For your big budget movie, you need a big weekend, and what used to constitute big is now very small. So, the Hollywood studios have, by necessity, become masters at the media blitzkreig, one facet of which is making their stars/directors/writers/producers endlessly available for interviews. The end result is that we often get DVD commentary-like insight from the filmmakers months before their film ever hits home video.
What have we learned about Godzilla, the big budget movie of the moment, so far? For starters, it is a far better movie than anyone could have reasonably expected, and it is chock full of foreshadowing and easter eggs. Pretty much everything involving the monsters in the movie is spectacle and suspense done to perfection; it’s the human characters who let the film down. So, why did they decide to kill off their most engaging human presence, Bryan Cranston? What made them pick San Francisco and Las Vegas as the major cities to be destroyed? And just how many easter eggs did they sneak in for the eagle-eyed viewers? We went searching for the answers to all the above and many more, and here’s what we found (direct links for quoted sources can be found at the bottom of the article).
1. The 1954 Original was their most direct model
Godzilla is a film which takes itself fairly seriously, possibly a reflection of what some have called the Christopher Nolan-ization of the summer blockbuster. However, similar to what Nolan encountered when he took over the Batman film franchise with Batman Begins Godzilla is a character with a long history which has most recently been characterized as campy fun. That is a departure from the far more serious tone of the original 1954 Godzilla, and that’s what they wanted to get back to:
Edwards: When we all sat down and we had this first conversation, there was this nervousness – or I had any way – of like, “OK, what’s the tone? What are we trying to do?” Because I personally wanted to make something that took it very seriously, and you never know what everyone else wants to do. And everybody instantly was like, “The 1954 black-and-white version, that’s our benchmark.” That was really a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s not a throwaway popcorn concept. At the heart of it is some serious concepts. And so we just ran with that, but it took us a long time. [CBR]
2. Jaws, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien were the inspirations behind the decision to delay the reveal of Godzilla
Anyone who’s seen Gareth Edwards directorial debut Monsters should not be surprised that Godzilla teases the audience with hints and glances at the monsters, most specifically Godzilla, before erupting in a tour de force full reveal in the film’s final act. That was the same basic structure Edwards used with his low-budget creature feature Monsters. Still, a common criticism has been that maybe there’s not enough Godzilla in a film called Godzilla. Edwards hears that, but the cinematic inspiration between his and screenwriter Max Borenstein’s decision to hold back Godzilla are all classics, as he’s name-checked Jaws, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien in various interviews:
Edwards: Something they all have in common is that slow-burn build, where the audience is drip fed the imagery to get them on tenterhooks. I thought that style of filmmaking was really effective. It stayed with me the whole time I grew up, and those films stand the test of time. [WhatCulture]
Oh, btw, the central family of the story being named Brody? A direct homage to the Brody family from Jaws.
3. Godzilla’s roar was built using an antiquated version of the original from 1954
I can’t fully explain the gittiness I felt the first time I heard Godzilla’s signature roar echo out at the end of the first trailer other than to say it brought to mind so many childhood memories of Godzilla films. How did they pull it off? They built it out of the Toho version.
Edwards: We got to go to Japan. And I met Toho, the studio that did the original Godzillas, and I met the president and got hold of the original roar as a media file, and gave it to our sound designers, and it didn’t hold up to the fidelity you’d expect this day and age, so we had to reinvent it. But we used that as our basis to try and recreate and mimic. So it felt like we’d gone back in time with modern day equipment and recorded the iconic roar that everyone knows. [CBR]
4. Frank Darabont is the one who conceived of Juliette Binoche’s death scene
Unlike most major big budget films, Godzilla only has one listed screenwriter, Max Borenstein, with a story credit going to David Callaham. However, Borenstein wasn’t actually responsible for one of the film’s best moments. That came from an uncredited re-write from Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile, Walking Dead):
Edwards: Frank Darabont came in, and he did a pass at the screenplay about 2-3 months before we started filming. A lot of his work has remained in the film, but the thing that he really brought to the table, one of the highlights of the film, is when the doors close on Juliette Binoche. That whole idea of there being a gateway or a checkpoint that they would have to get to, and it would close so then he’d see her die and you’ve have that very emotional moment. That was Darabont’s primary contribution. [Empire]
5. There was one Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-esque version of the script in which Bryan Cranston survived and worked alongside his son
Bryan Cranston absolutely kills it in this movie, bringing that Heisenberg intensity from Breaking Bad, but then he dies, sadly leaving us with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s plot robot as the central character. So, why sacrifice the one who was clearly giving the film’s single best performance? According to director Gareth Edwards, there’s one important thing to remember: they hadn’t cast Cranston yet when they were writing the script. Before that, when they were writing the script:
Edwards: We tried versions where he survived, in terms of the screenplay. The thing is in every one in which we did that there’s nothing left for that character to do without it being silly. If he sticks with Ford, it turns into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the tone of the movie becomes fun, but not the tone we were trying to do. If he sticks with the military guys he’s like a fifth wheel. It just seems like his job was done in the story there. Retrospectively, when you see the movie I understand, and I wish that we had maybe figured a way to make it work. It was just that as a story beat he becomes redundant after he’s handed over the baton to the rest of the cast […] I also wanted people to think, ‘Oh, if they’re going to do that maybe this won’t necessary end the way I’m expecting. [Empire]
6. The poster in Ford’s room at the very beginning foreshadow’s the rest of the movie
The poster hanging in the young Ford’s room in the opening scene when we meet Bryan Cranston’s Joe and his family is an homage to the garish 1950s and ’60s Godzilla movie posters.
