VANCOUVER – “Godzilla” is returning to theaters this May, and bringing the giant creature back to life was no easy feat for director Gareth Edwards and the film's impressive cast.
With the poorly-received 1998 Hollywood effort still fresh in some fans' memories, the upcoming film is winning viewers over with clever marketing and some awe-inspiring visual teases.
Before the first trailer dropped, however, I visited the film's Vancouver set for a peek behind the curtain.
Simply judging from the set visit and the film's trailers, “Godzilla” appears to have an original and thoroughly consistent tone, with Edwards and his game cast lending the fantastic story a realist edge. The PG-13 result looks to be grounded, but not too grim.
Edwards previously dealt with giant creatures in the low-budget 2010 “Monsters,” for which he served as both director and visual effects artist, but “Godzilla” is much bigger in scope.
Among the sets which a group of journalists and I toured at the Canadian Motion Picture Park in Burnaby, BC last year, was a colossal creation made up of the giant ribcage of some poor fallen giant. It had a look similar to H.R. Giger's otherworldy “biomechanical” designs in “Alien.” It was complete with stalactites, faux limestone and oxidized rock, all realistically rendered with foam core, paint and hard work. Even in bright stage lighting, it was utterly convincing.
“This set cost more than 'Monsters,'” cracked Edwards.
On a different stage, father-and-son duo Joe and Ford Brody (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) explored a home in Japan, near where Godzilla had recently struck. The floor appeared to have a giant footprint.
The scene takes place in the present day, but the Brodys have had Godzilla in their lives ever since a tragic incident in 1999, when Ford was a kid. “Godzilla,” we were told, takes place in several countries (Japan, the Philippines and the U.S.) that have been terrorized by Godzilla and other kaiju, with the first incident occuring in 1954 (which coincides with the original Toho Studio film's release). The incidents were somehow covered up, but as an obsessed scientist who believes in a conspiracy, Cranston told us that Joe knows better, while his son is skeptical up until a certain pivotal point in the film.
Production designer Owen Patterson described it as a road movie taking place in different places, utilizing nearly 100 sets in Japan, the U.S. (Hawaii, San Francisco) and Canada.
In addition to the scene we watched being shot, we were treated to surprisingly effective animated pre-viz (pre-visualization) footage of a scene that later popped up (in completed form) in the trailer. With no dialogue, it followed the HALO jumpers as they dove out of a plane into a smoldering San Francisco, where the Big G is wreaking havoc. Another pre-viz scene found some U.S. soldiers on a giant bridge somewhere while at least two giant monsters duked it out overhead.
Later, we were shuttled to a second unit set which was comprised of part of the deck of an aircraft carrier, with a giant green screen in the background. This was meant to depict the aftermath of “G Day” — as the Battle of San Francisco becomes known — complete with smoking rubble and bloodied extras. The battle itself was teased as one of the film's most epic action sequences, with significant carnage allegedly taking place on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Multiple monsters may be involved, but it's unknown if any other familiar Toho creatures will appear. On set, however, there was a small terrarium marked “Mothra,” which could lead to something bigger.
Despite its tenuous connections to the 1954 original, this “Godzilla” is more reboot than sequel.
“It is an origin story,” Edwards revealed. “It's not about having seen another film to understand this movie. It's supposed to be the beginning. But it doesn't just take place in modern times. And in a way, the mistakes we made in the past come back to haunt us in the present, and that is something that the whole movie is driven by — whether you want to call them 'mistakes' or 'choices' — that now we pay the price for.”
Go to page 2 to read about the film's human elements, Godzilla's design, Toho's involvement, and thoughts about a sequel
The human elements are what drew Edwards, and cast members Cranston and Taylor-Johnson to the films.
“A monster movie just for the sake of being a monster movie can kind of become a pointless exercise, so it's about finding the right symbolism in what he represents and trying to find a storyline that expresses that,” Edwards explained. “And I'm really pleased with the playground we're playing in because I think it's very much on theme. And I hope that when people see it who are big Godzilla fans, they'll be happy with the choices we made. We definitely tried to stay as true as possible to the original in terms of thematics.”
“I always thought that when you saw a movie that had one element that they focused on and ignored the human element, I thought they were just lazy,” echoed Cranston. “And if this move didn”t have a character component to it, I wouldn”t be here. It just [wouldn”t] interest me.”
