2014’s Godzilla brought back the Kaiju craze for a more modern audience. It reintroduced what made the towering reptile so iconic by blending in themes of the old with the new. But with director Gareth Edwards stepping aside, it was up to Krampus and Trick r’ Treat director Michael Dougherty to take over and continue the story of this new monsters universe. And he does that by making Godzilla: King of the Monsters one giant-sized monster brawl. The highly anticipated sequel brings a battery of god-sized monsters including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, a giant moth-like Kaiju; Rodan, a Pteranodon-like Kaiju; and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah into one massive brawl leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
We had a chance to sit down at a press conference with our fellow journalists to talk about the development and production of Godzilla: King of the Monsters with Dougherty. During that time, he spoke about the inspirations behind the film, what it was like to destroy Boston’s Fenway Park, and what representation means to him. Check out what he had to say below.
There was no shortage of inspiration with all of the Godzilla posters decorating the production office and the old movies playing in the lobby to serve as a sort of reminder that he was making a Godzilla movie. But it still was something that he could not believe he was being paid to do. “It was a joy to share with everyone on the project to make sure that the old movies were present in our process,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty was responsible for continuing the story where Edwards left off in 2014. So he knew what was a stake. Loving what Edwards had laid the foundation for, he said that the 2014 film felt like the most realistic and grounded Godzilla film he wanted to see. “As a kid, I always fantasized about Godzilla showing up to destroy my School,” he said. “I used to fantasize about Godzilla ripping off the roof of my church when I was sitting there bored.”
For him, Edwards’ take represented what it would be like if Godzilla had stepped into the real world. But Dougherty also recognized that there was still plenty of room for the franchise to grow. “Gareth presented this wonderful vision of what Godzilla in the film would feel like, what if you threw in King Ghidorah into it? What if you threw in Rodan? What would the most grounded realistic versions of those creatures, who are very fantastical – you know, once you start getting into three-headed dragons and giant moths, you have to embrace some of the more mystical and fantastical qualities of it,” he said. “It stops being science fiction and starts becoming more science fantasy.”
But there is no faking it when it comes to choosing what major city will be chosen for a film’s setting. Dougherty said that he and his writing partner, Zach Shields, chose Boston for the climactic battle because a city getting destroyed by Godzilla is “a badge of honor.” “It means that your city matters enough to be destroyed in a Godzilla movie,” Dougherty said. “We’ve seen New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all of those places so many times, why not Bean Town.”
And it doesn’t get any more Bostonian than Fenway Park. The iconic ballpark is notoriously hard to shoot at, but Dougherty reveals that those scenes, some of which included star Millie Bobby Brown, were a combination of location shooting, background plates, and digital set extensions. “It was pretty seamless,” Dougherty said. “The scene of Millie entering the field with all the evacuees, that was all done in Atlanta but merged with background plates, shot in Boston. But the Fenway Group, they were a dream to work with. They were enthusiastic. I think they understood that getting your city trashed by Godzilla is an honor.”
As for the score, Dougherty said he worked closely with music composer Bear McCreary, adding that he also let McCreary do his thing. “I fell in love with Bear’s music from the revival of Battlestar Galactica, roughly ’03 through ’08,” he said. “His music was so different and bold, and it didn’t sound like a typical space opera music. It didn’t sound like it was trying to be Star Wars or Star Trek. It was its own unique flavor. He had a really great way of blending the modern and the old in Battlestar music. He brought in instruments, 1000s of years old, and I wanted that flavor for this film.”
The director said that he didn’t want the score for this to sound like every other tentpole movie. For him, it was a dream come true that he got to work with McCreary and that they were able to incorporate each titan’s theme into the film because those themes are just as iconic to him as Jaws, Star Wars, and even James Bond. “I wanted it to sound like the music that would have existed when titans ruled the Earth,” Dougherty said. “We kept talking about how it is a monster opera so that if you just sat and listened to the score with a pair of headphones and closed your eyes, it would transport you to an era when Godzilla and his kind ruled the planet.”
