INTERVIEW: MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Godzilla 2000
Conducted January 23rd 2001
By Scott Michael Bosco
It's interesting to note that even though this interview was originally conducted for the released of the DVD it is still prevalent for the released Blu-ray.
Michael oversaw the theatrical re-edit and dubbing of the film for American distribution, and theatrical release.
Even now he is not given credit on the packaging for the commentary on the Blu-ray.
SMB - The packaging, and the DVD menus only state there’s an audio Commentary, but you’re not given any credit. You’re not even listed in the additional end credits of the film, why is that?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Oh, the reason is very simple. Most major studios have policies that studio executives cannot take any kind of a producing credit. Otherwise, it would be abused horrendously. I had hopes, because this was a TOHO and not a SONY film, that an exception could be made. My boss did inquire the legal department, but ultimately the answer was no. It really is the standard policy of most studios. However, NEW LINE and MIRIMAX do not have that policy.
SMB - That’s too bad given you contributed so much to the domestic theatrical release.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Well most people don’t sit through the end credits anyway. (Laughs)
SMB - How did you get involved working on the domestic theatrical release of the film?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - We (SONY) have had a long standing working relationship with TOHO and basically the last bunch of pictures had gone direct to video. My boss, who happened to be in Japan when GODZILLA 2000 opened, was aware that this was a sort of a re-birth movie. Since we technically owned the movie, he thought it might be worth taking a shot with a US theatrical release. So next a screening was set up here for the executives with the English track supplied by TOHO. (laughs) ... which was not very good - to put it charitably. Well, basically the executives just sat there and laughed at the picture ...
... all the way through it, and not in a good way. So, my boss started to get a little nervous about that, along with second thoughts. I said to him, “No, no, you don’t understand. This is what the fans want. They want the guy in the rubber suit stomping on buildings. Then he said, “Yeah, but they were laughing at it!” Then I reminded him that these were the same people that laughed at A RUMBLE IN THE BRONX when I brought that in 5 years ago. He looked at me and said, I was right, and that he wasn’t going to make that mistake again. So he said since I was the GODZILLA expert I was going to be in charge of it. I said, “Great”. So the bottom line is that it was dumped in my lap. But is great way.
SMB - Had you done anything like this previous?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - This was the first time I worked as a full fledged line producer. When I was at PARAMOUNT I oversaw the completion of IT’S ALL TRUE, the Orson Wells documentary. But in that case it was a completed, or rather a finished film. It was in pieces. So I had other people doing what needed to be done and just stuck my head in to make sure everything was going smoothly. With GODZILLA 2000, this was the first time I actually rolled up my sleeve and got into the mud - so to speak.
SMB - ... and the first time you worked on a GODZILLA film.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Oh, absolutely.
SMB - Were you a fan of the series?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Yeah, to some extent. Not a deep fan, but I had seen some of the movies. I had read “Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo”, which sort of filled in some of the blanks. Of course, the more you get involved, the more you learn. I certainly know a lot more now then I did then. So, if there should be a second one, I’ll be even more equipped.
SMB - What about the previous films, some of which are already on home video...
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Those are what are called the “Heisei” series. (Named after the Emperor of Japan at the time the films were made.)
SMB - I suppose those were released with the TOHO provided English track.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Yes. That kind of dubbing is probably more tolerable for a home video release, or even a TV release. But I think if your going to go into theaters, here in the US, it had to be something better. I had to convinced them (Studio Execs) of that, because one of the reasons the executives were laughing was because the dialog was so bad. I felt if we could fix that to a certain extent.
SMB - TOHO didn’t have problems with that at all?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - No.
SMB - They didn’t feel insulted that you wanted to change what they provided?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - No, they understood. You have to understand that they didn’t do it. It’s contracted out to a company in Hong Kong. Which, strangely, uses mostly Australian immigrates. So half the characters spoke with British accents, and the other half sounded like they came from Wisconsin. TOHO understands that English is not their first language, so they had no problem with us doing what we wanted to do. After all, the whole point of redoing the movie was to make it more acceptable to American audiences. We had already decided we were going to augment the music, and redo the sound effects anyway, so it was like redoing the soundtrack from scratch.
SMB - Okay, about augmenting the music...
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Well most of the changes we made were either putting music in scenes that had none. Or in some cases the music itself was fine, but the orchestration was kinda thin. So what was done - we added music, or mixed it into what was already there. There were only a couple of scenes that were re-scored. The 2nd and 3rd big fight scenes, because at that point the music originally was just the main theme repeated, but at a much slower pace - it was repetitive. So we had some negotiation with TOHO, but they understood what we were doing. Most of the changes we made weren’t for artistic reasons, they were for cultural reasons. American audiences are different than Japanese audiences. Especially in an action scene I think we want more intense music.
SMB - How was a composer chosen for the additional music?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - We had to find someone who worked quickly because we were under a time limit. We talked to several composers, but JP (J. Peter Robinson) aside from being incredibly talented also was a GODZILLA fan himself. He knew the Ifukube themes so he seemed, by far and away, the best person to handle the chores. Which he was, he did a terrific job.
