his atomic ray.

Sadly, this meager story is, without doubt, the biggest problem with the film. Now, it shouldn't go unnoted that the writing process for Godzilla 2000 was both easy and difficult. Easy in the fact that scriptwriters Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura were given a clean slate to craft an interesting premises and not have to worry about weaving the film into a previously setup continuity. The difficult part of writing the screenplay, though, is that it must also justify this new series, make a case for why the continuity needed to be dropped from the previous films. Something that The Return of Godzilla (1984) did with flying colors as it removed the hero aspect that the character had adopted during the twilight years of the Showa series and returned Godzilla to his 1954 roots. In the case of Godzilla 2000, though, the film fails hard on both accounts. In fact, there is no back-story to the film, no explanation regarding this Godzilla including how often he attacks or when he first appeared. In the 1984 film there was no problem in this regard as the second Godzilla appeared for the first time at the start of the movie, but for the 1999 film this Godzilla is already on the rampage in what appears to be, from the cast's reaction, business as usual. The writing doesn't just fail to meet the expectations of justifying the continuity wipe, but also drafts up a dull story that fails to render any memorable moments or concepts. The Y2K style “Millennium” side plot is also very questionable, as even with that fear still alive back before 2000 the movie fails to evoke any kind of emotion with the reference. Also, the effects of the computer hacking, while serious, seem pretty mundane in contrast to the threats that previous Godzilla adversaries, or the character himself, presented in movies. In the end, if this story was a standalone movie or another entry in the Heisei series it wouldn't have mattered as both Kashiwaba and Mimura fail to make this entry in the least bit memorable.

Unfortunately, the problems with the screenplay don't end with the overall story, as the pacing in Godzilla 2000 is just awful. In fact, for a Godzilla movie, this 1999 entry seems to cut the title monster's screen time noticeably short. The film also seems to take some joy in slowly moving along the plot, while placing the only enjoyable sequences at the start and end of the film so that the entire middle act feels like a choir to sit through with the promise of the climax seeming distant. As expected, the highlights are related to Godzilla, as his early raid toward the electric power plant and the battle during the climax are the segments worth watching. The nuclear behemoth also shows up for the SDF raid, but the sequence is poorly executed with Godzilla offering no counter attack whatsoever, and fails to be interesting. Director Takao Okawara's attempt to solve the problem with the middle portion of the film seems to be to inject humor into the sequences, such as slapstick moments where someone is hit on the head with a pole numerous times. Despite the director's intent, these sequences fail to amuse and grow tiresome as Okawara tries it over and over again to no avail; furthermore, the “skits” themselves could have just as easily been removed to speed up the pacing with far better results. When the movie isn't trying to take a lighter approach to the material, it tends to focus on the UFO, which ends up being one of Godzilla's least memorable adversaries. I'm not sure who came up with the idea of having Godzilla face off against a giant flying rock for the first bout, but it's almost embarrassing to see it actually unfold on screen. The fact that the alien race, the Millennian, only appears fleetingly during the climax was also a bad idea, as the lackluster design of the UFO is left to carry most of the film and makes nearly every moment that it's onscreen very dull.

Of course with most of the film not focusing on the title character but the UFO plot, one would think that the writers would be better equipped to develop the human cast during these sequences. Unfortunately, that couldn't be further from the case. There are vague references here and there to try and develop them, such as the whole college back story with Shinoda and Miyasaka, yet none of them bare any sort of fruit in terms of making these characters seem anything more than one dimensional. Although the basic premises of the lead character Shinoda is made clear: he wants Godzilla to be left alive and studied. I would assume that this character was made in homage of Takashi Shimura's role as Doctor Yamane in the original Godzilla (1954), as both share a similar view. However, where Ishiro Honda had the common sense to have Yamane drop this perspective after seeing the destruction the creature caused first hand, Owara makes no similar resolution. In turn, it almost seems like Shinoda is willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of his obsession with researching Godzilla, with his only consideration to this point being that GPN was intended “to warn” where Godzilla might land; however, I don't think Japanese citizens would take lightly to being told on a monthly, or how ever frequently he shows up, basis that their home's destruction was imminent. Of course, looking to the other side of the coin with this view leads to the movie's antagonist: Tetsuo Katagiri. As expected, the character is the counterpoint to Shinoda as Katagiri's desire is to destroy Godzilla, or the UFO as becomes his later focus. There isn't much exploration into this character or any hint at his motives. As the film's villain, the movie does a poor job of making the audience loath him at all. In fact, the writing seems desperate to the point of throwing in a scene where he decides to detonate the bombs in a building that Shinoda entered. Besides the fact that there is not a strong logical motive for not waiting, with the urgency of the alien's hacking not being brought up during the ordeal, Katagiri's actions don't really even amount to much as the top story is blown and Shinoda is, more or less, safe on the bottom stories. The real danger to Shinoda comes from the UFO blast that follows, which is something that Katagiri couldn't have predicted anyway. The biggest sin with this character, though, is that there is no justification for his suicide at the end of the film, where he stands and allows Godzilla to kill him. It's one of those extreme situations that needed a good justification, yet the movie makes no attempt to do so. I have heard excuses discussed for this scene, often just chalking it up as a “Japanese custom” after failing to defeat an enemy, but in reality all that can be said is that it's poor writing.

