March 18, 2017

GODZILLA: THE SERIES

GODZILLA: THE SERIES
(FOX, September 12, 1998-April 22, 2000)


Adelaide Productions, Centropolis Television, Columbia TriStar Television


MAIN CAST:
Tom KennyN.I.G.E.L., various                       


            After years of pressuring, film producer and distributor Henry G. Saperstein managed to convince Toho Co., Ltd. to allow him to pitch a new Godzilla film to Hollywood. Saperstein had been involved with co-producing and releasing the Japanese films in the United States. He brought up the availability of the Godzilla rights to Sony Pictures producers Cary Woods and Robert Fried, and, while they were interested, both Columbia and TriStar turned the idea down. Woods decided to go to the top and presented the idea to then-Chairman of the Board and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment Peter Guber. Guber was enthusiastic about the possibility of acquiring an international brand and set the film up at TriStar.

The de Bont version of Godzilla.

            TriStar secured the rights to produce a trilogy of films in late 1992. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote the script for the first film in 1994, and Jan de Bont was named the film’s director. Pre-production was well underway for a 1996 release, but de Bont left the film when TriStar refused to approve his $100-120 million budget. Director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin were brought on with the stipulation that they could do the movie their own way after initially turning down the offer due to their belief that it was a silly idea. Although the liked the original script, they promptly discarded it and ignored the four-page list of rules Toho provided for the handling of the Godzilla franchise.

Maquette of the Tatopoulos version.

            Emmerich and Devlin decided to make Godzilla more of a creature fighting for survival. Patrick Tatopoulos was tapped to design the new Godzilla with the only instruction being “Make him able to run incredibly fast.” Tatopoulos designed Godzilla s a learn, iguana-like creature that stood with its back and tail parallel to the ground. His color scheme was meant to help Godzilla blend into the urban environment the movie would be taking place in. Tatopoulos created concept art and a 2-foot tall maquettes to present at a meeting with Toho to pitch their idea. Toho chairman Isao Matsuoka, Godzilla producer Shogo Tomiyama, and special effects director Koichi Kawakita attended the meeting, and after Tomiyama met with Godzilla’s creator Tomoyuki Tanaka (whose failing health prevented his attending the meeting) they approved the project.


            Emmerich and Devlin wrote the script for the film and made several changes to the character to fit their vision. After discovering that certain lizards could burrow, they gave him that ability. Deeming the trademarked “atomic breath” too unbelievable, they exchanged it for “power breath” which would have Godzilla simply blow things away (the atomic breath was restored in some fashion when word of the change was leaked and fan backlash was negative). They also made him able to lay hundreds of eggs via parthenogenesis, leading to offspring that could rapidly have their own and soon overrun the planet. Also, Emmerich didn’t like the concept of two monsters fighting and chose to make the primary opposition the military.


            The film centered on Godzilla (vocal effects provided by Frank Welker) being created after a nuclear test in French Polynesia in the 1940s and 50s. Biologist Dr. Niko “Nick” Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is recruited by the United States military to study the creature and tell them more about it as it makes it way to Manhattan island. There, Nick learned that Godzilla had come to lay eggs and encouraged the military to find his nest, but they decide to ignore his theory when his ex-girlfriend, struggling reporter Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo), reveals classified information she stole from him. However, French secret service agent Phillippe Roche (Jean Reno), assigned to clean-up his country’s mess, believes in Nick’s idea and brings him on board to find and destroy the nest.

Godzilla on the hunt.

            Godzilla was released on May 20, 1998 to lackluster reviews. Members of the Japanese film productions who were supportive of the possibility of new ideas and a new life for the franchise were soured by the final result. Fans, annoyed by the changes and the lack of connection to previous iterations of Godzilla, coined the phrase GINO (Godzilla In Name Only) when talking about the movie. In later years, Devlin would admit they made a mistake in their depiction of Godzilla and how they handled the human characters in the film, and Emmerich for the lack of test-screening to find and fix problems as well as a rushed shooting schedule. Broderick, while liking the movie, felt that he might have been miscast. Ultimately, while the movie was a box office success, it had performed under TriStar’s expectations and the rest of the trilogy was cancelled.


