Individual questions now on your various projects. For each of these I would really appreciate a brief note on what you contributed to the script, and how happy you were with the finished film. First, Little Monsters - where did this come from, and how did you manage to get it made?
“The film was based on my original (unpublished) short story ... really just a snippet, that Ted liked and was able to flesh out in an amazing way. We wrote an original screenplay, which caught the interest of a couple of producers, and sold to MGM. Neither of us much like the finished film. A common occurrence for us - people buy the script and throw it out, and what they replace it with is obviously not as good ... obvious to everybody, of course, except the people in charge.”
On The Puppet Masters, how faithful to Heinlein did you try to be or were you allowed to be?
“Our original screenplay was very faithful to Heinlein. Yet another project where our original script was not followed. It's a shame, too; I still believe that book could make a great movie.“
“Actually, early in the process - I think before we turned in our first draft, even - we suggested the novel could give birth to a franchise, about government agents who investigate all types of strange and bizarre pseudo-scientific occurrences. The studio didn't see that potential at all. Of course, a couple of years later, The X-Files premiered (although I was actually thinking more in terms of UFO, an earlier aliens-and-conspiracy-type program).”
“The finished film is pretty terrible. Key stuff from the book was jettisoned. The end result was a film that seemed derivative; ironic, since Heinlein's work was actually the original exploration of so many ideas; he was almost always there first.”
Why aren't you credited on Men in Black, and is it good or bad that your work on this film is an open secret?
“We aren't credited on Men in Black because the WGA didn't award us credit. Over the years, we've determined there isn't much logic to how credits are assigned by the WGA. As it turns out, pretty much no one knows that we worked on Men in Black; it is in no way an 'open secret.' Even Sony, the studio who released the film, doesn't remember that we worked on it.”
Now for your unfilmed version of Godzilla. Oh man, so many questions! How did you cope with the difference between Western and Asian views of the Big G, especially the determination of Western audiences and critics to deride even the best Godzilla movies as Godzilla Vs Megalon-level crap? What instructions did you have from Toho? Why did you feel it important to create a second monster? Where would you like to see (a) the American Godzilla series, and (b) the revived Japanese Godzilla series, go? Which is your favourite Godzilla film, and which do you think is the best one (not necessarily the same thing)? Sorry to get carried away, but I'm a huge Godzilla fan...
TR: “It was obvious to us that audiences wanted two things from a Godzilla movie: they wanted to be scared of this big unstoppable monster, and they wanted to root for him to kick ass in the end. Godzilla is, after all, the hero. That's why we invented a story that involved a second monster. In the film that was made, neither aspect is provided: Godzilla runs and hides, and we never get to root for him. Stupid mistakes, really.”
TE: “We wanted a second monster because we wanted to move Godzilla from where he was in the first movie - unstoppable destroyer who had to be stopped - to where he was at the end of the third movie - defender of the earth, but still not someone you want stopping by unless it's really, absolutely necessary. A friend of mine, a big G-fan from way back, once said about Godzilla that, ‘It's not that he's a good guy - he just hates other monsters.’
“I think the first one - the original, not the recut/redubbed/Raymond Burr-added American release - is the best one. And you can't beat Monster Zero for a great enemy, can you? After that, they all kind of blend together for me. I've liked some of the remakes/updates ... but that first one, with the skeleton at the bottom of the sea ... great stuff.
“By the way, I am convinced that the whole ‘Godzilla is a metaphor for the A-bomb; analysis is wrong. In the original movie, the scientist who unleashes the weapon which kills Godzilla - metaphorically stopping the A-bomb - takes his own life afterwards. Had he died because he was trying to unleash the weapon, I would buy it - ‘We must make sacrifices necessary to prevent this from ever happening again.’ Naw, I think Godzilla is a metaphor for forces unleashed by man which he has no control over, for which he cannot predict the results, and for which he refuses to take responsibility. This makes the scientist's actions both correct to the metaphor, and makes him undeniably the hero of the movie. And I wish I could remember his name.”
TR: “In the end, there's not much use in our answering questions about Godzilla. It would make as much sense to ask questions about James Bond, or Indiana Jones. Because we've never written a Bond film, or an Indiana Jones film - or a Godzilla film. The Godzilla film that got made didn't have anything to do with our work. Our credit on the film is just another testament to the vagaries of the WGA credit arbitration process.”
TE: “I think it did have something to do with our work, with the basic approach we took to Godzilla - that he had to be presented as a serious threat, as something real. No dancing the jig or playing hoops with Charles Berkeley. That may sound like a no-brainer to Godzilla fans, but at the time we got the assignment, we were the only ones thinking that way. In fact, Devlin and Emmerich had been offered the project before we were, and turned it down because they didn't think Godzilla could be done except as an Airplane!-type spoof.
“Later, after the movie was completed, we met Dean Devlin - the first and only time we'd ever spoken to him - and he said that it was reading our screenplay convinced them that it could be done seriously. Of course, they then chucked our screenplay and did their own, borrowing a few key elements from our story (specifically, Godzilla travelling toward New York with a purpose - although in ours, his purpose was to fight another monster, not to lay a bunch of eggs). So in a way, the Godzilla movie that got made was due to us - but it sure wasn't the Godzilla movie we wanted to see made. This is getting a little monotonous, isn't it? Let's talk about Aladdin some more.”
How much liaison did you have with Neil Gaiman when writing your unproduced version of Sandman? What particular problems does his unusual outlook and imagination present to an adaptor?
“The hardest thing we had to do on Sandman was find a way to retell Gaiman's stories as a movie without losing what made those stories special in the first place. Our challenge was to do something which Neil had done with myths and legends in the pages of Sandman - telling them in a new way, which was not in violation of the way they were told originally.”
“That's a script that I still think we nailed perfectly. And part of why it's good is because it's far more Gaiman than us. Which is one way an adaptation can work. We met several times with Neil, and it was great to know he approved of the work. The problem - which I still cannot fathom - is how the folk at Warner Bros could spend money to acquire the Sandman property ... and then want to throw it out. His work is among the best fiction ever written, in any form. Why throw it away?”
Please just tell me everything you're allowed to about your Iron Man project at this stage - the world (well, the readership of SFX) is agog.
“As usual, our goals for this project are high. We want to do a smart, tightly plotted, effective superhero movie, with a real character at the heart of it all, and never-before seen action sequences. Why lower your standards just because it's a comic book? The most exciting thing for us is what a perfect time it is for this story. We live in a time when power is being shifted from governments to industry. When Bill Gates becomes the most powerful man on the planet, you hope to hell that somehow he develops a moral centre, for the sake of us all. That's part of what we want to do with Tony Stark.
“Happily, nobody has really done the definitive realistic superhero movie. The movies (for whatever reason) always take a step back, and don't take it seriously. But to fans, the stories are all real - they may be fun, they may have humour, they may be over the top ... but no fan ever thinks twice about whether it really happened. So we have an opportunity here to do a superhero the way everyone wants to see it.”