Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Four American Godzilla Films

One of the few times that Hollywood has taken a stab at producing a Godzilla film; the result was the universally panned Godzilla (1998) directed by big budget event film specialist Roland Emmerich. The anticipation for that film was pretty high; I remember everyone wanted to know what the King of All Monsters was going to look like on this new film because Sony was keeping the look of the creature under wraps. Their plan was that the only way you would get a chance to see the beast is by going to see the film. Concept art leaked onto the internet, but no one was really sure if it was the creatures’ true look. When audiences finally paid their movie ticket and got a look at this new Godzilla, most where disappointed because it wasn’t really Godzilla, at least not the way they remembered him from all of his Japanese adventures. 

Even though Godzilla’s new design displeased many a Godzilla fan, this didn’t stop American audiences from seeing this new Godzilla, which went on to make 379 million at the box office. And though a lot of people hated it, I personally had a lot of fun with it. I mean, yeah, technically this wasn’t really Godzilla; it was more of a lame attempt to make Godzilla “cooler” or un-cheesy. But as a monster movie? I think it has its moments. And it has some awesome special effects sequences. Those scenes with Godzilla tangled on the San Francisco Bridge? Classic monster movie mayhem! I think this film would have garnered less hatred if it had completely disassociated itself from the Godzilla franchise. People were expecting Godzilla, and they didn’t get it, so they hated the film. Problem is that this particular Godzilla movie was missing a lot of what makes a Godzilla movie a Godzilla movie. For example, Godzilla doesn’t fight other giant monsters! Godzilla doesn’t fire laser beams out of his mouth! His back doesn’t light up! Roland Emerich’s prime concern with making this film was to get away from the cheese factor as much as possible. Unfortunately, anyone who’s watched Godzilla films knows that cheesiness and Godzilla go hand in hand. It just goes with the territory. You can’t fight it, you have to accept it, engulf it. Only then will you enjoy a film where Godzilla fights giant Moths that shoot laser beams from their eyes. But no, from day one Emmerich was always thinking about getting away from the cheesiness. Was this a good move? Well, it certainly made no dent in the films box office intake, but Godzilla fans were not pleased. 

Godzilla thrashes the streets of New York City

Emmerich’s approach for making this film was to totally redesign Godzilla; to get as far away as he could from the original Japanese design. Truth be told, at first Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin wanted nothing to do with this new Godzilla movie. Another bad omen if you ask me. Why try and get two guys to make a film that they don’t have any passion for? But Sony had their hearts set on getting Devlin and Emmerich to make their new Godzilla because these were the guys who made the multi million dollar box office success known as Independence Day (1994). Surely they knew a thing or two about making a successful summer blockbuster, let alone a new Godzilla movie! Emmerich thought Godzilla was simply too silly a concept for him to develop. His outlook on the project changed when Patrick Tatopoulos redesigned the creature from the ground up. Understandably so, Emmerich didn’t want a man in a suit for his film. So he got Patrick Tatopoulos to give Godzilla a new look. Tatopoulos had previously worked for Devlin and Emmerich designing the creatures of Stargate (1994) and the aliens for Independence Day (1996). Once Emmerich saw Tatopoulos’s new design, he liked it so much that he knew that this was they way he wanted to go with his new take on Godzilla! 

Concept art for Godzilla (1998)

When the time came to start production, Patrick Tatopoulos actually traveled to Japan to meet with 30 Toho Studios officials to reveal his new Godzilla designs. When he unraveled his creation to them in drawing and sculpture form, they were met with a resounding silence. Tatopoulos went back home thinking the meeting had gone wrong, but to his surprise, the next day he was informed that Toho had approved the new creature design. That even though it was different, it still captured what Godzilla was all about. All they saw was a big budget summer blockbuster being produced by Hollywood which would eventually reap monetary results if the film became a hit. In the end Japanese audiences loathed the new film calling it “Godzilla in name only”. Kenpachiro Satsuma, an actor who’s portrayed Godzilla in various Japanese films walked out of a Tokyo screening saying that “It’s not Godzilla, it does not have the spirit” Essentially, what Emmerich’s film did was turn Godzilla into a big animal searching for food and looking for a place to procreate, while in the Japanese movies Godzilla was something closer to a God walking the earth. In the original Japanese films Godzilla would emerge to punish humanity for their abuse of the earth, other times he’d be the protector of the earth. Sometimes he’s a mix of both! But on Emmerich’s film he is neither of those. Emmerich stripped Godzilla of its godliness. Japanese have referenced Godzilla (1998) in some of their subsequent Godzilla films. For example in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) the Japanese Godzilla actually goes up against the American Godzilla which they call ‘Zilla’. The battle transpires rather quickly, and Japanese Godzilla kicks Zilla’s ass in a matter of seconds. Then one of the characters in the movie calls Zilla a “Good for nothing Tuna eating monster” Which I guess pretty much surmises how the Japanese felt about Emmerich’s film. It was an insult to their beloved icon. 

