Godzilla (1998)

Composed by: David Arnold

The first American Godzilla film, released by Sony, spent nearly a decade stuck in development hell. Originally Jan de Bont of Speed fame sought to introduce Japan’s monster star through Hollywood. The plot would have had Godzilla battle an evil shape-shifting alien entity named Gryphon. This film was rejected, ostensibly due to budgetary concerns, and the reins were handed over to Roland Emmerich, who in the mid-90s was a rising blockbuster star with Stargate and Independence Day. At first Emmerich seemed a natural fit thanks to the destruction scenes in Independence Day, but it turned out that he absolutely had no liking for the Japanese films and thought them stupid, as did producer Dean Devilin. The end result, which came out in the summer of 1998, was financially successful, but a critical flop and a point of ire for Godzilla fans.

The Godzilla in this film is a mutated iguana that for some reason decides to swim all the way from the South Pacific to New York. Once there he causes havoc, but unlike the original he can be killed by heavier human weapons. Instead of destroying the city like a god, he spends the action scenes running away from helicopters, which cause more destruction than the monster itself with their missiles. The lead character, a scientist played by Matthew Broderick, learns that Godzilla is actually pregnant (making Godzilla a she or a creature able to switch genders). A rip-off of the raptor chase from Jurassic Park ensues. The movie is a bastardization of the source material. Its makers thought Godzilla was stupid and wanted to make him more “realistic.” Since 1998 Godzilla fandom has somewhat mellowed, preferring to see it as a decent fun film starring an unrelated Iguana called Zilla or GINO (Godzilla In Name Only). I still think it’s an abomination and an example of Americans not getting something from another culture. There is one bright spot in the movie and that’s David Arnold’s score.

David Arnold was at the time enjoying a John William-Steven Spielberg relationship with Roland Emmerich. This was the film that killed it. Word is first Roland Emmerich had to drastically re-edit the movie, meaning that David Arnold’s music was mismatched and he had to rescore scenes without actually seeing the cut. I haven’t mustered the courage to see the film again so I can’t say if the music is awkwardly edited in or not. Then Arnold’s score received no release from Sony. Instead there was a commercial album of songs by various artists with only several minutes of the score tacked on (Sony would likewise prioritize song over score albums for several later blockbusters). Arnold felt he was greatly underserved and took his business elsewhere. A promotional 50 minute album of the score eventually leaked and proved to be a hit with film music fans. Then in 2007 La-La Land Records finally released a limited edition with the complete score. I will be reviewing through the complete score, which was also available on the Godzilla Perfect Collection box set.

“Opening Titles” is an appropriately ominous piece that builds into the bombastic and sinister Godzilla theme at 2:18. To underscore the titan’s menace Arnold brings in the choir a few seconds later. The track ends on a mystery motif that recurs heavily throughout the score. This is an awesome theme that a true Godzilla deserves. “Tanker Gets It” is the first action cue, mixing the Godzilla theme and apocalyptic choir in with Arnold’s usual action-scoring trademarks. “Footprints/New York/Audrey” introduces the main heroic motif at 00:17. It’s a six note motif easily interspersed into action cues and often played with a militaristic air. It seems to appear mainly alongside a team of French soldiers who figure prominently in the film’s last act. The same track also introduces a love theme for the characters Nick and Audrey. It’s the most underdeveloped idea which is appropriate since the romance in the film is obligatory and has little meat to it. Going back to the militaristic side of things, “Evacuation” is another highlight. It introduces a recurring theme for the army, though the six-note motif has a much stronger presence throughout the score.

“Fish” is another preparatory military cue. It starts off with a lot of levity but at 1:20 gets more ominous and anticipatory. This sets up “”Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” This lengthy cue takes its time building up the suspense, until Arnold brings back Godzilla’s theme at 2:25. This time the theme segues into another theme for Zilla, this one representing the wonder of a giant creature. It’s a very emotional theme and a highlight within the score, though the monster in the film doesn’t seem worthy of such a strong identity. The late 90s saw Arnold at the top of his game when it came to engaging action cues. His work for Godzilla is no exception. The action tracks, starting with “First Helicopter Chase” are dense with a lot of whirling strings, brassy blasts (often in the form of the Godzilla theme), and various Arnold action trademarks. In fact there quite a few bits in the later action cues that would emerge within Arnold’s James Bond scores. For example, the piece halfway through “First Helicopter Chase” was heard in World is Not Enough’s “Submarine.”

