Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of seeing a screening of “Godzilla” (1998) Rifftrax Live. For those who don’t know, Rifftrax is from some of the stars of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” specifically, Mike Nelson (below left), Bill Corbett (below center) and Kevin Murphy (below right). Though “Mystery Science” is certainly a niche show, it’s one of my favorites. My wife and I actually played the show’s theme song at our wedding reception.
Rifftrax is a project very much in the vein of MST3K, as Mike, Bill and Kevin offer humorous commentary during movies. Customers download the commentaries online and sync them to their disc player. This allows Rifftrax to tackle larger movies, like “The Dark Knight” or “Avatar,” without infringing on copyright laws.
Occasionally, Fathom Events hosts screenings of their work, which is how I came to see “Godzilla” on the big screen. I’m a huge fan of the original Japanese character, but Roland Emmerich’s take on him was truly deserving of the Rifftrax treatment. Apart from being an abominable adaptation, jettisoning essential elements of the character, it’s just an outright terrible film.
I mean…Matthew Broderick as a scientist/action hero!? Oscar-nominee Michael Lerner plays Mayor Ebert, a corrupt politician who looks suspiciously like Roger Ebert and whose campaign slogan is a thumbs up. No lie. He even has an assistant named Gene. Undoubtedly a petulent “screw you” on the part of Emmerich, as Ebert was not a fan of his previous films, “Stargate” and “Independence Day.”
Characterizations are similarly poor, with the filmmakers succumbing to the most crass stereotypes. The film opens with a Japanese fisherman watching sumo wresting and eating noodles, at which point Mike Nelson quipped, “I don’t think they’ve established his ethnicity enough.” French special agents are obsessed with coffee, cigarettes and croissants, and the New Yorkers are doing their worst Ratso Rizzo impressions.
The attempts at humor, of which there are many, are likewise…poor. If you made a drinking game out of the number of times someone bungles Broderick’s character’s last name, Tatopoulos, you would be hammered by the end of the first act. The sad thing is, the joke isn’t funny the first time.
Finally, the sense of scale here is non-existent. Godzilla’s size is completely dependent on the needs of the script. He should be menacing and imposing, make him bigger! Okay, now we need to be able to hide him. Better slim him down, so he’ll fit in a subway tunnel. If there’s one thing you want missing in your giant monster movie, it’s a sense of…scale…???
Rifftax did not disappoint despite an interminably long running time. There’s about 100 minutes of story in this 140 minute slog. There’ll be an encore presentation this Tuesday, August 19th, and I hope some of you will check it out!