Godzilla Trailer Shows Hollywood Hasn't Learned From Failed Foreign Remakes of the Past

It's pretty clear that Hollywood is running out of ideas for great films. Every summer we get the same old stuff -- movies adapted from young adult novels, comic book films, rebooted franchises, and some big blockbusters featuring CGI zombies, vampires, aliens, robots, or monsters.

Most of those films don't bother me, but the recent trailer for Legendary Pictures' upcoming Godzilla movie highlights a kind of increasingly common film that I detest: the foreign remake.

Paratroopers descend into a city being ravaged by the new Godzilla. Source: Teaser trailer.

Watering down foreign films for a domestic audience

Ever since the 1990s, there has been a surge in Hollywood remakes of foreign films from Europe and Asia. The logic fueling these remakes is simple -- the original film's concept worked in its home country, and American audiences are mostly unfamiliar with foreign films.

That idea wouldn't be bad if those remakes were labors of love.

However, they're usually not -- they often suck the life out of the original and give American audiences an empty husk of a movie. Simply take a look at some of the critical response to the major foreign remakes over the past two decades.

Country

Original Film (year)

Rotten Tomatoes rating

U.S. Remake (year)

Rotten Tomatoes rating

France

Taxi (1998)

N/A

Taxi (2004)

10%

France

Un indien dans la ville (1994)

13%

Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)

20%

China
(Hong Kong)

Infernal Affairs (2002)

95%

The Departed
(2006)

92%

Japan

Ringu (1998)

97%

The Ring (2002)

71%

South Korea

Oldboy (2004)

80%

Oldboy (2013)

44%

Sources: Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes.

Not all of these remakes were terrible. On its own, Martin Scorsese's The Departed is a decent film, although it doesn't match the slick production values of the original Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs.

Infernal Affairs (2002) -- which was remade as The Departed (2006). Source: Beyondhollywood.com

However, other films, like The Ring, The Grudge, and other Asian horror remakes are often lazy scene-by-scene remakes of the original films.

That's why we need to ask the following question about Godzilla...

Why Godzilla, and why now?

The recently released teaser trailer for Godzilla doesn't reveal much -- some soldiers parachute into a ruined city, people run around frantically, and we catch a brief glimpse of Godzilla. The film also stars some respected actors like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass), and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).

It's written by three screenwriters, including Frank Darabont -- the writer of acclaimed films such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Saving Private Ryan. Meanwhile, director Gareth Edwards helmed the critically acclaimed Monsters (2010), an alien monster movie htat cleverly obscured the actual monsters until the final scene of the film.

That kind of creative muscle suggests that Godzilla will be a more human-centered, serious film than its Japanese predecessors, which have been in constant production between 1954 and 2004.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Source: Comicgeekos.com

That's the biggest problem -- why should Godzilla even be a serious film? People who love Godzilla want to see Godzilla duke it out with Mothra and Mechagodzilla while stomping a city into rubble.

Godzilla shouldn't be about soldiers and scientists planning to take down the monsters to minimize civilian casualties -- it should be about the childish joy of watching big monsters smash things.

We've been down this road before

Hollywood already made this mistake once with Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) critically panned 1998 film Godzilla. That film, from Independence Day director Roland Emmerich, sucked out all the joy from the original franchise and replaced it with a poorly conceived clone of Jurassic Park.

Godzilla (1998). Source: Doblu.com

In Emmerich's film, there weren't any other monsters for Godzilla to tangle with -- it was just a really big "dinosaur" (along with smaller ones that resembled the raptors from Jurassic Park) chasing people around New York.

However, the movie was still profitable -- it grossed $379 million in global box office sales on a production budget of $130 million.

Compare that to Godzilla 2000, which was released the following year in Japan. The film was hilarious, surreal, and absurd, but delivered all the classic scenes that Emmerich's film failed to give American audiences -- Godzilla slugging it out with an imperfect clone of itself, the destruction of Tokyo, and an over-the-top ending with Godzilla continuing his rampage through the city.

Godzilla 2000. Source: Destructoid.com

The Japanese film only cost $8.3 million to produce, but grossed $15 million during its box office run. More importantly, it was better received by critics than Emmerich's film -- with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 57% compared to Emmerich's 25%.

