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THE TRI-STAR GODZILLA FILM

The G-film from Tri-Star Pictures, which was released on Memorial Day 1998, was finally given the green light after several years of exhaustive deliberation.
Several scripts were apparently proposed and rejected, with the most well known rejectee being the work penned by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, which was to be directed by Jan DeBont. This script was evidently tossed aside due to the astronomical (if justified) budget of $120 million that DeBont asked for.

In an article by Timothy D. Gallagher (who I am indebted to for the following source material, and who has himself written a script for a Godzilla film) which appeared in G-FAN #24, the script was critiqued, and Mr. Gallagher had this to say about it:

Abandoning the original script should be greeted as good news by G-fans, especially if they’ve had a chance to read it. Technically, it is a well-constructed screenplay and reads very quickly, which is to be expected; Messrs. Elliot and Rossio are professional screenwriters and know their craft very well. The script could be the basis of a decent monster movie. However, there are a couple of factors that are not in its favor. First, the story, although a good monster story, is a terrible Godzilla story. Second, a movie with a very similar script has already been made.

The last point enumerated by Timothy was the fact that Elliot and Rossio’s script bore an uncanny resemblance to the storyline of the 1994 kaiju film Gamera, The Guardian Of The Universe, which was Daei’s extremely well-received first entry into the new Gamera film series. In fact, the script may very well make a fairly decent American made Gamera film, as the monster in the movie is portrayed as a hero, a Western stereotypical image of Godzilla.
For those who wish to read Tim’s excellent comparison of the two films, acquire a copy of G-FAN #24.
As for the Elliot and Rossio script, the work was dated December 9, 1994, and is listed as a second polish revision. The story goes as follows:

In the middle of the Arctic, Russian soldiers are excavating old nuclear reactor cores that were dropped into the frozen sea and abandoned by the former Soviet Union. Suddenly, one of the desecrated reactors explodes and creates a crack in the icy ground. A reddish-black substance suddenly seeps from the fissure, and the U.S. military soon arrives to investigate.
As Drs. Keith and Jill Llewellyn study the substance, they believe that it’s an organic mixture that somewhat resembles amniotic fluid. Soon afterwards, an enormous creature is found within the fissure, and the kaiju promptly awakens and breaks free. The military personnel attack the creature, and several are killed, including Dr. Keith Llewellyn. As Jill desperately radios for help, the monster disappears into the cold Arctic Sea.

Meanwhile, an alien probe arrives on Earth and captures several animals, including a cougar and a bat. Bringing the animals to an underwater cavern, the probe utilizes its scientific equipment to merge and mutate the helpless creatures.
Concurrently, two investigators, named Aaron Vaught and Marty Kenoshita, arrive in Japan to study hurricane damage in a remote village, when they are told that it was actually a giant monster called Godzilla that caused the destruction. Vaught, who is an expert on mythological creatures, explains that 'Godzilla' is the name of the primal dragon in Japanese mythology. As a result of his knowledge, the U.S. government acquires his assistance in tracking down and destroying Godzilla.

Upon visiting the fissure where Godzilla was imprisoned, a huge chamber is discovered that contains relics of advanced technology from an alien race. Thus, it’s soon discovered that Godzilla is actually a creation of ancient alien genetic engineering. The reddish-black substance, which initially seeped out of the fissure, turns out to be a substance used by the long-gone alien race to inhibit and control Godzilla’s internal nuclear fire. Marty Kenoshita accidentally re-activates some of the alien technology and his body is “infected” and taken over by it, requiring him to be flown to a hospital back in the U.S.

Godzilla soon arrives in San Francisco amidst a sea of panic. However, the military was informed that the amniotic fluid-like substance was the key to controlling the kaiju, and when it is sprayed over the monster after a brief conflict with the military, Godzilla is quickly subdued (he passes out on top of the Golden Gate Bridge). Airlifted across country to a base in New York City, Godzilla is held captive there.
In the meantime, Marty Kenoshita mutates into a simulacrum of one of the ancient aliens who created Godzilla (“back when the Earth had three moons,” whatever that means) and he warned his cohorts about the recent arrival to Earth of an alien probe from a rival alien race, just as it previously did in the past history of the planet, for the purpose of creating another monster to destroy humanity.
Godzilla was created to counter any such threats to humanity, according to the Marty-alien, who dies right after delivering the revelation [like I said, a perfect idea for a Gamera movie, and this was exactly the same origin for the big turtle in Gamera, The Guardian Of The Universe, albeit involving the inhabitants of the ancient continents of Atlantis and Lemuria/Mu, and not alien civilizations].

