How NOT to Screw Up a New Godzilla Film
The first attempt at an all-American Godzilla as designed by William Stout. It was intended for the stop-motion-centric "Godzilla 3-D" back in 1983. Stout channeled a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a major factor for inspiration.
The second attempt came in 1993/94 for a script written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Longtime dinosaur fan Ricardo Delgado gave the Heisei Godzilla design a sleek look.
The third attempt was finally made into a film by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. The new monster was designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who tried some thing radical and new.
There is no doubt that Godzilla is an icon of popular culture. With 55 years, 28 films and hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide under his extra-extra-large belt, there's some serious baggage that comes with a name as well-known as Mickey Mouse and Superman.
Last week, Bloody-Disgusting.com leaked a news bite that Legendary Pictures, the folks behind a bevvy of recent hits such as The Dark Knight, The Hangover and 300, are "in early discussions" to possibly produce a new GODZILLA film. Further rumors point out that Weta Workshop, the wunderkids behind the effects for The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson's King Kong and District 9 are front-runners to handle the special effects wizardry.
A qualifying statement is in order: this is all just here-say. No official statement has been issued, and Toho is remaining tight-lipped on the project...if there even IS a project. It could very well fall through. Still, once word hit the internet that there was even the POTENTIAL for a new US-made film, the internet practically exploded. People not even known to be fans were posting like crazy about the possibility that Godzilla in all his reptilian fury could be stomping across screens once more. Quite honestly, Toho and Legendary would be complete and utter fools to let this opportunity pass them by.
There's no question that there is a huge potential for profit here, and that's what the studios are all for: making money. HOWEVER, that is if, and ONLY if, the proper steps are taken. There's no doubt that a profit is to be made regardless, because the simple fact is, while you can praise and worship Gojira 1954, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris and Cloverfield until the eagles choke, people DON'T go to monster movies for plot, script and acting (although those are all factors). They go to see GIANT MONSTERS BREAK STUFF. That's the reason while Godzilla 1998 was still a financial success; American moviegoers loves them some giant monsters.
Quick aside: why did I say "American"? Because I DON'T mean Japanese. That's right, the birthplace of the kaiju genre is experiencing a terrible downturn in giant monster interest...at least in films. Ultra Galaxy: Mega Monster Battle is currently one of the most popular children's shows in Japan, and it's all live-action monsters in rubber suits beating the snot out of each other in the tradition of Poke'mon, Digimon and YuGiOh (themselves all inspired by UltraSeven, so it's practically come full-circle). But the Ultra series aside, giant monsters are decidedly NOT on the minds of moviegoers in Japan. Gamera The Brave was a box-office flop, Godzilla: Final Wars performed terribly, King Kong did VERY poorly, and even Cloverfield underperformed in the Japanese box office. While monsters are an undeniable part of Japanese culture, they've turn their backs on the "big budget" monster feature in favor of kiddish TV fare...hey, it's the 70's all over again!
But Americans are definitely still in to giant monsters. Monsters vs. Aliens, though decidedly a family-film, was a huge success at the box office, and let's not forget Cloverfield. The excitement generated online over the vague possibility of a new US Godzilla film should be proof enough.
Of course, this brings me to a touchy subject that, despite my best attempts, I can't ignore: the 1998 Tristar Godzilla. It's a flick that will inevitably come up when discussing a potential Godzilla reboot, or hell, Godzilla in general. 1998 was a year that will live in infamy as "The Year of Godzilla." Seriously, Big G's name was EVERYWHERE. There was no doubt that it was the hottest film of 1998...well, suffice to say, it wasn't so hot anymore. I could go on for another two or three pages about why this film works and doesn't work, but I'll wrap things up here and move on to the potential new flick. The bottom line is, simply, it wasn't Godzilla, and that felt like a big missed opportunity for the franchise.
But 11 years have passed and mayhaps it's time to try again. The Toho series went out with a bang AND a whimper with Godzilla: Final Wars. But, as mentioned before, there's a helluvalotta' baggage that comes with a new, American-made film. What should be done? What shouldn't be done? Should it be done at all?