Some may argue that's merely the difference between a D and an F, but it still shows that critics and audiences generally prefer a hilarious Godzilla to a brooding one. Marvel (now part of Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) ) made these mistakes before as well with its two Incredible Hulk films, which were released by Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Studios. In both films, Bruce Banner kept brooding about the implications of his powers when all audiences wanted him to do was get mad, turn green, and roar, "HULK SMASH!" (which he finally did near the end of the second film).

A final thought

Don't get me wrong -- Godzilla, which is set to be released in May 2014, will likely be a box office blockbuster. Lots of people might even enjoy it.

Yet in my opinion, this is just another example of Hollywood sucking the life out of another storied franchise to generate some easy box office sales. Has the success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy now made it inappropriate to inject some silly fun into sci-fi, fantasy, or comic book reboots?

What do you think, dear readers? Has Hollywood lost its ability to make "fun" films with an incessant need to ground even the most fantastical films in reality? Let me know in the comments section below!

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  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2013, at 1:29 PM, KoldWarKid62 wrote:

    Hi. Let me first agree with you that Hollywood is an unoriginal machine that churns out a lot of regurgitated material. Unfortunately it is what it is. There is both good and bad.

    As a lifelong and passionate Godzilla fan, I am thrilled that this movie is on its way. It's true that the character has been done to death even in his native Japan. However I'll be there to watch each new movie that comes out. From a fairly early age, I had wanted to see what an American take/version of this character would be like. There were plans as far back as the 80s.

    When Sony announced plans to do one I was quite happy indeed. I was going to see my favorite movie monster done with state of the art special effects. Of course what we eventually got was not what I, or many other Godzilla fans were expecting, or wanted. The filmmakers took everything that was cool and unique about the character and flushed it. Come to find out, they weren't particularly big Godzilla fans and in fact had disdain for the character. They wanted to do it their way, thinking this would be the Godzilla for the new millennium. A trilogy was planned; one was made.

    When Legendary announced plans to do a version, I was cautiously optimistic. From what I've seen and read, it looks like it is being made by people who actually like and respect the source material, and wish to do it justice.

    Now it's true that the vast majority of Godzilla movies (28 total) have been less than serious and fantastical, but if you look at the very first movie, Gojira (1954), there is nothing foolish about it. It is a very somber and serious film, and Godzilla is the embodiment of the atomic bomb; a living breathing natural disaster. This new film seeks to harken back to those roots, and I for one welcome it. From what I know there will be other creatures that Godzilla battles, but he will not be a "good guy", more of an ant-hero. I'll be curious to see how this Godzilla is greeted by the movie-going public.

    This fan can't wait.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2013, at 12:15 PM, LeeGuy wrote:

    "[W]hy should Godzilla even be a serious film?"

    That right there tells me you're not a Godzilla fan. I'd watch the original, 1954, non-Raymond Burr film to see why Godzilla should be serious.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 10:54 PM, don668 wrote:

    I think it's also important to point out that the giant monster genre is dead. If the giant monster genre was so profitable, studios would have been cranking out movies for the past 10 years.

    They haven’t been. There's a reason the last Toho produced Godzilla film was 10 years ago. It bombed. Let’s look at casualties: Toho’s Godzilla Final Wars: Bomb.

    Kadokawa’s Gamera the Brave: Bomb. Legendary’s Pacific Rim: Bomb. Uni’s King

    Kong: Bomb. Cloverfield: Bomb. Sure, some will say all these

    movies just “underperformed.” But we all know Uni didn’t greenlight Kong for

    $300M including P&A to recoup only $550M at the box office. If Sony actually made money on Godzilla 1998, they would have made a sequel prior to their contract with Toho expiring in 2003 or at least tried a clean reboot like Marvel did with Incredible Hulk just years after Hulk.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 2:25 AM, GaoGiger wrote:

    Considering how this article is made in the ignorance of the five to seven Godzilla films that have been serious ,but not definitely brooding, is one that cuts its integrity. In part, watch Gojira, Raids Again, 1984, Biollante, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah 2001, MechaGodzilla 2003, and perhaps the last two of the first era [Or the MechaGodzilla series from 1974 to 1975).

