It's been nearly three years since Monsters director Gareth Edwards was announced to helm Legendary Pictures' modern Godzilla reboot. However, while the writer/director/special effects guru managed to deliver a thought-provoking and beautiful film with Monsters, a big budget Godzilla film comes with a lot of additional challenges (and unforgiving fan expectations).
Despite bringing in just shy of $400 million at the global box office, Roland Emmerich's 1998 attempt to update the iconic monster with big budget CGI spectacle was mostly panned by critics and moviegoers alike. Fans were especially hard on the radiated iguana design of the 1998 creature and, coupled with Emmerich's over-the-top third-act horde of baby Godzillas, the film was cemented as a bungled-start to a "more believable" franchise adaptation. Nevertheless, Edwards believes that his approach to the material will strike a better balance for fans and casual moviegoers alike - relying heavily on the classic films that made Godzilla an international brand while also ensuring that the film doesn't lean entirely on giant monster versus monster CGI spectacle.
The director and cast were all on-hand at Comic-Con 2013 for an off-site Godzilla experience as as well as Hall H panel – where they debuted new footage from the film. After they took the stage, the filmmaker (and stars) met with press behind-closed doors, opening-up about Godzilla - and the lessons they learned from prior efforts (both good and bad) in the franchise.
According to Edwards, the key was approaching every scene, whether epic CGI action or moments of human reflection, from an "emotional point of view":
"I think the trick is not to think of the special effects or anything - and just think that this is really happening and there are giant monsters. Ask, 'What would be the best story to tell that always involves humans?' 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 the creature in it and sometimes didn’t, but we would desperately try to make it work from an emotional point of view. Then, in the evenings, I would go to review things with the effects companies who are starting to put the visual effects in, and you’re like, ‘I completely forgot there’s a whole other layer to this!’ We have been painstakingly worrying about the characters and their journey and on top of that is this spectacle embedded in the whole film - and it makes you feel really good."
Still, despite an all-star cast of accomplished performers including Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), and Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), the real draw of the film for many will still be the titular monster. Knowing that Emmerich's 1998 creature was too-far-removed from the Godzilla fans know and love, Edwards promises that the classic 1950s version of the creature was always at the heart of the design process - asserting that they merely sought to make the monster "real":
"In a way we approached it was, imagine in 1954 (when the first Godzilla movie was made), that this creature really existed and someone saw him from Toho, the Japanese studio, and went running back to the studio and said, 'I've seen this creature and it kind of looked like this.' And they tried to draw it and they tried to make a suit and they did a very good job of it but then, when you saw the real creature, you go 'Okay, I totally understand how you got that suit from that creature but now I see the real thing. Oh my God, I totally believe that it's completely real.' And that's how we approached it. We went through hundreds of designs, and never stopped playing really until the last minute and got to the point where it was like, 'Is there anything else that we want to change about this design'? And I was like, personally no, I'm very happy with it. And Toho was very much a part of the approval process. So it's a Toho approved design as well."
Several outlets have mistakenly reported that the creature design from the Godzilla Encounter (along with other concept mock-ups) at Comic-Con actually depicted the official film design. However, on-site PR reps asserted that they've yet to unveil the final creature - stating, instead, that the Encounter monster is simply "pretty close." Still, anyone who was able to check out the off-site Encounter is likely to agree this is encouraging news - because the creature profile is a match for Edwards' approach: a classic take on the character with added detail and realism in its appearance and movement.
As a result, with a focus on emotional character drama set in a world of believable mega monsters, Edwards appears poised to succeed where Emmerich fell short - presenting a film experience that could win-over critics, casual moviegoers and Godzilla die-hards alike. So, what would the director like to do in a potential sequel? A Destroy All Monsters-inspired multi-creature movie certainly sounds cool:
"With the exception of the 1954 original, I would say my second favorite film is Destroy All Monsters. I just love the idea of a monster island. Having a world with these creatures in it. I find that fascinating and would like to treat that realistically. I wouldn't want to limit it to one other foe, I think it's more fun to - this question will come back to haunt me if we ever do a sequel - but I think multiple creatures make better movies in terms of the image of Gojira."
Based on what we've seen of Godzilla so far, it already sounds as if the iconic monster is going to go toe-to-toe with more than one creature combatant or, at the very least, a creature that changes and takes multiple forms. Yet, even if Edwards has already toyed with a multi-enemy monster formula in Godzilla, there's plenty of room for the director to up-the-ante with a batch of fan-favorite combatant creatures such as Mothra, Gigan, Rodan, and King Ghidorah in the sequel.
Obviously, Mechagodzilla would be another fun enemy but, after Pacific Rim already played the giant robots fighting giant monsters card, it's likely that Edwards will keep the focus on grotesque creatures (at least for the time being) in future entries.
Godzilla is expected to hit theaters May 16th, 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Godzilla as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.