You don’t need to be a Godzilla fan to know Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film is a black mark on the franchise. Besides changing the design of Godzilla, it was just generally a poor movie that got dismissive reviews and barely made back its large budget in the United States.
What you probably do have to be a Godzilla fan to know is that Jan De Bont, the director of Speed and Twister, was trying to make his own Godzilla movie before Emmerich’s. It got close, but ultimately didn’t happen. In a new interview, the director explained why and talked a little bit about how far along the production got.
“I went to Japan, I met with the people at the studio, and they loved my version,” de Bont said in an interview with Polygon. “It was basically that the visual effects at the time, and also special effects—like the way they did in the [original] Godzilla movies, which, I had copies of all of them—it became a battle about the budget. So the person who ended up doing the movie said that he could do it for like $40-50 million less than my budget. Mine was, I think, around $100 million or so. Of course, that never happens—and his film ended up costing almost twice as much as my budget. Unfortunately, they believed him.”
“Him” in that scenario is Roland Emmerich, who ended up directed the aforementioned 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick, which made Godzilla look more like a T-Rex than a massive kaiju. Important to note though, Box Office Mojo clocks Emmerich’s budget at $130 million, which isn’t “almost twice as much” as $100 million, but we get de Bont’s point.
“But the writers I had were fantastic, the script was so good. It stayed true to the old Godzilla movies, but then taking place in the United States, which [the other movie] kept. But then they started by changing Godzilla! You cannot do that! After so many years, and everybody loving Godzilla, why would you want to change it? That was a big mistake,” de Bont continued, clearly still bugged by the whole thing. “And then it became all about special effects, and that is never a good thing. I met some of the directors who did the earlier Godzilla movies—they were nice people, and the studio loved the take on it. We were really far into pre-production: set designs, locations, and then they saw the budget. ‘Oh no, we don’t spend that much money on the Godzilla movie.’ Then they end up spending twice as much money.”
Again, probably not twice as much, but much more for sure.
With Hollywood stories like this, it’s always crucial to remember we’re only hearing the one side. Of course de Bont thinks his script was great, but maybe it wasn’t. And maybe his budget was bigger than he’s saying. It’s also important to remember that while de Bont was coming off a killer one two punch of Speed and Twister at the time those were his first films. Emmerich had more directorial experience and was coming off three big sci-fi hits: Universal Soldier, Stargate and Independence Day. You could imagine a scenario where producers felt more comfortable with whatever take he had over de Bont’s. If that’s true, that ended up being wrong, but we’re just illustrating that there are lots of different forces at play.
Nevertheless, if de Bont really was going to make a more traditional Godzilla movie, and knowing what the 1998 film ended up being, we can certainly add that to the list of films that never got made, but we wish they did.
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