He’s Baaaack!

Oh, no. There goes Tokyo. Again.

Godzilla, the gigantic radioactive reptile that’s been trashing Japan since 1954, will be returning to the U.S. this summer in an all-new feature aptly titled “Godzilla 2000: Millennium.” Sony Pictures, whose TriStar studio released the first-ever American-made Godzilla movie in 1998, snatched up the U.S. rights to the new Godzilla flick, which was released in Japan in December.

It will be the first Japanese-made Godzilla movie released theatrically in the U.S. since “Godzilla 1985.” Sony has acquired five other Godzilla movies in recent years: “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (released in Japan 1991), “Godzilla vs. Mothra” (1992), “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II” (1993), “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” (1994), and “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), all of which went straight-to-video.

The deal between Sony and Toho also includes North and South American TV and video rights. There was no immediate word from Sony officials as to how wide a release “Godzilla 2000: Millennium” might get. The film will be dubbed into English.

A Sony press release said the movie “recently opened to record-breaking box-office numbers in Japan,” but information from Japanese box-office trackers indicate otherwise. After three weeks in release, the picture had earned just $1.9 million, which is low even by Japanese standards, and after four weeks it was bumped out of the Top 10, far behind the holiday hits at the Japan box office, like “End of Days” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

Godzilla has undergone several different incarnations and timeline revisions over the course of his long movie career. At the climax of the original film, called “Gojira” in Japan, the monster was emulsified at the bottom of Tokyo Bay by a nuclear-like weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer. A second Godzilla appeared in films from 1955 to 1975, then the monster was retired for nearly 10 years due to a lull in popularity.

“Godzilla 1985” ushered in a new era of Godzilla movies. Unlike his cheeseball films from the 1970s, wherein Godzilla flew through the air and battled gigantic blobs of sludge and a robot bird with a rotating saw in its belly, the “Heisei” Godzilla movies (from 1984 to 1995) portrayed the monster as Japan’s nuclear nightmare all over again. The films were fairly popular in the monster’s homeland, and featured updated special effects (although the monster was still done with a man in a rubber costume). The 1990s Godzilla films each had a budget of about $10 million.

“Godzilla 2000: Millennium,” the 23rd entry in the series, represents yet another epoch in Godzilla history. It was written as a sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all the sequels that came in between, like “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” “Destroy All Monsters” and others.

Godzilla fans are some of the most passionate sci-fi followers, similar in their enthusiasm to aficionados of “Star Trek” or “Star Wars.” Many of them were put off, to say the least, by the $100-million-plus TriStar Godzilla, which was produced by the makers of “Independence Day” and featured a completely redesigned, digitally rendered high-tech Godzilla and rewrote the creature’s origin. Many fans had hoped “Godzilla 2000: Millennium” would restore the creature’s rubber glory.

But the new film has received lukewarm reviews, at best, from Americans who have seen it. Norman England, a Japan-based film reviewer, wrote that it “should also have been the antidote to the TriStar fiasco,” but instead “buries itself within its own clichés. ‘G-2000’ is simply just another Godzilla film.”

Even though it has thus far only been shown in Japan, quite a few Americans have already seen it, thanks to a “bootleg” videotape that apparently was recorded with a camcorder inside a Tokyo cinema.

Another fan, using the moniker “Rodanlives,” posted a message yesterday on the alt.movies.monster newsgroup in hopes that “Godzilla 2000: Millennium” will only receive a limited U.S. theatrical release, because it could be damaging to Godzilla’s reputation abroad. “If it’s more widespread than that, it will be THE END of Godzilla in America.”

In “Godzilla 2000: Millennium,” the giant saurian battles a UFO that rises from the depths of the Japan trench and morphs into a gigantic alien monster. Sony officials said that this film does not pre-empt plans for a sequel to TriStar’s American Godzilla movie.