Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)(Legendary/Warner Bros)
From Warner Bros
Following the global success of “Godzilla” and “Kong: Skull Island” comes the next chapter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ cinematic Monsterverse: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” an epic action adventure that pits Godzilla against some of the most popular monsters in pop culture history.
The film was directed by Michael Dougherty (“Trick ‘R Treat,” “Krampus”), and stars Kyle Chandler (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Argo”) as well as Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air,” “The Conjuring” films) and Millie Bobby Brown (TV’s “Stranger Things”) in her feature film debut. The acclaimed ensemble cast also includes Bradley Whitford (“Get Out,” “The Post”); Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water,” “Blue Jasmine”); Charles Dance (HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” “The Imitation Game”); Thomas Middleditch (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”); Aisha Hinds (“Star Trek Into Darkness”); O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”); Oscar nominee David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Godzilla”), with Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai,” “Inception,” “Godzilla”) and Golden Globe nominee Ziyi Zhang (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).
The new story follows the heroic efforts of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species—thought to be mere myths—rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
Dougherty directed from a script he wrote with Zach Shields, story by Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields, based on the characters “Godzilla,” “King Ghidorah,” “Mothra” and “Rodan” owned and created by Toho Co., Ltd. The film was produced by Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Brian Rogers, with Zach Shields, Barry Waldman, Hiro Matsuoka, Keiji Ota, Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Yoshimitsu Banno and Kenji Okuhira serving as executive producers, and Ali Mendes and Jay Ashenfelter co-producing for Legendary.
Behind the scenes, Dougherty’s creative team included director of photography Lawrence Sher (the “Hangover” films, additional photography on “Godzilla”); production designer Scott Chambliss (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Star Trek Into Darkness”); editors Roger Barton (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the “Transformers” films), Oscar nominee Richard Pearson (“United 93,” “Kong: Skull Island”) and Bob Ducsay (“Godzilla,” “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”); costume designer Louise Mingenbach (the “X-Men” and “Hangover” films), and Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron (“Life of Pi,” “Godzilla”). The music is by Bear McCreary (TV’s “The Walking Dead,” “10 Cloverfield Lane”).
Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures present a Legendary Pictures Production, in association with Toho Co., Ltd., a film by Michael Dougherty, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” The film will be presented in 3D, 2D and IMAX® in select theatres and is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho; and in China, where it will be distributed by Legendary East.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has been rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action, violence and destruction, and for some language.
IN THE PATH OF MONSTERS
“It’s Godzilla’s world…We just live in it.”
- Chief Warrant Officer Barnes
With “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” director/co-writer Michael Dougherty brings together some of the biggest, baddest monsters in big-screen history, realized without limits for the first time in the modern age, in an epic, globe-spanning battle royale for the future of the planet that links the fates of monsters and man.
“Godzilla has always had a sense of mythic purpose,” says Dougherty, the lifelong fan at the helm of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” “Godzilla movies are big, they’re fun, but underneath all the monster mayhem and apocalyptic destruction, these movies are allegories. That’s how the Japanese initially invented and portrayed the character, and I think it’s one of the reasons Godzilla has endured for as long as he has.”
From his explosive 1954 awakening to his epic 2014 rebirth, Godzilla has always been more than a monster. A destroyer, a savior, an icon, a King, he has evolved and reinvented himself through decades of social, political and ecological change from a walking natural disaster to nature’s last, lone Samurai. “These are popcorn movies,” the director continues, “but they are filled with metaphor. And though the themes have changed over the years, they all leave you with the same warning: that if you push too hard against nature, nature’s going to push back.”
“This film truly puts you in the path of these monsters,” says producer Mary Parent. “When you look up and see them filling the screen and hear the theater-shaking thunder of their roars, you feel the presence of these creatures in a visceral, powerful way. This is a movie that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.”
“I think it's a big old popcorn extravaganza,” cast member Kyle Chandler attests. “Mike came in with a pretty stunning vision of a world overrun with 500-foot-tall monsters and a story that makes you care about what’s happening to the humans at their feet, and I’m very excited to see them mesh together. My great expectation for the film is that people sitting in the theater will look up at this vast world and believe it could actually exist.”