Meanwhile, true to the alien’s warning, the alien probe creates a doomsday kaiju called the Gryphon, due to its resemblance to the mythological animal with that name, a creature that was half lion and half eagle. This flying monster, which can also project lightening-like bolts of energy, soon appears in Utah and destroys a small town, devouring several hapless humans in the process.
Godzilla, who is kept insensate from a collar around his neck, which contains several tanks of the amniotic fluid, senses the presence of the Gryphon and breaks free from his captivity. The two monsters finally clash in New York City. At first, the Gryphon has the advantage due to the fact that the collar of amniotic fluid tanks around Godzilla’s neck render him incapable of utilizing his fiery breath (presumably, this Godzilla’s breath power wasn’t radioactive in nature).
When the collar is torn from Godzilla’s neck during the battle, however, the heroic kaiju unleashes his full power and destroys the Gryphon, sticking the creature’s severed head on one of the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge. His mission complete, Godzilla returns to the sea, with Dr. Jill Llewellyn and the military realizing that the monster is humanity’s friend, and that he will return to save the human race again if the need ever arises.

It is quite evident here that Elliot and Rossio attempted to create a politically correct Godzilla by revamping his origin to absolve the U.S. government of any blame in the creation of the monster due to its reckless testing of nuclear weapons in the past. Godzilla is portrayed as first a misunderstood beast, and then as a bonafide hero, making him into an American version of Gamera, and acceding to the faulty American image of the Kaiju King. Much criticism was given to the fact that the military defeats Godzilla so easily, and the fact that Godzilla was given relatively small amounts of page space in the script, implying that the human plot would have dragged on too much if the script was made into a movie.
However, as bad as the Elliot and Rossio script might have been for a G-film, it was certainly far better and more respectful than the script by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin that was ultimately approved by Tri-Star.

The following is a synopsis and evaluation of Tri-Star Pictures’ Godzilla.

GODZILLA (1998)

U.S. release date: May 20, 1998, by Tri-Star Pictures.
Audience attendance: Unknown, but the film reportedly grossed slightly over $50,000,00.00 its first weekend.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenwriters: Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
Sfx: Industrial Light and Magic staff
Musical score: Various American artists (for specifics, check out the Godzilla movie soundtrack CD or cassette tape).
Available on home video by Tri-Star Video.

Synopsis:

Several ships and submarines in the Caribbean Sea are mysteriously destroyed by an unidentified gigantic creature. One surviving Japanese crewmember, who is in shock from the ordeal, names the creature “Godzilla,” after a legendary sea monster in Japanese mythology.
Attempting to locate the amphibious monster, and suspecting that Godzilla is a radioactively spawned mutation of some sort, the U.S. military recruits the assistance of young biologist Nick Tatopoulos, who specializes in finding and studying creatures who were mutated by radiation. Enthusiastically taking the job, Tatopoulos is fruitless until Godzilla actually shows up in New York City, inadvertently damaging large portions of the metropolis as he searches for food. The creature soon vanishes after burrowing underground.

Tatopoulos and the military promptly hatch a plan to catch the monster by planting huge amounts of fish, its presumed diet, in a pile within a certain area of the city. Godzilla indeed takes the bait, and the military launches an attack. However, Godzilla is resistant to the laser beam attacks initiated by several fighter jets, and due to his ability to run at high speed, he manages to avoid being struck by missiles, which only succeed in adding to the destruction of the city. Godzilla angrily destroys several of the military vehicles in retaliation, and escapes by leaping back into the sea.
Unfortunately, Tatopoulos discovers some bad news when he analyzes a blood sample of the monster. He comes to the conclusion that Godzilla, while indeed a mutated reptile, is sexually a hermaphrodite, and likely possesses the ability to spawn numerous offspring despite currently being a one of a kind creature.