Godzilla gets up close and personal with his American co-stars

But Emmerich’s Godzilla film wasn’t the first time Hollywood tried to take a stab at making a Godzilla film. Actually, they tried twice before! And both times, the projects came close to getting made, then caput; nothing. Whatever came of those projects? Why didn’t they ever come into fruition? Well, as some of you might already know, I am a huge fan of conceptual artwork, if you havent done so already, check out my article on Conceptual Artwork for Films That Never Got Made. For me its always fun to go through these projects that never got to exist. Well, in my thirst for knowledge on all things Godzilla I came upon not one but two American Godzilla films that never happened. And they actually looked like they were going to be cool films! They both had great creative teams behind them! Sadly, at the time studios had no faith in putting so many millions on a what they considered to be ‘children’s films’. And in order to do these films right, these filmmakers were going to need mucho dinero, which the studios were reluctant to give. So both projects were shelved. But there are pictures and storyboards of these projects, which I’ve posted for your viewing enjoyment. So without further ado, I give you the Two Godzilla’s that Never Where! 


Director: Steve Miner

Writer: Fred Dekker

The first of the two shelved Godzilla projects was going to be directed by Steve Miner, the main driving force behind this project. Right now Steve Miner isnt regarded as much of a director. Recently he was responsible for the abortion that was Day of the Dead (2008). Boy was that a bad movie and not in a fun way. It wasn’t even a proper remake of George Romero’s original Day of the Dead film. But, once upon a time, he was a director making profitable horror movies like Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3. He’d also directed the fun haunted house flick House (1986) and the first Warlock (1989) film. He knew his way around a film, and this Godzilla was shaping up to be his biggest endeavor yet.

Story Boards for Steve Miner's proposed Godzilla film by William Stout

Miner had a respectable filmography at the time, a bunch of profitable horror films under his belt. He looked like the right guy for the job! His experience in working with 3-D on Friday the 13th 3D was going to be put to good use because his proposed Godzilla film was going to be 3-D! In fact, it was going to be called Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3-D, nifty title right? The writer behind this proposed Godzilla flick was non other than Fred Dekker, the director behind Night of the Creeps (1986) and Monster Squad (1987), not a bad couple of films if you ask me. Plus, he’d written a bunch of Tales from the Crypt episodes, and he’d worked with Miner before writing the script for House (1986). Fred Dekker is a connoisseur of sci-fi and monster films from all eras, so he knew a thing or two about what a good Godzilla movie was all about. Dekker’s story was going to have a meteorite hitting one of the U.S. militaries satellites and accidentally setting off a nuclear attack that would ultimately end up resurrecting Godzilla. The film was going to end with an all out battle between the U.S. army and Godzilla on Alcatraz island!

Godzilla animatronic made for Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3-D, sadly, it was never used

And finally, conceptual artwork and storyboards were handled by artist extraordinaire, William Stout. Even special make up effects legend Rick Baker was called in to make an animatronic head for Godzilla’s close ups! They even built an animatronic of Godzilla that was never used! ILM and Dreamquest would have worked in conjunction to deal with the films extensive fx work! The proposed budget for the project was a measly 30 million. Tame by today’s standards, but back then the studios considered it a big price tag for what they considered a children’s film, so the project was scrapped. Considering how many talented inviduals were going to be involved in making this film, I’d say the studio was getting a bargain price for this awesome movie! 

But Godzilla was not ready to die just yet…. the next attempt to resurrect Godzilla in Hollywood would be:

Concept art  by Stan Winston Studios for what would have been Godzilla '94  


Director: Jan De Bont

Writers: Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott, Donald McPherson

This project was the precursor to Devlin and Emmerich’s eventual film. Tristar had been aching to do a Godzilla movie and they’d hired Terry Rossi and Ted Elliott to write a script for the proposed film. Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott are two guys who have lots of experience writing big budget money makers for studios like Disney and Dreamworks. These are the guys responsible for writing the whole Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. So Tristar hired them for the script. Next, they brought in Jan De Bont who wanted to make a Godzilla that would be faithful to the spirit of the Japanese Godzilla films but at the same time offer up some cutting edge special effects. He employed the talents of Stan Winston Studios for the creature designs. The designs speak for themselves. The Gryphon creature was going to be an awesome villain!