First and foremost, the topic on everyone's mind is what to do with the special effects? Many are rallying for a grassroots approach, rubber suits and all, while others are accepting that CGI may be the necessity in order to attract a modern, dumber audience that wants everything brighter and shinier. There's no argument that the rubber suit will cause a lot of confusion and ultimately turn a lot of people off from the project...THEN AGAIN, it is entirely possible to make rubber suits convincingly gigantic. Shinji Higuchi comes to mind (Google him, we don't have time to get into that here), but it's a foregone conclusion that CGI will be heavily utilized in SOME way. If the rumors are true and Weta does jump on board (and they'd be happy to do it) there's no doubt that there will be plenty of miniature sets. But the monsters themselves are the real issue...
One possible solution is the recent trend of "practical CGI," as I hath dubbed it, in which a physical object, often an elaborate suit ala Where the Wild Things Are and Land of the Lost is mapped over with a number of additional digital effects, be it for facial expressions, overall movement or what have you.
Know what I'D like to see? A suit actor, maybe Kitagawa, in a half-practical suit, the legs marked with digital reference dots to be made into convincing digitigrades later, and that long tail and a fiercely expressionate face ala KONG.
It goes without saying that this film also needs a really fun plot, and what's the easiest and most lucrative solution? MONSTERS, as in PLURAL. I'll put it simply for the business majors out there: more monsters means more toys. But on a more insightful note, putting more than one monster (and no, I DON'T mean a bunch of velociraptors hatched out of xenomorph eggs) will make the film infinitely more interesting than Godzilla having to carry it on his own. That only worked for ONE film, and even in Godzilla 1985 he had an enemy in the form of the Super X! We all know who Godzilla is, we don't need an entire film to re-acquaint us with the monster all on his lonesome.
Did I mention toys?
Speaking of toys-er, other monsters, what should be used? You'd be surprised at the thematic elements of storytelling that broil about when discussing this topic. I'm sure that many fans and even mainstream moviegoers will be dieing to see classic Toho beasties like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah fight Godzilla in his comeback flick...but it ain't gonna' happen, at least not likely. Word has it that Tristar, back in the day, payed literally millions of dollars for Godzilla alone...and I don't see Legendary shelling out the scratch for Gigan or Megalon. Chances are we'll have a non-Toho monster.
But what will we get? Storytelling aesthetic demands that the monster compliment Godzilla and be something of an antithesis. In the 1994 script, Godzilla was pit against "The Gryphon," a creature not unlike The Thing, specifically John Carpenter's version, in which it absorbs victims and gains their characteristics until it becomes a giant cougar-monster with bat wings, a mouth full of snakes and human-level intelligence. It's a nice enemy monster since it differs in origin, appearance, powers and personality, but, according to the script, Godzilla's destiny is to fight the thing, neatly tying things together.
A similar plot would be utilized for the proposed sequel to the 1998 film where "Zilla" would go up against a horde of mutated insects that have taken over an island, with the big boss being the "Queen Bitch," a sort of giant termite queen that, thanks to a quirk of evolution, Zilla is intended by nature to destroy. It'd be hella cool to see some new giant insect that isn't Mothra, Kamacuras or Megaguirus.
Basically, what I'm saying, is that we need an enemy monster, and preferably one that maybe turns Godzilla from a misunderstood villain into an anti-hero in one flick, that way the audience gets behind the Big G from the get-go...that's my opinion, anyway.
Another issue that I feel doesn't get addressed nearly enough is the human story YES BY GOD THERE ARE HUMANS IN GODZILLA FILMS WHAAAAT???
Anywho, I feel that the '94 script did something that more Godzilla films need: something for the humans to do. Final Wars did manage to make the human scenes entertaining, but they would up horning in on the kaiju screentime and ultimately stealing the plot itself. In the '94 script, as well as in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah; Giant Monsters All Out Attack, not to mention a good chunk of the Showa films, the humans are given plenty to do without distracting from the crisis at hand. In the '94 script, they take an active role in the final battle by (spoilers) actually saving Godzilla so he can defeat the Gryphon.
Like it or not, the human characters in Godzilla films are there to carry the story. While films like Godzilla 2000 badly fall short of this, alternatives like Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster keep the humans relevant and interesting.
A final thought: perhaps the most important aspects, especially for myself and the Godzilla fans out there, is that Godzilla's spirit and character must remain in-tact. Sure, his origin changes, his role changes, and his look changes, but Godzilla's FIGHTING SPIRIT must remain in-tact. In other words, the Big G is a bona-fide BAD ASS. He does not run from fights. He is a role model for young boys in that he don't take no guff from no one. He's GODZILLA, dammit.
- a fan who likes to think he knows what he's talking about.