After being fired by the military when his ex-girlfriend, a fledging newspaper reporter named Audrey Timmonds, tricks him into revealing top secret details of Godzilla’s nature to the public for a story, Tatopoulos is unable to convince the scientific community of the danger that the creature poses to the world. He’s soon kidnapped by Phillipe Roache, a dangerous secret agent of the French government who reveals to him that France’s recent nuclear experiments were responsible for Godzilla’s creation. Determined to remedy the situation, the agent recruits Tatopoulos, the intrepid photographer Victor Palotti, who is aptly nicknamed “Animal,” and Tatopoulos’s apologetic girlfriend, along with a few armed French agents, to locate the monster’s nest and destroy it.
After searching through the underground tunnels that Godzilla created, the small team finally finds Godzilla’s nest sequestered within a section of Madison Square Garden. This nest sports over 200 eggs, much larger than the scientist expected the monster to lay. However, the eggs soon begin to hatch, releasing numerous Raptor-like Godzilla progeny into the building. After getting their bearings, the Baby Godzilla’s begin attacking the humans, viciously killing all of the extraneous agents.
Narrowly managing to survive the onslaught of the Baby Godzilla's, Tatopoulos realizes the extreme danger, first to New York City, then to the world, if any of these creatures should get loose from the building. Thus, the team contacts the U.S. military, and they manage to escape from the building just in time as the military bombed the ediface, killing all of the Baby Godzilla’s just before they were about to escape into the streets.

Danger literally resurfaces, however, as Godzilla returns to the city from the harbor. Discovering that his offspring have been killed, the monster sees Tatopoulos and his team, and evidently blaming them, he savagely pursues the hapless crew. The team flees in a taxicab, desperate to escape Godzilla, as the military still fails to kill the evasive beast. After an extended chase, the taxicab drives across a bridge. The pursuing Godzilla becomes tangled in the bridge’s support wires, and the military takes advantage of this by releasing several missiles, which the now immobile monster is unable to evade. Struck by the missiles, Godzilla falls dead, and Tatopoulos and his team breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally (in a predictable, cliché-ish ending), we see one overlooked egg that hatches a lone Baby Godzilla...

Review/Comments:

As the long awaited American G-film was finally released after being in creative limbo for many years, most G-fans knew that they would be terribly disappointed when they learned that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin would be writing and helming the film. The creators of the politically correct, shamelessly flag-waving, creatively derivative and terribly written box office success of Independence Day (and the relatively modest success of a previous movie from this duo, Stargate), which was successful exclusively because of stellar sfx and an incredibly hyped up P.R. campaign that snagged audiences, Tri-Star decided that the name value of these two men would guarantee a blockbuster to a gullible movie audience.
Tri-Star received full creative control of the film by Toho with just a few conditions (e.g., retaining Godzilla's distinctive roar and dorsal plates), something the latter company should have known better than to do, considering the past handling of G-films by American film companies. Roland and Emmerich ended up having their company, Centropolis, handle much of the work regarding the production of the film, while Tri-Star maintained distribution rights (Centropolis also handled the animated series spun off from this movie; see the section on this site dealing with Centropolis's animated G-series). However, it was apparently believed that as a result of the aforementioned name value of Emmerich and Devlin, along with the known reputation of Industrial Light and Magic (who did the great sfx seen in the "Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley" TV commercial) for creating good special effects, the audience would totally ignore a terrible screenplay and terribly bad alterations to the King of the Monsters.

As has often been stated by other reviewers of this movie, Godzilla did indeed physically resemble a giant bipedal iguana, bearing very little resemblance to the classic image of the Big G. Luckily (and perhaps surprisingly), he retained his trademarked roar, albeit a slightly altered version of the same, and also a version of the characteristic dorsal fins on his back, and this was possibly only done because Toho insisted upon the retention of these attributes as part of the deal.
Since Tri-Star geared the film exclusively to non-G-fans, they evidently believed that they could pull this turkey off (this is why so many films in the past featuring comic book characters were done with so little regard for the fans, a trend that has changed with great success concerning the Marvel Comics characters, beginning with Blade a few years back, and continuing with such positive examples as Columbia's excellent and respectful 2002 rendition of Spider-Man, followed two years later by an equally respectful sequel).

Luckily, however, people sometimes recognize a poor story and terrible acting when they see it, regardless of the amount of pretty eye candy that is sent their way in an attempt to distract viewers from a terminably weak plot, low level of characterization, and less than competent acting. Audiences settled for the propaganda and decent sfx with Stargate and Independence Day, since these were all creations of Emmerich and Devlin (and most people seemed unaware that Independence Day was a shameless rip-off of War of the Worlds); however, Godzilla was a well-known character, and even non-G-fans knew what Godzilla was supposed to look like.