The six-note motif makes a strong return in “Frenchie’s Warehouse.” “Rumble in the Tunnel” is low-key ominous material. After that is a series of action cues, some quite lengthy. One highlight in this section is the percussion-backed chase music that starts about halfway through “Baby Zillas Hatch”. “Nick’s Big Speech” is an appropriately uplifting heroic cue with the emotional wonder theme about the 2:30 mark. The second half of this track, “The Garden Gets It,” is another action cue with the military theme coming in for a triumphal conclusion. “He’s Back!” starts off offering a false conclusion to the film with a heroic opening and a reprise of the love theme. Godzilla’s theme destroys the upliftment at 1:10. After a somber iteration of the wonder theme the track turns over to “Taxi Chase & Clue” the score’s most rousing action piece. There is a brief breather with the mystery motif at 6:11 before Godzilla’s fanfare takes over again.

“Big G Goes to Monster Heaven” is the actual climatic action cue. It starts off militaristically with several statements of the six-note motif. The track goes back and forth between heroic military motifs and Godzilla’s sinister fanfare. At 2:29 the track starts to climax before going into a rhythm. It goes into a climax again at 3:10 with a tragic bit and a final epic choral presentation of the wonder theme. The wonder theme also dominates the first half of “The End?” Throughout this track the mystery motif repeatedly plays but in a more cheerful celebratory fashion. About halfway through the military theme takes over before Arnold uses part of the wonder theme to close things out.

Overall, while the movie is a disgrace to the name Godzilla, Davis Arnold’s score is fantastic. In fact it’s one of the best Godzilla scores, quire ironic considering the film it’s attached to. His Godzilla themes would work wonderfully alongside the true Big G and as usual his heroic marches and motifs are strong. Regardless of your feelings on the movie, check this score out. It has been severely underlooked and ignored because of the lack of a regular commercial release.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklisting

CD 1
THE FILM SCORE
1. The Beginning (3:31)
2. Tanker Gets It (1:13)
3. Chernobyl (3:15)
4. Footprint (0:35)
5. Footprints / New York / Audrey (0:56)
6. Chewing Gum Nose (0:32)
7. Ship Reveal / Nick Discovers Fish / Flesh (1:41)
8. The Boat Gets It (2:11)
9. Dawn Of The Species (1:51)
10. Joe Gets A Bite / Godzilla Arrives (3:13)
11. Mayor’s Speech (1:05)
12. Caiman’s Office (0:47)
13. Animal’s Camera (1:41)
14. Military Command Center / New Jersey (1:57)
15. Audrey’s Idea (0:24)
16. Evacuation (2:43)
17. French Coffee (0:58)
18. Subway Damage / Command Enters City (2:52)
19. Fish (1:50)
20. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? (5:15)
21. 1st Helicopter Chase / Godzilla Swats A Chopper (4:10)
22. We Fed Him / Audrey Sees Nick (1:21)
23. Nick And Audrey / He’s Pregnant / Audrey Takes The Tape / French Breakfast (4:48) 
24. He’s Preparing To Feed (0:36)
25. Nick Gets Fired / Abducted / Frenchie’s Warehouse / Nick Joins the Foreign Legion (5:47)

CD 2

1. Chewing Gum (1:53)
2. Rumble In The Tunnel (1:37)
3. Godzilla Park / Godzilla Takes A Dive / Godzilla Versus The Submarine / Egg Discovery (9:44)
4. Baby ‘Zillas Hatch (3:53)
5. Nick Phones For Help (1:30)
6. Eat The French (2:16)
7. Phillip Shoots The Lock (1:05)
8. Nick’s Big Speech / The Garden Gets It (7:09)
9. He’s Back! / Taxi Chase & Clue (7:08)
10. Big G Goes To Monster Heaven (4:32)
11. The End (4:09)

BONUS TRACKS:
12. The Beginning (no choir) (3:35)
13. The Boat Gets It (alt.) (1:11)
14. Footprints / New York / Audrey (alt.) (0:50)
15. Evacuation (alt.) (2:43)
16. The Garden Gets It (alt.) (3:03)
17. Big G Goes To Monster Heaven (alt.) (4:32)
18. Gojira (Album Version) (2:46)

CD 3

UNRELEASED SCORE ALBUM
1. Gojira Opening Titles (2:47)
2. Dawn Of The Species (1:49)
3. Joe Arrives (2:10)
4. Leaving Manhattan (2:41)
5. Subterranea (2:50)
6. Warnings / Fish Bait (5:13)
7. It’s Alive!! (3:23)
8. Audrey Steals The Tape (2:45)
9. Nick Gets Fired (2:54)
10. Foreign Help (1:47)
11. The Babies (3:51)
12. Final Encounter (4:08)
13. Taxi Chase (3:41)
14. Brooklyn Bridge (4:31)
15. Finale (4:06)

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