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This Godzilla won’t be potty-mouthed

Special to The Times

A G-rated film from the creators of “South Park”?

J.F. Lawton was 6 years old when he saw the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” (screenplay by Roald Dahl!) in 1967. But the film’s peek at an exotic Japanese culture, with its kimonoed beauties and training camps full of stealth warriors, had him hooked. Young Lawton began devouring books about Japan, studying martial arts and, inevitably, delving into the antagonistic latex world of Rodan, Mothra and Godzilla.

Thirty-nine years later that Nipponphilia paid off. His original comic screenplay, “Giant Monsters Attack Japan!,” is a deadpan pastiche of a variety of Japanese pop cultural forms, icons and fetishes. Ninjas, samurai, cutesy mini-monsters, giant robots and the country’s most enduring export, city-stomping mega-monsters played by men in rubber suits, all make appearances in an amusing story about an 8-year-old American boy obsessed with Japanese pop culture who moves to Tokyo when his widowed father is transferred there for work.

Lawton plays all of these cliched cultural inventions straight, as actual elements of a modern Japanese society that has long since made peace with its little monster problem. And in keeping with the original films’ goofy innocence, Lawton always intended the film to engage children at a PG or even G level, with the filmmakers forgoing CGI for the old-school technique of nothing but a sculpted bodysuit and a committed actor.

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“I’m not sure exactly where the ratings board is on monster-to-monster violence, what their reaction is to men in rubber suits wrestling but never getting hurt,” Lawton says, laughing.

Well, if there’s a filmmaking pair that can get imaginative feedback from the ratings board, it’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have signed on to direct and produce “Giant Monsters!” Parker and Stone have desecrated everyone and everything in the crudest ways possible in “South Park,” its film treatment “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut” and their last feature, “Team America: World Police.” And Parker wrote and directed the four-quadrant slam-dunks “Orgazmo” and “Cannibal! The Musical,” so it’s not immediately obvious why this is a perfect match.

“It’s funny, Trey and Matt said that they felt that they could do a G movie or a PG movie easier than they could a PG-13, because it’s their nature to push an issue,” says Lawton, pointing out that as filthy as some of their material is, there is still a childlike (or childish, depending) quality.

When Lawton (“Pretty Woman,” “Under Siege,” the Japan-set “The Hunted”) sent out his screenplay, he appended a one-page primer on the ubiquity of Japanese pop culture in America (see: anime, manga, Pokemon, horror remakes, etc.). He also scattered throughout his pages digital color photos of anime characters, giant robots and classic monsters.

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“I knew that I was dealing with a lot of imagery that is very familiar to any 14-year-old kid who’s into anime and reading manga and all that, but might not be obvious to a studio executive,” he says.

Nickelodeon and Paramount -- or their younger executives, anyway -- were indeed hip to Lawton’s script, especially once Stone and Parker got excited by its possibilities. Shooting will have to wait until the “South Park” creators have finished the current season of their show and then direct the teen comedy “My All-American,” written by Jeff Roda.

“I was terrified when I wrote it that people would say, ‘OK, great, we’ll do this and we’re gonna CGI all the monsters,’ ” Lawton says. “And Matt and Trey want to do it with guys in rubber suits, which is what it needs to be. There’s something really special about that.”

‘Indiana Jones 4'

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is taking its toll

Two weeks ago, when Oscar-nominated writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) described his experience working on the latest, long-in-the-works Indiana Jones episode as “a tremendous disappointment and a waste of a year,” another A-list screenwriter heard this cri de coeur and quietly sighed in recognition.

Jeff Nathanson, who had previously written “Catch Me If You Can” and co-written “The Terminal” for the Jones films’ director, Steven Spielberg, was hired after Darabont to take another crack at a new story for the iconic adventure series.

“That’s one of those movies that got me into the movie business, was watching ‘Raiders [of the Lost Ark],’ ” says Nathanson, who most recently penned the third “Rush Hour” film. “So I had, like, the greatest year of my life. I had so much fun.”

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But Nathanson’s efforts ultimately ended just as Darabont’s did -- with producer George Lucas passing on his screenplay despite Spielberg’s blessing. Lucas’ curmudgeonly rejections were perplexing to everyone, since reviving the beloved billion-dollar franchise had been on his, Spielberg’s and star Harrison Ford’s agendas for at least a decade.

Nathanson has no idea how much of his draft is left in the greenlit script, which is the work of Spielberg’s frequent closer David Koepp (“Jurassic Park,” “War of the Worlds”), but he seems to have taken the whole thing in stride.

“When you’re working on a blockbuster-sized film, it’s always a struggle,” says Nathanson, who managed to survive “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and previous “Rush Hour” experiments. “It really is like moving mountains. And if it were easy to move mountains, the Swiss Alps would be in Westwood and all the agents would ski at lunch.”

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Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.


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