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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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by CEJ

     A good Main Title sequence can be a feature film’s blessing or curse.  In the case of  iconic designer Saul Bass’ stunning work on Frankenheimer’s SECONDS, Preminger’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM and Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST; DePatie-Freleng and Richard Williams Studios animated openings to the PINK PANTHER films; Pablo Ferro’s super cool BULLITT, and Maurice Binder’s legendary 60s - 70s era JAMES BOND titles, the “unimportant ” sequence would, in the hands of those and other graphic artist maestros, become the former - a blessing and more: mini-movies in and of themselves which oft times served as inspiration for the subsequent advertising push (think R.Greenberg & Associates’ famous ALIEN “fade-in letters” and “lone egg image” campaign), and ultimately even as the paradigm for the modern music video.  In the case of 1998’s GODZILLA - directed by STARGATE and INDEPEDENCE DAY’s Roland Emmerich, it’s opening sequence would in some respects become it’s curse in that it was so damned impressive many felt the film itself never lived up to what the Title sequence promised.

     Emmerich’s take on Godzilla’s origin was that the behemoth was born (as was 1954’s original) of the nuclear age, but specifically this time around the result of generations of mutation within the iguana species contaminated by fallout due to France’s 1980s atomic testing in the Polynesian Islands. 

     The stunning widescreen opening visual montage, a seamless blending of archival and newly photographed film footage, was the (uncredited in the final film) work of animator / special FX technician (… as well as championship skier, cowboy and former oil roughneck) George Merket who, while variously employed by some of the top FX houses of all time (including Colossal Films, Richard Edlund’s Boss Films, John Dykstra’s Apogee Productions, Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, and Sony Pictures Imageworks) was responsible for some of the most iconic filmic sequences of the 1980s - 90s, including the Oscar winning “SpacePort Skeleton Scan”  from 1990s TOTAL RECALL.

     Also sending expectations for the (then) new GODZILLA through the roof was the Holst-like Opening Title Theme by Grammy Award-winning composer David Arnold, in some respects (time to ruffle a few feathers here!) operatically exceeding the previous musical contributions of the legendary Akira Ifukube (on the 1954 original) and Alexandre Desplat (GIRL WITH THE GIRL EARRING, SYRIANA, THE QUEEN, THE TREE OF LIFE) on the new 2014 film.  Now known for his subsequent frequent collaborations with film makers such as John Singleton (on BABY BOY, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and SHAFT - 2000), Michael Apted (on ENOUGH and AMAZING GRACE) and Bond producers Michael Wilson & Barbara Broccoli (on every 007 film from 1997 - 2008) Arnold's first orchestral / choral success was for GODZILLA director Roland Emmerich’s 1994 sleeper sci-fi hit STARGATE.  He’d later collaborate with Emmerich and GODZILLA producer Dean Devlin on his award winning INDEPENDENCE DAY, then wrap things up (to date) with 1998’s GODZILLA. 

   Composer David Arnold

     As Arnold was composing for an as yet unrealized title character (GODZILLA’s FX weren’t complete when he had to begin work) his principal inspiration came from Merket’s gripping Main Title sequence.

In a way the theme for GODZILLA came from that instead of the creature itself, because that is what he was born from. So when you hear the music from GODZILLA after that, hopefully you will relate to the nature of his conception, which is more to do with intrigue and interest in nuclear weapons.
     I was quite heartened when I saw the opening title sequence because it hinted at a more intelligent film - it hinted that the film you were about to see was perhaps not what you had necessarily expected - but I’m not sure the film (itself) actually ever got to the place that the opening titles kind of promised

     Hey, whether one likes the film itself or not, it’s opening Title sequence is a work of true cinematic art, and one of the finest examples in recent years attesting to the heightened emotional magic and impact incumbent within the perfect synchronicity of image and sound.


