It didn’t hit Gareth Edwards until a week ago.
He was in New York to see a friend in a play. And there, in Times Square, was a billboard the size of Schenectady for the director’s superbly reborn “Godzilla,” the movie that is about to crush movie box offices throughout the civilized world.
“It suddenly hit me,” he said on the phone from Toronto, “that we’ve made a film everybody’s going to see. I’m glad I didn’t think about it before because if I had I don’t think I’d have been able to function.”
He functioned very well indeed in making it, but you have to understand a few things about this talented 38-year-old who has brought “Godzilla” back from monsterdom’s honored dead after Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” nearly buried him forever in monster and old-movie nostalgia.
Edwards is, by no means, an experienced mega-movie general of the Michael Bay sort. Talk to him on the phone and he seems a shy, self-effacing Brit. He’s the kind of guy who got into movies because of his love of “Star Wars,” and when he finally got a chance to meet his filmmaking idol, George Lucas, he had to be coaxed to walk over and shake Lucas’ hand and stumble through a few semicompetent words of fandom. Lucas thanked him and sent him on his way thinking he had just blown the opportunity of a lifetime.
You can bet when Lucas gets a look at “Godzilla” he’ll get the opportunity again, somewhere down the road.
Edwards seems, nevertheless, very much a new generation of “movie brat,” a la Lucas, Steven Spielberg and (from the next generation) J.J. Abrams.
This is a guy weaned on movies, a fellow who had been in the world of special effects for 10 years but didn’t make a film until 2008, when he entered a lunatic 48-hour movie contest as part of Sci-Fi London.
“The reason I did it is that I’d just bought a special adapter for my video camera. And it meant you could shoot on video very cheaply and it would look like film. I just wanted to test it.” So he rounded up “an actor friend and my nephew” and made a film in 48 hours.
“I’d spent the previous 10 years in visual effects but it was weird. I was more proud of those two days than I was of my previous 10 years.”
The film that led to making “Godzilla” was “Monsters,” about a monster-infested Mexico which was made with off-the-shelf equipment, two actors and a crew of five.
It’s more than logical, then, to ask if he was daunted by making the big, new “Godzilla,” expected to be one of the tentpoles of the cinematic summer and a genuine reboot of a venerable series after Emmerich’s misfire.
When you make a mega-budget film, Edwards said, “there’s just a handful of people that you talk to every day – your cinematographer, your production designer, your assistant director. And there are whole teams and armies of people that you never really know the names of. And so you can convince yourself that you’re making your film with 10 of your mates. And you just happen to be hanging around with 400 other people.”
“Now, with all this being released around the world, and there will be billboards and TV commercials, I think if I really thought about the kinds of things that are happening now, I’d have been paralyzed. … The advice I got from everybody was just block all that out and make the film you really want to see.”
Which, when this weekend is over, will prove that he was far from alone.
His “Godzilla” harkens back to the 1954 original. But it is, to many, very clever about what it does differently. Its premise is not that Godzilla is the byproduct of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rather that he’s been in hiding after the A-bomb tests of the 1950s which were, in reality, attempts to kill Godzilla in his Pacific hiding places.
That little plot fillip, in fact, Edwards said, is the first thing he told studio heads and prospective actors about the “Godzilla” he wanted to make.
Nor is Godzilla the only creature this time. He is, as he was so often in the Toho Co. original sequels, pitted against other monsters in battle. In the Toho films, that could be King Kong or Mothra or Monster Zero or Megalon or Gigan, or who knows who.
In this one, there are new monsters called Mutos, who, unlike Godzilla (whose appearance has to fall within strict parameters), could be invented out of whole cloth.
“We all wanted to find something different. We tried to find a creature that nobody’s done before but you’d still have a reaction to,” Edwards said. “For me, the benchmark for new monsters is ‘Alien.’ We kind of looked at things like that. And we looked at ‘Starship Troopers.’ And even the T-Rex. Whatever it was, we wound up dialing up all these different elements.”
The Muto, he said, is “more angular and flat with a lot of straight lines to it. … We did it because it looked good but it also made it more ‘classical.’ Because of their electromagnetism we looked at a lot of stealth vehicles, the stealth bomber especially. That was one of the main inspirations. We tried to make its silhouette pretty much like the stealth bomber.”
When I observed that I didn’t envy anyone attempting all these years later to do a “Godzilla” movie with so many hundreds of thousands of fans who have got rigorous and long-established ideas of what a “Godzilla” movie should be – and should look like – Edwards cracked “I don’t envy them either. You shouldn’t try to make a film that you don’t like but that you think other people will. All you can really do is make a film that when you picture it in your head, you respond to it. So I’m trying to make a film for people like me.”
And when the weekend is over we’ll find out how very many of those there are.