Next year marks the 60th birthday of Godzilla, Japan’s most famous giant monster. The star of around 30 increasingly outlandish movies, a 1998 US remake, a cartoon series and a mountain of merchandise, it’s easy to forget that Gojira (to give him his original Japanese name) wasn’t conceived as a familiar figure of fun, but a city-leveling creature to be feared.
Director Gareth Edwards stated some time ago that he intended to reinstate Godzilla’s power to inspire a sense of fear and awe in his forthcoming reboot, timed to coincide with the grand Kaiju’s birthday next year. And it’s clear from the first few seconds of the movie’s new trailer that Edwards has already gone some way towards achieving that.
Like the teaser trailer shown off at Comic-Con two years ago, the new promo uses the eerie Monolith theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as a backwash for its images. This may be because the finished score isn’t finished yet, but we’re half hoping they use something like it in the final movie – it gives the firey visuals a perfectly apocalyptic tone.
In some ways, the Godzilla trailer’s perfectly conventional: we’re given a brief introduction to some of the leading players – Aaron Taylor Johnson, Juliette Binoche, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen are all glimpsed – an idea of the movie’s events, and finally a glimpse of the lumbering beast himself. But what’s unusual about the Godzilla trailer is how carefully its shots are chosen, and how little they give away when you really look at them in turn.
The opening sequence, a series of shots depicting the briefing and execution of a military skydive over a city, sets the trailer’s ominous tone and introduces Johnson’s Lieutenant Ford, here looking apprehensive (as we would) ahead of the leap.
Exactly why Lieutenant Ford and his pal soldiers are leaping from a plane isn’t clear. In the 1955 Japanese sequel Godzilla Raids Again, flares are used to lead Godzilla towards the sea. Is something similar going on here, with the red trails left by the soldiers designed to attract the monster, or are they attempting something different?
It’s an interesting lead-in to the promo in any case, since most trailers are designed to reflect a finished movie’s opening act rather than an event from what we’re guessing is its mid-section. The trailer for the 1998 Godzilla, for example, showed off the scarred fishing boats and beached cargo ships which hailed the creatures arrival.
By contrast, Godzilla 2014 gives no obvious clue as to where Godzilla comes from or where he’ll first attack. We’ve heard elsewhere that Godzilla won’t be the product of an atomic bomb, as in the 1954 original, but as the result of some other, more contemporary form of ecological catastrophe. Is he the result of a military experiment, as hinted at by the occasional shots of soldiers in Hazmat suits?
Then there’s that brief shot of Americans tinkering around with what we’re guessing is a nuclear warhead. Does an attempt to bomb Godzilla fail abysmally, as it always has in the past?
Such speculation aside, there’s one thing we can say for definite about the Godzilla trailer: it shows off a distinctive and thoroughly confident visual style. Before Godzilla, Gareth Edwards’ first movie was Monsters, a romance and road-trip drama which happened to have giant monsters as its backdrop. It was a stunning-looking movie made for very little money, and in the Godzilla trailer, we’re given a look at what the same director can achieve with Hollywood-level production values.
This doesn’t appear to be a disaster movie in the usual glossy blockbuster mode. Look at the way splashes of crimson ring out against black skies and intense shadows, and appear repeatedly throughout, from the red of the seats in a crumbling train carriage to claret-coloured light enveloping Juliette Binoche’s face. Admittedly, these are only brief glimpses of a two-hour plus movie, but they hint at an artistic intelligence at work rather than something thrown together by filmmakers without a clue.
Godzilla is glimpsed only a couple of times, with his distinctive scaled back picked out by flashes of lightning at the one minute mark, and a silhouette of his howling profile bringing the trailer to a close. That final shot, along with one memorable aerial scene of a flattened train in the desert, appear to have been taken from the two-year-old Comic-Con trailer mentioned earlier, which could mean they’ll appear in the finished movie, too.
This coy introduction of Godzilla, with the trailer showing his power to inspire shock and awe rather than lingering on the beast himself, shows the kind of confidence we’re hoping to see in the rest of its marketing. It’s refreshing to see a trailer which doesn’t rely on the usual aural assault to keep viewers interested; look, for example at the mid-point. It’s here, as we see Bryan Cranston (we think) run down a corridor, that the usual “Braahhm” sound effects should kick in – but instead, there’s silence.
It’s a trailer heavy on atmosphere and light on spoiler-filled details. And most importantly, it introduces a new iteration of Godzilla that Ishiro Honda himself would surely be impressed by. The 1954 movie tapped into the psyche of a nation left reeling by the power of the atom bomb, but it also dwelt on a much older, more universal fear.
In ancient Japan, it was said that a giant sleeping catfish called Namazu created earthquakes with the flick of its tail. The ancient Greeks blamed Poseidon, while the Romans pinned the blame on Vulcanus. Godzilla is in the tradition of those folk tales and old gods, and it’s this sense of the mythical that the teaser trailer gets across so well. This is Godzilla as a terrifying force of nature.
Godzilla is out on the 16th May 2014.