“You have no idea what’s coming” – Godzilla Previews and Gareth Edwards Q&A

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At 25 past 11, after a few moments of looking rather lost in London’s swanky May Fair Hotel, the various members of the press and special guests are finally allowed through to a reserved room for a specially laid-on brunch. We’re here to see some world-exclusive footage of Warner Bros‘ and Legendary‘s brand new Godzilla movie ahead of its release (the film yet remains unfinished), as well as the opportunity to quiz its director, Gareth Edwards, about the project.

As waiters bearing trays of elaborate canapés swan around, I nestle myself into a corner of a plush red velvet sofa and bury my nose about as far as it can go into the copy of Empire Magazine that I’ve just bought from the Sainsbury’s across the road, hoping it’ll go some way to conceal my out-of-placeness. As it turned out, I’d have been better off with one of the complimentary, supersized editions we’d be receiving once we stepped through the next door into the auditorium. Yes, sadly, I am still painfully unadept at all of this, but for once, it’s a fact I’m almost pleased about: I am, like the film’s similarly wide-eyed and slightly bemused director, “just from Nuneaton”.

For the majority of you out there who’ve never heard of it, the shock of a Hollywood monster blockbuster emerging from this little town is almost on a level with watching Godzilla rise up out of the ocean for real. Even writing the word “Nuneaton” here feels sort of….well, odd. Describing how it felt to be finally seeing bits of the film on screen during the Q&A session, Edwards said that it was “surreal” and a “once in a multiple lifetime” experience: “I keep expecting Jeremy Beadle to pop out and tell me I haven’t really made a Godzilla film,” he laughed.

Empire Magazine’s latest cover boasts “The World’s First Look!” at the newly reimagined monster, though that’s nothing compared to what we were treated to next: a full 3D version of the latest trailer (below), plus several clips of the upcoming film, showing in action Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Juliette Binoche and of course, the great radioactive monster himself.

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The first clip showed married couple Joe and Sandra Brody (Cranston and Binoche) working at a nuclear power plant, which was apparently filmed at a sewage works, where the stench was so bad that the actors could barely stand it. Yet they were willing to put up with it, according to Edwards, “for the story”, having been touched by its believable, emotional centre. “At the heart of it is a family that get torn apart by a natural disaster,” Edwards explained, in a way that seems more likely to be describing 2012’s The Impossible than any monster flick. But it’s no accident: the tsunami is definitely there as a subtext, as is the Fukushima disaster when the power plant goes into meltdown. Part of the reason that even these short clips manage to evoke such deep, primal terror in their viewers, then, is that they show us a warped mirror of our own reality, revealing a “bigger truth” that reminds us of what made the 1954 original, with it’s H-bomb context, so potent.

We then fast forward 15 years, to when Joe returns, unauthorised, to the deserted site of the plant to look for answers, and ends up in an interrogation room, interrogating his interrogators. Edwards said that he had carefully storyboarded every detail of this scene, only to throw all his best laid plans out of the window as he watched the brilliant Bryan Cranston act it out. All the camera angles and incidental details were lost in the power of his performance.

Later clips were set in Hawaii and a devastated New York as the monster moved west. He’s a stunning spectacle to behold – terrifying, but also possessed of a kind of noble, unearthly (dare I say) beauty. Standing at around 350 feet tall, he’s both the biggest and, I’ll venture, the most frightening Godzilla to date. How difficult was he, then, to create? Having mistakenly assumed it would be “easy” to remake a creature that had already been designed, Edwards likened the process to attempts to draw up facial composites of crime suspects: you can give an impression, but it’s almost impossible to get it just right. The aim was to make him realistic – less monster and more animal, something with a little bit of character. It’s a task they’ve certainly succeeded in, though not without an awful lot of work: it took over a year to finalise the designs. It was, however, easy enough to settle on the right size for him to be: they “wanted him to be tall enough so that you could see him wherever you were in a city,” yet still small enough to be obscured sometimes. A simple process of trial and error revealed 350 feet to be perfect.

Godzilla US One Sheet Poster (4)But it’s not just the monster that makes the movie – the rest of the cast are similarly impressive, and Edwards still hasn’t quite got over the fact that so many big-name stars agreed to be in it, including pretty much everyone on his “wish list”. As well as Cranston, who is, according to Edwards, just about the funniest guy ever, able to go in an instant from crying his eyes out to cracking hilarious jokes, there’s also Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whom Edwards loves for his “organic, soulful” quality, Elizabeth Olsen, who has a “great chemistry” with Johnson (playing her husband), and Ken Watanabe, whose backstory, apparently, is very important.

There’s also an excellent score and sound effects, every bit as powerful and primal as the visuals. You get a sense of this from the “elemental” sounds in the trailers and from Godzilla’s roar. As with Godzilla’s appearance, Edwards wanted something befitting a real animal: “It’s easy to get seduced by CGI,” he explained, particularly for someone with a background in visual effects. It was important to him that the focus never drifted away from the story, perhaps especially after the critically derided 1998 version from Roland Emmerich. The popularity of the original, coupled with widespread, Emmerich-inspired scepticism, has put a lot of pressure on Edwards to get it right. “It’s amazing how many people are closet Godzilla fans,” he said, surprised by the number of people who have insisted that he cannot “mess it up”.

It’s a lot to take on with only the relatively low-budget Monsters and a five-minute, Sci-Fi-London 48 Hour Film Challenge entry behind him by way of directorial experience, yet everyone at today’s screening is surely more than convinced that he’s up to the job. Explaining the differences between working on indie films and massive studio blockbusters, he said that if you made a list of all the pros and cons for one, you could simply reverse it for the other. Nevertheless, the hardest thing about creating any film, however big or small, is “telling a gripping story that you really care about the outcome of.” This is of course precisely what Edwards does so well, and already Godzilla seems almost certain to succeed.

Godzilla is released on Friday 16th May. Click here to see Gareth Edwards’s directorial debut, Factory Farmed, on the Sci-Fi-London 48 Hour Film Challenge site.

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