Godzilla 2014: What You Need to Know

godzilla_4In 1954, Japan’s Toho Co., Ltd.,released Ishiro Honda’s groundbreaking monster movie “Godzilla” in a country still reeling from the devastation of World War II.

The film became a massive hit in Japan, and, 60 years later, continues to resonate around the world for distilling the fears and horrors of the atomic age into an awe-inspiring force of nature…Godzilla.

“‘Godzilla’ is the benchmark of monster movies,” says Gareth Edwards, the British director at the helm of the epic new vision for Toho’s iconic creation.  Edwards grew up on Japanese monster movies before discovering Honda’s 1954 masterpiece on DVD and was fascinated by its stark allegorical subtext and continuing relevance in contemporary times.  “If you went around the world with the silhouette of a giant dinosaur looming over a city, everyone would know exactly who it is—whether they’ve seen a Godzilla movie or not.  But what many people don’t realize is that the original Japanese ‘Godzilla’ is actually a very serious film.  I think that’s the reason it was so embraced by Japanese culture—because not only is it a great monster movie, it was also very cathartic for people to see those images brought to life on screen in such a visceral and real way.”

godzilla_1_cranstonPartially reshot, softening some of its metaphorical bite, and dubbed into multiple languages, the film was released abroad two years later and a legend was born.

For the past six decades, the towering “King of the Monsters” has cut a swath through pop culture, spawning numerous sequels, an army of toys, and incarnations in everything from comic books to video games.  A whole new genre of movies emerged—kaiju eiga—and Godzilla became one of the most beloved and recognizable movie heroes of the 20th and, now, 21st centuries.

Bryan Cranston, one of the stars of the new film, has vivid memories of being enthralled as he watched the monster rampage across his childhood TV screen. “Godzilla with his fiery breath…he just destroyed everything in his wake,” Cranston remembers.  “It was actually a man in a suit stomping through a miniature Tokyo, but it was marvelous to a young kid.  There’s a part of me that will always be that boy, but the whole sensibility of how to make a movie like this has matured; the audience has evolved.  It’s not just about Godzilla smashing things up.  People are still going to root for him, but you also want to be connected to what’s happening and root for the characters to make it through.”

godzilla_2_cranston_taylor-johnsonLike Cranston, Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull grew up devouring monster movies, but the crown jewel of Toho’s legion always reigned supreme in his mind.  “From his signature roar to the outline of those dorsal fins to the radioactive fire that he breathes, Godzilla is an absolute global icon,” he says.  “Over the years, Toho has examined the character in different ways and pitted him against a whole menagerie of giant creatures, but my favorite will always be the Japanese original, which was at once a terrifying monster movie and a profound cautionary tale.”

Tull, who produced Edwards’ “Godzilla” along with Jon Jashni, President of Legendary Pictures, veteran producer Mary Parent and British filmmaker Brian Rogers, long harbored a passion to bring the titanic leviathan to the big screen in a summer spectacle with all the heart and human stakes of the original.  “Our intention has always been to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain relevant for as long as it has,” Tull explains.  “Our plan was to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see—a movie that didn’t feel like a thrill ride for its own sake, but to take it back to its roots and create a human story within the context of today’s world.  I’ve been waiting for this film my whole life.”

godzilla_3_taylor-johnsonInherent in the challenge of reinventing such an iconic property was putting at its helm a director who could offer a fresh perspective and keen cinematic aesthetic while remaining true to Godzilla’s integrity and legacy.  They found all those qualities in Gareth Edwards, an emerging filmmaker who took the independent film world by storm with his award-winning “Monsters.”  Edwards not only wrote and directed the film, but designed and shot it as well as singlehandedly creating all the visual effects on his laptop.

