PART 1: GENESIS
The Godzilla series is the longest running film franchise in the history of cinema, spanning 50 years consisting of 29 films (28 Japanese entries, one American), a cartoon series, numerous books and magazines, a comic book series, crossover television appearances, plus many videogames, toys, models, etc. For many years Toho (Godzilla's parent company) desired a full blown American production of their most profitable beast, Toho had already secured a good partnership with Henry Saperstein and his American International Pictures which allowed for co-funding of numerous projects including; Frankenstein Conquers the World, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, War of the Gargantuas, and the "lost film" Latitude Zero. Toho also co-produced the film King Kong Escapes with another American company, Rankin-Bass; Rankin-Bass was famous for their animated holiday classics such as Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. The partnerships with Rankin-Bass and AIP allowed for the films to be co-funded between Toho and the US companies, the US firms also secured second-tier American actors to appear in these films, mostly character actors like Rhodes Reason and Russ Tamblyn but also a few Oscar Nominated ones showed up in Japan as well! Nick Adams and Joseph Cotton both made trips to the orient to work for Toho.
Through these partnerships Toho learned that Godzilla had great appeal in the international marketplace and began to formulate a plan to make a totally American Godzilla production. Henry Saperstein was very keen to the idea and began to shop Godzilla around the states after the Japanese series abruptly ended in 1975. Many ideas were talked about between Saperstein and Tomoyuki Tanaka (Godzilla's primary producer and co-creator) films like Godzilla vs. Gargantua, Godzilla vs. The Devil, and Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (no relation to the 1994 film of the same name) were tossed about, but Toho wasn't willing to fund these projects and Saperstein couldn't get American investors to bite, until 1983.
In 1983 a young filmmaker by the name of Steve Miner wanted to make his own vision of Godzilla, Godzilla King Of The Monsters 3-D. Miner secured Godzilla's rights from Toho and Saperstein and began searching for financial backing soon there after. Despite securing commitments from such noted artists and effects men as William Stout, Jim Danforth, and Rick Baker the project ultimately fell through. G3D had a weak script that was very reminiscent of Gorgo and the cost of filming a large scale special effects picture, in 3-D no less, proved to be too much for any studio to handle. So Godzilla was back to square one as far as an American film was concerned, meanwhile though Tanaka got the franchise up and running again in Japan in 1984. While the Japanese series was going strong in the late 80's and early 90's rumors of a new American project once again surfaced.
In 1993 Tristar pictures made their intentions public by securing the rights from Saperstein and Toho and commissioning scripts. Several scripts were written, one even by Clive Barker, but ultimately a script from scribes Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot was chosen. By early 1994 Jan De Bont was hired to direct and the film was slated for an early to mid 1996 release. Despite pre-production all ready starting Tristar axed the film due to its climbing budget, Tristar allotted $100 to $120 million to the film, but when $180 million estimates started coming in Tristar got cold feet and the project was scrapped. It seemed that Godzilla would never get his shot in America until November 1995 when Tristar execs met with Roland Emmerich; Emmerich impressed Tristar by promising to complete the film for a very affordable $65 million. Moths passed but finally in May of 1996 Tristar announced that Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich would helm Godzilla's first US adventure.
PART 2: FILMING
Before filming began Devlin and Emmerich's alien invasion epic Independence Day was released. Independence Day was a massive hit allowing Devlin and Emmerich better leverage to negotiate their deal with Tristar, the duo no longer had to work with $65 million dollars as Tristar opened up the purse strings and let them spend all they wanted to. Also as part of Devlin and Emmerich's better deal they negotiated a deal wherein their own company, Centropolis Entertainment, took over most of the production, Tristar was still in charge of merchandising, distribution, and home video release. Filming began in summer 1997 with a summer 1998 release date targeted. Dean Devlin acted as producer and co-writer, while Roland Emmerich took over the directing chores (he also co-wrote the script), visual effects were handled by Volker Engel and creature design was done by Patrick Tatopoulos.
Early on it was decided by these four men that their Godzilla would be dramatically different from his Japanese counterpart and that the bulk of the effects work would all be done with computer generated images with some suitmation and miniature work as well. The film boasted a record (at the time) number of effects shots and sequences with much of the work being farmed out to more than 170 freelance effects craftsman hired by Tatopoulos and Engel. Location filming covered such varied areas as New York City, Hawaii, and Los Angeles with principal photography wrapping in early September, post-production was finished in mid 1998 getting the film in on time (barely) and at a reported budget of $120 million dollars, although sources inside Centropolis pegged the number closer to $150 million, "It was a very, very expensive movie." 1 - Dean Devlin, TNT Rough Cut interview.
