The other night at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, a special evening was planned around the King of the Monsters. That's right, in the middle of a flurry of premieres, panels, and keynote addresses, the festival took the time out to give it up to Godzilla.
The night began with a restored 35 mm print of the original 1954 "Godzilla" (it was the only movie screened at the festival from actual film), which was sort of fun but just reminded everyone in attendance how boring (relatively speaking) the original "Godzilla" really is (political subtext aside). Afterwards, we got a special treat in the form of new "Godzilla" director Gareth Edwards, who, after a screening of the most recent trailer, showed off some brand new footage from the hotly anticipated summer blockbuster. The short version: this movie is going to be awesome.
Edwards began by saying that he wanted to show off some footage here because the festival had been so kind to him and his first movie, "Monsters." But that the footage he wanted to screen would have been prohibitively expensive because the temp music they use as a placeholder during production would have meant the studio would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to those original composers. His work around? He rushed composer Alexandre Desplat ("Zero Dark Thirty," "The Grand Budapest Hotel") to finish the music for this sequence so that he could show it to us, unmolested (and in a reasonable price range).
The footage began with our young hero, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays some kind of military man (he's also the son of the Bryan Cranston character), on an electric tram at an airport in Hawaii. Elsewhere, we see Ken Watanabe on an aircraft carrier, as a giant mass (likely Godzilla) goes underneath his ship and towards land. In a series of eerie scenes reminiscent of "The Impossible" or that one good part in "Hereafter," we watch as vacationers at a seaside Hawaiian resort flee from a tsunami-like wave. Soldiers are scrambled and they fire at the hulking leviathan that has risen out of the depths. The monster is mostly obscured, but you overhear radio chatter that there "could be a second bogie."
Then we cut back to Taylor-Johnson at the airport. The tram is violently ripped in two and a young boy that Taylor-Johnson had been talking to starts falling towards the widening gap left by this attack. Is it another monster? Is it Godzilla? We quickly find out when we get a good look at the beast: it's a hulking, "Cloverfield"-ian interpretation of what appears to be famous Godzilla baddie Mothra. The creature is whipping around airplanes and causing all sorts of chaos that would likely delay your flight for days, if not weeks. And then a giant foot steps onto the tarmac. One that is very familiar. Then another foot. Then the camera cranes up to get a good look at him in all his glory: it's Godzilla, baby!
What struck me about the footage, besides how exciting and cool it is, was how confident and clear Edwards's direction was. During the tsunami sequence, he tracks along with a dog as it runs from the wave. It's a way to clearly mark the geography of the sequence but also works as an emotional shortcut. In the chaos of "Godzilla," at least you care. The creature designs are truly incredible, as well, feeling both familiar and very cutting edge. It's going to be a long wait until the movie's May 16 release date.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures