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IN SHORT: Oh No . . . There Goes SOHO . . .

If we learn anything new about Godzilla, now that the franchise has been rebuilt for the 1990s and beyond, it is that this oversize radiation mutated dinolizard monstrosity has a great fondness for sushi. We also learn that, with great technology comes incredibly neat special effects. With very few exceptions, this Godzilla monster is all CGI, created in a computer. He moves and swims fluidly. He jumps and clings to the sides of buildings and bridges. He tunnels through solid rock. He is a spectacle to see, and leaves a spectacle in his wake.

He's also a she, but you know that by now.

Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had a major bar to hurdle with this flick, what is in effect their production sequel to ID4. The story is still whisper thin, but it makes more logical sense than the last flick (no one tries to interpret 'zilla's roar with Macintosh computer, fer instance). The effects rock, Manhattan rolls and it gets even better once . . . I ain't telling.

From the days of overground nuclear testing by the government of France in the Polynesias, there has been a covert operation to watch and prepare for the day when the mutants roam free among us. Very little is known when the first lizard creature appears, rising from the depths of the ocean to take out a Japanese sushi factory boat. Swimming thousands of miles across the ocean, crossing the isthmus of Panama on foot with such speed that all that is left behind are footprints, Gojira (as it is called by the Japanese, a word meaning the mythical beast combination of whale and gorilla) heads north, towards the United States. Brought into the case is Niko Tatopoulis (Matthew Broderick) aka "The worm guy" who has spent the last three years studying mutations at Chernobyl. Audrey (Maria Pitillo), the woman who left him behind eight years earlier, is in New York as an assistant to a boorish anchorman (Harry Shearer). A random crossing of paths with her ex drops the story of the century in her lap. Does she steal the confidential tape? Or does she pursue the man she really loves? With this triangle in place, the movie easily explains how the Japanese "Gojira" becomes "Godzilla" on American shores. And that's just the setup.

The newly rechristened Godzilla is chased through the streets of Manhattan by the US Army and Air Force, both of whom do more damage than the lizard. Godzilla, version 1998, is sleek and slim and fast and more lizard looking than ever. She's quick to duck, smart enough to outrun laser-locked missiles and torpedoes and has enough brain capacity to recognize army tanks and a trap on second sight. Quite a quarry. As we know from the television commercials, she's pregnant. In charge of the city are the two men who viciously slammed Emmerich and Devlin in their reviews of Independence Day. Yes, it's Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner)and persnickety sidekick Gene (Lorry Goldman). An in joke true, but thinly veiled and very funny. And thus begins the destruction of lower manhattan.

The numbers: it takes 25 minutes screen time before you get any kind of glimpse of the lizard, 45 until you see her face. The CGI is perfect, the creatures moves with power and grace. The CGI choppers look equally realistic. Only a pair of 3D type effects shots - where a car, for example, is kicked from the background over the action and into the foreground - don't look entirely natural. But Cranky was busy waiting for the appearance of the atom fire breath, rumored to be nonexistent in this version. The rumors were wrong. Cranky cheered.

God, it takes so little to make me happy. What a pathetic life I lead . . .

Everything you expect to find, that you want to find, in Godzilla is there. And more. And once the expected happens, the film shifts sideways into edge of your seat scary stuff. It keeps getting better and better. The story does not get in the way of the effects which are, after all, 99% of why you're there in the first place.

Godzilla is a visual spectacular. The new 'zilla "design" by Patrick Tatopoulos is cool. Visual Effects Supervisor Volker Engel (talk to him Tuesday night, 9 pm ET on the eDrive chat boards) tops his work on ID4 and way outdoes Spielberg's awful tacked coda to The Lost World sequence.

Buy lots of popcorn, this is a long flick. And worth ever kernel.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Godzilla, he would have paid . . .


I wasn't raving enough to go out and sneak back into the last preview, thus giving it the perfect $8. But I'll probably find time, if I can, to sit back and let the SDDS sound and other digital effects rock my world. And, this time out, thanks to Dean and Roland for keeping their girl out of my neighborhood.

The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and Copyright © 1998 by, Chuck Schwartz. All Rights Reserved.