Thursday, June 10, 2010

The "Never Got Made" File #17: GODZILLA 3-D

When it comes to massive movie monsters that would make an impact in 3-D, Godzilla seems to be a perfect fit. However, despite putting the cinematic chomp on towns for over 55 years, the Big Lizard has never had a chance to blow his atomic breath in three dimensions. But he came awfully close in the early 1980s.

Fresh off the success of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, director Steve Miner contacted Toho Studios, home of Godzilla, in 1982 and secured the rights to monster franchise. And he had big plans for the beast as the enthusiastic Miner told Cinefantastique in 1983:

“For a long time I felt the classic monster movie – one giant beast against a city – has not been properly treated with the post-STAR WARS technology. Having explored only the very surface of what 3-D could possibly offer, it became clear that there could be a perfect marriage between monsters and 3-D. I was a big Godzilla fan as a kid, and Godzilla is the most monster of all-time.”
“The approach is to make the best monster movie ever made. The movie will be very much in the spirit of the original Godzilla film, but it is a totally new film played absolutely straight. It is going to be scary, full of suspense. It is diametrically opposed to the more recent Godzilla films, and we’re getting away from the ‘man in the suit’ concept for the monster. We’ll be using stop-motion animation to bring the creature to life.”
Miner hired neophyte screenwriter Fred Dekker to pen the script. Openly admitting that he cribbed a story device from GORGO (1961), Miner had the idea of Godzilla crushing an American city while he searched for its child. Major characters in the script include:
*Peter Daxton – a US Navy Colonel who wears an eye patch thanks to a previous scuffle with a Russian rival
*Boris Kruschov – a KGB agent who is missing a hand thanks to his scuffle with Daxton; in its place is a long blade
*Dana Martin – a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who is investigating the events surrounding the mysterious attacks who teams with Daxton
*Balinger – a UC Berkley paleontologist who joins Martin and Daxton
*Kevin Daxton – Peter’s ten-year-old son who just happens to love lizards and knows how to escape being tied up a la Houdini (oh boy!)
The plot synopsis: Godzilla and its baby are awoken after an errant meteor hits a US satellite, causing a nuclear missile to be fired into the Pacific Ocean. Things go wrong right away as a Japanese fishing boat is attacked and a Russian nuclear submarine goes missing. Dana Martin sneaks onto the quarantined Japanese boat and finds a prehistoric fossil, which she takes to Balinger. Meanwhile, Daxton locates the missing Russian sub off the coast of Mexico and commandeers all relevant material from the destroyed sub including two nuclear missiles. Naturally this doesn’t sit well with Daxton’s old rival, KGB agent Kruschov. Back in San Francisco, Daxton, his son and Balinger are called to Mexico when a large, dead creature washes ashore. This is Godzilla’s baby (which took out both vessels) and they take it back to the San Francisco where they keep it in a warehouse to study. Naturally, you can guess what happens next. The Big G surfaces by the Golden Gate Bridge and takes it out before unleashing a massive beat down on The City by the Bay. Daxton and his team then try to lure Godzilla to the island prison of Alcatraz with sounds of its baby record by the sub before shooting it down with some handy Russian nukes.

From my feeble summary, it sounds like Dekker wrote a pretty enjoyable if clichéd monster flick. The more detailed synopsis in the book Japan’s Favorite Mon-ster shows it is really just an amalgamation of every great monster movie before it from KING KONG (both versions) to JAWS (1975). Hell, it even sounds like there is some ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and SUPERMAN (1978) thrown in there and some early 80s Cold War hysteria that would make ROCKY IV (1985) blush. Interestingly, Dekker mentions in the book that casting ideas included Powers Boothe as the heroic military man Daxton, then unknown Demi Moore as reporter Martin and Jeff Goldblum as aloof scientist Balinger (foreshadowing his work in JURASSIC PARK and INDEPENDENCE DAY). Dekker also seems to have committed the unforgivable sin of most folks doing a remake – thinking they can improve upon (and therefore needlessly complicate) the origin story. So instead of Godzilla being a dinosaur awakened and mutated by nuclear testing, the big green one is, according to the script review, “a pseudo-scientific mishmash in which Godzilla is said to be a pre-dinosaurian life form, hailing from an era when such creatures had nuclear fission occurring in their bodies (this accounts for Godzilla's atomic breath, which is his fatal weakness, enabling the heroes to kill him by firing missiles down his throat, causing a nuclear implosion).”

Script in hand, director Miner set off to pitch the project to every studio in town. He even hired renowned illustrator William Stout (pictured left, with a model of his design), fresh off CONAN THE BARBARIAN, to help re-design the creature. Stout had an interesting take on the creature, as he mentions in the Japan’s Favorite Mon-ster book:
“I wanted to get away from something you could obviously tell was a man in a suit, and deliver a creature that people could either completely believe, or if they doubted it at all, they'd go, "How in the hell did they do that?" I gave him a more dinosaur-lilke configuration in the legs, to begin with, so it didn't look like there was just a guy in there with human legs. Then I began to develop a muscualar structure that was believable. It was based on Allosaurus, which has arms that actually function, as opposed to those of a T-rex, which are basically useless.”
Stout provided models, sketches and storyboards as well for Godzilla’s big city attack that would take place all over San Francisco.


Unfortunately, no studio seemed willing enough to take the risk. Miner pitched the project around to everyone but they all balked at the $30 million dollar budget projection. He should have hit up Dino De Laurentiis, who had no problem dropping $24 million on the KING KONG remake. In the end, Miner continued to toil on the project for 2 years, even pitching it for half the budget figure in 1984 before his option ran out. Ironically, after years of gestation – which also saw director Jan DeBont’s version snuffed for being too costly – the US remake came into being in 1998 “thanks” to Roland Emmerich and a budget of $130 million. You gotta love Hollywood sometimes.

Interestingly, another GODZILLA 3-D project emerged from Japan in 2005 when director Yoshimitsu Banno – who previously helmed GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971; aka GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER) – announced he would be creating a 40-minute 3-D Godzilla feature to be screened in IMAX. The proposed project was to feature Godzilla battling all over the world from Tokyo to Las Vegas to save humanity. For more details on the development, check out the 7/13/05 update in the archive at the excellent Henshin! Online site. Despite a wealth of details on the project, it also never came to fruition, although Toho is rumored to still be toying with the GODZILLA IMAX idea. Audiences, however, will probably get to see the G-man in 3-D as it has been announced that Legendary Pictures is prepping another US remake which will most like take advantage of the current 3-D craze.

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