GODZILLA (2014) NYC Press Junket Report: It’s Big and Terrible
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details from an upcoming movie.
On the morning of Sunday, May 4th in New York City, Warner Bros heralded the return of Godzilla by hosting a press junket in which the upcoming film’s director, producer and leading cast met with journalists to answer questions in a bevy of roundtable interviews. It was big and terrible, and judging by the debris and rubble adorning the hallway at the JW Marriott Essex House near Central Park, the King of Monsters was back in a bigger way than ever thought possible.
Affable, young director Gareth Edwards joked about all the attention he’d been receiving: “They keep putting me in rooms, and it’s always full of microphones.” Edwards credited his love of monsters and movies as the reason for being brave enough to tackle the Godzilla-sized project. “I never imagined in a million years that I’d get offered this (film),” he stated. “I love monster movies, and the other film I did (MONSTERS, 2010) was a very low-budget monster movie. I thought I was going to get to make one movie ever, so I picked a monster movie, and I guess because of that, there was a consideration (for me to direct GODZILLA).”
“But it was a massive, massive risk,” he continued, “because I’ve never done anything on this scale, and I have to thank (producer) Thomas (Tull) for that because a lot of people were probably thinking he was crazy. And maybe he was crazy — we’ll find out when people see the movie — but he backed me completely. As soon as that phone call happened, even though I knew (this film) was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, I wouldn’t be able to be an old man and know that I’d turned it down out of fear. I was more afraid of saying ‘no’ than I was saying ‘yes,’ so that was what made me do (the film).”
Elaborating further on his affinity for the property, Edwards noted, “They could have had any filmmaker they wanted to make GODZILLA. It’s a really great franchise that in a way is like the Batman movies. (With Batman), they’d reached this kind of campiness and silliness where everyone felt like, ‘oh, it’s done.’ Then Chris Nolan came along, he rebooted it and made these classic films. Godzilla had also reached that point where it was like, ‘you can’t really go there.’ It’s like a hot potato that you don’t really want (to touch). But for me as a filmmaker, that’s the ideal starting point.”
Legendary Pictures’ producer Thomas Tull also discussed why the monster’s creators, Toho Company, agreed with his choices for both director and overall direction for the reboot: “I think they got a sense from both myself and Gareth that we had reverence (for their character). The 1954 GODZILLA is one of my favorite movies of all time, and so I think they understood that. And at the same time, we asked them, ‘look at our body of work and decide if you think we know what we’re doing.’ There was a lot of trust. There was a contract stating certain rules and designs which frankly squared with exactly what we wanted to do. Other than that, Toho was great about saying ‘go ahead and make the movie.’”
When discussing the film’s deliberate pacing and his decision to go that route, Edwards once again gives nod to the films enjoyed in his youth: “I probably blame it on growing up with movies like the early Spielberg films. (Those movies) had for me what was like this holy grail of filmmaking. You’d find these characters who are relatable, everyday folk that get put in these extreme situations through the events that happen in the movie. So I was aspiring to do something more akin to that late ‘70s/early ‘80s style of filmmaking. Everybody has their favorite monster movies, as well as Godzilla, and the references we’d always come up with were JAWS and ALIEN. They’re very character-based movies where over a long period of time, you really get to know the people, and then all the problems start to really unfold.”
“And we also wanted (GODZILLA) to be different. There are a lot of blockbusters out there every year and personally, I’m very happy with it being different since that was our goal from the beginning. It is a slow burn and for me, the reason for that is so when you finally get (to the action), it’s as powerful as it can be. You don’t peak too soon. I think (the audience) can get ‘battle fatigue’ if you just have constant carnage.”
Tull echoed this same, measured approach in regards to making the CG effects-laden kaiju spectacle. “There are a lot of tentpole films now, and I think on a global scale, the thought process is ‘we have to top whatever is (popular).’ Legendary’s first movie was BATMAN BEGINS and Chris Nolan… well there’s nothing more to say, right? You look at the restraint that was shown (with that film) and the care that goes into it. I also think it makes you appreciate (the final product) more. As a fan, when you go to see something, (usually) it’s big and there’s spectacle, but you’re numb by the third act. So we wanted the destruction to count, and for you to feel real weight when something happened or people were imperiled. That was important to us, not just to have massive destruction for destruction’s sake.”
