Legendary Pictures has attached a director to their Godzilla movie: Gareth Edwards, the director of indie effects extravaganza Monsters, which tells the tale of a man and a woman crossing borders in areas infected by giant aliens (the titular monsters are actually the humans, get it?).
Monsters was Edwards’ first theatrical endeavor, suggesting that Legendary picked him up for the acumen with shooting giant monster SFX, since Monsters wasn’t written as much as improvised and was mostly made through editing and post-production.
We also got the announcement that writer David Callaham (The Expendables) is no longer writing the project. I waited a week, hoping that someone saw my pitch for An American Godzilla and just needed a day or two to find my cell phone number. When that didn’t happen, I compiled this list of 10 things Legendary should to to ensure that this version of Godzilla doesn’t go the way of 1998’s Godzilla.
1. A Non-New York State Of Mind
Although the original Godzilla frequently returned to Tokyo, he was by no means confined to just that city. Meanwhile, in the west, lovers of sci-fi action have seen New York destroyed dozens of times since the Roland Emmerich, big-chinned import stomped into US Theaters. Legendary’s Godzilla doesn’t need to be confined to New York, even if that seems like the logical choice.
New York makes sense for a monster movie (and it makes more sense than taking Godzilla to a mythical island of other giant monsters) because it has recognizable landmarks and giant buildings. Everyone directing a monster movie wants to put their beast in a maze of giant buildings. However, that’s no reason to centralize your story around the city. Let it be a climax if you must include it, but think about all the other American places to terrorize.
2. More than an animal
If you want to know why the Godzilla of the 90s, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broaderick was a dud, I have a theory for you: they took a monster and made him an animal. What used to be fear of the atom bomb became a lesson on asexuality told to me by Ferris Bueller and Moe from the Simpsons.
Whatever Legendary’s idea for Godzilla is, I don’t want him to look like a mutated iguana, I don’t want him compared to specific species of animals, I don’t even want to be told that he’s a dinosaur we haven’t discovered: Godzilla just IS. He’s a thing. No one has ever questioned this during 29 Toho films; there wasn’t a bunch of “wait a minute, explain this giant monster” backlash.
He’s not an animal/lizard. He’s a force of nature, he’s an emotion, even if he’s a CGI creation, he’s just NOT something that can be described as motivated solely by instinct; that devalues Godzilla.
3. No lizard-children
That’s right, Manilla, I hate your guts. I don’t care if it’s that fat lump (the original Son of Godzilla), a mini Godzilla (Baby/Junior Godzilla in Heisei/Series 2), or a handful of ripoff velociraptors (even if they want to eat Matthew Broderick), I’ve had it with Gozilla offspring.
Maybe later, should Godzilla turn into a franchise for Legendary, someone can take a crack at explaining to me why it’s important that Godzilla have paternal instincts. Even when they brought up the whole idea of Godzilla reproduction in the Heisei series – the latter films that were strangely serialized – Godzilla turned out to me an atomically-mutated version of a fictional dinosaur.
Really, there’s no need to make Godzilla responsible for a child. Not to mention that Manilla, the original dough-boy lizard, was hatched out of an egg that is never explained. Adoptive father or asexual: let’s leave the kids out of this.
4. Switch perspectives for destruction
The genre of Kaiju (Japanese giant monster movies) is based around the idea of doing cheap special effects by putting men in rubber suits and letting them tear ass around a set of miniatures rigged to blow up or collapse in visually interesting ways. That’s how everyone who has seen a Godzilla movie is used to taking their Godzilla destruction: from perspective that it’s a man in a suit smashing through buildings.
The Emmerich Godzilla has a CGI creation to work with and managed to switch the way Godzilla was filmed to show the monster from various angles, focusing – usually – on the extreme size of a certain part of his body (hence the whole: “His foot is as big as this bus” ad campaign). Yet just when Emmerich’s Godzilla was getting something right (the helicopter chase in that film might be one of the few sequences the flick got right), the plot switches and we’re supposed to view Godzilla as an animal not a monster.
Cloverfield has the exact opposite visual scope as Godzilla, making the one birds-eye-view sequence in that film feel removed from the actual tension of the audience (until the helicopter starts crashing). That movie is all about what a monster attack looks like from the ground.
I say, mix and match with your visuals. There are many ways to approach how to shoot your monster, but even the original Gojira’s film managed to mix some wide-angle destruction with compositions that reminded you of the human element involved.
5. Make it about now.
The original Godzilla movies were monster movies about the fear of atomic power running amok over the face of the Earth. It showed the destruction of a major Japanese city to a population that had been recently H-bombed out of World War II. Gojira was a walking metaphor and that allowed the movie to be an allegory, not just a fable about an ancient beast awakened by some mythical mumbo jumbo.
In the world of classic giant beasts of the screen, the rulers are King Kong and Godzilla. King Kong was a special effects extravaganza that told an unlikely inter-species love story and Godzilla is the seminal kaiju movie of it’s era that was about the world’s birth into the atomic age. Outside of those films, a number of other monsters have piled up franchises and one-offs that have been less memorable. Sure, the characters don’t keep their single dimension – King Kong spawned a mini-genre of “ apes have feelings” films (oh, Amy, from Congo) and Godzilla became a child-friendly protector of Tokyo, but the attention of the world was captured by monster movies that were ABOUT something.