However, there’s more than mere homage to the poster they used, which was created specifically for Godzilla by the film’s art department. If you can read Japanese you know that the title of the fictional film promoted on the poster is Let Them Fight, ala Ken Watanabe declaration of how to deal with Godzilla and the MUTOs. More than that, if you look closely the poster features MUTOS, a nuclear reactor, and the Golden Gate Bridge, foreshadowing the rest of the film.
7. The video in Ford’s classroom foreshadows what the MUTOs are about to do
After the power plant is destroyed, we cut to young Ford’s classroom. You have to be quick to see it because the power goes out so fast, but the film his class is watching is a nature film about the life cycle of how a cocoon hatches, which is exactly what both the MUTOs end up doing for the next 15 years of the film’s timeline.
8. Did you notice the Mothra reference?
The hardcore Godzilla fans have been speculating for months that Mothra would appear in this film, unaware that most of their clues were simply shots of the airborne MUTO. The rest can be left to speculation, but the good people at MoviePilot.com pointed out one concrete reference to Mothra: when the adult Ford and his father return to their Japanese home in search for computer files in the foreground of one of the shots is an empty terrarium. This was clearly home to something in the past, probably moths. Why? Because the terrarium actually has a labeled reading “MOTHRA” written on the bottom left side of it.
9. There are 990 visual effects shots in Godzilla vs. 1,550 for Pacific Rim
When Edwards tried to comfort his visual effects producers because they had managed to keep the number of visual effects so low for a film of this size he was informed, “Yeah, but Gareth your visual effects are twice as long as the average shot which makes it twice as hard.” So, how much of a difference does it make to feature over 500 fewer visual effects shots? Well, it’s hard to know for sure how much of this is due to visual effects, but Godzilla cost $160 million to make whereas Pacific Rim ended up with a budget around $200 million. [Empire]
10. They originally tried a more lightning-like effect for Godzilla’s atomic breath
Godzilla doesn’t roll out his signature atomic breath until relatively late in his fight with the MUTOs, but once he does it instantly looks familiar to what Godzilla fans have seen for years. They originally had different ideas, Edwards telling Empire “at one point it was going to be more like lightning, like a little bit more to do with nature in terms of God-like destruction. It was considered not enough like classic Godzilla.”
11. Edwards originally thought Godzilla breathing atomic fire down the MUTO’s neck might be too crazy
Godzilla is a film which culminates with Godzilla prying the final MUTOs jaw open and breathing down his neck, the monster movie version of following through on a promise to shit down someone’s throat. In a word, it’s AWESOME! However, this resolution is so crazy that even Edwards thought it might be too much.
Edwards: “Originally, there was this thing where he would break the MUTO’s jaw, but we decided it was too much like King Kong. So, it was like, ‘What if he just vomits blue breath down his throat?’ I honestly thought we weren’t going to get away with this; it’s absurd. However, then we did test screening, and audiences loved it.” [Empire]
12. Why did they pick San Francisco?
After 9/11, you can’t really do the Independence Day thing anymore and gleefully destroy New York City, or if you do you have to be very careful about it, ala The Avengers. As a result, summer movies are having to find different big, significant cities to destroy with London (e.g., Thor: The Dark World) being particularly popular as well as San Francisco (e.g., Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Godzilla spreads the destruction across Japan and Hawaii until settling on Las Vegas and San Francisco. So, why San Francisco?
