From the set: Michael Dougherty calls his Godzilla the ‘Aliens’ of the Franchise
“I’ve been a fan of Godzilla since I was old enough to walk.”
Director Michael Dougherty has had a hand in many fan-favorite movies in addition to his own passion projects. From X-Men 2 and Superman Returns to his hit horror films Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, his wheelhouse is the things that he’s always loved. Superheroes. Horror movies. Monsters.
But now he’s on the movie he’s been preparing for his entire life, the big one, the king of ’em all.
“Every Saturday morning from the ages of 2 to 7 (my day) was the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon and Super Friends, and my local TV station had the old black and white Universal monsters followed by a Godzilla movie, so I was subjected to it for years. And I fell in love with the character.”
Dougherty revealed to us that when he was a child he would make additions to his personal bible, adding Godzilla into the various illustrations of the biblical stories. In Dougherty’s text, Godzilla was there at the fall of Jericho.
“I figured, add Godzilla to anything, it’s better….He’s been a good friend for a very long time. So it’s a dream come true.”
Dougherty’s movie arrives in theaters five years after 2014’s Godzilla, the first entry in Legendary’s Monster-Verse, and though it shares a few characters and the mysterious organization Monarch, the films will be pretty different. When asked to compare his movie to Gareth Edwards’ slow-burn starter, Dougherty offered the ultimate comparison, the one that immediately paints a picture of the two movies.
“I hesitate to say it, but I would call (my movie) the Aliens to Gareth’s Alien.”
Dougherty clarified that he considers the tone of the film to be in the fine line between “fun” and taking things seriously, a quality he said he appreciated about the 2014 movie.
“If you compare Alien, which is a very straight science fiction film with not a lot of yucks, compared to Aliens which sort of had a bit more fun, tongue-in-cheek moments, we’re somewhere in the middle there.”
“So it’s a bit more of an ensemble film. Whereas the first movie was really about Ford Brody’s character kind of weaving his way through that adventure and Monarch kind of was the backdrop for that. Here Monarch is the focus, because I find that concept really fascinating. The idea that there is a secret agency that tracks giant monsters – that is a dream come true for me too… I felt there was an opportunity to sort of craft Monarch as a group of heroes…and the idea of a team of heroes who are scientists really appealed to me.”
Naturally, with an extended history with the King of the Monsters, Dougherty had specific ideas for how things had to happen in the film. The shapes of the monsters and the sounds of the monsters are the key to their success, and Dougherty knows it.
“The good news is Toho has very specific requirements. All of which I completely agree with.”
The sounds for each monster, called Titans in the film, should be distinct enough from each other that (like the old films) fans can close their eyes, hear a noise, and know which monster is on screen.
“What I did was I gave a super cut of all the creature noises, from the original films, to the sound designers and said ‘Start here.’”
The sounds even came on handy on set, as Dougherty had a massive speaker system assembled (which he called “Behemoth”) connected to an iPad with every different monster call at his finger tips.
“So any scene that involves our cast running and screaming in terror, and there’s a lot of them, I’ve been playing creature noises. And it really ups their performance. Something pops when they hear the noises. Getting the noises right is huge. I think they did a great job with Godzilla’s roar in the first movie. I pushed them a little bit further to bring it even closer to the (1954) original even more. But all the other creatures will have some resemblance of their original skreeches.”
In the same way the sounds of the creatures will maintain their roots, the visual look of the monsters will be intact too. Designs for the new versions of Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra started with the silhouettes of the creatures, making sure they all had distinct shapes while maintaining nods to their original forms.
For Ghidorah, Dougherty told the designers to stick to Eastern dragon designs.
“You can’t have Ghidorah without the two tails and the three heads,” Dougherty says. “He’s got to have the right amount of horns, and then the wings are a very distinct shape. They’re not traditional western dragons. So those were marching orders from the beginning…We don’t want it to look like Game of Thrones’ dragons.”
As you may have seen in the trailers so far, Mothra is the most different looking from the old films, as Dougherty went for a more realistic moth-like appearance because as the director told us, the look can just be a moth made big.
“The beauty of it is, I had to go down a rabbit hole and really research moths. And it turns out, moths? Better than butterflies. They are super cool insects. And there are so many different species of moths that have very different shapes, some of which almost look predatory. Some are much more sleek and a little scary looking than the typical Mothra design. So the approach for Mothra is to create an insectoid, huge creature that looks believable from every angle, and especially in motion.”
The designs, both visual and aural, were meant to evoke another feeling specifically: Worship. If the creatures of the Monster-Verse have lived on earth for thousands and thousands of years, ancient civilizations definitely worshiped them as gods. We’ve seen this already in Kong: Skull Island, and it’s a thread that will continue in King of the Monsters.
“Primitive man saw these creatures, and you want to give them a presence that would make him drop to his knees and bow to this god…It can’t just look like big dinosaurs. Jurassic Park has that covered. These have to be distinct. They have to be their own thing. They’re Titans.”
Dougherty is well aware that he’s playing in a larger sandbox here, and went out of his way to speak with all the other filmmakers that have been involved in the movies and those that are working on future movies.
“I talked to Gareth quite a bit. Texting back and forth. Some phone calls here and there. He actually came and visited the set a few weeks ago. Jordan Vogt-Roberts I didn’t interact with too much outside of post-production during Kong when we had a brief meeting. But I really like what those guys have done and I think there’s definitely the visual style we developed for this film that we wanted to adhere to, on some levels. You also want to color outside the lines every now and then. You don’t want to be slavish, but I think trying to treat the creatures and the stories, with a sense of respect and also just trying to make it feel real is important.”
Another key thing from the 2014 Godzilla movie that Dougherty is maintaining is by applying a realism to the camera placement.
“I loved about the visual aspect of Gareth’s film is that he treated them with a sense of reality. There was never a magic CGI flying camera. Every shot of the creatures felt like it could have been shot by an actual human being. Whether they’re on a helicopter or a crane, hand held, whatever, the camera movements were never artificial. And so that’s also one of our ground rules. Because it does take you out of the movie, whether consciously or sub-consciously, when you realise that oh, there’s no way a camera could have possibly gotten that shot. And it adds a sense of weight and reality to it which I think is missing from a lot of blockbuster movies.”
Though fans have been eager to find out if other monsters from the Godzilla pantheon will appear in the film (as the trailers seem to suggest), Dougherty concluded our talk saying that the main four in King of the Monsters are the cream of crop as far as he’s concerned.
“It really doesn’t get much better than these four. There’s definitely a few others that I was hoping to sort of tip the hat to them, but these are the crown jewels of Toho as far as I’m concerned. Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah and Godzilla, those are the ones that come to mind when you think of the Godzilla universe….Outside of the Universal classic monster movies, Toho is one of the first companies to pioneer the idea of a shared universe. They were doing it long before Marvel was and they did it via those creatures. Mothra was a completely separate film from Godzilla when it started. Same thing with Rodan. So it kind of feels like things are coming full circle.”
Godzilla: King of the Monsters arrives in theaters on May 31.