Even misguided inspiration can be productive. Take "Godzilla 2000" for instance.
The Japanese decided to resurrect their creation only after Roland Emmerich's empty 1998 "Godzilla" staggered onto the screen here.
Japan's Toho Films, the main force behind the series, had killed off their Godzilla in 1995, but "Godzilla 2000," Friday, shows you can't keep a good franchise down. It is a campy romp of mistimed dubbing, cheesy special effects and the dragon-king's bronchial roar.
Godzilla returns to his majestic self. Unlike the sneaky, bloodthirsty boob of the U.S. version, he is upright in "2000" and wears a mane of thunderbolt dorsal fins like a diva cloaked in a cape.
Godzilla knows how to make an entrance (who wouldn't after emerging from the atomic ooze for the 23rd time?) - we first see him flossing with a fishing boat. Japan quakes in terror, but the Godzilla Prediction Network, run by a precocious schoolgirl named I-O (Mayu Suzuki) and her father Shinoda (Takehiro Murata), knows there is more to be learned than feared from Godzilla.
When Godzilla resurfaces, it is usually to defend his turf. Godzilla is the complex bully who will stomp on your bicycle and take your lunch money, but you are HIS victim. If a threat to his mark appears, he will call it out.
The invader this time is a meteor that sits at the bottom of the sea. Soon it surfaces and begins to fly, shedding its igneous skin to reveal a spaceship that looks like a bicycle seat. The bicycle seat begins to download data from all the computers in Tokyo. It also shows a keen interest in Godzilla. It seems Godzilla carries a cell called Regenerator G-1, which has allowed the behemoth to heal instantly from missile hits and bad press.
By the time scientists realize that the spaceship is learning about Earth to make way for an alien takeover, the vessel has turned into something more beastly. How satisfying would it be for Godzilla to kick a flying saucer's butt?
On one level, "Godzilla" is a morality play. Godzilla is born of man, yet is the ultimate alien. He is scorned by society but he will come within a fiery breath of dying to defend it. This is your fate when you are the bastard child of a nuclear age.
Too heavy? No problem. In this hemisphere, "Godzilla" plays better as camp. Where else can Japanese lips quivering as fast as a hummingbird's wings utter English gems like "the damn teriyaki is cold!"
"Godzilla" gives aficionados what they want and is surprisingly kid-friendly. Most of the violence is directed at Tokyo real estate, and there is no explicit human gore. For the uninitiated, "Godzilla 2000" offers novelty - and that might be all.
The script has the warm familiarity of a fairy tale, but the writers, Wataru Mimura and Kanji Kashiwabara, and director Takao Okawara ("Godzilla vs. Mothra") fail to capture the tension between Shinoda and the hawkish government official Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe), who only wants to destroy Godzilla. We know Katagiri is twisted only because he talks loud and wears what looks like a Members' Only jacket.
Progress does not make a better "Godzilla." Computer-generated images in the latest version are hit and miss. A scene of boats surrounding the meteor is about as authentic as the scrolling backdrop to a stage act.
More satisfying are the special-effects traditions to which Toho adheres. A man in a rubber suit still plays Godzilla, and he still tramples on miniature sets. The miniatures are more sophisticated now, yet lend a nostalgia for the days when Godzilla stomped on a truck and you could practically see Tonka engraved on it.
As in Emmerich's version, "Godzilla 2000" features an aggressive photographer who gets too close to the subject. In this case it's Naomi Nishida. Lovely as she is, her presence is irritating.
Thankfully, it is one of the few apparent homages to America's "Godzilla."
Starring Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe, Naomi Nishida, Shiro Sano
Directed by Takao Okawara
Released by TriStar Pictures
Running time 97 minutes
Rated PG (monster violence and mid language)
Sun Score **