PART 3: SYNOPSIS
French nuclear testing in the south pacific exposes several marine iguana eggs to radioactive fallout mutating one of them into a new form of giant predatory creature. Several mysterious shipwrecks occur forcing the US military to investigate, while the French secret service sends their own man in to gather facts. The US government secures the help of Dr. Nick Tatopoulos because of his knowledge of mutant species created through radioactive contamination; Nick and company fly to a remote island to investigate a beached ship and massive footprints, apparently left by the creature. Soon a videotape is leaked showing a terrified Japanese sailor who calls the beast "Gojira" (later dubbed Godzilla by an ignorant television reporter); soon strange things start happening in the vicinity of New York city as it becomes clear the beast has swam there recently. The military tries, in vain, to stop the monster, yet it proves highly elusive, able to run at speeds of 200+ miles per hour and quite cunning, Godzilla manages to escape the military and burrow into the subway system.
Nick runs a blood test and discovers that the creature is actually asexual and has come to New York to spawn! A second military strike seemingly succeeds as the creature is apparently killed, meanwhile Nick and a team of French agents have ventured into the subway system to try and find Godzilla's brood. The nest is discovered in the middle of Madison Square Garden just as hundreds of eggs begin hatching; Nick and company manage to escape with their lives just as the military bombs MSG, killing off Godzilla's horrible children. Just as everyone begins celebrating the adult Godzilla returns, not as dead as the military thought, seeing it's dead young it is enraged, it begins a street to street chase of Nick and his friends (who have commandeered a taxi cab) across Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge, where the monster becomes entangled in the suspension cables and is killed by 2 F-18 fighter jets. Back in the rubble of Madison Square Garden, a lone egg hatches.
PART 4: FAILURE
The film was released May 20th,1998 to a resounding thud, "It's not Godzilla, it doesn't have his spirit" 2 said Kenpachiro Satsuma (Godzilla suit actor from 1984-1995) who walked out midway through a screening of the film, his sentiments were the same as those of most long time fans such as myself. The film opened on a record 7,363 screens and pulled in an estimated $74 million dollars during its opening week, impressive but well below the hoped for $90+ million. By the second week Godzilla was down to $23 million, by week 3 $10 million, it was out of the top 10 all together by July, also in July Godzilla opened in Tokyo on 385 screens making $6.5 million dollars on opening day (setting a new record) but much like in America the film quickly faded from box offices taking in a total Japanese gross of $33.1 million. The US tally was $136 million and the total worldwide gross was $275 million, a hit yes but nothing to what analysts were predicted, most experts expected the film to break $350 million by the end of its worldwide run, its US gross barely covered the expense of filming! So now we come to the part where we must ask why the film was panned by critics, fans, and associates of the Godzilla series..
GODZILLA, IN NAME ONLY
The most obvious problem with Devlin and Emmerich's film is its starring creature, Godzilla, or as fans have dubbed it, GINO (Godzilla in name only). For the purposes of this essay I will refer to the creature as Godzilla. In the Japanese films Godzilla is presented as an atomic allegory, a monster created by man for the purpose of punishing man for crimes against nature. Godzilla was a living nuclear bomb in Japan, the ultimate horror, and just like the bomb Godzilla is something that nobody has any power or control over, Godzilla cannot and will not be stopped in Japan. The American Godzilla on the other hand has a similar origin yet he never conveys the same amount of dread or relevance that the Japanese version did, also the American Godzilla is very much mortal and can be easily harmed by bullets, missiles, etc. The American monster is a mere nuisance, not a curse that humanity deserves, also the blame for the creature is lost in the US version, political tensions aside the Japanese Godzilla was a symbol of American might and arrogance getting vastly out of hand, by placing the blame of the creature's origin on the French the film loses some impact.
Other problems come from the US versions apparent asexuality, hardcore fans didn't want a Godzilla that laid thousands of eggs, we wanted a Godzilla that laid waste to thousands of square miles of landscape. Other attributes that Devlin and Emmerich's Godzilla had that were new was the fact that this beast could burrow and run at 200+ miles per hour, but instead of using such amazing attributes for terror this monster used them for it's favorite pastime, running away. The American Godzilla ran from the military the entire film, something the real Godzilla would never do, the real Godzilla would stand his ground and lay waste to the entire armada with his mighty atomic fire breath, which brings us to next gripe, where is Godzilla's atomic breath in this film?