            TriStar, believing the film couldn’t succeed without an aggressive marketing campaign, lined up license agreements with over 300 companies. TriStar also looked ahead to the future and worked on some media tie-ins to the franchise; one of those being an animated series. The series began production with Sony’s Adelaide Productions eight months before the film’s release, and was developed by Jeff Kline and Richard Raynis. Kline worked with Emmerich and Devlin to devise the series’ bible and had initial monster designs drawn up in order to try and sell it to a network. FOX agreed to order 40 episodes of the series for their Fox Kids block.


            Godzilla: The Series picked up almost immediately from where the film left off, although with a slight change to the ending. While one of Godzilla’s eggs did survive, this time Nick (Ian Ziering, replacing Jason Priestley who couldn’t commit beyond the first five episodes he recorded) was present when the baby Godzilla (Welker) hatched. The baby imprinted on Nick, and Nick decided to save him from destruction and study him. Nick formed a team called H.E.A.T., or Humanitarian Environmental (once Ecological) Analysis Team, which dealt with monsters created from ecological pollution. Joining Nick from the film was snarky behavioral expert Dr. Elsie Chapman (Charity James) and cowardly engineer and chemist Dr. Mendel Craven (Malcolm Danare, reprising the role). Newly created for the show was intern and hacker Randy Hernandez (Rino Romano) and DGSE agent Monique Dupre (Brigitte Bako), who was sent to destroy Godzilla initially but was assigned to monitor him as part of the team indefinitely. N.I.G.E.L. (Tom Kenney), or Next Millennium Intelligence Gathering Electronic Liason, was a robot created by Mendel and Randy that accompanied the team on their missions. Godzilla would be called upon to help deal with threats the team encountered, but ultimately the production decided to make it seem more like he was protecting his turf (Earth) rather than have him at the beck and call of the team like with the earlier Hanna-Barbera effort.

Godzilla, Mendel, Elise, Nick, Randy and Monique.

            In keeping with the immense secrecy surrounding the marketing of the film (Godzilla was never fully shown before the movie hit theaters), the series was produced under the name Heat Seekers (after the team’s boat in the show) and phony concept art of fire-based superheroes with a sheep dog made of pure fire was created to complete the illusion. Further conversations with Emmerich and Devlin were had to find out what elements and characters could be incorporated into the series, as well as general information on the film still in production. Fil Barlow designed the characters, basing their looks on their personalities with only a passing resemblance to their movie counterparts (mostly to avoid likeness rights issues). He also designed the overall appearance of the show before turning his focus on the various monsters that would appear. Because every aspect of the production had to be sent to Japan for approval, and certain monsters from the Godzilla series were tied up in legal issues, they couldn’t visit Godzilla’s rogues gallery and had to create new ones from scratch. Tim Perkins handled additional designs for the human characters on the show following Barlow’s lead.

Godzilla likes calamari.

            With the main characters assembled, the production decided they didn’t need to bring back as many established characters that would only serve to clutter the cast. That’s not to say several didn’t make occasional appearances, including a decidedly more confident Audrey (Paget Brewster) and her cameraman, Victor “Animal” Palotti (Joe Pantoliano); Phillipe (Keith Szarabajka), who assigned Monique to the team and popped up from time to time to provide them with valuable information; Major Anthony Hicks (who apparently was demoted from the Colonel rank he had in the film, but still played by Kevin Dunn), who was placed in charge of the military’s anti-mutation unit and often came at odds with H.E.A.T.; and Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner, also reprising), the mayor of New York City (and part of Emmerich’s jab at the critic team of Siskel & Ebert over their negative reviews for Independence Day). New characters included recurring villain Cameron Winter (David Newsom), an old college rival of Nick’s; Maximillian Spiel (Clancy Brown), a billionaire who sought to make a profit from monster fights; and redneck hunters Dale (Ronny Cox), Hank (Bob Joles) and Bill looking to bag themselves Godzilla. The series attracted a number of notable guest-stars, both who have previously or not often dabbled in animation. Amongst them were Robert Forster as Elsie’s father; Linda Blair as monster rights activist Alexandra Springer; Estelle Harris as an old lady; Ron Perlman as one of the Leviathan aliens that sought to use monsters to conquer Earth; Doug Savant, who appeared as O’Neal in the film, as a trespasser; and Roddy McDowall, in what would be his final role before his death, as Dr. Hugh Trevor.

