Today: June 21, 2024

Godzilla: Director Speaks

From the grainy, atomic-test opening credits to the moment when everyone’s favourite Kaju lets out an ear-shattering SKRONK, we know that Gareth Edward’s latest take on the Godzilla legend is one that all fans of Toho’s atomic lizard will love.

Hollywood’s last attempt to bring big budget glitz and glamour to the franchise in 1998 left fans distinctly under whelmed. Roland Emmeric’s beast of a blockbuster made $400 million worldwide but still succeeded in being labelled a failure. The problem was that Emmeric simply didn’t ‘get’ Godzilla. What he made was a pretty watchable monster movie, with some great set pieces, likeable if off-the-peg characters, and slick SFX. But he made the same mistake that many Hollywood directors do when tasked with remaking a successful foreign language film. He kept the name and threw everything else out with the bath water.

Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who portrayed Godzilla in the Heisei Godzilla series (1984–1995) summed up all our frustrations when walked out of a Tokyo screening saying “It’s not Godzilla, it does not have the spirit.” It didn’t really matter to the fans that, for much of the franchise, Godzilla had been a guy in suit stomping on polystyrene models of Tokyo Bay. It didn’t matter that the plots were often nonsensical and sometimes just plain bizarre (singing pixies anyone?). Over 60 years fans had come to know and love Godzilla for all his complexities and eccentricities. What Emmerich delivered was just a big, dumb lizard.

The key to Godzilla’s personality has always lied deep in the Japanese psyche. He’s not so much a monster as a force of nature. Arguably only a nation who have been on the receiving end of nuclear war could have conceived of an atomic powered creature who comes – like some Shinto God of Destruction – to bring both death and rebirth.

The Director of the latest Godzilla installment, Gareth Edwards, does get it. With a background in DIY filmmaking, Edwards plunged into his first big Hollywood production with the same passion and resourcefulness he brought to his indie film Monsters. Guiding him was the desire to treat Godzilla as a story first. “When you get to make a movie like this, you can write a wish list of the best people in the world whom you’d like to work with, and I’ve been really lucky in that I got everybody at the top of my list,” he says. “All our department heads have changed cinema in their own way, and were all committed to making a profound, emotional, epic cinematic experience in the tradition of the films we grew up with … It was really important,” he adds, “that the audience cares about what’s going on and why, so I didn’t want it to just be spectacle after spectacle. Those films are the reasons that we got into filmmaking in the first place.”

This approach informed every creative aspect of the film and helped carve out a visual language that brought believability to even the most jaw-dropping onscreen moments. However, Edwards also wanted to make a great Godzilla movie and to do that he had to understand and respect the source material, which is why his reference point was always the Toho original.

In those early films Godzilla combines primal passions with an implied innocence and integrity. He might trash your city but he wouldn’t do it out of spite. “One of the conversations we’d hade quite often”, Edwards says, “was ‘If Godzilla was a person, who would it be?’ And after thinking about it for a while, what we came up with was the idea that he was like the last Samurai – a lone, ancient warrior that would prefer to not be part of the world if he could, but events force him to resurface … but as we went along, we started to realize that … just like actors who have their own take on their characters … we couldn’t totally dictate what he was going to be like. It was more about just trying different ideas and permutations. And, slowly, he revealed himself to us.”

Next came the look and the sound of the iconic creature. Again, the team’s efforts to capture the essence of Godzilla ultimately took them back to the latex suit designed by Toho’s Teizo Toshimitsu and the results are a pleasing blend of old and new. But it was recreating that seminal sound – the SKRONK – that posed the biggest challenge. Breaking the original sound into parts – a metallic shriek, followed by an earth-shattering wail – the film’s sound designers finally achieved a combination with all the texture and drama of Godzilla’s original roar. And it’s a moment well worth waiting for.

“Before I started, there was this ominous and intimidating threat hanging over me,” Edwards commented. “But then, towards the end of the process of making the movie, I started to realize that Godzilla had become my savior. I had the benefit of a lot of incredibly talented people that worked all hours to deliver this thing and make it look flawless, and they did it. I’m so proud to have directed this film. If I were going to be known for a genre, I’d happily be trapped in the world of monsters, and there’s no better monster in the world than Godzilla.”

Godzilla is out in UK cinemas now.

 

 

 

 

 

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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