Cinema: What In The Name Of Godzilla...?

The thing that's made a Happy Meal of Tokyo for decades is back, and its sights are on Gotham. Get ready for something different

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Godzilla is in the details. the Book tells us so. Among the commandments: Godzilla has three toes on each foot, not four; Godzilla has four claws on each hand, not three; Godzilla has three rows of ridges on his back, not one; Godzilla eats fish, not people; Godzilla cannot be made to look silly; Godzilla cannot die. And, if you must ask, Godzilla does not endorse products.

The Book is a 75-page-plus compendium of iconographical dos and don'ts assembled over nearly a half-century by Toho Studios, Godzilla's propagator and the cinematic demiurge of the Land of the Rising Saurians. This mishnah of the face and form and spirit of Japan's most popular mutant antihero was solemnly handed to Dean Devlin, 35, and Roland Emmerich, 42, in 1996, almost as soon as the pair signed to produce and direct a new version of the monster classic. "We had to read it before we could write the script," says Devlin. The implicit caution: thou shall not take Godzilla's name in vain.

After perusing Toho's holy writ and digesting its meaning, Emmerich faxed the parameters of the studio's Godzilla-by-committee to Patrick Tatopoulos, creator of the aliens in Independence Day, the duo's biggest hit so far. As fate would have it, Tatopoulos never got the fax. Forging ahead anyway, he designed a monster that tampers with nearly every rule in The Book and is likely to leave fans of the old radioactive reptile either in awe or screaming "Heresy!"

Sony has bet more than $110 million on its new Godzilla, opening this week on an unprecedented 7,363 screens in hopes of breaking The Lost World's record opening weekend take of $92.7 million. An additional $50 million has reportedly been spent on a marketing scheme that includes the ubiquitous tag line "Size Does Matter" and a carefully hyped campaign of secrecy about what the modernized creature looks like. In this age of Titanic expectations, Godzilla will have to bring in more than $200 million in the U.S. alone to be considered a hit. Don't mention to the folks at Sony the words New Coke.

It was probably inevitable that the King of the Monsters--who made his debut in a 1954 Japanese film (re-edited and released in the U.S. two years later with new footage featuring Raymond Burr as an American reporter)--would sooner or later be remade. "For me, it was always very simple," says Emmerich. "Godzilla was one of the last concepts of the '50s that had never been done in modern form--that idea of the giant monster as in Tarantula or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Why not do them again?" But, he says, "we were really concerned about the cheese factor."

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