The “Breaking Bad” star and Edwards saw eye-to-eye on the film's tone and tenor.
“He”s quite remarkable for a young lad,” Cranston said of Edwards. “You know, given the circumstances, after 'Monsters,' and then coming to do this monster budget film, he has every right to freak out that, and just break out in hives, but he”s amazingly calm; frighteningly so.”
“If you saw his movie 'Monsters,' which is one of the things that got me involved in conversations, it was like a character-driven monster movie,” Cranston continued, “and I”m much more attracted to character-driven pieces, from the ‘old school” perhaps, where you actually want to care about and invest in the characters, and root for them or hate them or whatever, and there is very strong father-son component to this, and my character makes huge, sweeping decisions that reverberate throughout the rest of the story, that are emotional as well, which is really what brought me here.”
“Hopefully, this will be a blockbuster where you really care about the people you're following,” Edwards later added. “Obviously, there's a giant, epic spectacle to it as well. I'm personally not a fan of some of the Hollywood blockbusters that come out, and we're trying to hark back to the movies we all grew up and loved like early Spielberg stuff, and trying to get a bit more restraint and suspense, and not this cutting-every-three-seconds and explosions-every-two-seconds mentality. It's really hard at this stage to be that definite about everything in the movie because we're still finding it.”
“There's definitely a very strong themes that hark back to the original 1954 Godzilla,” the director added. “It's the 'Man v. Nature' that comes through a lot. It's a recurring theme on the set today the way that nature always wins. You can't control nature. When we start thinking we can control nature, that's when it all starts to go wrong. And that happens a lot in our movie. You see it quite a bit, that is our arrogance always comes back to bite us.”
In the new “Godzilla,” the nature-gone-mad aspect doesn't just stop with the title creature; there are other giants who walk the earth.
“I'm not sure what I can and cannot say,” Edwards deliberated, “but I'll say that it was really important that we didn't do a Godzilla movie where it was just one creature because you can quickly run out of people-pointlessly-trying-to-fire-and-stop-the-thing storylines, which is why Toho movies were always him versus something else, and the whole involved [other]creatures.
“So when you get into it, you have to make that choice, and we made a choice, but without giving too much away, it's not as simple as that. It's not as simplistic as 'Is there a good or a bad?' Through the course of the movie it starts to form, and…it's really hard to answer these questions,” he trailed off, smiling.
However, answers about Godzilla himself were more concrete and forthcoming.
“He looks like Godzilla,” producer Brian Rogers told us. “The '98 version was never even looked at. Gareth wanted to imagine what nature would create without worrying about a suit.”
“For a long time, we liked the idea of never ever saying his name,” Edwards recalled. “And we had a million ideas of how you could say that name. And it might be that one of them ends up in the movie. We're still playing with a couple of them. But I think it's just as good to never say his name out loud. I saw ['Man of Steel'] last night and thought they were quite clever about it.”
Toho — the famed Japanese studio which produced a slew of Godzilla films over the last sixty years — was initially nervous after the failure of the 1998 Hollywood version, but they ended up embracing the project.
Edwards told us, “We've been sharing all the scripts with them; sharing the concept art and the development of the film, and they were heavily involved in the design of Godzilla in terms of approvals and everything, so it's very much been a Toho-approved Godzilla movie, which we wanted it to be, because for us it would be kind of pointless if Toho didn't feel like it was a real Godzilla movie. So we were pretty keen to try and get that right.”
While Max Borenstein (“Seventh Son”) is credited with the screenplay, work was also done by David Callaham (“The Expendables”), David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel”), and Drew Pearce (“Iron Man 3”).
Former “Walking Dead” showrunner and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Frank Darabont also did some on-set re-writes.
“He did a fantastic job,” Edwards sad of Darabont. “There's a particular scene we finished filming the other day — I can't talk about it — but it was very strong, and it was all his idea. One of the actors that was in it, as we were just chit-chatting off to the side, said 'This is the reason I took this job.' And everyone felt that way when we were filming it as well. He brought a very emotional, powerful series of ideas to the story.”
When asked about the potential for a new film franchise, Rogers considered for a moment, before noting, “There's a story that can continue,” while stressing that immediate sequelization wasn't the plan.
“The good news is we're trying to make a good first film,” producer Mary Parent added.
“Godzilla” opens May 16.