MEMO TO: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
FROM: Peter Bart
You’ve cetainly earned a niche in the history books this week, guys. You’re the first filmmakers ever to experience a $74 million opening week and still be called losers. ” ‘Godzilla’ isn’t so huge after all,” leered the Wall Street Journal. “Limpin’ Lizard!” exclaimed Daily Variety. One theater chain, Carmike, is already forecasting lower earnings, blaming it on the “Godzilla” blahs.
You must both be reeling after all the this, guys, so I hope you’ll take the time to shut off the phones and reflect on whether there’s a message here.
When all this started, you cleverly positioned yourselves as a couple of genial underdogs. You’d taken your lumps in the “B” picture business and been given the cold shoulder by the studios, yet you still managed to shock the town with “Independence Day.” The press ate up Dean’s “aw, shucks” style as well as Roland’s inverse snobbery — he’s the only German film school student who’d ever aspired to become George Lucas rather than Wim Wenders.
But look what a few months has wrought. No longer the underdogs, you’ve become the fat cats — multimillionaires with a huge studio deal. And, if you’re not careful, you could easily become a symbol of Hollywood greed.
To many, “Godzilla” has become the ultimate example of a marketing campaign in search of a movie. The movie was seemingly made, not to entertain audiences, but to help sell tacos and T-shirts.
That’s why a nasty undercurrent developed in the opening week, guys. Every major popcorn movie has its share of detractors, but critics of “Godzilla” were downright shrill.
Sure, the movie itself, with all its action, was disappointing in several areas. The creatures seemed like dropouts from “Jurassic Park,” minus the personality. The actors looked like they realized they had second-billing to the retro reptiles. There seemed to be too much of everything — too much noise, too many creatures, too many plot twists and, most urgently, too much rain, as though the elements were needed to wash away shortcomings in the special effects.
While we all know that summer movies are exercises in hype, the “Godzilla” campaign seemed so over-the-top as to become self-parody. For the first time, marketing men throughout the industry were asking, How much is too much? At what point does the hype reach such a high decibel level that it turns the public against the very movie it’s supposed to promote?
So many articles were written about the “genius” of selling “Godzilla” that the studio took on the aura of smugness, as though Sony were counting its money even before the movie was released. “How Sony Created a Monster!” screamed a headline in Fortune, of all places, even quoting John Calley, of all people, trumpeting that “the film isn’t so much an end in itself as it is a way for the company to get into the ‘Godzilla’ business.” The magazine went on to quote Calley as saying, “Of course, we’re all artists here.”
At least Calley hasn’t lost his talent for self-mockery, fellas. How about you? After all the grandiloquence, perhaps a little levity would be called for rather than pronouncements about sequels and new tie-ins.
Any road-weary magician can detect the problem here. You can’t spend hours explaining your tricks and still keep your audience interested. Further, if you have the balls to announce yourself as the greatest show in town, you sure as hell better deliver.
Last weekend I dropped by a toy store and tried to get the attention of a sales clerk. They were all in the back, ripping open cartons of “Godzilla” toys and trying to assemble them. And they were not in a good mood.
“Look at these damn things,” one saleswoman said. “They arrive after the movie opened. They’re hard to assemble. And they look like leftovers from an old Spielberg epic.” OK, sales clerks are notoriously grumpy, but she still had a point.
Despite the naysayers, “Godzilla” is going to do huge business around the world. Your career at Sony will soar. I’d only suggest you reconsider the meaning of your own slogan. Size isn’t everything, fellas. Taste is a useful component. So is self-restraint.
It’s not all about tacos and T-shirts, guys.