    The giant monster genre is not dead save for how poorly it is done most of the time these days. For American ones, they are toneless and emotionless beasts that do nothing but have the need to be killed that are bland. When they market it or have it released in general, why didn't they better invest into the films and get better slots of the year?

    Gamera The Brave: Bomb. I can see why when really just looking at it in contrast of the brilliant and financially successful Shusuke Kaneko trilogy, it went to that.

    Godzilla Final Wars: Another bungle that was mostly horrible. The franchise by then was falling down because TOHO hadn't planned to make more once Sony got the rights, but this film wasn't top notch.

    King Kong: Not really. Like Rim, it made more internationally and is considered a success. Just because it didn't make many in the States is beginning to mean nothing. Making almost 550 million is not really bad save for the horrible marketing approaches.

    Rim: Like I said above, it might be getting a sequel pushed just because of the magnificent box office turnout in China and the foreign markets. Not really a failure.

    Sony's Godzilla did not continue mainly because everyone hated it and wanted it to be forgotten. Look at The Last Airbender versus Avatar:The Last Airbender. It took a hard-to-mess up story and burned it half way, implying that it did have a great plot until the monster showed up. Paramount wants to forget about it so they might make a reboot in the future alongside just the reception being terrible. It did well, but no one liked it.

    Also read about the rather reckless decisions to axe the 130 million Godzilla film from Jan Debont for a movie that most altogether 300 million with promotion. If these are a risk, can't justify spending two times the budget for advertising, really. Its not like hey couldn't have used Stan Winston Studios and perhaps ILM to mix suit effects with CG to offset the costs of the time.

    They said the same thing about the superhero genre in the late 1990's, and now look at today. No one could take it seriously enough to give it a decent budget [if they were even possible, which isn't the case for most of them], let alone give them the justice to being more accurate to the source material.

    If Hollywood studios can make giant monster films that have monsters that do not look like a decayed whale corpse off a shore and put more effort into giving the films heart like the superhero genre does at its highest points, then they will succeed.

    The point of a Godzilla movie only being for the monster fighting is like only watching the Hunger Games for the killing or Harry Potter for the magic, and so on. The original film was too ahead of its time and was burdened by a lack of time and budget to make it even on par with the original King Kong for stop motion, as per Hollywood standard.

    But what most people forget about is that the Godzilla films were essentially and still were made in a period of movies where they could barely portray easier subjects of such magnitude like the Wolfman , Thing or other movie monsters in a more convincing fashion that was "more realistic" or serious. Even the stellar effects of Star Wars and the Clash of the Titans in the 70s look plain comical today. If Hollywood could not portray giant monsters in a more convincing fashion, then it is only impressive that a Japanese studio with less funds could.

    Is Godzilla grounded? Well considering how the first movie and the Godzilla 1984/85 film were grounded in our reality of the 50's and 80s, yeah. They were the ultimate stories of what if. What if a giant nuclear monster walked out the sea to wreak vengeance on mankind? Godzilla was and is still a walking metaphor of the atom bomb and of the H-Bomb testing incidents that occurred in Japanese territory. It is no more unrealistic than half of the fiction marketed today.

    Grounding Godzilla in reality can be done without neutering the monster as it only means to make it feel as if it could happen today, next week or even tomorrow. If it can feel as if it could happen, then it has succeeded.

    People might be tiring of the uber-serious reboot craze, but if there is one franchise that does need it, its Godzilla. The Batman franchise got the treatment because it harkened back to the Kane as well as the Frank Miller and Loeb days where the character was more somber than the James Bond that wore a Bat cape and cowl. People were tired of the mediocrity of the latter 90s films and WB went that route. The Man of Steel was a great reboot as it didn't cut its heart, but felt like what the Marvel films did to their characters: not only were they still powerful, but they were grounded in our universe as much as it possibly can be.

    The movie can be dark AND have heartwarming moments as well as comedy to offset the somber tone of the piece. Heck, look at the shows Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead. Dark, but had some light moments to balance the material out. It can also go the other way and still be good, but that amounts to execution, pure and simple.

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