He stomps. He roars. He rises from his prehistoric slumber on a distant Pacific island to wreak havoc on the United States. No, it's not Marlon Brando but another gargantuan creature who takes a wrong turn at Tahiti: Godzilla.
Two years after snagging the rights from the Japanese film company Toho, Sony's TriStar Pictures is finally hustling into production with Godzilla, a monster-budgeted film about that laser-breathing lizard who toppled Tokyo in 1954.
While people may remember Godzilla flicks for their bad dubbing and grade-Z effects, TriStar studio chief Marc Platt claims the new Godzilla will serve up real chills more Jurassic Park than Plan 9 from Outer Space. ''This is going to be a serious-minded monster movie,'' he says, ''a large-scope sci-fi film steeped in mythology.'' It better be: The last time Godzilla played America Godzilla 1985 it bombed.
As part of the rights agreement, TriStar had to promise Toho the film would maintain the original's antinuclear theme. ''Toho insisted we not make light of the monster,'' says Ted Elliott, who cowrote the script with his Aladdin partner, Terry Rossio. ''That helped us find the right tone as well as the social and political implications.'' The new story finds the 262-foot behemoth terrorizing Los Angeles and San Francisco. But this time he's not just a ravenous, pea-brained beast. Like King Kong, Godzilla will actually have good intentions.
So does TriStar. While other studios are turning old TV shows like The Addams Family and The Flintstones into big-screen blockbusters, Sony has found a musty goldmine in monster movies. Witness Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wolf, and this November's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Godzilla is also chic. Last spring Nike launched a highly successful ad campaign featuring Godzilla duking it out with basketball star Charles Barkley. ''Generation X was raised on syndicated television,'' explains Jeff Jensen of Advertising Age. ''Part of that was all of those monster movies on 'Sci-fi Theater' on your local TV station.'' Writer Mark Jacobson, whose 1991 novel Gojiro starred the prickly lizard, goes further: Godzilla ''is the soul of the late 20th century. He's a resonant figure on the postmodernist landscape.''
Godzilla probably won't appear on the box office horizon until 1995 production is slated to begin by the end of the year, depending on who will direct. Those being considered include Tim Burton (Batman), Sam Raimi (Darkman), Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), and Jan De Bont (Speed). No budget has been set, although with its heavy F/X, insiders put the price tag between $50 million and $65 million.
As for stars, well, ''Godzilla will be the star,'' says Hank Saperstein, the man who handles Toho's North American rights and originally brought the deal to TriStar. There are, however, roles for an over-40 female scientist (a Sigourney Weaver in Alien type) and her husband, who first discovers the monster. Although the female lead is crucial to the taming of the beast, Saperstein sees Godzilla as a hero. ''He comes forth reluctantly to battle the evil forces,'' he says, ''whether they're outer-space aliens, or bacteria, or people.''
But loyal fans are objecting to softening the scaly one. ''It's absurd to have a prehistoric monster being friends with little kids and doing what people tell him to do,'' says Michael Weldon of Psychotronic Video magazine. ''He should be scary. He should be a threat to the world.'' If he's not, some say he won't be a threat at the box office. ''I don't care,'' sniffs Jacobson, ''unless it's going to be better than Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.''