“So I don’t know if ‘restrained’ is really the right word,” Tull continued, “but we wanted to be thoughtful about the way that we approached (GODZILLA). It’s almost like watching an old kung fu movie and you’re like, ‘can you get to the fight scene, please?’ We wanted to really avoid that.”
Known throughout the world for MONSTERS, his feature film debut which emphasizes its tiny human cast in a setting fraught with enormous alien creatures, Edwards explained why the characters are central in movies depicting fantastic premises: “If I could make a film where no one said a word, to me that’s the ultimate cinema. Dialogue is always very necessary and it’s part of human interaction, so you’re always going to have it. But I feel like when cinema’s at its best, it’s not people telling you what’s going on; instead, you’re kind of witnessing and having thoughts about what’s going on. You talk about characters in the film, and who’s the most important character. Everyone always ends up going, ‘the hero’s the most important character, and everything should be secondary to the hero.’ Actually, there’s one more important person in there and that’s the audience. The film is really about the audience and so (as a director), you’ve got to always picture that you’re them rather than the hero. And you go, ‘okay, what would I be thinking if I saw this, and how can I change or twist (my) expectation about the next moment?’ You kind of get through what you think is going to happen next, and you get pulled into the film more from that.”
Edwards continued: “Personally, I feel like as long as you do it in a way where the characters that you’re choosing to follow are very much embedded in and affect the monster element of the film, then it’s okay. If you just took any old family or any old character and then just (added) Godzilla on top, it would be a different story. But we took a long period of time to try and find what would be a normal group of people that (the audience) could relate to, who would be affected by these events and who would be able to influence and be a key part at the end of the movie without it feeling too ‘flukey.’ And so we arrived at what we did with Aaron (Taylor-Johnson’s) character and Bryan (Cranston’s character).”
Continuing about the audience’s need for the characters with which they can strongly identify, Tull explains, “We just wanted to make sure that you cared about the story and the characters. And that’s one of the reasons this has actually never happened to us before in a decade of doing (films): every one of our first choices for the actors said ‘yes.’ To get this caliber set of actors to say ‘yes’ to both a Godzilla movie and a young director was kind of a tall order.”
Veteran actor Ken Watanabe portrays scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, named for and inspired by a principal character from the 1954 film. “It’s really enjoyable to join this film as a Japanese actor,” said Watanabe. “Gareth is a really big admirer of Japanese culture and he wants to make this same atmosphere as the original (Godzilla film).”
As the leading Japanese actor in the Hollywood reboot of a franchise renowned for its Japanese origins, Watanabe’s character is an amalgamation of characters familiar to fans of the classic Godzilla movies. “This year marks the 60th anniversary of Godzilla, “ said Watanabe, explaining why he believes Godzilla is still relevant today. “After World War II, Godzilla was born out of fear by people’s fascination with nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Then, three years ago in Japan, we had the (overwhelming) experience of a major earthquake, (resulting) tsunami and the collapse of a nuclear plant. So even after 60 years, people are still fascinated by Godzilla (because) after all these years, the things that terrify us have not changed. Technology and science (develop rapidly), but it still hasn’t changed. There is still the fear of what humans can do.”
“The original (film) is so different,” Watanabe continues. “(My character’s) father was a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945. Because of that background, (my character) wound up studying nuclear energy and power. However, in the process, he discovered the existence of Godzilla and he comes to believe, and fear, the power of nature which man cannot control. He chases Godzilla, but he cannot control it. He can only suggest (to the military) how to deal with (the situation), but he cannot do anything.”
In further describing his character’s arc, Watanabe said, “When I saw the movie. I became so excited whenever Godzilla lets out his roar. But something (also) involves sadness. It almost feels like Godzilla is scolding us, (for) humanity’s foolishness. (At that point), Godzilla is like symbolism of human conscience. Of course, my character is a scientist, but he also (becomes) an admirer of nature and the power of God’s hands.”
Although the 1954 film served as inspiration to the production, its primary theme of man vs. nature-gone-awry was secondary in order to pit the new Godzilla against a greater, more terrifying adversary — a choice that had already been determined when Edwards came onto the project. “It was one of the things that was already established when I got asked to do it,” he said. “There was a screenplay that existed, and our film evolved a lot from that original screenplay, but it had other creatures in it. And Thomas was always adamant that he wanted to see Godzilla fight something else to make it a different, new kind of Godzilla experience. From the very start, I knew that was the case and I thought the biggest problem was, I think you get one buy-in with the audience. They give you one crazy leap of faith and for us it was going to be that there was a 350-foot lizard. And it felt like we wouldn’t get another buy-in, so if we’re going to have another creature, how are we going to do it, because you can’t just magically invent some other (monster).”