“This movie is a veritable cacophony of crazy, ancient super-species and people will feel the action and adventure and have that adrenaline rush,” adds his fellow castmate Vera Farmiga. “But it’s also important to tell a story that resonates, and I think this is a story that does. That’s why Godzilla is still such a powerful figure. He shines a light on real things. What’s not to love about an atomic-breathing, 800-megaton monster who makes us feel all too human?”
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan’s The Toho Co., Ltd. assembled a team of Japanese filmmaking legends to create a new kind of monster. Willed to life through a latex-and-bamboo monster suit, a meticulously engineered 1/25th scale model of Tokyo and masterful filmmaking, Godzilla roared onto the screen in Ishirō Honda’s genre-defining masterpiece “Gojira,” and has resonated and reverberated through the global cultural imagination ever since, cementing his place as one of the greatest, most resonant and original creations ever put to film.
Godzilla’s global footprint kicked open the door for Toho to unleash a universe of gigantic creatures in a series of films that would launch the kaiju eiga genre and enthrall and entertain generations of fans. But apart from Godzilla, none other has been realized on the big screen outside of Japan.
Having successfully launched an all-new cinematic Monsterverse with the blockbusters “Godzilla” in 2014, directed by Gareth Edwards, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Kong: Skull Island” three years later, the producers knew it was time to deepen the bench. “Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah are three of the most popular creatures in the Toho universe,” producer Alex Garcia states. “So when we started putting together our second ‘Godzilla’ film, we knew how exciting it would be for fans to see them brought to life in all their glory, to duke it out with Godzilla within the grounded, real-world environment we established with the first two films.”
At the same time, Garcia acknowledges, it was also daunting. “These are timeless, beloved characters who have been embraced by fans all over the world. So to bring them to life in an original story, with a new tonal approach, is always a leap of faith.”
To stick the landing, they’d need a filmmaker at the helm with a vision big enough to widen the lens on the contemporary Monsterverse combined with the passion and appreciation of a Godzilla superfan. Fortunately, they didn’t have to look far.
Michael Dougherty had recently made a film with Legendary—the dark Christmas tale “Krampus”—and his affinity for Godzilla was hard to miss. “Michael still has this 18-inch Godzilla toy that he got when he was a kid,” Garcia laughs.
When Dougherty was barely old enough to walk, a startling vision roared to life on his living room TV—a body-slamming, blue-fire-breathing superhero with a heart-rending, ear-shattering roar. “He was a dinosaur unlike any dinosaur I’d ever seen,” Dougherty recalls. “He wasn’t even a dinosaur, really; he was an ancient creature pitted against the modern world. I just became obsessed with Godzilla. I’d draw him in the margins of my notebooks and add him to the illustrations in my grade school Bible, much to the chagrin of the nuns.”
After that, nothing would be the same—not movies, not monsters and not Dougherty himself. “I was a mixed-race kid growing up in Columbus, Ohio,” he shares. “So to discover these amazing movies about giant monsters that were made by Japanese people…that meant the world to me. He became this weird security blanket for me because he was so strong and so powerful, and yet there’s a consciousness and wisdom to him. So Godzilla has been a very good friend for a very long time.”
Dougherty even credits the Big Guy with inspiring him to become first an animator and then a filmmaker. “When I was around ten years old, my family brought home a Betamax camcorder and all I wanted do was make a Godzilla movie, which ended up being a crude but effective stop-motion film of my trusty Godzilla Shogun Warrior toy rampaging through my action figures. Occasionally assisted by my pet box tortoise, Tony,” he adds with a smile.
In addition to his childhood love of dinosaurs, Godzilla resonated with Dougherty’s lifelong affinity for dragon lore. “My mother is Vietnamese and I also have Irish and Hungarian roots, so I grew up reading all the various dragon myths from both the East and the West,” he says. “And as a kid watching Godzilla movies, I felt like I was seeing those stories come to life. I didn’t see men in rubber suits destroying scale-model cities. I saw ancient, powerful, mythic beings battling for dominance and fighting out old grudges.”