GODZILLA (1998) - Main Title sequence
Designed by George Merket / Music by David Arnold




* GODZILLA - 1998 (dir. Roland Emmerich)
* GODZILLA - 2014 (dir. Gareth Edwards)

play GODZILLA (1998) score - "Godzilla Takes A Dive / Godzilla Vs. The Submarine" (D. Arnold)


     Nowadays when a film is said to have received “mixed reviews” one obviously understands it as (more often than not) a euphemistic kindness / stand-in phrase meaning “everyone hated it as it sucked massive wind to the max then back again”.  But the 1998 GODZILLA reboot from modern “master of disaster” director Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 2012) actually was the recipient of genuinely mixed reviews - as in both good and bad (just making that clear!).  It was also a financial success, though most choose not to recall it that way.  Okay, now with that out of the way ...

     ... Hey, we make no bones about it, we very much enjoy Emmerich’s “slam-bang, take no prisoners, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tossed in for the sake of a good show” take on the King.  Though admittedly, after viewing Gareth Edwards’ just released 2014 rendition (more on that in a sec), it is now just a tad harder to sit through Emmerich’s borderline comedy / adventure.  And while critics such as Roger Ebert lamented the 1998 outing, saying “You have to absorb such a film, (and) not consider it; but my brain rebelled and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome”, other reviewers such as Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times agreed more along our lines that it was, while certainly far from perfect, “An expertly designed theme park ride of a movie that packs nonstop thrills”. 

     In all honesty BOTH statements are true.  

     A far more canny and intelligent storyteller than he’s given credit for, Emmerich consistently peppers his films with deliberate sub textual material of a socio-political nature.  But (unlike most popular film makers) he just as consistently and deliberately chooses NOT to call attention to it while conducting promotional interviews, etc.  If the audience picks up on them, well and good.  If not, then what they take away from the film is pop entertainment and nothing more - which isn’t an ignoble accomplishment in it’s own right. 

     Take the thematically gleeful iconoclastic nature of INDEPENDENCE DAY.  Coming on the heels of two decades of ohhh so politically correct “friendly alien” films, ID4 would, one brick at a time, dismantle the Great Wall of fuzzy gooey feelings the cinematic audience had constructed, and do so by setting up a number of iconic cinematic images, then revel in reversing / turning them on their ear in violent visceral fashion. 

The recurring Emmerich theme resurfaces in INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) -
Divergent ethnic cultures are brought together for survival

     In Steven Spielberg's to-this-day still awe inspiring CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND mankind’s first communication with extraterrestrials is via a combo of sequential light accompanied by a syncopated musical melody.  But when the U.S. military helicopter hovering alongside ID4’s massive mothership begins to imitate this famous scene, … the aircraft is blasted to hell by the invaders.  Oops!  Guess they never saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, huh?  Similarly, when a group of New Yorker’s gather atop a skyscraper to welcome a craft descending from the clouds, ID4's descending film camera angle (and lighting) is a deliberate dead ringer Xerox (you under 30-ers out there will have go Google that word) of the heart touching climax of COCOON.  But here (as Brittney Spears might say) "Oops! Again!" … for the warm hearted earthlings are blown to proverbial “stir-fried shit" because of their politically correct open-hearted willingness to exercise John Lennon's axiom to "give peace a chance".   Hell, even Will Smith’s fighter pilot, Steven Hiller, gloats about wanting to  “Whupp E.T.’s ass!”.   There's a seriously well thought out (and clever) pop culture subversion at work here.

The recurring Emmerich theme resurfaces in 10.000 BC (2008) -
Divergent ethnic cultures are brought together for survival

     With a combination of affectionate love and (kinda / sorta) loathing of alien visitation stories of the preceding decade and a half, the first 30 minutes of Emmerich’s magnum opus genre hit undoes a generation's cinematic warm-heart-ed-ness by setting up a set of filmically iconic bowling pins, then belligerantly knocking them down in well planned order.  This isn't some "Johnny-come-lately film school grad" moron behind the lens with too much money and not enough vision, okay.  So let’s just make that clear once and for all! 

The recurring Emmerich theme resurfaces in 2012 (2009) -
Divergent ethnic cultures are brought together for survival

     Emmerich’s take on Godzilla, co-written by him along with producing partner at the time, Dean Devlin (ID4, THE PATRIOT, FLYBOYS), certainly does rely far too much on “camp and circumstance”.  And even Devlin himself would later say, “I think the problem with that movie was the script I wrote; I think Roland did an amazing job directing it”.  But what we personally take away as the greatest positive from Emmerich’s Godzilla-palooza (apart from composer David Arnold’s stunning operatic score in conjunction with that fantastic Main Title sequence) is the director’s frequent WAR OF THE WORLDS-like socio-political “ecumenicalism” - something seen in pretty much ALL of his films. 