The old Godzilla was a way for the Japanese to face their fears of unchecked atomic power and it played on the modern fears of it’s age, if an American Godzilla wants to stick, it needs to be about something more timely than asexual reproduction.
6. Godzilla is terror, not terrorism
Praise be to Allah, I’m sure, but let’s not go overboard and make Godzilla actually about terrorism. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s one that can’t be crossed less your fun monster movie become something much more crass and, frankly, stupid.
There is a difference between making sure Godzilla represents terror and letting Godzilla represent terrorism. Terror is something I feel when I’m in bed and everything is a little too quiet, terror is what I feel when I realize my comparative size to something huge, terror is what I feel when falling. TerrorISM is something that makes me feel paranoia during large public events and at the airports.
Cloverfield did a really classy job of being the first monster movie to call 9/11 into the mind of it’s audience without seeming crass about it. But, all it would have taken was one tasteless decision to include people running from an out-of-control dust cloud or a shot of a building collapsing in the wrong way and that movie would have been shamed out of wide release. We have a decade of distance to pad the emotional scars, and I’m not suggesting the subject of terrorism shouldn’t be explored on screen, I’m saying that the launch of a potential monster movie franchise is not the time to do so.
7. Don’t lose the fire!
Roland Emmerich did two unforgivable things in an attempt to make us feel like his Godzilla was a misunderstood mutated animal looking for somewhere to nest. First, it redesigned the Godzilla face to look more like an Iguana that had mated with Jay Leno. Second, he took away Godzilla’s atomic fire.
Sure, it’s not believable, but a MAN FLYING isn’t believable and for some reason that gets shoe-horned into every superhero property since the 1979 Superman. Godzilla’s ability to charge his back spines (also factually improbable, seeing as plates usually appear on herbivores) and unleash a torrent of blue fire from his mouth is something that defines him.
That’s just awesome, and leaving it out of your film is a mistake. Making it “bad breath” that can be ignited isn’t the same as making it classic, blue electric flame. It shouldn’t be something that the monster does all the time, but it should be done.
8. Choose human characters that have something at stake
Once again, I’m tempted to start by railing on Roland Emmerich, but a better example of this would be any of the first dozen original Godzilla films: the characters just aren’t that interesting.
I have a theory that this is forgiven by Godzilla enthusiasts in the USA because much of the nastier stuff is chalked up to being lost in translation between cultures, but I stand by the gut feeling I have with the first hour of all sequels to the original Gojira. Godzilla does all the cool stuff, then the people have to talk about why Godzilla gets to do all the cool stuff this time. Is he fighting for or against the people of Japan? Is he protecting something? Should we kill him? If so, how?
This is where I’m glad to have Gareth Edwards helming Legendary’s Godzilla, because Monsters is the story of a border crossing against a backdrop of aliens and something like that (but, please, not exactly that) would be a great backdrop for a Godzilla attack.
I spent my youth forced to watch scenes of singing fairy geishas raise Mothera for an hour before I could see a monster fight, so I’d LOVE to have a compelling story to watch in between the pre-requisite destruction and roaring.
9. No running Japanese people looking behind them, yelling “GOJIRA!”
It’s not funny. It’s even something that really annoyed me about the T-Rex chase at the end of The Lost World (beyond the greater thing that bothered me about that sequence: the fact that it didn’t need to exist at all).
As a matter of fact, let’s leave the Japanese out of it all together! Roland Emmerich’s respectable attempt in his Godzilla to connect the monster to it’s Japanese spirit-father was pulled off ok (though the “it’s pronounced Gojira!” line is lame), but winking at the US audience for fan service while mocking the Tokyo origins is something I’d like not to see in Legendary’s Godzilla movie.
We know it’s a Godzilla movie, that’s why we’re going to watch it. Chances are, we know a little about Godzilla. Honestly, if there is someone in the theater who thinks this is a remake of the Matthew Broderick flick because they are completely oblivious to the Godzilla mythos, they’re going to think it’s lame too.
10. Add Another Monster or Set Up Versus!
There’s something at the back of my brain that says Godzilla should fight something the size of himself. There’s also a much larger, front-part to my brain that knows a Godzilla movie that can potentially lead to more US Godzilla movies is probably not the best place to try and shoe-horn another monster in.
But, really, why not spend time laying the groundwork for monster number 2? It can be subtle, but it should be there. Picture a Legendary Godzilla that’s more like Edwards’ Monsters or Cloverfield: we’re on the ground with some compelling human characters who are acting out a story with a Godzilla attack in the background. That is the perfect situation to add a monster battle at the end.
Godzilla as a worldwide franchise is the most interested in making it’s lead fight other things his size, so it makes sense that this new Godzilla would have that in common with his forefathers. I understand as well that it’s not the best idea to start a series of films with a dual-monster movie; that complicates things from a story perspective.
Regardless, fighting other monsters is part of what makes Godzilla “Godzilla” if you look at the cinematic history of the character. It would seem wrong not to allude to it or to use the plot to shut down the concept of there being other monsters.