But in regards to those themes, Dougherty says that he did not have to fight for any of the rights because Toho wanted them to have it. “It was complicated in terms of tracking down all the rights, but everybody was on board with the idea,” he said. “I definitely felt the fans were heard on the subject as well.”
In deciding which one of the titans would be a villain to Godzilla, Dougherty says that King Ghidorah is the Joker to Godzilla’s Batman. “What I love about them in the old films is that you sense the rivalry,” he said. “I don’t know if it is just inherent in the design of the creatures or what, but they look like two monsters that would absolutely hate each other. Do you know what I mean? Maybe they fought over a woman at some point, but there is bad blood between these guys. You feel it.”
He says it made sense that King Ghidorah would be the villain in the film, given the history between the two. With the use of modern technology and his fandom for eastern dragons, Dougherty says he was excited to bring the iconic Kaiju villain to life because we’ve never seen a good eastern dragon movie. So he figured that King Ghidorah should be the one.
Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, and Godzilla were the original Kaiju team up, and the first to cross paths with Godzilla back in the ’50s and ’60s. These Kaijus kept crossing paths since then, and not only have they been embraced by Godzilla fans but those who are vaguely familiar with them. Dougherty adds that the color palettes are representative of the creatures. “I was very adamant that the creatures have an effect on the environment, directly and indirectly, whenever they entered a particular environment,” he said. “That would separate them from just being giant monsters and put them in more of the god category. The idea that Ghidorah can disrupt our atmosphere or trigger super storms just by existing. I love that they are that chaotic with mother nature. I love that Rodan can easily not only swoop over cities and level it but theoretically dive bomb into a volcano and set off an entire chain reaction and volcanic eruptions. They are climate change to the nth degree.”
Dougherty says it was important to maintain a sense of realism by using science while also keeping it very much a Godzilla film. So it was crucial to portray the scientists and the eggheads of the Monarch crew, who he compares to the adventuring college professor Indiana Jones, as heroes who are willing to put their lives on the line. “I grew up loving biology and animals and the natural world,” he said. “In high school, I used to work at a science museum. By the way, that was very much inspired by a love of Godzilla movies. Going back to the originals, the heroes of a lot of Godzilla movies are scientists, which is something that we don’t get that much of in western movies.”
“The science of it is important because Godzilla as a legacy has so much to say about science both good and bad. The benefits and the dangers of it,” Dougherty said. “I felt like depicting these creatures realistically also, that we had to have some believable science to it. Obviously, you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit if you are going to believe there are radioactive monsters. But how do you make it as plausible and realistic as possible?”
Dougherty even found a way to bring other iconic characters into the film and modernize them, or at least put a grounded and real twist on them. Without getting too much into spoilers, the director said that what he loved most about the Godzilla films was the presence of strong female characters. “Going back to the original, it is filled with very opinionated, strong female scientists,” he said. “I grew up used to that and my mother and her sisters were very strong female characters in my life.”
But the one thing that Dougherty is disappointed about is that audiences did not see a lot of outspoken Asian characters in American movies. “The big reason why I was inspired to make Godzilla films is that I was a half-Asian kid who got teased a lot, Godzilla was an escape, and it really inspired me to watch movies made by other Asian people,” he said. “So it was like Godzilla movies and Kung Fu movies, you know, the two best genres.”
It was important to him to have Zhang Ziyi‘s character continue what he had seen in the original films. Just in a more grounded way and something that wasn’t a cameo but “would lay the groundwork for a really interesting relationship between Zhang Ziyi and Mothra.”
“She has a certain mystique, aura, and strength about her,” Dougherty said. “She’s beautiful and elegant, but she can also kick your ass. So she has that in common with Mothra.”
Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens in theaters on May 30, 2019. Click right here for our review, trailers, and more.