Gareth Edwards’ debut film Monsters was a labor of love – a quiet little character study that happened to be set against the backdrop of an alien invasion. But four years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, that personal filmmaker is tackling the King of All Monsters – Godzilla, who’s set for a big-screen reboot featuring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Retaining that intimacy and that personality is, of course, the film’s biggest challenge, but evidenced by the footage Warner Brothers premiered in Hall H at Comic-Con, Edwards has made great efforts to do just that.
Following the film’s panel, Edwards, Cranston, Taylor-Johnson and Olsen sat down with press at the nearby Bayfront Hotel for a longer and more in-depth discussion about the process of reviving Godzilla. In addition to talking about the character’s origins, and the challenge of preserving them while updating him for modern audiences, they reveal details about both its adventure and its themes, reflecting on why the character continues to endure 60 years after he first came to life.
After all these years, what do you think it is that makes Godzilla so resonant?
Gareth Edwards: I think it’s the fact that you can’t answer that question. You can’t define it, in a sense. Like, when we first tried to figure out the film, is it going to be about Godzilla, or based on these different things? It became a lost conversation. It’s undefinable to these things. There have been so many remakes back-to-back that it’s evolved and changed over the years. I think that’s why it withstood the test of time. We felt that, above having Godzilla in the film, you’ve kind of got an infinite canvas. It’s such a rich universe, once you step back from these giant creatures. You really can do anything you want. I think that’s why it withstood the test of time – because it’s so ripe for remaking and revisiting. It’s not a single story. It could be any story that you want.
So much of the charm of your first film was the idea of concealing the creatures in that movie. How much did that benefit you when you were working on this, which is so much about the spectacle of revealing the creature? How much did it challenge you, and how much did it hurt you to, sort of, go the other way on this one?
Gareth Edwards: With these films, you’re going to sit in the cinema for two hours. You want to see Godzilla, and you want to see him fight something else. We can reveal that now because we just talked about that this morning. If you just do it straightaway, all up front, when everything is peaking, it goes to zero. It has no effect. It’s all about contrast. We tried to build the structure of the movie, and the weight of the film in such a way that it climaxes more, and more, and more. By the end of the film, hopefully it’s as powerful as it can be. You get all of those moments, which come throughout the movie. Like, you really feel like you’re ready for them… Classic movies though… You can hop back to Jaws, Jurassic Park, Aliens… They don’t actually show the creature…
Do you have a vivid memory of the first time you discovered the Godzilla films? Were you generally scared by the monster, or was the campiness part of the appeal? How did you discover Godzilla?
Bryan Cranston: Unfortunately, my discovery of Godzilla was in the 1950s when the Raymond Burr [version], 1956 I believe, came out. The year I was born. On TV, as a kid, watching it, that was astonishing! Even for its time, it was amazing to see those special effects, that were state of the art at the time. I just loved it. I thought it was – for a boy to watch that, it was great destruction, and a wonderful use of miniatures. But, our tastes have become more sophisticated since then, and certainly now. That’s what’s so great about this version of Godzilla. There was careful concern to develop the plot lines and intricacies, and the character development. Without that, without us as actors, and performers getting into our roles, the audiences wouldn’t be invested either. That’s what makes it far more interesting, for me – I believe, that audiences will be far more invested in these characters, and riding with them through the tensions and fears, and anxieties that the characters are going through. You’ll feel it more. Ultimately, it will be a better experience for you.
What did you want to add or change to make this your Godzilla film ?
Gareth Edwards: Imagine that, in 1954 when the first Godzilla movie was made, this creature really existed and someone saw him, tried to draw him and tried to make a suit, and they did a very good job with it, but when you then saw the real creature, you’d go, “Okay, I totally understand how you got that suit from that creature, but now I see the real thing. I totally believe it. It’s completely real.” That was the brief we gave for all of the designs. We did hundreds of designs, and never stopped playing with it, until the last minute. It got to a point where it was like, “Is there anything else you want to change about this design.” Personally, I was really happy with it. Toho as well were very much a part of the approval process. So is was a Toho-approved design as well.
What sort of tone does this film have? How much does it explore those nuclear fears that the first film looked at?
Bryan Cranston: I think it’s cautionary, actually. You look at the tale and you see the scope of it, and it’s relevant to today’s times. It’s about harnessing power, dispersing of waste and messing around with Mother Nature. Can you actually do that and get away with that? How long can you get away with that? Living in that milieu is this creature that emerges from the muck and mire. It’s very exciting.
I really enjoyed the characters you created in Monsters. How tough has it been to to manage that with the effects that we’re all expecting?
Gareth Edwards: I tried not to view them as effects and go “Ok. This really happened. There really are giant monsters. What would be the best story to tell, that we can think of,” and it always involves humans. So you come up with those characters, and try to create that story. I don’t separate the two in my mind. You just picture the movie. What was so refreshing was that we would shoot scenes that sometimes had a creature in them, sometimes didn’t, and we’d desperately try to make it work from an emotional point of view, on its own. You guys had the advantage of this, but we’d go in the evening, and kind of review scenes with the digital effects company, and they’d start putting the special effects in, and I’d go “Oh my god. I totally forgot that this whole other layer was going on with this.” We were painstakingly worried about the characters, and their journey, and suddenly, on top of that, there’s this spectacle that’s going to be invented in the whole film. It makes you feel really good, because we wanted to get it right from the character side of things.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: The thing that I found really interesting around a film that’s a special effects movie – my idea was that you’re going to be in a studio filming these green screen monsters. There was, maybe, a couple of days of that, but the majority of time we would go film on location. It gave it just a whole other depth, and you forget about it. We’d be on location with destruction everywhere, and people were injured, and it came to life. It felt natural, and realistic. The way we shot it, it’s just kind of with you on this journey, from our perspective point of view. When you do get a glimpse of Godzilla, you’re looking up from a car window, or from a military helicopter, so you really feel, as an audience, that you’re totally involved in it. That you’re on this mad roller coaster journey with us.
Gareth, are you already set to direct a sequel, if that were to happen?
Gareth Edwards: I had a blast, and it’s not over yet. What’s so fantastic about Godzilla is that we’ve created a playground that I would love to play in again. If I was lucky enough to be invited back to the party, I would jump at it. It’s such an honor to do one of these movies with this character, and to work with this cast. I would definitely be interested in doing another film.
“An epic rebirth to Toho’s iconic Godzilla, this spectacular adventure pits the world’s most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence. Gareth Edwards directs Godzilla, which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and Juliette Binoche, with David Strathairn and Bryan Cranston. The screenplay is by Max Borenstein, Frank Darabont, and Dave Callaham. Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni are producing with Mary Parent and Brian Rogers. Alex Garcia and Patricia Whitcher are the executive producers, alongside Yoshimitsu Banno and Kenji Okuhira.”
Godzilla will be released to US theaters on May 16th, 2014.