One of the most enduring monsters in film history crashes his way back into theaters May 16 as director Gareth Edwards re-envisions Godzilla for a new generation of American audiences.
Speaking with members of the media following an advance screening of the franchise reboot, Edwards (Monsters) and Legendary Pictures founder Thomas Tull began by stating their Godzilla bona fides, with the director saying he's been a fan since he first saw the late-1970s Hanna-Barbera animated TV series.
Teased by friends about his love of that incarnation, and especially of Godzooky, Edwards said he jokingly began to refer to his film by that character’s name.
“When I started to get emails about the film I’d type ‘Godzilla’ and it would automatically change it to ‘Godzooky,’” Edwards said, “so for a while I was terrified they thought they got a director who didn’t know the name of the main character!”
Explaining why producers turned to Edwards to helm the film, Tull said he had been a fan of the director since his 2010 debut Monsters, and was even more impressed that he had created a giant-monster movie on an independent budget.
“I told him way back when, ‘I think you have a chance to be one of those great directors,’” Tull recalled, adding that he was glad to have the chance to work with Edwards.
The two also touched upon their decision to include a scene with a disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant, with Edwards revealing they considering changing the plot following the 2011 meltdown in Fukushima.
“There was a point where it felt like, well, maybe we shouldn’t set it in Japan, maybe we shouldn’t deal with radiation,” he said. However, “After a while, the general consensus was the original, the whole point of that movie -- and science fiction and fantasy in general, really -- but the best have the opportunity to reflect the period that made them. As so as long as we did it respectfully ... we decided to acknowledge those issues as we were figuring out the storyline.”
Adding that as a kid he used to look through an illustrated encyclopedia, Edwards said, “I used to sit and look at that and think none of that has never happened in my lifetime, nothing significant has happened in my lifetime and maybe there never will be. And then in the last 10 years with all these things, it’s nearly impossible to sit down and say, ‘OK, here’s this realistic monster movie, we want to treat this like it really happened, how will people react and not be affected by the imagery of the last 10 years?’”
“It’s entertainment, you’re here to see a movie,” he added, “but I personally like a little meat on my bones, so there’s all that imagery if you want to pull from.”
The filmmaker also admitted he was nervous about tackling such an iconic monster, laughing as Tull told the audience, “I hope you guys just like the movie as much as we did!”
“It’s not just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s a once-in-a-million lifetime opportunity, and the way I dealt with it was to kind of forget what we were doing,” Edwards said. “This is the ultimate monster movie of all.”
The two also spoke about the decision to include other monsters, specifically Muto, which has been teased in Godzilla marketing. Edwards said it was the first idea Tull brought up during the script phase.
“First of all, he’s got to fight somebody else, it’s not just going to be Godzilla, on his own, smashing up a city,” Edwards recalled Tull stating. “We wanted to start with this thing to be feared, and he is, but we knew that as the film progressed the audience’s relationship with him would evolve and it would go from fear and hate to being interpreted, by some, as the potential to save them.”
Tull agreed, adding that going into the film there were some basic world-building rules they stuck to, one of them being that Godzilla is “not the bad guy.”
“He’s not just going to fight the Army ... and he’s going to look like Godzilla, our version -- those were sort of the golden rules,” Tull said.
“You seemed to clap in the right places,” he added as the audience and Edwards laughed.
The two stressed they couldn’t talk about the possibility of introducing other monsters in future films, as they first need to see how Godzilla performed before there was any discussion of a sequel.
While the task of reimagining a sci-fi icon came with its own pressures, Edwards also carried the added weight of Godzilla being his first big-budget film – and only his second feature.
“You write all the pros and cons to making a low-budget film and then you try to write all the pros and cons of a high-budget film, and it’s the same list but swapped over,” he said. “Everything that’s really easy to do with four of you and a camera, its really hard to do with 400 of you and a line of trucks. The thing that stays true to both is the heart.”
“This was not too big for him,” Tull added, stating Edwards' crew had nothing but praise for him.
“They were lying to you -- I can say that now!” Edwards joked.
Turning to his influences, the director confessed that outside of the classic Godzilla films, the monster movies he enjoyed best – “Jaws, Alien, Jurassic Park -- were all those that delayed the reveal of the creature, something he wished to emulate.
“Films like this, you can watch and suddenly if you throw everything at the screen you have nowhere else to go and you get CGI fatigue,” Edwards said. “So what we tried to do in this movie was incrementally build and build and progress and make the film better and more worthwhile, ‘til you get to the big climax at the end.”
He also addressed the politics of nuclear power that influenced both the original Godzilla and their reboot.
“We [the West] police the world and go, ‘You can't have nuclear power. You can't have it. But we can have it, and we have nuclear weapons’ ... and what if there were a creature that existed, or creatures that were attracted to radiation?” Edwards said. “Suddenly the tables would be turned and we'd be desperately trying to get rid of that stuff, and I thought that would be a really interested scenario.”
“The original was definitely a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a very serious film, and so we were inspired to try and reflect that,” he added.
Tull and Edwards brought the Q&A to a close by deflecting further questions about the possibility of a sequel, if not with Warner Bros. then with Universal Pictures.
“Right now we’re trying to concentrate on the 16th!” Tull concluded with a laugh.
Godzilla stomps into theaters nationwide May 16.