In the end, time does matter, and Dean Devlin and partner Roland Emmerich didn't have enough of it.
With the Hollywood hype machine running full bore, they finished the editing of their latest movie, "Godzilla," and rushed it off to the lab to make the thousands of prints for the thousands of theaters that would be premiering it over the Memorial Day weekend."We were so determined to make this date that we built a schedule where we couldn't screen-test, and we should have," recalled Devlin, the producer and co-writer. "I think we really could have improved the film."
For anyone paying even the least bit of attention to the Great Godzilla Backlash of 1998, this may seem the understatement of the summer movie season. But for Hollywood, not known for its introspection or public self-examination, Devlin's reflections are unusually candid.
"People expected more," he said. "And we didn't deliver."
In a recent interview in the filmmakers' new offices on the Sony Pictures lot, the 36-year-old Devlin said "Godzilla" had problems with the script (co-written by Devlin and Emmerich, who also directed), fallout from the yearlong promotional buildup and even misunderstanding over the meaning of the now-famous "size does matter" ad slogan.
"It's meant to be a joke, and people took it really serious, and they thought we were talking about the size of the movie or the size of the budget or the size of the campaign," he said. "All we were trying to say was the reason why this is not `Jurassic Park' is that it's a bigger lizard. We were making kind of a dirty joke, but it got totally misinterpreted."
After the movie opened big and then went south in a hurry - inspiring a million one-liners about how "Godzilla" didn't have legs - Devlin was surprised by the reaction.
"I think the only thing that was really disappointing for me was the level of vitriol," said Devlin.
As it turned out, "Godzilla," which cost some $170 million to make and market, reaped nearly $136 million domestically and is headed for more than $200 million overseas. The video release will bring in more.
"You don't do a long-term deal with someone and drop everything because something performed very well but not wildly beyond expectations," said Gareth Wigan, co-vice chairman of Columbia-TriStar Motion Picture Group, part of Sony. "It's proving to be a very, very fruitful relationship and a real partnership."
Still, "Godzilla" wasn't the movie that Hollywood observers thought it should have been. Devlin makes it clear it's also not the movie that he and Emmerich thought it could have been. The pair have built their reputation on special-effects-filled spectacles, and "Godzilla" was going to raise the bar.
Devlin first worked with Emmerich on the 1990 movie "Moon 44," about rival companies fighting over corporate claims to the moon; Emmerich was the director and Devlin had a part. The two struck up a friendship, finding a strong mutual interest in fantasy films.
Then came "Independence Day," the 1996 alien-invasion blockbuster starring Will Smith that established Devlin and Emmerich as one of Hollywood's hottest writing-producing-directing teams.
"Godzilla" seemed the natural project for them, a big, special-effects-heavy, popcorn-season film based on one of the best-known movie monsters of all time. After rejecting the project several times, the pair finally agreed to put a unique spin on the cheesy Japanese series.
"It's a movie wherein we took a lot of risks, and we knew we were taking them, but we thought it would be cool," Devlin said.
The idea was to fashion a sort of "Frankenstein" with scales, starring a beast who starts out scary but becomes increasingly sympathetic. "It was really a classic monster movie," he said.
The problem was that many moviegoers were looking for another "Independence Day."