Crustaceous Rex.

            Kline wrote a 20-page treatment for the series outlining the characters, their interactions, the type of stories to be written and the overall tone for the show. From that, story editors Marty Isenberg and Bob Skir wrote the full series bible. Two teams of story editors were used and overseen by Kline and producer/head director Audu Paden: Isenberg and Skir managed the team for one half of the series, while Marsha Griffin and Glen Wiseman handled the other. Since the writers wouldn’t get to see any of the episodes as they were writing their scripts, the story editors were in charge of infusing their scripts with phraseology and characteristics featured in the show and maintaining continuity. The series employed a mixture of writers who had worked on previous Sony series, as well as comic book professionals used to tight deadlines and telling a story with limited space. Amongst the series’ writers were Isenberg, Skir, Griffin, Richard Mueller, Michael Reaves, Brooks Wachtel, Steven Melching, Harry “Doc” Kloor, Steve Cuden, Carl Ellswoth, Janna King, Tom Pugsley, Lara Runnels, and Patti Carr, amongst others, and comic creators Len Wien, Marv Wolfman and Scott Lobdell. The episodes were largely self-contained stories, and were done so as not to be too affected continuity-wise if the network should (and did) air them out of order.

No monster is an island.

            Kline would approve the premise for each episode and assign it to a writer, while Paden would start working on casting, character designs, backgrounds and settings. After Paden and Barlow devised the appearance of an episode’s monster, it would be sent to Raynis, a talented artist, for touch-ups and finalization. After working out the details of an episode, it would be turned over to the storyboard artists to draw out within a two-week period. Early on in the production, no one on the crew was allowed to know what Godzilla looked like, so basic shapes and other elements (such as a sock puppet) were used to approximate him. He would later be incorporated into scenes when his appearance was finally revealed. Tatopoulos worked with the crew to help transition Godzilla into animation, defining how he would move and act.

The rats of NY. Yeesh.

            The series was animated in Korea by Anima Sam Won, DR Movie, Dong Woo Animation Co., Kiko Enterprises Company, Lotto Animation and New Millennium Animation. The backgrounds used on the show were a heavily-involved process. Rather than being painted on a white background like most shows were at the time, they were painted on animation cels in sections and layered over each other. It created the distinct look prominent in Sony cartoons in that period. Each episode would take an average of 12 weeks to animate before returning back to the United States for review, editing and touch-ups.

Breath mint!

            Godzilla: The Series debuted on FOX on September 12, 1998. Because the people behind the show didn’t get full exposure to the film, the series took on a markedly different tone. As many of those involved with its production were at one point fans of the original Japanese movies, the series was closer to those representations; with Godzilla fighting other giant monsters and the use of his atomic breath. The series was also more serious, especially in regards to Nick’s character who was less aloof than he was in the film. The largest source of comedy relief came from N.I.G.E.L. and his constant destruction in every episode (a running gag inspired by the deaths of Kenny McCormick on South Park). The series’ theme was composed by Jim Latham while Brain Garland and Craig Sharmat composed the series’ music. Raynis directed the series’ title sequence which featured early monster designs that never appeared in episodes.

Godzilla fighting for his time slot.

            The series was better received than the film on which it was based, and was one of FOX’s highest rated cartoons and number one show of 1998. FOX would air it in small mini-marathons on its weekday schedule as well as on Saturday mornings. During the second season, however, the show fell victim to the “Pokemon Wars” between FOX and The WB. WB’s acquisition of the anime Pokemon had proved a boon for the network and led to them consistently outperforming FOX in the ratings. To combat this, FOX acquired the similar show Digimon and would air it in mini-marathons, forcing Godzilla to be moved about the schedule or not shown at all. With all of the constant interruptions, two episodes were left unaired in the United States by the time the show was taken off the schedule for new mid-season programs. Despite the fact that it maintained high ratings with all the constant changes, FOX opted not to order additional episodes and the series ran its course.


