Godzilla, 1998. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Heather Graham, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria.

A friend of mine once told me a story about his first day at film school in which the instructor inquired around the room about the students' favorite movies. My friend, a harder core film fanatic than even I am, offered up El Topo as his favorite film du jour. Almost without exception, his classmates offered up the product of either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. It does not take much imagination to imagine director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin in the front row of that class. God help us all.

1998's rip-off from these two terrible infants of the movies is a reworking of Godzilla. In attempting to graft Godzilla into an American idiom (more akin to The Beast From 2000 Fathoms than Godzilla in actual fact), Emmerich and Devlin spend an enormous amount of time aping their idols (throw in James Cameron here, too). There are borrowings here from Star Wars, from Jurassic Park, from Aliens, and from any number of other effects blockbusters. Absent here are borrowings from Godzilla itself. The star attraction is AWOL.

There is a big mutated lizard here, but it ain't Godzilla. It is an animal, not the bad dream of a nation still reeling from Hiroshima, not an elemental force of nature. But this conspicuous absence aside, Godzilla is an ugly movie. This may very well be the first movie in history that will look better on video than it ever did on the big screen because there are so many prints struck from the negative that care in striking them is nowhere in evidence. This is a physical limitation. There are aesthetic limitations, too. The frame is composed badly throughout the movie, creating an eyesore of a picture that gets more and more annoying as time goes on. If anything is important to the plot, it gets filmed in a medium two shot at the center of the screen. There is no imagination or feeling for cinema in the composition of this movie. This fault is compounded by embarrassingly bad dialogue spoken by embarrassed actors. Even worse, most lines get repeated ad nauseam. And why do we even care about this shit anyway? All anyone could or should expect from a Godzilla movie is Godzilla levelling citys or fighting monsters. Since the filmmakers haven't actually delivered Godzilla himself, this fails miserably at the fundamental premise of the movie. Another friend of mine who should know better thought that this was probably as good as the summer blockbusters were going to get. If I thought that was true, I would hang myself by the neck from the nearest movie marquee in protest. These guys need to be stopped.