“From our very first conversation with Gareth, you got that sense that he was a passionate Godzilla fan,” Tull notes.  “And after seeing ‘Monsters,’ which he made on an absolute shoestring budget, we came away with the feeling that if he had more resources and a bigger canvas, he could do something extraordinary.” Jon Jashni adds that the young director struck the perfect balance between invention and human truth. “Just because you can throw a ton of digital resources at the screen doesn’t mean you should, as that doesn’t really aid audience immersion in the world you’re trying to create,” says the producer. “On ‘Monsters,’ Gareth had to suggest a lot more than he could afford to show. He came from a character-based perspective, grounded in the real world, and then layered otherworldly elements into that world. ‘Monsters’ was microcosmic of what we hoped to create with our new Godzilla movie: something real and true.”

godzilla_6Producer Mary Parent was also impressed with Edwards’ indie hit, noting that both his storytelling sensibilities and filmmaking background inspired confidence in everyone that Godzilla would be in good hands.  “We knew that Gareth would channel all his vision as an artist and storyteller, along with his command of visual effects technology, into making a film that’s worthy of putting this character on screen in the way that he deserves and hasn’t been seen before,” Parent says.  “But we also knew that he could create characters that we can relate to and care about, and take the audience into the experience of ‘Godzilla’ through the eyes of the people living through it.”

Knowing he was being handed the reins to a legend, Edwards turned for inspiration—as Ishiro Honda had before him—to the world he saw around him.  “I know it sounds impossible, but imagine for a moment the arrival of a great creature that mankind can’t even communicate with, much less control…what would that be like to live through?” he posits.  “How would the world react?  We’ve all seen or experienced incomprehensible disasters, natural or otherwise, that would seem like a scenario from a movie if they didn’t actually happen.  So the challenge of making the ultimate Godzilla movie was to reflect that reality, which gets back to the heart of what Godzilla is really about.”

godzilla_7_olsenTull says, “One thing we wanted to do with the film, which was a goal shared by our partners at Toho, was to set part of the story in Japan and maintain Godzilla’s connection to nuclear energy, but to also do so with respect and sensitivity in light of current events.”

Producer Brian Rogers adds, “The parallels that existed in the 1954 film, dealing with the balance between man and nature, and all the potential ways it could be pushed over the edge, is still as relevant today as it was back then—maybe even more so in this day and age.”

Working out of London, Edwards embarked on marathon Skype sessions with the film’s Los Angeles-based screenwriter, Max Borenstein, to shape a story that would both hint at Godzilla’s origins and unravel the mysterious events that herald his emergence in the context of the today’s world.

Though cast-member Ken Watanabe grew up in Japan, he did not see the 1954 film until recently, and appreciated Edwards’ meticulous care to honor it.  “The original ‘Godzilla’ weighs the provocative question that Japanese society was grappling with at the time—nine years after the bombs—when the emotional and physical scars were still very present,” the actor reflects.  “Gareth has a deep understanding of that film, and I responded to his courage in reviving those ideas again.”

Borenstein wrote the screenplay, from a story by David Callaham, after immersing himself in research, which included taking in all 28 “Godzilla” movies produced by Toho Co., Ltd., encompassing the Showa, Heisei and Millennium series.“Our ambition was to treat this story as if this was a terrifying, real incident happening today, with all the gravity of a real disaster, while still making a big, spectacular monster movie that’s fun to watch,” Borenstein details.  “The original film is an amazing tale of humanity’s insignificance in the face of nature, but with the human strength and resilience to rise and survive a disaster of that magnitude.”

Before a single frame of “Godzilla” had been shot, the director and producers created a 90-second teaser to express the mood they wanted to bring to the film, which they debuted at the annual Comic-Con International before nearly 7,000 screaming fans.  The grainy footage revealed a city reduced to rubble, with the great creature materializing through the smoke and dust, and issuing his deafening roar.  Over the imagery, Edwards played the haunting words of Robert Oppenheimer, “father” of the atomic bombs that reduced the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki to radioactive ash, quoting the Hindu scriptures to describe the incomprehensible Pandora’s Box they’d opened:  “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Godzilla has always had a mystery and duality about him—a being of pure instinct that moves not in concert with humanity, but towering over it as he rises implacably from the sea.  “Monsters have always been metaphors for something else,” Edwards notes.  “They represent the darker aspects of our nature and our fears of what we can’t control.  In a way, Godzilla almost embodies a kind of ‘wrath of God’—not in a religious sense, but rather nature coming back to punish us for what we have done to the world.  In our film, we are definitely tapping into those ideas.”