Tackling Godzilla, either with cannons or cameras, is an intimidating challenge. Hollywood’s last attempt to take on the iconic Japanese giant, a bloated, jokey 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick, was stomped flatter than Tokyo by fans. So Gareth Edwards, a young English director with only one small independent film on his résumé, knew he was in for a battle.
Edwards, 39, tackled extraterrestrial invaders with imaginative assurance in his 2010 debut “Monsters,” but spent less than $1 million on that project, and created its special effects on his laptop computer. His leap into the big time was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to work with his heroes in the film industry. It also came with a new level of responsibility.
“There’s pressure to satisfy fans and the studio,” he said in a recent phone interview from New York City. “The biggest pressure of all was what I put on myself” as he adapted a $160 million remake of the pop-culture treasure. With 30 feature films spanning six decades, Godzilla’s theatrical run leaves James Bond in the dust.
Godzilla was born in 1954 when Toho Studios created the weighty, somber original film as a way of sneaking a message film about nuclear war past Japan’s strict postwar censors. He remains relevant today, Edwards said, “because it can be an allegory about whatever is happening in our world. In the last 10 years of so I think we’ve felt a lot of fear about nature responding in destructive ways when we mistreat it.” In this film, Godzilla surfaces from the ocean’s depths once more “in order to restore nature’s balance.”
Stepping into such a venerable series wasn’t an issue, Edwards said. “I guess I don’t think of it as a series, because other than Godzilla, none of the characters reappears. Each time out you can make a new Godzilla, and that gives you great freedom.”
His approach was to aim for a “raw, emotional” scenario that treats Godzilla’s wrath like a massively destructive force of nature.
“If something like this truly happened, someone would make a film about it and it would be Oscar bait. Before Sept. 11, movies about terrorists would only star people like Bruce Willis, but afterward top-rank filmmakers would take it on and, make poignant dramas. That was the feeling I wanted to capture.”
Edwards’ international cast includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
It took many months of preproduction planning to get Godzilla’s look right, so that he appeared menacing from every possible angle, Edwards said. His sound-effects team created a new version of the beast’s signature roar. It’s grating and intimidating, yet with an eerie musical quality.
“I can’t tell you how they did it,” Edwards said. “But they used new scientific microphones that can record sounds at ultra-slow speeds, so that something like unscrewing a bottle cap sounds titanic.”
As he awaits audiences’ reactions to his take on the beloved monster, Edwards is basking in the satisfaction of achieving his lifelong dream. “When I was 3, I saw ‘Star Wars,’ and all I wanted to be was a member of the Rebel Alliance blowing up the Death Star,” he said. “Then I learned it was all a big lie and I decided the next best thing I could be was a big liar.”