Aaron R. Davis
Legendary Pictures announced recently that they’re going to attempt what Roland Emmerich made seem impossible: a good American Godzilla movie.
Obviously, I’ll reserve judgment until I see the film, but I can’t say I’m too enthused by the idea. I’m gun shy after dealing with what we did in 1998: a nightmarish creation, shambling around and destroying everything it touched in fire, noise and pain. And that was just the movie. There was also the lame Godzilla redesign to deal with, which took the familiar rubber suit and turned it into … a dinosaur. With a big chin. Which breathed fire.
So, since no one asked me and my opinion carries no weight in the real world, here is my probably-not-unique list of things the filmmakers behind the new American Godzilla should keep in mind.
1. Godzilla is not a dinosaur.
This was one of many things the Roland Emmerich movie got completely wrong. After all of the excitement that was built up through teaser trailers — one of which even went to the trouble of flat out showing us Godzilla was so much cooler than dinosaurs — what we basically got was an iguana that had been turned into a T. Rex. If it hadn’t been five years after Jurassic Park — and just one year after The Lost World — it could maybe sorta kinda have been impressive. But by that point, we’d seen it already. It was old hat.
2. Godzilla is not a dragon.
Yes, if you want to get technical, Godzilla is scaly and gigantic and breathes fire. But he’s still not a dragon. He’s something different, and shouldn’t be treated like any of the dragons we’ve already seen in movies, or like some kind of classic/medieval creature. Godzilla has to be something apart from that. Again, dragons are old hat now, you have to approach Godzilla differently.
3. Godzilla is a man in a suit.
Seriously, what else can you do that’s going to look right? So what if it’s cheesy—that’s the Godzilla that all of us Godzilla fans have known and loved for decades. It’s what works. Jeez, Godzilla even looked bad when he was animated for that crappy cartoon; what’s the point of monkeying around with design so much that it becomes something that’s no longer Godzilla? That mistake was already made. If you’re going to go CGI, you really need to stick as close to the established model as possible. Otherwise, it’s not Godzilla. If it ain’t broke — and it ain’t — don’t fix it.
4. Don’t hide your special effects.
Another of Emmerich’s mistakes was going into a Godzilla movie without any faith in the crappy computerized redesign. How do I know this? Because you never get to see Godzilla clearly in the damn movie. He’s always in the rain, in the water, in the darkness, in the muck, obscured by buildings, hit by explosions. Excuse me, but I didn’t pay good money to see half-glimpses of an iguana rex in the dark, I paid to see freaking Godzilla.
5. We all know what Godzilla is; there’s no need for an origin story.
Although I’m sure we’ll have to waste time on one and give it some kind of environmental message.
6. Nut up and give Godzilla a monster to fight.
We don’t need yet another American movie where the Army and New York react to some threat and then it all gets fixed because Ferris Bueller runs around a lot. God, I’m getting bored just writing that. Stop pussying out and only giving us Godzilla because you think you’re starting a franchise. That’s the mistake a lot of movies make, and we in the audience can feel your failure of nerve. Godzilla needs to fight a monster, not just rampage while everyone freaks out. Who cares? We all know the humans are always the most boring characters in a Godzilla movie. Especially if one of those humans is Matthew freaking Broderick.
(Corollary to the redesign notice: you can go nuts designing monsters for Godzilla to fight.)
7. Godzilla is a force of nature.
There’s no morality to Godzilla. The only reason he should ever fight another monster is because the monster is in his way. He doesn’t do it because it’s right or because the other monster is evil: he does it because he wants to kill it. Hell, in the past, humans have actually created monsters (like Mechagodzilla) just so that they could kill Godzilla with them. So none of Godzilla defending the planet from aliens or turning him into a child-friendly buffoon with silly comic relief or anything like that: Godzilla is a monster. He doesn’t have a Fay Wray.
8. This is the most important: the audience roots for Godzilla.
Godzilla is the hero of the film. He may not be the good guy, and he may be killing people, but he’s still the protagonist. The star of a Godzilla movie is Godzilla. Did you really want to see, in Emmerich’s movie, Godzilla getting tangled up in a suspension bridge and slaughtered with missiles while we watched as, in slow motion, his heartbeat stopped and the light went out of his eyes? I sure didn’t. It was excessive and cruel, and needlessly drawn-out.
Godzilla almost always goes back to the ocean in the end, and I think that’s how it should be. We love Godzilla the same way we love the other monsters of cinema, no matter how malevolently they act. And though we know they must die in the end, we also know that they don’t. Jason will return; Dracula can never be wholly defeated. That’s part of what makes these movies enjoyable. Keep that in mind.
You know, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote a pretty decent script about 15 years ago for the American Godzilla movie. It wasn’t perfect, and it also isn’t the one Emmerich used. But in that script, Godzilla rampaged for the first half, and then fought another monster in the second half. Then he triumphed and went back to the ocean. That’s pretty much the classic Godzilla story right there. You want to establish him as a threat? Give him half the movie to stretch his legs. But in that second half, there’s a lot more to do than just watching people get chased by dinosaurs at Madison Square Garden.
If Hollywood really thinks it can do Godzilla again, more power to them. I just hope they do it right this time, and not make such a shattering disappointment. But remember: Godzilla is the star, not Sam Worthington or whatever low-tier B actor ends up starring in the flick. The sooner Hollywood figures it out, the better the movie’s going to be.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.