            Trendmasters, who had been producing Godzilla-based toys for years, was set to continue that tradition with a line of toys based on the series. Unfortunately, as the Godzilla film toys sold poorly, retailers were unwilling to take another hit for the franchise. The line was ultimately cancelled before production. The only toys specific to the cartoon were released in Carl’s Jr. kids meals in 2000. Two video games based on the show were released for the Nintendo Game Boy Color: 1999’s Godzilla: The Series and 2000’s Godzilla: The Series – Monster Wars. Discovery Zone also featured various creatures from the show as part of an interactive shooting gallery.



Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released two VHS collections in 1999: Trouble Hatches containing both parts of the pilot, and Monster Wars featuring the trilogy of episodes of the same name. The trilogy was released again on the DVD The Monster Wars Trilogy, as were the episodes “What Dreams May Come”, “Bird of Paradise”, and “Deadloch” on Monster Mayhem and “S.C.A.L.E.”, “The Twister” and “Where Is Thy Sting?” on Mutant Madness. The 2006 Monster Edition release of the film contained the episodes “What Dreams May Come”, “Monster Wars, Part 1” and “Where Is They Sting?” In 2008, minisodes of the series were released on the Sony-owned Crackle, and Kabillion syndicated the show on Comcast’s On Demand service and online. In 2014, Mill Creek Entertainment released the complete series on DVD, which had the episodes in production order and included the two unaired episodes. The following year, Mill Creek released 10 episodes on a DVD entitled The H.E.A.T. Is On as part of their Retro TV Toons budget disc series. 


            Although Sony maintains the rights to the animated series, the movie rights had long since reverted to Toho. In 2004, they began copyrighting Sony’s version of Godzilla as “Zilla” for future appearances in the Godzilla franchise. The name was a satirical take on the counterfeit Godzilla merchandise that was often released under that name. It was also a jab at Sony, Toho feeling they took the “God” out of “Godzilla”. Zilla made his first appearance in the film Godzilla: Final Wars. It ended up being the last Godzilla film made for a decade until Legendary Pictures acquired the rights and produced the second, and so far more successful, American attempt with Godzilla in 2014. 


EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“New Family, Part 1” (9/12/98) – Nick discovers one of Godzilla’s eggs have survived and his team decide to study it, but the U.S. military seemingly kills it.

“New Family, Part 2” (9/19/98) – Nick’s team helps the military try to determine the cause for disappearances in Jamaica and encounter a giant squid, which is only defeated by Godzilla.

“Talkin’ Trash” (10/3/98) – Microbes controlled by nanotech are released to try and curb NY’s garbage problem, but they quickly grow out of control.

 “D.O.A.” (9/26/98) – H.E.A.T. investigates a mutated worm devouring the crops of Costa Rojo and Godzilla ends up poisoned by its ruler.

 “The Winter of Our Discontent” (10/10/98) – After Godzilla defeats robotic insects, the team discovers an old rival of Nick’s is behind it and wants the team to join in his schemes.

“Cat and Mouse” (10/31/98) – While Godzilla is being hunted, NY deals with a plague of mutated giant rats.

“Leviathan” (11/14/98) – The team heads out to rescue xenobiologist Alexander Preloran who disappeared while exploring the wreckage of an alien spacecraft.

 “What Dreams May Come” (11/7/98) – An electrical creature randomly attacks the city, but the team notices it doesn’t behave like other monsters they’ve encountered.

 “Hive” (11/21/98) – Radioactive lava on the island of Santa Marta has caused a mutated ecosystem, complete with carnivorous plants and giant bees.

“Bird of Paradise” (12/5/98) – Elsie’s old fiancĂ© calls the team in to help deal with a winged creature attacking villages in Mexico.

“Freeze” (3/13/99) – A rescue mission in the Antarctic pits the team against a group of monsters and an unscrupulous corporation.

 “DeadLoch” (2/6/99) – The team is called in to investigate the Loch Ness Monster, but end up having to help the monster instead.

