Godzilla resurfaces to scare a whole new generation of viewers. Star2 went to New York to check out the folks behind the monster.
Four years ago, director Gareth Edwards made his directorial debut in the independent film Monsters. The film was well-received by critics and Edwards received the award for Best Director at the 2010 British Independent Film Awards.
Now, Edwards has upgraded from one Monsters to another; he helms Godzilla – one of this year’s highly–anticipated Hollywood summer blockbusters.
If he looked nervous talking about directing Godzilla, it is understandable. After all, this is a beloved film franchise with 60 years of history.
“Obviously there are a lot of expectations because there is a big fan base for Godzilla and there was a lot of money on this movie,” said the soft–spoken director at an interview in New York City last week.
Monsters was made with a modest budget of US$500,000 (RM1.6mil) while Godzilla cost US$160mil (RM517mil).
“But to me, this is it. I felt that I can’t be that guy who tells his grandkids one day that, ‘oh yeah, I got a phone call about Godzilla once ...’. The idea of not doing it (at all) was too much pressure for me.”
Godzilla made its cinematic debut back in 1954 in a film directed by Ishiro Honda and produced by the popular film company, Toho. The monster film was revered by Japanese audience for its metaphor on nuclear weapons; people were still reeling from the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings in 1945 during World War II.
“It was conceived out of a very serious idea. I believe Japan could have made a film about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings but it would have been heavily censored by western countries. So they had to sneak under the radar as a monster movie,” said Edwards, 39.
He added: “It was a very cathartic experience for the Japanese people at that time. From a cultural point of view, it did something the country needed back then.”
Sixty years after its cinematic debut, the original kaiju returns in a new Hollywood film.
Edwards explains why Godzilla deserves another update: “It taps into our primal expectations that nature will eventually come back to destroy everything we know and love.”
The awakening of a creature in the Philippines ignites the course of destruction in Edwards’ new Godzilla film. Aaron Taylor–Johnson stars as naval lieutenant Ford Brody who trails the creature from a nuclear power plant in Japan to the city of San Francisco. As he reunites with his estranged father Joe (Bryan Cranston) in Japan and gets closer to Godzilla, his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) who are stranded in San Francisco have to defend themselves.
Producer Thomas Tull gushed about the film’s ensemble cast: “It’s the first and only time in 10 years of doing (films) that every single first choice of actors said ‘yes’ to the movie.”
He also believes Godzilla will not resonate with audience if it didn’t have compelling human characters.
“You can easily wander into (scenes of) destruction until you become numb to it. It’s important that you understood that it’s also about Ford’s journey to get home and protect his family,” Tull said.
Godzilla also stars Ken Watanabe as scientist Ishiro Serizawa who gets involved in the US Navy mission to search and destroy the monster.
“We developed a backstory for Serizawa that ties back to the nuclear theme. There is a quick scene that brushes over (Serizawa’s past) and there is a lot of complexity in that. Imagine the atrocities his family had to go through in World War II. Then he struggles with the US Navy’s decision to use nuclear weapons to take down Godzilla,” said Edwards.
The director added the cast had a lot to do with how their characters develop with the story.
“Everyone wanted to do something deeper than popcorn movies. I think that’s why actors like Ken got involved as well because he likes the deeper meaning of the film.”
Tull said only a director like Edwards could bring such depth to a monster flick.
“Gareth has the ability to give you cinematic spectacle and then make it feel intimate, almost like an independent film.”
Monster of the new era
If Godzilla was a person, who would it be? Edwards said he pondered upon that question when mulling over a new design for Godzilla.
“We came up with this idea that he was like the last Samurai: a lone, ancient warrior that would prefer not to be part of the world if he could, but events force him to resurface,” said Edwards.
The design process began with Godzilla’s silhouette which depicts an amphibious creature with dorsal fins spiking out all the way to its long sweeping tail.
“All great characters have strong silhouettes. I knew we were going to have elements like fog and darkness to obscure Godzilla in the film, but you can see his silhouette and that was audience’s first glimpse of him.”
Edwards’ Godzilla is a 108-metre high digital creation, the largest in its film history; double the size of the 1954 monster (which was played by an actor in a latex suit).
Then famed performance-capture artist, Andy Serkis (most famous for his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings series), was brought in to form Godzilla’s expression and emotional arc.
“Godzilla was going to tell us who he was, just like actors who have their own take on characters. We couldn’t dictate what it was going to be; it was more about just trying different ideas and permutations. And slowly, he revealed himself to us,” said Edwards.
Then there is the battle cry, Godzilla’s trademark roar which Tull said was “nearly impossible to recreate”. Edwards worked with Oscar-winning sounds designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn to come up with Godzilla’s earth-shattering roar.
The result of recording and experimenting with hundreds of sounds led the team to produce what they believe is the ultimate Godzilla roar.
“It was the huge, awe-inspiring roar that Godzilla always deserved,” said Tull.
Edwards described the roar as the creature’s way of letting others know that he is the alpha predator on earth.
With 28 films, including one Hollywood remake in 1998, on the creature, is it possible that Godzilla has seen and done it all?
According to Tull, this is where the decision to hire Edwards as the director came in.
“For a franchise like this, having a young or fresh perspective could invigorate things. I believe that we just made a Godzilla movie that fans have been wanting to see for a long time,” explained Tull.
Edwards said having Monsters in mind helped shape the new Godzilla film.
“When people asked, ‘So, what have you done?’ and I said Monsters, they go, ‘Is that the Pixar movie?’. The reality is nobody has seen Monsters and it felt like fair game to use ideas that were in the film.”
He added: “I don’t like things that are too black and white. I like the idea that the world is more complicated than that. For a moment, I want everyone to see the bad guy as someone who is like everyone else. They are just trying to survive.”
When he was informed that there were applause and cheers for Godzilla at the press screening of the film in New York, Edwards was, surprisingly, nonchalant.
“Oh, cool ... No one is saying anything yet because of the embargo (on reviews) and I just won’t relax. I get really nervous because it’s your baby and you’ve spent so much time on it. You just want everyone to love (your movie) but it belongs to the world now.”
However, Edwards was more vocal about fans who have been “fat–shaming” the new Godzilla. A disgruntled fan on the Internet described the new Godzilla as, “fat from the neck downwards and massive at the bottom”. Previous Godzillas averaged between 50 and 80m high.
“I think he’s just big-boned, alright,” Edwards said in a deadpan manner.
He went on: “I’m not sure what images are they are looking at – maybe the ones that have just been released – but when you do get to see him in the film, I don’t think you’d describe him as ‘fat’. He bulked up.”
Edwards also urged fans to give Godzilla a break. “These kinds of comments give giant monsters a real image complex. We shouldn’t put pressure on them. We should accept them the way they are.”
> Godzilla opens in cinemas nationwide today.
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