The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'98's biggest
movie was only
2 minutes long


December 31, 1998
By Franklin Harris

Any year in which the film that generates the most fan interest is a two-minute teaser must be described as lackluster at best.

But the preview trailer for George Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," currently scheduled for a May 21 opening, was indeed the film event of 1998.

Of course, the year's biggest moneymaker, almost by default, was "Armageddon," which spearheaded a pack of mid-level blockbusters, all of which made gobs of cash, but none of which captured anyone's imagination.

Even the year's biggest "flop," "Godzilla," made money, although I can't imagine why. "Godzilla" was, without a doubt, the year's worst film.

One would think that Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the duo that brought us "Stargate" and "Independence Day," could at least get a Godzilla movie right. "Independence Day," after all, is little more than a Godzilla movie with flying saucers. The UFOs come, stomp major metropolitan areas flat and finally are sent packing. The End.

But Devlin and Emmerich's Godzilla is a wimp. It runs. It hides. It lays eggs. The only thing it doesn't do is breathe fire. What is wrong with this picture?

"Godzilla" has it all: bad acting, bad writing, bad special effects and characters for whom no one cares. Can you believe they're actually still planning a "Godzilla 2?"

Zorro leaves his mark

On the up side, the year did have some really good films, even if they didn't receive the attention lavished on boring, awful movies like "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon."

My surprise favorite of '98 is "The Mask of Zorro."

Featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, "The Mask of Zorro" doesn't try to be anything other than an old-fashioned adventure yarn, and it succeeds beautifully. It's funny, exciting and is filled with great stunts performed by actual stuntmen.

Plus, I'm a sucker for well-executed swordplay, which beats shoot-'em-ups any day.

Other nice surprises in 1998 included "Pleasantville," "The Truman Show," "Dark City" and "Babe: Pig in the City."

The year in comics

When bankrupt Marvel Comics wasn't busy getting itself into ever-deeper financial trouble, it was busy chasing away its top talent. Thus, Peter David, self-proclaimed "writer of stuff," ended his 12-year run on "The Incredible Hulk."

The silver lining is that David's last issue, No. 467, was the best single-issue comics story of the year. The best continuing comics series, meanwhile, sprang from the twisted mind of Warren Ellis.

Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" is as viciously satiric as they come. Set in a near future in which squeaky-clean vice-presidential candidates are grown in test tubes, bowel disrupter guns are the weapon of choice and newspaper columnists are wildly popular celebrity figures (yeah, who would believe that?), "Transmetropolitan" follows the adventures of drugged-out, gonzo investigative journalist Spider Jerusalem, who chain smokes his way into the dark underside of The City.

Ellis' work isn't for the faint of heart, and Spider is a deliberately unlikable character. But "Transmetropolitan" rewards the effort you put into it.

Television trials

On television, we were treated to a misty-eyed sendoff for "Babylon 5," as the groundbreaking science fiction series completed its five-year run. Unfortunately, while the last episode was a classic, B5's final season as a whole was a letdown.

Meanwhile, "Star Trek: Voyager" continued to improve but still wasn't very good, "Earth: Final Conflict" collapsed under the direction of a new creative team and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" chugged along, unfazed by a major cast change.

At year's end, "The X-Files" was trying to re-take the title of TV's best genre series from the surprising upstart, "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer."

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