SMB - How much time did he have?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - I think he did everything in around 10 business days.
SMB - Really!
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Yeah, very quickly.
SMB - In the Commentary you talk about the excessive panning of the dialog which is lost on the home video release.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Yes, and we worked so hard it that. I was very disappointed not one critic seemed to pick up on that. It just isn’t used any more, so you’d think it would stand out and be noticed.
SMB – Please, most of these critics don’t have any idea if a film is in stereo. Don’t take it personal something like that is NEVER mentioned in a review, except when the sound is too loud. They never notice the quality of a mix otherwise.
Was that the only aspect of the audio that was changed for the home video release?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Well it had to be re-mixed for home video because we mixed for the VHS. On top of that, it’s going to be panned & scanned you can’t have a character’s voice coming out of the right speaker if they are now centered in the screen.
SMB - Yes, but in terms of the DVD, the film is widescreen... and 5.1.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - They left it alone a little bit, but not as much as it had been. I think because of the extremes we had originally used, and because a lot of home sound systems don’t have that kind of separation it was felt that a comprised version would be better.
SMB - I think they made a mistake doing that. It sounds like one of those executive based decisions made by people out of touch with the consumer and what’s out there. Older films from the 50’s are being released on DVD in their original sound format where that kind of dialog panning was a given of the time. The stereo mixing back then was extremely wide.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - That was exactly what I was going for. That old FOX 50’s presentation. You know, “I’m standing over here. Now I’m standing over here. And as you notice when I move, the sound moves with me - the sound of my voice travels with me! It’s 4-track stereo!”
But you know we had to work very quickly. So they had to do what was - what they felt - would be best for the majority. Alas, this is a movie that will move far more units on VHS than on DVD. I think the time and expense of doing the sound for a 3rd time just wasn’t in the cards.
SMB - Did TOHO have any say in how it would be publicized in the US for its theatrical release?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - I have no idea. I assumed they probably had some sort of formal approval or were just shown everything just out of courtesy.
SMB - I’m asking only because we tend to look upon GODZILLA in a much lighter tone than the Japanese.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - That’s true. And I think one of the reasons American audiences laugh at GODZILLA movies, even when they see them in Japanese with English sub-titles, is that the Japanese culture is very serious. They take these things very seriously. So you have this very serious movie then this guy in a rubber suit comes along stomping cardboard buildings and the tendency is to laugh. In redoing some of the dialog, I felt that maybe if I put some intentional funny things and kept the human stuff on a lighter level, maybe, it wouldn’t seem so laughable when the monsters show up. I think I succeeded to some extent. But you know, people come to a GODZILLA movie to laugh at it anyway. So that’s something, I don’t think one can never overcome.
SMB - That's strange because when I saw it (Godzilla 2000) in a theater, no one laughed. They clapped. Mostly because they were glad to see the “real” GODZILLA back. It was also an older group of people. I was lucky enough to have seen some of the GODZILLA movies in the theater. In the 70’s and even the 80’s. Those were laughable.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Yeah, those were. Everybody acknowledges that. That’s one of the reasons they (the Japanese) did the Heisei series. Which are incredibly dark and violent. They felt they had strayed too far from the concept of the original picture. With GODZILLA VS. DESTROYA, I think they went too far. So when they made GODZILLA 2000 I think they kinda pulled back from that style just a little bit. I believe it found a happy medium between the seriousness and light-hardheartedness.
SMB - In the commentary you mentioned you changed the way the Main titles came on. How were they done originally?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER- Well, there were two TOHO logos. The first one we kept. Then the text one, which was just text over a black background. So we changed that one by putting over the opening scenes. That way we could draw the audience in right away. Originally we were going to have the first one just fade in, fade out. Then when I was in the room with the computer effects guy so I asked him if it were possible to make the text rise out from the horizon. He said sure, and in about 10 minutes he had it done. Then we had the next title come out of the car headlight.
SMB - How about the actual Main Title?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - You mean the GODZILLA 2000 were it comes out of his eye?
SMB - Yes. Was that the same as in the Japanese version?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Visually it’s the same concept, only in English.
SMB - In the original version of the film was a connection ever mentioned with any previous films? Especially GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH?
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - I know the fans are very big about having these timelines and different universes and things. I’ve learned more about that now. I think GODZILLA 2000 operates, the way I think every GODZILLA film should operate at this point – which is, that GODZILLA is basically a fact of life and everybody knows about him. When the movie starts out with the GODZILLA Prediction Network right off the bat the audience has to figure that this isn’t new ground. A lot of people have interrupted this film as skipping over everything else, except the first one… but I don’t know if I buy that. But even the new one, GODZILLA VS. MEGAGURIRUS isn’t a sequel to GODZILLA 2000. It goes back to a different timeline in which GODZILLA appeared, about 1996. Which would be about the time of GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH. TOHO doesn’t seem to have any qualms about this, so I figure why should we.
SMB - I just figured it was GODZILLA’S son from GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH.
MICHAEL SCHLESINGER - Some people have interrupted it that way. I don’t know. Hey, it’s whatever makes you happy.