The giant iguana look proved to be a failure, as did the humorous, light-hearted storyline in place of the deadly serious, well-acted, professionally directed, and politically riveting story presented in the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954).
Emmerich and Devlin vowed to make a completely different and “improved” version of Godzilla, as if audiences had never seen the beast before, and they certainly succeeded in the "different" department. The mistake they made was in calling this tepid creature “Godzilla.” This is precisely why so many serious G-fans routinely refer to this creature as "Deanzilla" instead, or more often of late, as GINO, an acronym for Godzilla In Name Only. GINO seems to be the most frequent name attributed to this faux Godzilla by G-fans today.
To make matters worse, the silly advertising campaign with Taco Bell, which included those ridiculous commercials featuring the little talking dog with the Spanish accent who walks Godzilla on a leash and says "here leezard leezard," did nothing but further besmirch the image of the Big G in the eyes of the American public.

The most amazing thing about this mess is that Toho apparently went along with every aspect of this “Americanization” of their prize character. Some people never learn. Other accounts claim that Toho balked at the design of the monster, but Roland and Emmerich told them to "take it or leave it," and Toho capitulated because they didn't want to lose the lucrative deal and risk further delays in the production of an American-made Godzilla. The latter was hardly a good excuse, IMHO.

Happily, Tri-Star’s Godzilla was only a very moderate box office success, and only for its initial weekend in theaters before word of mouth got around, making an even worse sequel less likely (though Tri-Star did sign on for a trilogy), and many people believe that America’s corporate-controlled news media inflated the actual amount of money that the film earned. Since Toho returned to producing films about their own, far superior version of Godzilla a year after the release of the Tri-Star movie, something they were allegedly not supposed to do until the proposed Tri-Star trilogy ran its course, it can be surmised that Toho finally took heed of the supernally negative reaction of G-fans on both sides of the Pacific to Tri-Star's endeavor, and the three Japanese G-films produced from 1999-2001 seemingly comprised a polite way for Toho to inform Tri-Star, "the deal is off, you incompetent gaijin fools" (at least, we G-fans can hope).

To make things worse, during the release of the Tri-Star film, the American newspapers continually derided the fine accomplishments of the late sfx wizard Eiji Tsuberaya and his Toho successors, opining that the Godzilla films of the '50’s and '60’s were blatantly fake looking, as well as terribly scripted. This is believed to be very untrue by many G-fans, including myself, at least in regards to the earlier G-films from the 1950's-60's, before the Big G hit a major down period during the movies produced in the early 1970's (all of which were made after Tsuberaya's passing; he died in 1970). Despite the technical and budgetary limitations of Tsuberaya's time, many of the early G-films had excellent sfx, most of which still hold up very well today, and the scripts and acting, particularly in the earlier G-films, such as Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954) and Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) were extremely well done, and were some of the finest sci-fi films ever made.

In fact, in two Toho movies from that classic era of dai kaiju eiga films, Varan the Unbelievable (1958) and Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), which featured the kaiju known as Varan and Baragon, respectively, the onscreen realization of the latter two monsters was so well done, and without CGI effects, but rather by 'simple' suitmation techniques, that to this day viewers of these films often forget that the monsters are actually a man in a costume and not a real animal, and they hold up the suspension of disbelief factor quite well even to today's much more discriminating audiences (which includes contemporary younger viewers, who are now spoiled by the likes of the Harry Potter movie series).

Tri-Star/Centropolis may have employed more advanced techniques, but the monster was no more or less realistic than the Godzilla who was seen in Godzilla vs. Mothra 34 years earlier. Also, Emmerich and Devlin, who are clearly not G-fans, not only wrote a miserable screenplay, which was every bit as politically correct as I expected, right down to absolving the U.S. of any fault in the nuclear irresponsibility which created the monster (contrary to the classic rendition), but also abetted the fans’ worst fears by altering Godzilla so that he bore scant resemblance to the monster we all know and love.

Furthermore, removing Godzilla’s trademark atomic breath, and not even replacing it with anything adequate (I hardly count those two brief depictions of Godzilla using his methane breath to ignite gaseous fumes), was a truly idiotic idea that no respecting G-fan screenwriter (of which Emmerich and Devlin clearly aren’t) would have ever even considered doing.