The 'Probe-Bat' creatures for Godzilla '94 by Stan Winston Studios, sadly they were never used! 

I have to say, I think this was going to be an awesome Godzilla movie. Of these two projects that never came to be, I think this one was going to be the most faithful to the old Godzilla films. It was going to have Godzilla go up against another giant monster called The Gryphon! It was going to have aliens, ancient civilizations and the two creatures destroying all of Manhattan during their cataclysmic fight!  Godzilla was going to have that classic Godzilla look, yet at the same time look pretty freaking cool! The final fight was going to take place on Ellis Island with Godzilla taking the Gryphon’s head and placing it on the Statue of Liberties torch!

The awesomeness that could have been Godzilla '94

This project went as far as building sets, but once again, it was the budget that scared the studio away. De Bont wanted 130 million and the studio wanted to make the film with much less, so De Bont stepped down. Ironic thing is that even though Emmerich agreed to make the film for 65 million, Emmerich’s film ended up costing more then 150 million plus promotional costs. So in the end, it would have cost them less to more or less the same to make it with Jan De Bont, by the looks of it, it would have  been an even better film than Godzilla (1998) was, but I guess we'll never really know will we?
Conceptual artwork for The Grypon 

Well, that’s it folks. I guess what these two defunct projects show us is that a lot of planning and work can go into planning a film, but if in the end you don’t convince the studios (read: the guys with the money) then chances are your project will go nowhere.  Even if you are a big shot director like De Bont was at the time. Also, it shows us that Hollywood doesnt know a good deal when they see it. The creative teams behind these flicks were beyond cool, and I would've loved to see both of these movies get made. But alas, Hollywood likes to play it too safe some times.  Gareth Edward's the director behind Monsters (2010) is the next director to attempt making a Godzilla film for Hollywood. He seems to have a genuine love for monster movies, so lets see what happens. The project is happening under Legendary Pictures, here's some conceptual artwork for how Godzilla might end up looking in that picture, what say you guys?

Well, thats it for now boys and girls. Look forward to more Godzilla movie reviews; I will be posting a couple more in the coming days! As always thanks for reading. And if you want to read more reviews on Godzilla films, go here!


Mr. Fiendish said...

Tremendo reportaje, Franco, aprendi mucho que no sabia, y para un fanatico de Godzilla, es mucho decir.

Creo que si hay que mencionar, que es algo que no mencionaste, es que el Godzilla americano es destruido por los militares. Sabemos que Emmerich tiene el bicho parao' siempre por los militares americanos, pero tu sabes que Godzilla nunca puede morir por armas humanas, asique cuando lo destruyen los tanques, es la cosa mas ridicula que se puede haber visto. Esta pelicula hubiera sido mejor si la hubieran llamado por otro nombre, o si hubiera sido un remake de The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Pero creo que tenia mas que ver por la fiebre de Jurassic Park, por eso los bebe-Godzillas actuan como velociraptors.

Godzilla Vs. The Gryphon pudo haber sido brutal.

venoms5 said...

Great stuff as always, Fran! Only this GODZILLA from 1998 was a bomb here. It grossed under 140 million here versus a 130 million budget minus marketing. I remember there was a lot of consternation surrounding the film post release since both the makers and the studio were so sure this was going to be a massive success. Both Devlin and Emmerich got a lot of much deserved bad press, too after they more or less spit on the original series in interviews and ultimately ignored a string of requests from Toho regarding the treatment of the monster.

I was working at Taco Bell part time when this came out and the fast food company was threatened with law suits if the promotional stuff got leaked out before the release date. We couldn't open the boxes or anything till the day the film opened. Needless to say, I went to see it twice to make sure I hadn't imagined how shitty it was. This giant iguana ran from the military, didn't breath fire of any kind and managed to hide in the NY subway system(!!!) undetected(!!!!!). A stupid movie all around rivaled only by the Japanese version of Hara Kiri that is FINAL WARS.

Franco Macabro said...

(Hey I can reply in Spanish too! Im a multi-talented fellow)

Me alegro que te haya gustado el articulo Beto, este tipo do cosa muchas veces no sale a la luz publica, hay muchos proyectos asi, que casi llegaron a ser, pero nunca lo fueron. Los restros son estos interesantes artefactos como el arte conceptual, las estatuillas, y a veces, como en el caso de lo que hubiese sido Godzilla '94, quedan hasta sets hechos, que nunca se llegaron a usar.

