SDCC | ‘Godzilla’ Director & Stars on Action, Spectacle & King of All Monsters
Godzilla was, quite literally, the biggest thing at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Although Warner Bros. is only unveiling the creature in parts, the King of All Monsters remains as big a draw today as when he was introduced to audiences in 1954, and all signs suggest that director Gareth Edwards’ remake promises the kind of spectacle and destruction that his longtime fans have come to expect and enjoy.
Following the explosive Legendary Pictures presentation in Hall H, where Edwards introduced a sequence that showcased another monster from the movie, the filmmaker and cast members Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen sat down with members of the press to talk about the challenges of updating the iconic creature.
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?
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.
You mentioned earlier that Godzilla fights many creatures, at least one of which you showed in Hall H. Are the creatures original designs, or will you be paying homage to some of the old Toho creatures?
Edwards: I can’t answer that question. Bryan can just be really funny instead. (Laughs)
Bryan Cranston: You’re just going to throw me under the bus?
Edwards: We had a deal. If I got an awkward question, I’d scratch my head like this (scratches side of head), and he would come in and save me.
Cranston: And if there was a question that I didn’t want to answer, I’d just scratch my head like this (scratches head with middle finger). (Laughs)
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.
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?
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.
Elizabeth Olsen: It’s kind of funny to go, “OK, so in that corner up there is this thing. Is it like a unicorn, or like a spider?” So, you know … it’s kind of a weird … it’s fun! It’s like you’re playing hot lava as a kid, or something. You’re trying to go deep into your imagination, like “Yeah, that’s a monster! It’s going to kill me unless I run fast!” So it’s fun. (laughs)
Taylor-Johnson: There were times as well that it’s hard to get the imagination of something, but it is a frightening prospect. Sometimes – it was really helpful – Gareth would, without knowing, we’d have a scene where we’d see something happen from one of the creatures and Gareth would play something on the microphone so we’d get the sound of Godzilla, or somebody playing around with the special effects. That was really great, to kind of hear something. You’re envisioning it through your consciousness, and then you’re hearing something through the giant speakers around you. Sometimes he would do it without you knowing it, and it would give a totally different layer.
Edwards: It was on my iPhone. I would desperately try to get to “this clip” with “this sound” and go, “That’s not it. That’s not it. That’s not it. ” and they’d go, “You’re wasting camera time” and I’d go, “I gotta find that noise!”
Taylor-Johnson: There was one time where it was, like, a walrus meets a tiger meets a hippo farting. (Laughs) It was so bizarre …
Cranston: And also the other monster in the movie.
Elizabeth, can you tell us about the character you play, and whether she is suited or unsuited to face what she is facing?
Olsen: I feel like my character’s role serves a purpose in the hands-on interaction of chaos in the city, and how you deal with that, as well as having a child who needs to not be part of the chaos. I think that’s the perspective you get, and what ends up happening after … these things occur, and there’s an overflowing hospital, and people have to get from point A to point B, so it’s just, kind of, the practical part of it. It references any time some sort of natural disaster happens in a city. There’s a real truth to it, as opposed to a fantastical thing.
Because Godzilla is such a legendary creature, and on top of that, this film is highly action-driven, what were some of the biggest challenges on the set of this film?
Cranston: Getting Godzilla to come out of his trailer. He was an ass. He was a real asshole. (Laughs)
Edwards: I’d like to see that. We’d have to CGI the whole thing, though.
Cranston: He’d come out, he would eat all of the food on craft services, he would wreck everything … but boy, when the cameras rolled … boy, he was good! That’s why they keep making Godzilla movies. (Laughs) He’s really good.
Gareth, are you already set to direct a sequel, if that were to happen?
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.
What was it like to be able to spend so much money?
Edwards: On Day 1, you drive to the set and you’re like, “Oh, no! We’ve picked a really bad time to go to the location. There’s some kind of convention going on.” There are 400 cars and all these trucks and you’re like, “Oh, no! Did no one check this?” And then, they’re like, “Gareth, it’s your crew. There are 400 of them.” And there really were 400. And you go, “OK, all right.” What was so amazing, and I’m not proud of this, but we wrapped and, if you tested me to name my crew and tell you what they did, I would fail miserably. You never actually deal with these people. You’re kept in this little bubble. You get dropped off, and you’re next to the cameraman and the actors, and then, at the end of the day, you get driven off again. You’re kind of just protected, so it felt, to me, like a small, intimate movie. I was only ever talking to about six people, throughout the whole experience. You see trees move and lights move, and things that are requested just arrive. It can get quite addictive. It’s a power trip.
Is the population of this film aware of Godzilla before he shows up in the film?
Edwards: It’s an origin story, so that probably says it. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s definitely what you would consider an origin story.
Gareth, what did you want to add or change to make this your Godzilla film ?
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, “OK, 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 it was a Toho-approved design as well.
What sort of tone does this film have?
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.
Which of the original Godzilla films do you personally like the most?
Edwards: With the exception of the 1954 original, I would probably say Destroy All Monsters, because I just love the idea of Monster Island – and having a world with these creatures in it. I find that fascinating and to treat that realistically. I wouldn’t want to limit it to just one other foe, I think it’s more fun to … This question will come back to haunt me if we ever do a sequel (laughs). But I think multiple creatures would make a better movie in terms of the original era of the Godzilla movies.
Gareth, can you please tell me what you thought about Guillermo del Toro‘s Pacific Rim?
Edwards: I think it’s great! I love Guillermo, and he was very supportive of this movie, because obviously throughout the process we did a lot of “What are you doing?” “What are you doing?” He had nothing but crazy support for us, but [Godzilla] is a very different movie. Ours is obviously set in modern, contemporary times. It’s very much a character-driven movie, which I think is a fair thing to say. It’s got an epic spectacle to it, yet – and I have to be careful which words I use – but it’s got somber moments as well. It’s quite haunting and quite moving. We tried to make a blockbuster that harks back to the pace and style of the early ’80s and late ’70s action movies.