For the director and his longtime writing partner Zach Shields, that link became the key to cracking open a larger universe: one big enough to contain a world-shattering deathmatch between not one but four colossal creatures. “For Mike, that connection was always there,” offers Shields, who in addition to co-writing the screenplay is also an executive producer on the film. “For me it was a new exploration, for Mike it was in his DNA. Our differences were our strength in molding this gigantic legacy into our own mythology. And what was amazing was that the more we teased it out, the bigger it became. We wanted to tell this story on an Old Testament Biblical scale—fire and brimstone and nature at its height—and mythology gave us a canvas that was vast and deep enough for the Holy Grail of monster showdowns.”
With free rein to explore a Monsterverse filled with possibility, the writing team came back with a vision that surprised even its longtime shepherds. “Mike and Zach found a way to bring Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah into this world that was so organic, it was as if they had always been there,” Garcia relates. “The story dovetailed perfectly with our far-reaching plans for where we want to take these films, but it’s a much bigger, more global adventure than anything we’d ever seen.”
Adds Parent, “‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ delivers everything you want from a big, fun giant monster movie—timely themes, characters you cheer for, and some of the most monumental battles ever put to film. We wanted to honor the essential elements that have captivated fans around the world while creating a fresh, new experience that will deliver the power, wonder and pure excitement of these badass Titans to a new generation, and Michael has done it.”
“This movie could not have been in a non-fan’s hands,” says cast member and lifelong fan O’Shea Jackson, Jr. “Godzilla means so much to the people of Japan, we must treat him with the utmost respect and do right by him. And when I finally did get to see our Godzilla, I was like, ‘yeah, they did him right.’”
The quest to make Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah live again on the big screen fueled an epic collaboration that brought together a legion of creative collaborators—many propelled by their own connection to the seminal Toho creations—and kicked off a sprawling production that would open out the Monsterverse and bring the secret government agency Monarch into the light.
“We followed in the footsteps of what Gareth and Jordan had done on ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Kong: Skull Island’ to establish and deepen this world as much as they could,” Shields reveals. “But there’s always more territory to discover with these ancient creatures and Monarch. And, for us, exploring the secret world of Monarch was total wish fulfillment. Like stepping behind the locked doors of Area 51, but for giant monsters, or Titans as they’re known at Monarch. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know what an outfit like that is hiding. And when you enter their labs and see how much money is being funneled into this operation, that tells you how seriously world powers and private interests are taking this threat. The wolf is at the door, and Monarch is the thin, blue line. After that, there’s only Godzilla.”
So you want to make Godzilla our pet.
- Senator Williams
No, we would be his.
- Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
To give the monster apocalypse a human face, Dougherty enlisted an acclaimed, international, culturally diverse cast to bring to life the team of scientists, soldiers and civilians banding together against the monster horde, led by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, as Mark, Emma and Madison Russell, respectively. Reprising their fan-favorite roles from the first film are Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa; Sally Hawkins as Dr. Vivienne Graham; and David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz. Joining the cast as Monarch operatives are Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch as Dr. Rick Stanton and Sam Coleman, respectively, along with Ziyi Zhang as Dr. Ilene Chen.
Monarch’s dedicated command force—the G-team—is led by Aisha Hinds as Colonel Diane Foster; O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Chief Warrant Officer Barnes; Anthony Ramos as Staff Sergeant Martinez; and Elizabeth Ludlow as First Lieutenant Griffin. Charles Dance plays Alan Jonah, a mercenary whose agenda threatens to escalate the race toward Armageddon.
“For you to believe you’re seeing a golden, three-headed, two-tailed dragon encased in Antarctic ice, you have to believe the emotions of the people witnessing it on the ground, and this cast brought it,” Dougherty attests. “Everybody brings something unique and special and smart, and they take you into this crazy experience in a way that makes it feel real and human. They’re just awesome people, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had them as partners on this adventure.”
Taking on her first-ever feature film role, “Stranger Things” phenom Millie Bobby Brown knew she was jumping head-first into the deep end—a marathon shoot with a physically challenging role and a heavy visual effects component. “But I accepted the challenge and loved it!” she says. “The whole experience was very exciting. The action scenes were super-fun—to watch and to do. Just the scale of everything was so much bigger than anything I’m used to, and I never thought I’d be working with some of these actors. If people think that just because I’m in the movie I didn’t still fangirl… I was seriously fangirling,” she laughs.
With Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga playing Brown’s estranged parents, the three didn’t have to work hard to develop a family bond. “We had a great time,” Chandler says. “With any film, the final results are important, but it's the process and the people and the friendships that stick with you. We had a great cast and amazing crew on this. I don’t think there was any time when we didn’t find the best in it.”
“It was very easy to snap into that closeness and feel the affection that these characters have,” says Farmiga. “Millie was just a joy, constantly singing and dancing and teaching me Fortnite dance moves.”
“I taught her how to dab. It’s hot,” Brown quips. “And Kyle was amazing. I watched every episode of ‘Friday Night Lights’ so I've been a fan since I was like seven.”
“What we are witnessing is the return of an ancient and forgotten superspecies.”
- Sam Colemen
O’Shea Jackson, Jr. was equally starstruck, but not with a human castmate. “I was nerding out really hard,” he confesses. “You don’t have anything else terrorizing cities like Godzilla does. He is dominating and destroying, but he’s saving too. Speaking as a true fan, I always hated those humans who acted like Godzilla didn’t just save their ass… This’ll be the first Godzilla movie where I actually care about the humans.”
For fellow G-Team cast member Anthony Ramos, the Godzilla effect kicked in during a tense scene that brings his character face-to-face with the mighty King. “We’re all scared to death but then he’s gone and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, we didn’t die!’ And then, bam! He’s back and we’re scared again. It’s like he wants us to know that he could squash us like a bug if he wanted to,” he laughs. “Godzilla’s the man.”
But Godzilla is about to face off with his oldest and most dangerous foe. Rearing his three golden, lightning-spitting heads is Ghidorah, a triple threat of destruction, annihilation and menace, one of Toho’s most dangerous and popular creations, and as nasty as he wants to be. “Ghidorah brings three heads and a huge storm and the end of the world, really,” says Brown. “And it's kind of terrifying because each head has a character and a different personality and a different roar. Ghidorah, for me, was the scariest one of all of them.”
Raining death from above is Rodan, a creature of magma, attitude and supersonic speeds, dragging sonic booms and hurricane-force winds that topple monuments and level cities in his wake. But he wasn’t always this formidable. “He’s always been a bit of an underdog in the old movies,” Dougherty explains. “Godzilla fans know and love him well. I’ve always had a soft spot for him because he’s sort of a rogue. I think that he tends to look out for himself more than the other creatures, whereas Mothra is definitely an ally of humankind.”
A winged, ethereal, empathetic moth Queen with a divine spark and a magical origin story, Mothra is a favorite of both Brown and Farmiga. However, says Shields, they are not alone. “I think Mothra will find a way into everyone’s hearts. She’s the mother that we are all missing. She’s the source of life, the pulse of Mother Nature.”
When it comes to favorites, several actors, like their director, are firmly in Godzilla’s corner. “Godzilla is my hero. He’s had my back for years,” Jackson affirms. “The least I could do is take a couple of bumps and bruises for him.”
Kyle Chandler agrees. “If there’s got to be one, it’s got to be the old man himself. It’s Godzilla – king of the monsters!”
Even though the creatures weren’t physically on set, the cast nonetheless felt their presence, thanks to a combination of elements devised by Dougherty to give them a full grasp of what would be going around them at any moment, and what it would look and feel like on the ground.
The first was a detailed pre-vis (or previsualization—a rough animation of what the final shot will look like) he screened before every shot, which helped the cast wrap their minds around what they’d be reacting to or running from, and how close it would come. The second was his on-set “roar generator”—a supercut of the creatures’ classic roars, musical themes and various sound effects, which he would pump out over a massive loudspeaker (which he playfully dubbed “The Behemoth”) so the actors could feel the presence of their gargantuan co-stars at appropriate moments.
Godzilla’s unmistakable roar, in particular, was music to Ken Watanabe’s ears. “I get so excited when he lets out his roar,” he says. “It’s very strong, like a scream, but you feel a sadness in it as well. It’s like he’s scorning humanity for our foolishness.”