Estoy de acuerdo contigo Beto, eso de los Baby Godzillas fue por la fiebre de Jurassic Park y la novedad en aquella epoca por los efectos de computadoras. A mi entender, Godzilla desaparece por largos ratos de la pelicula y le prestan mas atencion a los velociraptors.

Estoy de acuerdo con otro titulo, quizas la pelicula no hubiese recibido tanto odio como el que recibio cuando estreno, de hecho muchos de los fans de Godzilla la odian, yo personalmente la encuentro entretenida.

Lo de Godzilla contra el ejercito siempre ha sido parte de estas peliculas, aunque solo una vez los humanos lograron destruir a Godzilla y fue en Gojira donde los humanos utilizaron el "oxygen destroyer" para desintegrar a Godzilla. Esa fue la unica vez donde los humanos ganaron contra Godzilla utilizando sus propias armas.

Normalmente a Godzilla lo tumba solo una cosa: otra criatura igual de gigante, y mas poderosa, como KIng Gihdora!

Glad you liked the article man! Coming from you that means a lot, you're such a Godzilla fan! Coming up next, reviews for Attack of the Astro Monster and King Gihdora: The Three Headed Monster! Be on the look out for those, I wanna hear what you got to say!

Franco Macabro said...

@ Venom5: Yeah, the box office numbers I mentioned were worldwide, it made a lot of money outside of the U.S., but not as much as they expected in the U.S. itself. Still, it made its budget back, so the Studio was happy.

I did read a couple of interviews where Emmerich expressed how much he wanted to get away from the old movies. He definetly had an update in mind. A leaner, more monstrous look. Maybe this movie would have been better had it been titled something else, kind of the same situation that Halloween III went through. That wasnt a bad movie, but most people hate it because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers. Had it been called Season of the Witch, things would have been different. I myself think Halloween III is actually an entertaining film, same as Godzilla 98.

I guess I eliminate expectations or association with the previous films and just enjoy it for what it is, a pretty cool monster movie. Not a masterpiece of filmmaking, but it entertains. I love those scenes when Godzilla first emerges from the sea and starts munching on that truck while crossing the street!

That Taco Bell story is pretty funny! That just shows how paranoid they were with the secrecy for this movie! They really wanted to get a mystery worked up around the look of the monster for its promotional campaign! I think it worked, most people went to see the film to see what the new Godzilla looked like.

FINAL WARS, hee heee, that was a special one. I just got through seeing it! I'll be posting a review on Monday. I thought it was a pretty funny movie by the way, very much like a comic book. But I'll let you read about that on Monday, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on FINAL WARS!

Cal said...

wow! I never even knew of the twwo shelved projects, fantastic and insightfull article

Unknown said...

Wow, that was some great background info on U.S. Godzilla films that never happened. I didn't know any of that stuff!

As for Emmerich's version. I think that what killed that film for me was the atrocious acting and gahd-awful dialogue - making the Japanese versions look like Shakespeare in comparison! Okay, maybe not that bad but all of the characters were broad stereotypes and played to the cheap seats with annoying affectations all except Jean Reno who played it as cool as he possibly could under the circumstances.

And I won't even get into the Puff Daddy/Jimmy Page mash-up!

Franco Macabro said...

@Cal: Glad you found it insightful Cal!

@J.D.: Yeah, the acting was cartoonish most of the time, but then again, Godzilla films were never known for having great actors playing the human roles.

Actually, I would dare say that the cast for Godzilla 98 acted better then the cast of a lot of other Godzilla movies I could mention.

Jean Reno was my favorite in the film, he made me laugh when he chewed gum and talked like Elvis in order to pass off as an american! One thing I never did quite understand was why did they add that angle about the french secret police being interested in all things Godzilla? I never did quite understand that connection in the film.

Jack Thursby said...

Awesome, awesome article. I've watched every Godzilla flick and never even heard about these "almost" films. Love that you've included all the costume designs and stuff.

Definitely adding this site to my blogs to watch.

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you liked it Jack, I was amazed myself to find out all this information, there's more production art work spread around the net, especially for the one that was going to be 3-D, they did extensive storyboarding on that one!

Glad your enjoying the blog, thats what its all about!

Bill said...

I was the production designer on the Steve Miner Godzilla. In addition to Rick Baker we had Dave (Caveman) Allen scheduled to do the film's stop motion animation. Paleoartist Steve Czerkas sculpted the preliminary stop motion figure (with a fully functional armature) based upon my designs. Most of the film was storyboarded by Dave (Rocketeer) Stevens, Doug (Jonny Quest) Wildey and myself, under my supervision. Fred Dekker wrote a phenomenal script. Steve Miner later proved himself to be an incredibly talented and sensitive director of non-sci-fi/horror genre films. It was a real dream team. Had we been able to make the film, I was scheduled to direct the next related film project, a remake of Rodan, with Steve producing.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting Bill, it's great when someone who has been a part of an actual film production comments! Cool to know that Dave Stevens, the creator/artist of The Rocketeer was part of this would be project.