Instead of atomic fire Devlin and Emmerich endowed their beast with a "power-puff" breath, a large gale force wind that could ignite if sparked, and if that sounds weak what makes it worse is that it is only seen twice in the film! Reportedly Emmerich only added the puff breath after word got out that Godzilla wouldn't have his traditional atomic breath and fans were outraged.
The last gripe for this section would be the design, I can't speak for all fans but I can share my own insights. Personally the design wouldn't have bothered me nearly as much if his personality was intact, but unfortunately it wasn't, so not only did this Godzilla act nothing like the Godzilla most had come to know over the years, he looked nothing like him either! The design of the American Godzilla presented an Olympic sprinter of a lizard, with long muscular arms and legs and a very large chin. His skin was mottled with various scales of blue, green, and brown and his back was adorned with 3 rows of forward facing dorsal spines (one of the only "classic" Godzilla design touches present).
Allow me to ask a question, if you change everything about a beloved character, his looks, personality, and origin, is he still the same character? When the contract for the film was drawn Toho had set up some very specific guidelines, first they had final say on the design, second the roar must be the same and the creature must have his trademark dorsal spines, and third Godzilla can't die (Devlin and Emmerich got around this one on a technicality, since one baby remained the species survived) so when Devlin and Emmerich turned in their design Toho vehemently vetoed their creature, but Devlin and Emmerich said take it or leave it, and Toho knew that this would be Godzilla's last chance for a US film grudgingly accepted the design. This last act showed just how sneaky and disrespectful Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich could be which brings us to our next section.
RESPECT (OR THE BETTER LACK THERE OF)
Throughout Godzilla's production and after the film wrapped many caught Devlin and Emmerich saying many things that led most to believe that they didn't actually care for Godzilla at all, and that their vision was superior. When the film was released many of these quotes were published, here are a lot of them and decide for yourself, were Devlin and Emmerich disrespectful? And had they no sense of the majestic history of Godzilla?
"We wanted to reinvent it, so when you think of Godzilla, this is the Godzilla you think of for the next generation." 3 - Dean Devlin
"Godzilla has always been this slow-motion man in a suit, and always standing around, looking around, smashing through buildings, looking kind of stupid. This one is an animal, a lizard, it behaves like an animal and its movements are more in the Jurassic Park range." 4 - Volker Engel
"It'll look like Godzilla but be more realistic, more to the lizard genesis than just a big fat guy in a rubber suit." 5 - Dean Devlin
"To fully background himself in the character, [Emmerich] watched 14 or 15 of the Toho Godzilla movies on laser disc. 'Then I gave up. It's just the same movie over and over again. They always had another monster in it, and I never got anything out of two monsters fighting. For reasons I can't explain myself, kids all over the world kept watching these movies' " 6 - Dean Devlin
"Dean Devlin: Yes and yes. We wanted to harken back to the very first Godzilla movie. But the Godzilla website will be about ALL Godzilla movies. And yes, again, there will be much homage paid to the big fat guy in the rubber suit" 7 - Dean Devlin
"If you don't like [the movie], to hell with you." 8 - Dean Devlin
A Beast by Any Other Name
Another common problem the public has to Devlin and Emmerich are their numerous "homages". Some Devlin and Emmerich fans like to say that out of respect and love of films that inspired them Devlin and Emmerich will place scenes in their films that mirror past films, here's the cold hard truth, these "homage" scenes aren't homages at all, they are blatant forms of plagiarism. You want proof, well here you go In Independence Day there is a scene that is an almost shot for shot remake of a very similar scene in George Pal's War of the Worlds, the scene I'm referring to is the flying wing/B-2 Spirit scene. Also in ID4 the aliens are defeated via a common computer virus, while in Pal's film they are defeated by the common cold, Jeff Goldblum's character even remarks, "I gave it a cold". Also the image of the massive saucers looming over the mega-cities of the Earth bear more than a passing resemblance to images from V, a television miniseries from the early 1980's about alien invaders.
Devlin and Emmerich's Godzilla isn't innocent either, the plot and many scenes are very reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Both films center around a large reptile on the prowl in New York City and both have remarkably similar shots in them, for instance, Godzilla's initial march down a New York street is almost shot for shot a duplication of a similar scene in Beast, also Godzilla's death-by-ensnarement is incredibly similar to the way the Beast died (he was tangled in a roller coaster). Also Godzilla's final death knell was a cheap rip-off from King Kong as Godzilla's heart starts beating louder, and slower, until finally it stops, just like Kong's. Other films that Godzilla "paid homage" to are the Jurassic Park series and the Alien films.