The recurring Emmerich theme resurfaces in GODZILLA (1998) -
Divergent ethnic cultures are brought together for survival

     In the same way in which the warring nations of the earth in H.G. Wells classic novel learn to set aside their differences when a force arrives which can annihilate then all if they fail to do so, so do the disparate tribal (in Emmerich’s STARGATE and 10,000 B.C.), multi-national (in ID4) and religious / political and cultural societies (in the near biblical 2012) dissolve longstanding walls for the common good of all mankind.  As those aforementioned disparate characters in Emmerich’s universe tumble into this realization they slowly begin to form their own “family unit” as unbreakable as any by blood. 

     In 1998’s GODZILLA the atomic testing which brings the King to life this time around is the controversial series of underground nuke explosions perpetuated by the French government in the mid 1990s - tests which drew official condemnation from around the world.  It was particularly a time of strained relations between longtime allies, the U.S. and France, as around the same time (1995 to be exact) Interior Minister Charles Pasqua had expelled a number of CIA officers from France on charges of industrial espionage. 

     In keeping with Emmerich’s cinematic thematic of “tearing down socio-political walls for the common good”, in his film individuals from France and the U.S. would set aside these differences as French DGSE (French Intelligence) agent Philippe Roaché (LE FEMME NIKITA and THE PROFESSIONAL’s Jean Reno) and American NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) scientist "Nick" Tatopoulos (FERRIS BEULLER and WAR GAMES' Matthew Broderick) prove themselves capable of working together to rid mankind of it’s greatest threat since the creation of the atomic bomb (‘ol Gojira himself) when their nation’s governments are incapable of doing so.


     Long before Emmerich and Devlin's film - since the 1980s in fact, an American produced GODZILLA had been in the planning, and even early production, stages.  It began when writer / director Steve Miner (FRIDAY THE 13TH PT.2,  WARLOCK, FOREVER YOUNG, and theTV series THE WONDER YEARS, DAWSON’S CREEK and CHICAGO HOPE) succeeded in securing the remake rights from Toho.  Armed with a script by Fred Dekker (HOUSE, THE MONSTER SQUAD), and with design illustrations by the legendary William Stout, (HEAVY METAL magazine, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CONAN THE BARBARIAN) the package piqued the interest of more than one major studio. 

GODZILLA (2014) - Cranston, dir. Edwards, and Taylor-Johnson on set  

     Eventually dashed by budgetary concerns, that proposed franchise would (like the Godzilla character often did himself) go into hibernation until re-awakened in 1992 by an atomic blast of another kind - a TriStar Pictures GODZILLA reboot deal with Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio - the screenwriting duo behind ALADDIN, SHREK, NATIONAL TREASURE and THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, in conjunction with director Jan de Bont of SPEED and TWISTER fame.  Like it’s predecessor it too would be aborted over too sizeable a budget.  But in 1996, having just seen INDEPENDENCE DAY prior to release, and with TriStar’s production office now officially folded into parent company Sony, the electronics giant gave it’s blessing to Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s 1998 sci fi / action adventure take on the King.   

     While some of the brickbats taken by that film concerned it’s high camp quotient and none-too-serious angle on the subject matter, the loudest complaints among dyed-in-the-wool Godzilla fans concerned the title character's radically redesigned look.  Taking on the project only if they could do Godzilla “their way”, Emmerich and Devlin chose not to be beholden to the almost sentient lumbering bipedal “alligator /Stego / T-Rex" icon of yesteryear.  But rather, wanting their creature to be fast and furious, turned him into a sleek, much more Iguana-like quadrupedal predator.