Edwards: It had to be somewhere on the American Pacific coastline. So, let’s pick LA. You’re Godzilla, you step out of the ocean, it’s already flat. There’s nothing to do. It’s like his job is done for him, already. It’s a very boring movie. So, you’re looking for a city that has landmarks, a very good geographic relation to the ocean, so you have the bridges and the baby. You could have gone to Seattle or San Diego, but if you show that skyline to people they don’t know where that it is. [Empire]
13. Why did they pick Las Vegas?
Hawaii and Las Vegas both really take a beating in this movie in fairly quick succession, leading one to wonder if maybe they just thought it funny to target such hot tourist destinations. It was far more pragmatic than that, since Hawaii simply made sense due to its proximity to Japan. As for Las Vegas:
Edwards: We were already in Nevada due to the Yuka Mountain where they store their nuclear waste. The nearest city was Las Vegas, really, and I couldn’t resist it because the way they do all their casinos is like a one-stop shop for monsters. You can smash every major landmark in the world in one go! [Empire]
14. The Las Vegas scene was originally much longer
It’s interesting that Edwards would be so enthusiastic about the visual possibilities of the MUTO destroying Las Vegas when, in fact, the scene is relatively short, depicted mostly via quick TV coverage and then focusing on the aftermath of the destruction. There was originally a lot more to that:
Edwards: That sequence was much longer, but then you watch the movie and as fun as everything is individually you kind of need to get one with the story which is why in the trailer there’s that one shot of the Statue of Liberty. There was a sequence that ended with that shot, and as we were editing the film we decided that we should end it sooner. [Empire]
15. Andy Serkis provided the soul behind Godzilla’s eyes
Ever since his work as Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Andy Serkis has become Hollywood’s go-to expert for motion capture performances, delivering heart to the CGI wizardy behind Caesar (Rise of the Plant of the Apes), King Kong (Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake), and Captain Haddock (The Adventures of Rin-Tin). He’s at it again in the cast of J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Star Wars: Episode 7. Somewhat less heralded, though, is the work he did on Godzilla.
Edwards: Using a real actor, and having a conversation with an actor, and then having them do a performance so we could tell the animators to just copy that is what we liked to do. So, Andy came in just for a couple of weeks, and performed a handful of the key, soulful Godzilla moments, like when fell and looked at Ford, so that we could use his eye movement to try and give it some soul. [Empire]
16. The final boat’s name translates to Godzilla tours. Kind of.
Edwards: “At the end of the movie when Ford gets on the boat in San Francisco the boat is called Go Whales Tours, and the Japanese name for Godzilla is Gojira and jira means whale. So, it’s like saying, ‘Godzilla tours.'” [Empire]
Well, it’s a nice thought. It just happens to technically be an incorrect translation. As reader Neil N. pointed out in the comments section, “The Japanese word for whale is ‘kujira’, not ‘jira’. ‘Gojira’ is just a slightly changed version of ‘kujira’, intended to give the Japanese listener the sense of a giant sea creature that isn’t exactly a whale.”
17. This Godzilla was modeled after Bears
This new Godzilla may not be univerally adored by those in Japan, who have the most invested in the character and how he looks, but he’s a heck of a lot more faithful than the 1998 Godzilla, which was clearly more inspired by the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park than classic Godzilla.
Gareth Edwards based the character design on bears, komodo dragons and eagles, with bear being the most direct influence on his posture and fighting style. Mostly, they wanted it to look like the classic Toho Godzilla:
Edwards: The way I tried to view it was to imagine Godzilla was a real creature and someone from Toho saw him in the 1950s and ran back to the studio to make a movie about the creature and was trying their best to remember it and draw it. And in our film you get to see him for real. [WhatCulture]
18. There is no clear storyline in place for a sequel
So, there will be a sequel, but either they’re not telling or they don’t know for sure where they might go with this next. When asked about potential stories for a Godzilla sequel by CBR, here’s what Edwards and Borenstein said, keeping in mind the interview took place before the announcement that a sequel had been greenlit:
Edwards: No. We’ll see what happens. We actually had a meeting with the producers the other day, and we just came up and we were like, “Let’s not jinx it. See what everyone thinks about the film.” If there’s an appetite, I’ll be first in line with a whole bunch of ideas.
Borenstein: There were a lot of alleys, creatively – not dead ends, but intriguing possibilities – that we sort of went down and thought, “Oh, well, maybe one day we’d come back there. It doesn’t work for this movie.” And so if we’re lucky enough to be able to do that then I guess it’s “Get out the file folder!” and just start looking through those notes and seeing where inspiration lies.