Aside from alienating life-long fans the film didn't win over many critics either. Maybe it was Maria Pitillo's wooden acting, or a cheap jab at Siskel and Ebert, or maybe, just maybe critics knew what we fans also did, this movie stunk. Siskel and Ebert gave the film 2 thumbs down 9, while Newsweek said simply "A lot of plastic lizards that scream are going to end up in the sale bin," 10 Japanese fans and critics were not much kinder either, "That's not Godzilla. He got killed with four missiles, but the Japanese Godzilla is almost bulletproof. And the Japanese Godzilla is handsome, but the American Godzilla is not," 11 said Yoshiyuki Kasuya as reported in the LA Times. Perhaps most telling is a quote from Shusuke Kaneko, the visionary director of the 90's Gamera trilogy, "It is interesting the US version runs about trying to escape missiles [Americans] seem unable to accept a creature that cannot be put down by their arms." 12 Another Japanese fan was able to sum up not only his feelings, but mine as well as many others quite succinctly, "My dreams were crushed." 13
PART 5: FALLOUT
The response to the film was extremely negative with many fans boycotting the film altogether, while others registered their disgust on the Centropolis message board where Dean Devlin made his infamous comment from above. The board was soon shut down due to "it being used against the film, Centropolis, and Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich" or at least that is what a Centropolis representative said, the truth was fans were mad. Fans all over the world were outraged, disgusted, and suddenly, empowered? Many fans channeled their anger productively and a massive letter writing campaign began, a campaign aimed at Toho to revive the real Godzilla. Toho had previously stated that there wouldn't be another Japanese series until 2004 but due to the massive fan response they caved and announced a new series that would debut in 1999, less than a year after the American fiasco. Toho weren't the only ones feeling the fans wrath, Centropolis and Tristar both were hit with lower than expected ticket sales and angry fan letters.
Plans for a proposed Devlin and Emmerich Godzilla trilogy were scrapped but a cartoon was still made. The cartoon featured the lone surviving Godzilla and some familiar characters, the main difference was this beast had his trademark breath attack (albeit a green ray instead of blue) and he was a hero who defended his friends from many other strange monsters. The cartoon series ran for 2 seasons and was a hit with fans as it presented a Godzilla more akin to his Japanese cousin, incidentally Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had little to do with the cartoon series. The one great thing that Godzilla did do is to reignite the Godzilla love for some "dormant" fans and it also spawned a whole new generation of children who will hopefully grow to love Godzilla as much as I also Toho and Tristar still have a very successful partnership wherein Tristar releases Toho's films in America and gets a cut of the profits and Toho gets a good amount of stateside exposure, currently there are no plans for a continuation of the Godzilla series in America, for now it seems the American Godzilla is dead, but you never know what could arise in the future, if we fans have learned one thing in Godzilla's extremely long history it is to expect the unexpected.
PART 6: FINAL ANALYSIS
Here's the last question, why did Godzilla fail? Was it his change in appearance? Was it his different attitude, personality, sexuality? Was it that the audience expected too much? Was it the poor acting? Was it the cheesy jokes? Was it the total disregard for what real fans have come to know and love as Godzilla? Well to answer those questions is yes, yes to all of them, but there is more, and for that I'll let our good friend Dean Devlin finish this essay "Well, I don't want to comment on someone else's films, but I can say from my own experience that when I concentrated only on the effect and not on the character and story, then the effect didn't have any power. The reality is, when we made Godzilla, we broke ground effects-wise. We did things that had never been done before and some things that still haven't been duplicated. Yet, when people talk about great effects in movies, no one ever talks about Godzilla... and believe me, it's not the quality of the effects it's really because you aren't involved, so the effects didn't have the impact on you. That ending sequence in Godzilla when he's walking on the bridge that's a completely digitally created bridge, digital brick, digital creature, the wires are digital, digital planes it was an amazing breakthrough and no one had ever done anything like that before yet people don't really talk about it. The bottom line is that we had not earned the love of that character at that moment. Had we... Had I I'll take full responsibility had I done a better job in writing the script, I think we'd still be talking about Godzilla today.14 I think what went wrong with GODZILLA is my fault," says the candid Devlin. "I think I did a really bad job of writing that script." 15