     Among the loudest detractors of the King’s new design were GAMERA director Shusuke Kaneko, and actors Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma - both of whom had portrayed Godzilla in the earlier Toho features.  In fact Satsuma was so incensed with the 1998 film he walked out of it’s Japanese premiere, stating “It’s not Godzilla, it doesn’t have his spirit”.  In fact the King’s owners, Toho Pictures themselves - after initially giving the "thumbs up" to the title character's new look, came to recognized the design as so far removed from their trademarked character, they would re-trademark the Emmerich / Dean creature as an entirely new corporately owned entity; officially dubbed (at least for post 1998 licensing purposes) as “Zilla”.  

     After the 1998 American film Toho released it’s last official Godzilla entry (FINAL WARS) in 2004, then stated it would not produce another for at least a decade.  In 2009 word surfaced that producer Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures (BATMAN BEGINS, 300, WATCHMEN, THE HANGOVER, INCEPTION, MAN OF STEEL), in conjunction with Warner Bros., had secured the rights to a new version of the King.  Then, after false rumors were quelled that PAN’S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY’s Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct (he'd later do his own “kaiju” tribute - PACIFIC RIM), Tull confirmed the helm was being handed over to relative newcomer Gareth Edwards, who’s 2010 small budget independent thriller MONSTER had been amassing a great deal of critical acclaim.  

    There is always film press junket talk of how an up and coming director, plucked from independent cinema after a festival hit, was chosen to helm the latest super epic because the studio wanted their “unique vision” brought to bear. But often soon into production it becomes evident they were chosen because the size of a big budget tentpole franchise entry makes said relatively inexperienced film maker reliant on the studio, and they can therefore be more readily controlled.   

     Producer Tull would protect his director from this pitfall by surrounding him with a phalanx of heavyweight champ screenwriters on the new Godzilla.  While officially credited (due to Writers Guild stipulations) to Max Borenstein (SWORDSWALLOWERS AND THIN MEN) and David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES), the script's later “heavy lifting” rewrites (both fleshing out character and cleverly altering part of the King’s 1954 origins) were the work of writer / directors David Goyer (DARK CITY, the DARK KNIGHT trilogy) and Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE, TV’s THE WALKING DEAD).  

      * See our accompanying film review GODZILLA (2014): TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING for more.

Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Nevada   

     As in previous GODZILLA incarnations, the King’s 2014 return would (both subtly and not-so-subtly) mirror the sociological concerns of it’s day, this time around touching upon nuclear concerns of the last forty years - from the controversy over the NRC’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump facility, to the film’s nuclear reactor in the fictitious Japanese city of “Janjira” being so named in a reference to THREE MILE ISLAND.  The film would also contain visual references to 9/11 as well as modern day anti-terrorism and attendant populace emergency mobilization strategies.

     Officially opening May 16th, 2014 the new GODZILLA, released in IMAX 3D, shook theaters worldwide from the seats to the box office.  Produced for approx. $160 million, it raked in nearly $200 million globally during it's opening weekend.  While there were a few negative critiques and back handed comments such as The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy saying the film was, "
superbly made but burdened by some dull human characters enacted by an interesting international cast who can't do much with them, this new Godzilla is smart, self-aware, eye-popping and arguably in need of a double shot of cheeky wit", the majority of opinions tended to concur with that of Ruth Cornet of IGN:

As in the classic, they hold the titular monster back for quite some time, and while the slow burn may not agree with a modern audiences’ desire for rapid-fire storytelling, once the monster action really gets going it is glorious to behold, with the finale a thing of utter, spectacular beauty. I’ll confess, I would have liked to see more of that action, and Godzilla earlier in the film, but am equally struck by what is in many ways a bold and well-thought-out pacing choice". 

     With sequel talk in the air before his film was even released, director Edwards reiterated more than once how wanted to create one good movie which could stand proudly on it's own:

I want a story that begins and ends, and you leave on a high. That's all we cared about when we were making this; just this film. If this film is good, the others can come, but let's just pay attention to this and not get sidetracked by other things".

     By far the greatest pat on the back for director and film came from the heads of Toho Studios. "I got an e-mail saying they thought it was fantastic!", Edwards said with a smile, "So that was a relief".

     On May 18th, two days after GODZILLA's monstrous opening, Legendary Pictures' Thomas Tull confirmed to that a sequel was indeed underway. 

     Long live the King.


Pg. 1, 2, 3

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