The human characters in the film were the most stereotypical, two-dimensional cardboard cutouts who could ever have been placed in a sci-fi flick. Most of the acting was atrocious, and this film was certainly Matthew Broderick’s lowest moment (he was much better, and displayed far more character and substance, as Ferris Bueller than as Nick Tatopoulos).

The only decent acting job and screen presence was provided by French actor Jean Reno, veteran of some great French action films such as Le Femme Nikita and The Professional, who provided a characteristically good performance, along with some decent espionage action, as Phillipe Roache, the regretful government agent from France.

Although the film did have its funny moments, humor is the worst thing that could have been injected in a G-film; in fact, this is what eventually killed off the original (Showa Era) Japanese Godzilla movie series. I am not saying that a small amount of humor would have been totally out of the question, but making the movie entirely light-hearted was indeed a big problem.

Despite the movie’s PG-13 rating, the film was clearly designed to be somewhat family-friendly, and the Baby Godzilla sequence, which could have offered some of the best moments in the film (and would have if the Japanese were making it), instead featured a bloodless rampage where only a few were killed and ultimately turned out to be a useless diversion from the main star of the movie, not to mention stealing ideas from the Jurassic Park film series in the same manner that Independence Day shamelessly parroted major plot elements from War of the Worlds.

Godzilla being relatively harmless to humans (until the end of the film), and being so easily killed by the military, helped bring this movie even further into cinematic infamy as a very low moment in the history of the King of the Kaiju. Though GINO was much faster than the traditional Godzilla, he was far more vulnerable to injury, and he spent most of his time running from the military rather than fighting it, let alone defiantly wading through and withstanding virtually everything that was thrown at him, as the classic Toho Godzilla always did.

The only good things about this film as far as most of the fans are concerned, is that it inspired Tri-Star to release the previously unseen Japanese G-films of the Heisei Series to the American home video market, as well as later releasing Godzilla 2000 to the big screen two years later, the first Japanese G-film to get a theatrical release in the U.S. since Godzilla 1985 fifteen years earlier. Also, surprisingly, a very decent animated TV series based upon (and continuing directly from) this movie was produced and ran for two memorable seasons, and is covered in another section elsewhere on this site (see the link below).

Nevertheless, even many die hard G-fans won’t be interested in adding the American Godzilla film to their collection.

The saddest thing about this fiasco is that several G-fans wrote scripts for an American G-film, and almost all of them were probably better written and certainly far more respectful than the “improved” version of the Big G that Emmerich and Devlin concocted. Maybe one day the film companies like Tri-Star will be less interested in hiring big names with a penchant for fluff, and more interested in hiring truly competent writers who will honestly care about the character(s) they are working on, and will actually improve on the aforementioned character(s) in ways that are beneficial, and not make changes which are needlessly detrimental, in the hopes of "improving" or putting their own "individual stamp" upon said character(s). The two laughable made-for-TV Captain America movies from the 1970's, and the two disastrous big screen Joel Schumacher Batman movies from the 1990's (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin), are prime examples of the latter type of filmmaking. In contrast, the recent wondrous Sam Raimi Spider-Man film and Peter Jackson's very well-received Lord of the Rings movie trilogy are examples of the very positive results that can be had when competent screenwriters and directors who are also genuine fans of the source material and characters of the film in question, who actually respect these characters as being worthy of high standards of professionalism, and who are more concerned with making a respectful adaptation than with putting their "own spin on things." Perhaps these lessons, both good and bad, make it abundantly clear that big budgets and "big names" alone do not a quality product make.

Hopefully, the lack of a blockbuster in this case will prevent Tri-Star from hiring their goon squad to make a sequel and further defame Godzilla’s image (in my opinion, as the live action and animated versions of Tri-Star's Godzilla proves, Roland and Emmerich should both stick to producing, and avoid writing and directing). And shame on Toho for abdicating their creative control that they once guarded so fiercely to an American company. Hopefully, they learned their lesson so that next time the fans won’t have to suffer so badly.

Needless to say, the great talents of Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, and Eiji Tsuberaya have remained unsurpassed, as far as American film companies are concerned. The derogatory American press articles written at the time of Tri-Star's release had a lot of nerve to criticize the accomplishments of these men when it's quite obvious that they were capable of doing far better than the tawdry affair Roland and Emmerich inflicted on the viewing public, particularly when the latter two individuals had the most advanced and expensive sfx technology available to them three and a half decades later.

Tri-Star's Animated Godzilla TV series
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