jan de bont godzilla

There are so many movie projects that could have been — whole documentaries have been made about some of them, whole cult followings have risen up around axed movies — but every now and then, we get a failed film that might have spared us a little pain in the long run. One such one was Jan de Bont‘s failed Godzilla project, which the Twister and Speed director was developing before Roland Emmerich’s infamously disliked 1998 version.

In an interview with Polygon about his 1999 remake of The Haunting, Jan de Bont revealed some details about his failed Godzilla reboot, which almost happened — before Emmerich got involved.

“I went to Japan, I met with the people at the studio, and they loved my version,” de Bont. “It was basically that the visual effects at the time, and also special effects—like the way they did in the [original] Godzilla movies, which, I had copies of all of them—it became a battle about the budget. So the person who ended up doing the movie said that he could do it for like $40-50 million less than my budget. Mine was, I think, around $100 million or so. Of course, that never happens—and his film ended up costing almost twice as much as my budget. Unfortunately, they believed him.”

The “him” in this case is Emmerich, the director who at the time was coming off three big sci-fi hits: Universal Soldier, Stargate and Independence Day. So while on paper, it might have made sense for the studio to go with a more dependable hitmaker — de Bont at the time was still fairly early in his career, despite directing two action hits Speed and Twister — Emmerich’s finished product, which starred Matthew Broderick and was soundly criticized for making Godzilla look more like a dinosaur than a mutant kaiju, left much to be desired.

But it’s still nice to think about what could have been, and de Bont teased a vision of Godzilla that “stayed true to the old Godzilla movies, but then taking place in the United States”:

“But the writers I had were fantastic, the script was so good. It stayed true to the old Godzilla movies, but then taking place in the United States, which [the other movie] kept. But then they started by changing Godzilla! You cannot do that! After so many years, and everybody loving Godzilla, why would you want to change it? That was a big mistake. And then it became all about special effects, and that is never a good thing. I met some of the directors who did the earlier Godzilla movies—they were nice people, and the studio loved the take on it. We were really far into pre-production: set designs, locations, and then they saw the budget. ‘Oh no, we don’t spend that much money on the Godzilla movie.’ Then they end up spending twice as much money.”

But while Emmerich’s version remains a blemish in the Godzilla franchise, the kaiju has somewhat recovered its reputation in the States since then, headlining the 2014 Gareth Edwards blockbuster, Michael Dougherty’s 2019 sequel Godzilla: King of Monsters, and going up against King Kong next in 2021, with Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

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