And wow, a modern take on Rodan, that would have been awesome in deed, I can only imagine what you guys would have come up with! It's so sad when so much time an effort gets put into a possible production, only for it to languish and eventually die in pre-production hell..kind of reminds me of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his proposed take on Frank Herbert's DUNE. Another project that never came to be.

Fred Dekker is an awesome director in my book, I've seen all of his films and Tales from the Crypt episodes he directed, you could tell he's a real fan of the genre, a lover of sci-fi and horror, a guy who appreciates these things for real. I mean, Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps, thats an awesome double whammy of awesomeness right there!

Too bad both of those films didn't catch on with audiences at the time, but I tell you, it's not because they are bad films...they were just misunderstood. The life these films still have is a testament to how much people love them.

It would have been an interesting thing to see what Miner and Dekker dreamed up with Godzilla! Too bad it never came to be, the story boards alone make it look exciting, it was obviously going to be all kinds of awesome. But I guess HOllywood is always cautious with these types of films, they are always afraid of losing money. As if they had no faith in these films so sad.

Glad to hear theres a new American Godzilla film in the works, I will be paying lots of attention to that one. Again, thanks for commenting and giving us some insider info Bill, much appreciated

Unknown said...

The French secret police/leggionare did what they did because they had a part in the creation of the bomb(s) that created Zilla. They should've just called the movie Zilla, although I liked it quite a bit. Especially the design of the creature! Beautifully done.

Zillaman67 said...

Very glad that the Steve Miner 'Godzilla King of all the Monsters' didn't happen!The Godzilla looks ridiculous-the head is too big, and it looks too much like a tyrannosaur's head. Also if it was being viewed as a 'children's film' it most likely would have sucked. BTW-in one of you Godzilla '98 your caption reads: The Tri-Star Godzilla '98 trashes the city' (or something like that) I must remind you that he 'trashed' the city by running away from the army like a scared rabbit. That was NOT Godzilla-it is now known (officially thanks to Toho's displeasure)as 'Zilla'-a kaiju that was misidentified as Godzilla. That should tell how badly Emmerich's film sucked. A Godzilla that runs and hides, lays eggs because it's 'A-Sexual'(gag), gets lured by piles of little fishies,and looks like a giant iguana with a cash-register jaw? Nope sorry-Tri-Star/Emmerich FAILED miserably. Need to point out a glaring error in another caption. The creature from DeBont's (unproduced) Godzilla film is NOT the 'Gryphon' is a probe bat-creatures the Gryphon mutates in a cave when he arrives on earth, and sends out to explore the planet and get information and genetics from earth creatures. Gryphon eventually becomes a mutated hybrid of several earth animals.Google 'Stan Winston's Godzilla'and you will see the ACTUAL maquette of the Gryphon (Winston is holding it)-it looks outrageous. I wish DeBont's film would have been made rather than that stinking pile of manure we got from Devlin/Emmerich! At least Winston's design was faithful to the true Godzilla design! Legendary and Gareth Edwards (God bless him) are doing it RIGHT...we are only 18 days away from the TRUE King of the Monsters!!! :)

Franco Macabro said...

Brandon Cruise: Yeah, agree, they shoud've just called it something else instead of Godzilla, I am one of the ones who actually enjoys that movie, but I dont really see it as a Godzilla movie.

Zillaman67: Godzilla thrashed New York, there's no mistake in that caption. I did fix the captions about the gryphon and the bat creatures, thanks for pointing that out!

I would've loved to see Miners version, it seems to me it had the true Godzilla spirit, unfortunately, back then studios didn't think Godzilla was marketable. But what do they know right?

I am salivating over this new Godzilla film, I can't wait! Thanks for commenting Zillaman '67

Pinky said...

Hello, I stumbled on this site researching MARTYRS. I must add that the 1998 GODZILLA was a marketing blunder.
The film was a remake of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, not Godzilla. If one views this film through the lens of Harryhausen, it's a very, very good remake of "THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS." My 2-cents.

Franco Macabro said...

Never saw it as a remake of that film, but now that you mention it its true. I've always thought it was a mistake to call it Godzilla. Thanks for reading!

Crashbandicoot65 said...

This giant iguana looks more realistic that Rat head with kangaroo body made by toho
a suit lol this overrated thing for children


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