On a lighter note, and rounding out the trio of main characters, is Yuki Ichinose, the film's photographer. Yuki slowly evolves through the course of the movie, at first loathing Shinoda but then growing to like him and his daughter. The only problem is that the writing fails to make this change in character credible as the transition seems to happen randomly and without reason, as if the character was substituted midway for a different one. All in all, the characters are very shallow, and aren't able to hold the viewers interest enough to make the non-Godzilla sequences in the least bit entertaining.

Now with the lackluster character development, it likely comes as no surprise that none of the performances in the film really stand out either. Takehiro Murata plays the lead here and does nothing of praise in regard to his portrayal. Of course, Shinoda's motives seemed backwards to me, so I suppose the fact that I didn't hate him by the time the credits came up is a testament to Murata in itself. The rest of the cast doesn't fare much better, although particular scorning should be reserved for Naomi Nishida who is sometimes obnoxious in her role as photographer Yuki, and how the actress ever got a Japanese Academy Award is beyond me. Still, the worst blemish in regards to the acting comes from Shiro Sano who plays Shiro Miyasaka. For the most part, he pulls in an acceptable performance, but his infamous scene of collapsing in front of the camera, after learning of the UFO's intention, is just cringe worthy. It makes the viewer feel bad for Shiro doing it and gets one wondering why Okawara didn't intervene and ask for another take. To end on a slightly brighter note, Hiroshi Abe actually does a decent job, all considering, of playing Katagiri. The actor is given next to nothing to work with yet, thanks to his trademark facial expressions, makes his portrayal something that one will at least enjoy while watching, even if the only memorable aspect is his out of the blue suicide at the movie's closure.

Special effects wise, one shouldn't be surprised that this is yet another uneven effort for the Godzilla series. However, special effects director Kenji Suzuki takes it to the next step as the film's failures in this department will more then make the better sequences a distant memory. For one thing, the green screen shots look a lot worse then previous entries in the Heisei series. If there was one thing that Koichi Kawakita deserves credit for it was his tendency to produce good, or at least acceptable, mat shots. Suzuki, on the other hand fails in this area, producing such embarrassing shots like Godzilla first venturing on land during the SDF assault. The choice to have Godzilla destroy mostly mat work backgrounds, instead of models, during his entrance into Tokyo was also pretty poorly thought out, as the effect isn't nearly as convincing or enjoyable to watch. In fact, Godzilla's sense of mass is rarely portrayed effectively in the film. The model sets, when used, just don't pass off well as an actual cityscape. What's rather odd is that this was the primary reason for having Godzilla return to his near 50 meter height, compared to the 80-100 meter size of the Heisei series Godzilla, as models could be larger and show off more detail so they would look more convincing. Yet, in actuality, this aspect of the production falls notably short instead. The film also makes the fallacy of relying far too much on CGI, something which Suzuki and his team can't produce with any level of quality control. Overall, it's better than what was seen in his previous film, Rebirth of Mothra III (1998), but the only problem is that it's not downplayed and used sparingly like in that feature. For Godzilla 2000, the computer animated effects take center stage, producing numerous embarrassing sequences, most of which are in relation to the UFO. As for the more traditional suitmation, well it fares better then the other aspects, but it's still not praise worthy. For example the Godzilla suit is decent, but a mechanized head for close ups would have been appropriate as the lack of movement in the eyes becomes painfully noticeable at points. Unfortunately, the Orga suit is even less impressive, as the creature comes off as being very stiff while the design's best aspect, the giant hands, are never used effectively as they can't grasp anything.

In regards to the film's musical score, composer Takayuki Hattori fails to impress. None of the themes, save perhaps the “UFO march”, is in the least bit memorable. As poor as Hattori's score is, though, it would be far preferable to hear more of it instead of the long gaps of silence that the production crew opted for instead. In fact, a vast majority of the movie is music-less, something that when combined with the wretched pacing makes for a very tiresome experience. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though, as Akira Ifukube's Godzilla theme is thrown in during Godzilla's arrival in Tokyo bay, which arguably turns the segment into the best part of the film.

Overall, it's not hard to see why Godzilla 2000 was poorly received in Japan. I don't doubt that this film was also the biggest influence in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) utterly tanking at the box office, as disappointed moviegoers likely made up their mind to skip the next one regardless. For what's worth, the US version, created by Michael Schlesinger and his crew, is infinitely better than its poorly paced Japanese counterpart. In all, the US version make numerous, badly needed cuts from the film to tighten it up and also increases the number of musical cues. Granted, the movie does poke fun at itself in the US version, but director Okawara left little other choice with the number of times he attempted to splice in his out of place jokes only to have them fall flat time after time. Regardless, Godzilla 2000 ends up being a fairly forgettable entry and a poor start to justify the Millennium series of films.