The third component was first assistant director Cliff Lanning, who found a fun way to communicate the specific beats Dougherty wanted his actors to hit. “He was our narrator,” Farmiga explains, “taking us through the actions and the emotions of the scene.”
Brown adds, “I’d be looking at a piece of tape or a tennis ball that’s supposed to be Godzilla’s mouth or something, and Cliff would shout: ‘OK, Godzilla’s coming! You have to turn around!’”
Chandler pipes in with his own impression, “‘All right, lean left, lean right. There’s Ghidorah! Ghidorah’s rising. Godzilla’s sizing him up and you’re scared!”
“The blue screen was a bit of a challenge,” adds Thomas Middleditch, “but fun and surreal at the same time. It’s like being in your bedroom as a little kid, imagining you’re on some wild, crazy adventure with monsters.”
Good thing he’s on our side.
- Dr. Rick Stanton
- Dr. Ilene Chen
Off-screen, a battle royale was brewing that would nearly eclipse the onscreen deathmatch the cast and filmmakers were bringing to life…albeit without the end-of-the-world stakes.
“It was a very big pranking-prankster set,” Brown admits. “Michael is very serious when he’s directing, but the rest of the time he’s just a big prankster.”
It began with a plastic rat Dougherty tucked into the refrigerator in the young star’s trailer, which she in turn dropped into Farmiga’s purse, which Farmiga then slipped into Chandler’s trailer. “That’s what kind of started the war,” Brown reveals.
“Not a day went by that I didn’t open the fridge and have a thousand colorful balls or a rat or some other surprise pop out,” Farmiga laughs. “This was probably the biggest film I’ve ever done, and it was such a joy because of the people I got to work with.”
Events escalated, sides were drawn, and Farmiga took it all in stride…until she opened the door of her trailer and a child-sized “Exorcist” doll—a gift from her director—fell on her head. Brown remembers, “Her dog kept barking at the thing, and when she opened her trailer door, it fell on her and she screamed! I videotaped it! It was very, very bad, but so funny.”
“Millie’s definitely the most dangerous person on set,” Jackson teases.
Holding it all together was the avowed fan at the helm. “Mike is my guy, man,” says Jackson. “I’m foaming at the mouth to see this. I’m sending him texts, ‘What’s it like?’ He’s like ‘It’s Christmas every day.’”
Ramos adds that the passion and enthusiasm of their director set a tone on set that carried the marathon shoot to the finish line. “This is his baby. To have a director who loves something so much, you just want to do your best to help him realize that dream. It’s been awesome getting to work with someone who cares so much about getting it right.”
Brown had never seen a Godzilla film when she landed the role. “But I had the best teacher; Michael is a big Godzilla fan and knows everything about monsters. And then I dove into the movies, and it was actually a big surprise to see how intense they were. I really respect the incredible work they did to make us believe in these monsters because that’s what inspired us to do this movie.”
“The creators of the classic Godzilla revolutionized special effects with their artistry and groundbreaking techniques, but they were obviously constrained by the limitations and technologies of the time,” Dougherty offers. “As a kid watching Godzilla movies, you don’t see that. You see the concept and the idea behind the guys in the rubber suits and the miniature sets being destroyed. The heart and the spirit of those movies always managed to shine through. The idea that you’re watching ancient deities and mythological monsters battling for dominance was always there. The intent was always to convey a sense of realism.
“Now, with all the benefits that modern visual effects allow us to have, you’ll get to see that same concept, that same heart and spirit, done in a way we’ve never seen before,” the director continues. “You’ll get to see these creatures as they were always meant to be seen and understand that they’re actually complex characters. They don’t have lines of dialogue like our human characters do, but what you’ll understand is that they’re just as soulful and complicated. And it’s a joy and honor to be able to do that.”
Which isn’t to say Dougherty didn’t feel the pressure of bringing a beloved 65-year-old franchise into the 21st century. “We are talking about a series of films that has spanned decades, a character who is known worldwide, and that I know and love deeply,” he reflects. “So it’s a huge torch to carry. There’s enormous pressure to get it right—for these characters, for their creators, for the fans, and for a new generation of kids discovering them for the first time.”