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Gareth Edwards and Thomas Tull bring 'Godzilla' back to life

Godzilla,” one of summer 2014’s biggest movies, is finally making to movie theaters around the world, and I was invited to attend a special press screening of it at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (it’s now called TCL Chinese Theatres, but I prefer to call it Grauman’s) on their newly installed IMAX screen. Following the screening, we were treated to a Q&A with the movie’s director Gareth Edwards and the CEO of Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull. The two of them discussed how they saw this version of the giant monster, the first time they became aware of who (or what) Godzilla was, and of how their film mirrors the current events of today.

Thomas Tull and Gareth Edwards
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Movie poster for 'Godzilla'
Warner Brothers

There have dozens and dozens of “Godzilla” movies made since 1954, most of them made in Japan by Toho Company Limited. There have been a couple of American movies made about this enormous monster as well, but they didn’t fare well (to say the least). “Godzilla 1985” was universally panned by film critics and died a quick death at the box office. As for Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” which came out in 1998, I still cringe at the thought of its existence as it was amazingly awful. But when it came to making the 2014 version, Edwards made clear that he was not about to let fans or critics down.

“We were trying to put more into it than just a simple monster movie because the original was definitely a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a very serious film. So we were inspired to try and reflect that,” Edwards said. “We police the world and go, 'You can't have nuclear power. You can't have it. But we can have it, and we have nuclear weapons.’ And what if there were a creature that existed, creatures that were attracted to radiation? Suddenly the tables would be turned, and we'd be desperately trying to get rid of that stuff.”

From there, both Edwards and Tull described the first time they saw Godzilla. Hearing Tull talk about his first exposure to the Japanese monster came to illustrate just how big of an effect monster movies had on him when he was growing up. As for Edwards, he ended up describing his first exposure as being embarrassing.

“First time I saw it, it was the ’54 version,” Tull said. “I was probably around 7 years old. Where I grew up in upstate New York, what I looked forward to every year was the Friday after Thanksgiving when the local TV station would play ‘Godzilla’ marathons all day. That was my favorite thing of the year. I had the incredible fortune of making movies out of all the stuff I loved as a kid: ‘Batman,’ ‘Superman,’ Watchmen’ and now ‘Godzilla.’ Somehow the magic genie made it happen. This is really special to me.”

“In the U.K. when we were kids growing up, they had the Hanna Barbara cartoon. Not many people know that in America. I thought it was a worldwide thing,” Edwards said. “But it was basically Godzilla and I guess his son, Godzuki. And it would fly; it was all very cute. When you’re a kid it was great. I got offered this amazing opportunity. People in the U.K, they like to take the piss out of their friends, so just to mock me they would always refer to it as Godzuki. They’d be like, ‘How’s Godzuki going? Have you been to any Godzuki meetings?’ And I used to play along with it to the point where my phone learned how to spell Godzuki more than Godzilla. So when we used to have regular emails about the film, I’d type Godzilla and it would automatically change it to Godzuki. And for a while I thought I might get fired.”

Edwards that while he and Tull were in the process of putting the movie together, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, also known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, occurred which decimated much of Fukushima and caused serious accidents at nuclear power plants. Now when horrific events like this occur, Hollywood is quick to distance itself from them for fear of appearing as if they are profiting from them. But considering the genres that “Godzilla” covers, there was enough of a reason not to ignore the serious events happening around the world.

“There was a point where it felt like, well, maybe we shouldn’t set it in Japan. Maybe we shouldn’t deal with radiation or anything like this,” Edwards said. “We had genuine conversations for quite a while and we talked to a lot of people, and knew a lot of people, who were Japanese obviously working with Toho. And after a while the general consensus was that the 1954 version, the whole point of that movie, and science fiction and fantasy in general I think, they have this opportunity to reflect the period that they’re made in, and so it was thought as long as we did it respectively and the city and the events in our film are not about anything that happened in Japan. So we felt it kind of appropriate to acknowledge some of these issues as we were figuring out the storyline.”

“When I was a kid my dad used to have an encyclopedia on the 20th Century, and on the front cover was Hiroshima, JFK’s assassination, Hitler, all the major events of the 20th century,” Edwards continued. “I used to look at it and think none of that happened in my lifetime. Nothing significant like that has happened in my lifetime. Maybe nothing like that ever will. And then in the last ten years with the obvious things, it’s nearly impossible to genuinely sit down and say, ‘OK, I want to do a monster movie. I want to try and treat this like it really happened. What would it look like? How would people react and not be infected by the imagery over the last ten years, whether it be the natural disasters or even some of the terrorism?’ So that kind of infected the film a little bit. But we tried to do it in a way that, first and foremost, it’s entertainment. You’re here to see a Godzilla. But I personally like a little meat on my bone, so within that there’s obviously this other imagery and meaning that you can pull from as much as you want or as little as you want.”

Before this, Edwards had only one directorial effort to his name which was the 2010 film “Monsters.” It had a budget of only $500,000 and, in addition to directing it, he also worked as writer, cinematographer and the visual effects artist which may explain why it didn’t cost that much. With “Godzilla,” he had the backing of a major studio and an estimated budget of $160 million. Talk about one heck of a promotion! This has got to put the fear of God into any filmmaker making this kind of a transition, but Edwards sounded like he has handled big budget moviemaking very well.

“It’s a massive, massive deal,” Edwards said. “It’s not just a once in a lifetime opportunity; it’s a once in a million-lifetime opportunity to be able to get to do this. The way I dealt with it was to forget we were doing it and just convince ourselves, which was kind of very easy to do, that we’re just in this bubble; it’s just us, and we’re just making a movie that we want to sit and watch, something that will give us goose bumps. And it’s kind of this selfish passion project in the way you kind of approach every day. Because I’d get paralyzed if I really thought about the number of people who would end up seeing the film and all the publicity and press that would come from it.”

“But it’s such a great opportunity,” Edwards continued. “I grew up since I was a little kid desperate to be a film director, and the second they mentioned it I was just like, ‘I could never live with myself if I ever turned this down.’ I mean, I love monster movies. My first film was a monster movie. This is the ultimate monster movie. So how could you live with yourself having not made ‘Godzilla’ when you had that opportunity?”

Even before its release, “Godzilla” has already sparked conversations about a sequel or a potential franchise. This is not a surprise as movie studios are always on the lookout for the next big movie trilogy to thrust at movie fans eager to pay their hard earned money for. Edwards, however, said that it was his intention to make a stand-alone movie (something I was very pleased to hear). As for Tull, with Legendary Pictures having been recently purchased by Universal Pictures, he was asked if a sequel would be released by either Universal Pictures or Warner Brothers (which is distributing this movie). In the end, Tull could only say the following:

“We have a little rule: we can’t talk about anything else until this comes out and works,” Tull said. “It’s a little superstition I have. All I can say is, we’re passionate fans of the universe and we love Godzilla and some of those other folks do too, so if this comes out and works we’ll figure it out.”

Well, it is very clear that the 2014 “Godzilla” was made by those who deeply love the films which inspired it, and there’s no way it can be any worse than Emmerich’s 1998 blockbuster. It’s been a long time since we have had an American-made “Godzilla” movie, and this one may prove to be well worth the wait. Here’s hoping that fans of this giant mutated lizard find much to love about his latest adventure on the silver screen.