It was love (and terror) at first sight.
Thomas Tull was about 8 years old when he saw the original black-and-white “Godzilla” movie on television at his grandparents’ house.
“I was both in awe and a little bit terrified, and I distinctly remember wondering if it was the earliest version of found footage. At 8 years old, I was like, is this real? This is terrifying. And I just became hooked on ‘Godzilla’ and that whole Toho universe, and I’ve been a fan my whole life,” he told the Post-Gazette in a recent call.
The 1954 classic, released by Toho Co., Ltd., opens with thundering foot falls, primitive roars and the disappearance of boats, passengers and crews. They are no ordinary accidents but the work of Godzilla, which lived in ocean caves until H-bomb tests damaged his natural habitat and turned him into a 150-foot mutant dinosaur taking on Tokyo.
Mr. Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures and a producer of the new $160 million “Godzilla,” is allowing the king of the monsters to roar for new generations.
One of his rules was that Godzilla wouldn’t be the only beastly behemoth on screen. “I wanted to root for Godzilla but just fighting against the military, I think, it would be tough. How far can you go with that?”
Legendary aimed to produce a movie that would incorporate classic elements and yet was more intimate than the public might expect and make moviegoers care about the characters played by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe.
“We wanted to have all of that and maybe be even a little understated and have a different tone and DNA than people were expecting.
“There are certainly fun moments in it, and we didn’t want it to be somber and overly violent because we want kids to be able to see it but at the same time, we wanted to approach it like a natural disaster movie. … If this really happened, what would it feel like?”
The movie, directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Max Borenstein, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. That further begs the question about how old children should be before seeing it.
“We actually talked about that a lot and although there are some intense sequences, most of it’s around other monsters and so forth.
“It’s tough to say, these days it’s like 9-year-olds going on 15. I sort of think with parents taking [them] and talking about the fact that it’s obviously Godzilla in a big fake monster movie, I think 8, 9, 10 years old, somewhere in there, is where I’d feel responsible.”
Still, Mr. Tull and others were concerned when real-life events in Japan — the earthquake and resulting tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in 2011 — seemed eerily similar to some scripted, deadly chaos.
“We were extraordinarily concerned about that,” Mr. Tull said. “Right in the middle of planning all this, we spoke to Toho and we spoke to other friends and folks that we trusted in Japan to say, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be insensitive, we have this scene at a nuclear power plant,’ and the reaction we got was actually pretty strong.
“No, Godzilla’s original origin was a personification of what Japan went through and don’t shy away from that.” So they did not, starting the story in Godzilla’s birthplace but ultimately staging a big battle in San Francisco.
Mr. Tull, who is part of the Pittsburgh Steelers ownership group, happily watched his worlds collide when “The Dark Knight Rises” filmed (and appeared to destroy) Heinz Field in August 2011. Even he says it may be tough to ever top the melding of Batman and Steelers football during a production Pittsburghers still talk about.
A native of Binghamton, N.Y., now living in LA, Mr. Tull is a member of the board of directors at his alma mater of Hamilton College in central New York along with the board at Carnegie Mellon University. He calls Pittsburgh his second home (or “1B” as he dubs it) and favorite city.
“We’re going to shoot more stuff in Pittsburgh. My production staff knows that if there’s any way possible it will work in Pittsburgh, that’s where we’re shooting,” he said, hinting at a big project that could come before year’s end.
Pointing to the cultural richness of the city along with the universities and other assets such as museums, UPMC and the Google campus, he said, “When I take people there and they understand what a vibrant city it is and how high tech it is, people are blown away.”
Sometimes it’s just about having some frightful fun. In October, the Hollywood heavyweight brought directors Guillermo del Toro and Michael Dougherty to town, and they toured the ScareHouse in Etna. “We had a great time.”
Mr. Tull, who bought Bill Mazeroski’s jersey and the bat used to hit the Game 7 home run in the 1960s World Series, produced “42” and previewed it here at a showing attracting Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.
They played Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, respectively, and Mr. Tull confesses to being very nervous when he met two notables in his life: Rachel Robinson, the trailblazer’s widow, and Dan Rooney, whom he calls Mr. Rooney. Both proved gracious and classy.
So, what about the rumblings that the mogul might tackle a movie about another iconic Pittsburgh moment, the Immaculate Reception?
“I’m, as you can imagine, enamored with the ’70s Steelers. Things like that, you just have to really dial in and get right. We explored and are doing some research,” he said of the Dec. 23, 1972, play considered the best in NFL history.
“It has to be really great if we’re going to do it. That’s obviously something I would love to do. It is absolutely a possibility. There’s no time limit on these things. You just have to make sure that when you’re ready to go, that you know that everything is right.”
And he joked that maybe in his version, fantasy might take the field and the Steelers would beat the Dolphins on Dec. 31, 1972, and go on to win the Super Bowl.