Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
Long before 2014’s blockbuster Godzilla or even Roland Emmerich’s 1998 attempt starring Matthew Broderick, there were several attempts to bring a US version of the king of the monsters to the big screen. One of the most amusing was as a sequel to The Monster Squad, but the most persistent was a big-budget reboot with Steve Miner at the helm.
And not only that, but it was going to be in 3D. That might sound surprising, but at that point in time, everything from the Friday the 13th to Jaws to Amityville franchises were seeing a 3D entry. Studios were so sure that this was going to be the next big trend, so they sort of forced it.
Hot off the box office success of Friday the 13th Part 3, Steve Miner became attached to direct the project. Fred Dekker was hired to write the script, which was a huge deal for his career as he had yet to direct Night of the Creeps or The Monster Squad. This Godzilla remake was his first big Hollywood assignment. Although Dekker was not a huge fan of the previous Godzilla flicks, Miner had grown up with the series.
“I had always been a fan of Godzilla since I was a kid. Once seeing it as an adult, I realized that this could be remade as a good movie. I had just done Friday the 13th in 3D, and wanted to do a good movie in 3D,” said Miner in an interview with writer Steve Ryfle.
Given that the 1980s saw remakes of classic ‘50s B-Movies like The Thing, The Fly, The Blob and Invaders from Mars, an American remake of Godzilla only made sense at the time. Especially considering that Godzilla is basically the granddaddy of all atomic age monsters.
They wanted to make this version of Godzilla into a big, serious monster epic. Miner recruited production designer William Stout, who had previously worked on Conan the Barbarian and Wizards, to create a series of presentation artwork to give Fox a sense of what the finished movie would look like.
Stout was highly excited about the project and to this day still refers to it as one of the best movies never made. He praised the story in particular, saying “We were working from a great script, I think Fred Dekker really outdid himself with it.”
I think if there’s any inherent issue with what the team behind Godzilla 3D were attempting to do, it’s that all of them, from Miner, to Dekker to Stout, believed that the original was a bad, almost embarrassing movie. Yes, the number one thing that gets brought up when remakes are announced is “Why not remake something that needed to be remade?” But that’s almost never happened. In nearly every instance of a great remake, it’s done out of a love and reverence for the source material. Remakes where the director was confident they could make something better have almost always failed.
Stout addressed their intentions for the remake by saying “Rarely have remakes captured, much less exceed, the quality of the first film. What Steve Miner was doing was so much smarter. He was taking a film that was beloved, but it was really defective when you consider how primitive the special effects were, and trying to remake that. Remake a film with a great idea, a great concept, take Godzilla, and the public’s expectations of Godzilla, and surpass them.”
Ultimately, though, I think the original Godzilla is a classic for a reason. There’s honestly a kind of brilliance to it in that it’s an atomic age disaster movie, a large-scale horror that only Japan could tell at the time. There’s an almost found footage quality to it. Because of the direction the overall franchise took, I think it’s easy for people to forget the grit of the first.
Still, this Godzilla definitely sounds like the kind of film that could have gotten made, so what was the holdup? That one’s fairly simple, as far as I can tell: the budget was too big. Miner and Co. wanted to make the film for $30 million and the major studios were really nervous about virtually all big-budget ventures at the time. This was, after all, just after a major studio had to close its doors permanently after the total, crushing box office failure of Heaven’s Gate.
The 1980s did see a Godzilla reboot, though. It came in the form of Toho’s own Return of Godzilla or—as it was released in the states and recut as a direct sequel to the original’s US counterpart Godzilla: King of the Monsters—Godzilla 1985.
This seems to be a project that all three of the major players regret never being able to bring to the big screen. It could have been an incredible big-budget spectacle from three extremely talented minds, or it could have misunderstood everything that made the Godzilla legacy special. Either way, we’ll never really know at this point. The project lingered until a new team attempted it in the 1990s, this time with Stan Winston designing the creature, and eventually the 1998 Roland Emmerich movie is what we got stuck with.
At least until 2014’s Godzilla and its building “MonsterVerse” came along.