Are you expecting the reboot of Godzilla to feature an endless array of monster-on-monster fight scenes, where two nigh-invincible creatures slug each other with computer-generated punches until one of them finally goes down for the count? If so, you’d better wait for the fourth Transformers film, because Godzilla is so not that movie. In fact, though the press saw Godzilla for the first time today in Los Angeles, they didn’t actually see much of the titular monster, who remains an elusive presence in his very own film. Director Gareth Edwards wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“[If] you throw everything you can at the screen, you’ve got nowhere else to go,” said Edwards after the screening, when Vulture asked him about his bold approach to the film, which holds back the first reveal of Godzilla — and the first full-fledged fight — for as long as possible. His goal, said Edwards, was “not to frustrate the audience, but to tease them. It’s kind of like cinematic foreplay.”
How will that go over in a multiplex more accustomed to orgiastic spectacle than foreplay? We’d love to tell you how it played today, but we’re under embargo; what we are allowed to tell you is how Edwards carefully calibrated his approach to the central creature, who is mostly seen in glimpses until the very end. “What we were trying to do when we designed the movie was to incrementally build and build,” said Edwards. “So hopefully, you get the big climax at the end and it has the maximum power possible — and then it’s the end credits.”
This reboot, then, is the sort of exercise in anticipation that recalls movies like Jaws, Alien, and Jurassic Park, and Edwards said it was the latter film in particular — which, like Godzilla, holds back the big Tyrannosaurus Rex reveal until an hour has passed — that served as his primary touchstone in several ways. “Jurassic Park has thirty visual effects shots in it, and it’s one of the classics,” he noted, explaining his judicious approach to CGI. (There’s plenty of effects work in the film, but it’s used mostly to convey the massive aftermath of those discreetly glimpsed monster battles, which wreck several cities.) Edwards said he tried to resist the temptation “to get seduced by the spectacle of it too much, because in my opinion, you can end up reaching a plateau” of CGI fatigue.
Let Godzilla’s incredibly effective marketing campaign serve as your barometer, then: Those terrific trailers are mostly made of mood, serving some striking city visuals and terrified reaction shots with just a sliver of Godzilla himself, and the feature-length film pretty much sticks to that recipe, too. You won’t have to wait much longer to see how it all comes together: Godzilla is out May 16.