“Competition” (3/6/99) – Investigating disappearances in Japan leads their military to consider Godzilla a threat, while the real threat escapes Monster Island and makes its way for Japan.

“Bug Out” (3/20/99) – Audrey lets it slip out that the team is having troubles with Godzilla while mutant termites threaten the Amazon Rainforest.

 “Monster War, Part 1” (2/13/99) – Monster attacks and inner strife only compound problems when the aliens return with an army of monsters under their control.

“Monster War, Part 2” (2/20/99) – The aliens capture the team and reveal their plans to unleash the monsters on various major cities.

“Monster War, Part 3” (2/27/99) – The team manages to escape and renews their efforts to free the monsters and stop the aliens’ plans for conquest.

“An Early Frost” (5/8/99) – When it seems like Godzilla has attacked the city, the military demands the team help contain him while Phillipe returns to kill him.

 “Web Site” (5/1/99) – The Pentagon sends the team to investigate a growing number of spiders by their base in the Canary Islands.

“Juggernaut” (8/14/99) – An alien piece of technology known as the Techno-Sentient comes to Earth and begins bonding with the local technology.

“Trust No One” (7/31/99) – The team encounters a creature that can mimic any living creature it touches.

Season 2:
 “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” (1/15/00) – A mutant germ infects Godzilla and Nick and Monique must go inside him to destroy the infection.

“Wedding Bells Blew” (1/22/00) – Elise is forced to be the maid of honor for her sister’s wedding, but the party ends up crashed by the mutated manta ray the team was after.

“Shafted” (2/19/00) – The team helps a little girl recover he brothers from a mine inhabited by a creature that encase people in silver.

 “Lizard Season” (3/11/00) – Cameron frees the hunters and gives them battle robots to take on Godzilla.

 “The Ballad of Gens Du Marais” (N/A) – Audrey leads the team to a strange swamp monster that can easily match Godzilla, and seems to have the favor of the local citizenry.

“Ring of Fire” (4/22/00) – Randy and Craven decide to use a fire creature they captured in money-making scheme and end up setting it free on a rampage.

 “Protector” (10/9/99) – An archeological expedition unearths a sphinx-like monster that had to be put down in the past when it turned on the people it once protected.

 “Vision” (3/18/00) – Mendel has to develop special goggles to allow the team to see the rapid-moving mutated hummingbirds attacking aircraft.

 “Freak Show” (12/11/99) – A traveling mutant circus causes trouble when a sea anemone escapes and beings draining people of all their water.

 “Metamorphosis” (1/29/00) – A mysterious benefactor sends the team to Illinois to deal with a chilopod devouring crops, but soon it changes into a cicada who’s song disrupts all radar.

 “Where Is Thy Sting?” (2/26/00) – The team encounters a mutated scorpion that was created by the military with plans to use its offspring as bioweapons.

 “Underground Movement” (4/1/00) – A lawsuit splits the team’s focus and Randy and Mendel decide to deal with a mutant sighting on their own.

 “The Twister” (2/12/00) – A day at the beach is interrupted by a mutant shrew that has been bonded with a twister.

 “S.C.A.L.E.” (10/2/99) – The team encounters an eco-terrorist group called S.C.A.L.E. that believes the mutated creatures are the next step of evolution and set out to defend them.

 “Future Shock” (9/18/99) – The team is sent to 2022 where they discover the work of scientist Jonathan Insley has left the world an apocalyptic ruin.

 “End of the Line” (12/18/99) – A mutated komodo dragon saves Nick and Audrey from a mutated turtle attack, but the most shocking thing is that the dragon is in love with Godzilla.

 “Area 51” (2/5/00) – Area 51 ends up being a prison for mutations created by underground nuclear testing, and one of them escapes and threatens Las Vegas.

 “Tourist Trap” (N/A) – The team has to try and force a mutated frog fish back out to deeper waters while fending off opportunist Milo Sanders who wants footage of Godzilla.

“Cash of the Titans” (9/25/99) – Billionaire Maximillian Speil manages to take control of Godzilla and make him the feature attraction of his monster fighting ring.

1 comment:

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