Saturday, April 2, 2016

When The Doctor Met the Monster - Product Placement in Godzilla 1985

Better than the Japanese title
When New World Pictures (NWP) was developing "The Return of Godzilla" into "Godzilla 1985", it made a deal with the soft drink maker Dr. Pepper.  Dr. Pepper was conducting an advertising campaign at the time where commercials showed Godzilla being destructive until calmed by some Dr. Pepper.  NWP was a smaller studio which could use all the publicity they could get to advertise the film they were going to release into theaters in the summer of 1985.  NWP made a deal with Dr. Pepper, Dr. Pepper would shout out the film in their advertising campaign and NWP would conspicuously engage in product placement for Dr. Pepper in its film.

You should have seen that birdie I made on the 13th hole...
This film has a reputation for having "numerous product placements" (according to wikipedia) for Dr. Pepper. I remembered Dr. Pepper products being featured in the film, but I could not specifically recall in how many instances or how long they could be seen.  Because Godzilla 1985 is not available except on the dead formats of VHS and LaserDisc, I had to "track down" a more watchable and widescreen copy from other sources.  The channel MonstersHD broadcast Godzilla 1985 in the mid-2000s and a DVR transfer of this broadcast remains the best source for the film that is readily available.  The version I used was in SD but comparable to DVD quality and uses anamorphic widescreen.  There are a few minor differences between this "workprint version" MonstersHD used and the theatrical prints,, but none that would affect this particular issue.

A peaceful scene, for the moment
With a copy with which I could easily manipulate the playback,  I counted exactly four instances where Dr. Pepper is plugged.  The first instance is the scene introducing General Goodhue and Major McDonough at 18:02.  There is a Dr. Pepper vending machine in the middle of the background as the camera tracks the two men down the hall.  The scene with the vending machine visible lasts 26 seconds.  The second instance is at 30:52 when Steven Martin's grandson is playing with his toys.  A can of Dr. Pepper is among his toys and gets knocked around.  The can is visible on screen for about 13 seconds and can be seen in two shots.  The third instances is of Maj. McDonough taking a drink from a Dr. Pepper can at 1:18:59 and is visible for about 2 seconds.  The final instance is a Special Thanks to "The Dr. Pepper Bottling Co.", among others, in the credits.  The credits last for 2m50s and the text can be seen for about 10 seconds, just like any other line.

I am Godzilla, you are Japan!
I would note that the filmmakers took steps to avoid overly gratuitous use of Dr. Pepper.  They determined that it would not be unreasonable to have a vending machine in the office building like the Pentagon, so they set it in the hallway scene with the General and Major.  However, it would have been crass to put the machine in the Command Center itself where most of the rest of the subsequent US footage would be shot. Dr. Pepper is not the only beverage shown to be consumed in the film, even in the later-added US footage. The General is shown drinking coffee twice.  Although US Director Kizer tried to get Raymond Burr to take a drink of Dr. Pepper on film, that was not about to happen.

Is Dr. Pepper is the reason why this guy is such a dweeb?
The scene with the vending machine has the longest shot of any of the Dr. Pepper instances, so I think it is worth some attention.  If this film was being made in 2015 instead of 1985, a more conscious effort may have been made to emphasize the machine.  One way would be for the General and the Major to stop to have their conversation in front of the machine with each actor standing on either side of it.  Another way would be for the General and the Major to walk toward the machine with the camera following them, allowing the machine to gain more prominence as the men get closer to the Command Center.  In the existing scene, the camera pulls away from the machine.

I'm sure Dr. Pepper would have preferred a few more gratuitous shots of its soda

Godzilla 1985 is 83 minutes long between the opening titles and closing credits.  The US version added about 10 minutes to the film's runtime and the remainder is from the original The Return of Godzilla (which is 103 minutes long).  While Dr. Pepper did exist in Japan, it was nowhere near the most popular soft drink there and it is not present in the Japanese film.  The Japanese film released in December 1984 and only after that did NWP obtain the rights to recut and release the film in the US.  In the context of the complete film, Dr. Pepper has only a very minor presence.

I would not have been surprised if the Marketing people at Dr. Pepper, after viewing the film, were a little disappointed.  They probably would have expected a few more shots with a Dr. Pepper can in it or perhaps a second scene in the hallway, preferably with Burr in it.  However, for NWP, it was a small price to pay for some very generous support from a national brand.

Bonus : A Bit about Burr

Steve Martin - 1956 Vintage
NWP made an inspired decision to bring back Raymond Burr and his character, who had been introduced in Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 1956.  Burr treated Godzilla seriously and brought the same gravitas to the role 30 years later, now with the added years.  Whatever his faults in his personal life, (his own accounts of his personal life were filled with fiction), Burr always took acting seriously and never gave an undignified performance.  His presence helps keep the grim tone of the original The Return of Godzilla intact between the Dr. Pepper plugs, the goofy comedy relief provided by Major McDonough and the dubbing.  The Return of Godzilla sans-Pepper & Burr is a bit dull by comparison.  When Sony localized Godzilla 2000, even the decent dubbing and judicious trimming could not quite make up for the absence of Burr and new American scenes.

Steven Martin - 1985 Vintage
Although Burr is frequently referred to as "Steve" or "Steve Martin" and never as "Steven" in Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the shorter "Steve" is never used in Godzilla 1985.  This was to avoid any association with the comedian Steve Martin, who was some years away from being known for his fine dramatic skills.  Burr's character's first name, "Steven", is only given in the credits and in the script.  In the film itself, he is always referred to as "Mr. Martin" except in one instance.  In fact, when he introduces himself to the General, in the script he is supposed to say his full name, but in the film he just says "The name is Martin, you asked for me to come here."

Pontificate all you want Ray, but here is the real star of the film
It is worthy to observe that Godzilla portended good things for Burr after both times he appeared in a Godzilla film.  When he appeared in Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 1956, his mainstream breakout role in Perry Mason was very close at hand.  Godzilla, King of the Monsters had premiered in April, 1956 and Burr had won the role in TV series Perry Mason by the next month  I'm sure the financial success of Godzilla, King of the Monsters did not hurt his chances or make the producers of Perry Mason reconsider their choice.  Burr's film appearances virtually disappeared for the next twenty years between Perry Mason and Ironside.  However, after Ironside his subsequent TV shows failed and he was not in huge demand in feature films either.  When he was working on Godzilla 1985 he was simultaneously working on the first Perry Mason TV movie.  It premiered at the end of December, 1985 and it was so successful to launch a series of twenty five more TV films, an Ironside Renunion film and four more "Perry Mason Mystery" films after Burr's death.  He only made one more film appearance after Godzilla 1985, ultimately it is his work in TV and in Godzilla films (and portraying the villain in Hitchcock's Rear Window) for which he will be most remembered.


  1. Nothing like waking up and reading another interesting post on the nerdly pleasures blog! Keep up the good work!

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