Once again, the classic monster films of Edwards’ childhood provided the basis to work from. “I then started looking with Max (Borenstein), the screenwriter into ideas about some sort of symbiotic relationship with Godzilla in terms of his evolution. And we discussed ALIEN and H.R. Giger’s Alien design, and the fact that it has this parasitic life cycle with a human, and it’s like ‘what if we did the equivalent for a Godzilla species?’ And what was kind of interesting about that was, it all started to sort of click: Godzilla is radioactive and they need radiation to reproduce. If (these creatures) were somehow brought into the world today for some reason, they’d be looking for radiation. That kind of was very interesting from the point of view (that) we police the world and say, ‘you can’t have nuclear power and you can’t have nuclear weapons, but we can.’ But suddenly, if these creatures popped up that wanted radiation, the tables would be turned and everyone would be trying to get rid of this stuff. So I thought, ‘okay, that has something to say a little bit.’ That kind of excited me, we branched out from there, and that’s how we arrived at (the new monsters).”
When asked about the overall theme being depicted in the classic imagery of Godzilla wading out to sea at the film’s climax, Edwards explained, “It’s back to nature, really.” “I don’t know if I can say this,” he smiled, “but the film (originally) opened with that shot of water on the horizon, and the idea is we’ve gone full circle. We’ve gone back around to where we began. In the condensing of the film, it was a scene that for the better of the movie, we had to eliminate. But (Godzilla) going back is just the idea that maybe in a post-Godzilla world, everything has (become) wind-powered. There’s no nuclear anything because they just don’t want to repeat what has happened. So I feel like him going back is basically nature at peace; that’s why it ends on that tranquil shot of the water because it’s that feeling we’re good again, let’s learn from this and not do that again. I’m sure we won’t learn from it, though. I’m sure there’ll be a sequel.”
Thomas Tull continues that train of thought on sequels and post-credit sequence “Easter eggs” which typically hint at the next blockbuster: “We have one strict rule (at Legendary Pictures): we never mention the ‘s’ word until the movie comes out because I don’t want to (jinx it). And the only thing I will tell you is, I share your enthusiasm for the universe that Toho created and I love those (monsters). So hopefully everyone loves the movie; that would be a high class problem (to have).
“If the movie doesn’t work, then it’s clearly at my doorstep,” admits Tull. “When you make a movie like GODZILLA, it’s not like PACIFIC RIM (which) you make up from scratch and nobody has any expectations. There are passionate (Godzilla) fans all over the world and all we wanted to do was to make sure fans knew, especially when we showed the first teaser — the ‘Oppenheimer piece’ as we call it — at (San Diego) Comic Con: we love Godzilla as much as you do and we want to do a great job. This going to be something different, but we get the past, we have reverence for that. And I think especially when you bring something back or you reintroduce (it), and you’re (in effect) saying ‘look here’s our version of Godzilla…’ (then) you have to earn Easter eggs. So we hope that we did with this one.”
For more information on Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures’ GODZILLA, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- GODZILLA RETURNS!
- Legendary Pictures Previews GODZILLA and PACIFIC RIM at Comic-Con
- Legendary Pictures Sets GODZILLA Release Date
- Warner Bros and Legendary Announce Cast and Start of Production for GODZILLA
- GODZILLA (2014) Press Release
- Warner Bros Releases Trailer and Poster for GODZILLA
- Warner Bros Releases High-Res Photos from GODZILLA
- GODZILLA Textless Poster and French/Canadian Trailer
- New GODZILLA Poster and Textless Art from Warner Bros.
- New GODZILLA Roar from Warner Bros.
- New GODZILLA Trailer from Warner Bros.
- GODZILLA International Trailer
- GODZILLA (2014) Photo Gallery
- GODZILLA (2014) TV Spots
- GODZILLA (2014) Extended Look
- GODZILLA (2014) Licensed Product Guide
- GODZILLA Publicity Banners from Warner Bros.
- GODZILLA Production Notes and Images
- GODZILLA Final Credits
- GODZILLA (2014) Asia Trailer
- GODZILLA (2014) Video Clips
- GODZILLA Screens in Hollywood