For writer Max Borenstein, 'Godzilla' is about nature's dominance over humanity
"Godzilla" rampages into the multiplex this weekend, and as I've already detailed, I'm pretty well in the tank for it. It's an exciting, suspenseful, and above all, artful piece of work that really sits on a higher tier than most movies of its ilk.
Max Borenstein was the man given the impossible task of re-imagining this iconic story for a new era (working from a story by Dave Callaham), and I think he and director Gareth Edwards have delivered. And not only that, but Borenstein had a chance to expand the universe a bit with his work in the graphic novel prequel "Godzilla: Awakening," which we've already grilled him about.
Today, though, it's all about the movie, as the screenwriter tells us what he wanted to incorporate from the prior films in the series (not to mention what else from the Toho mythology he'd like to incorporate going forward if given the chance), what Godzilla came to represent, thematically, to him and how he collaborated with Edwards on developing the story, among other things.
Check out our back and forth below, and come Friday, run…don't walk…to your local theater and see for yourself.
HitFix: So I went back recently and re-watched the original film, "Gojira," and it struck me how this iteration is very much in the spirit of that film, using the monster as a backdrop and focusing on the human drama. With that as an obvious case, I'm curious: what else that was inherent about the original film were you interested in conveying in your script?
Max Borenstein: I think in looking back at the original and then the subsequent Godzilla films, the original I found really inspiring. I had never seen the Japanese cut of the original film until I was approached about doing this film. I had seen the "King of the Monsters cut," the American cut, which is, you know, a bit — it’s not the same movie. It’s got all these over-the-shoulder shots of Raymond Burr. It becomes an adventure story rather than the sort of harrowing allegory of nuclear war. And so having gone back and seen that film, I was blown away by its intensity and its ambition to use this monster movie to tell a story that’s gonna really strike at this very deep primal fear that everyone was feeling in that moment. I thought there was a real power in that and that was something interesting to aspire to.
Then I thought, the character evolves and he comes to stand in for different neuroses and fears, be it alien invasions in some and environmental catastrophe in others and bioengineering and all these different things that Godzilla becomes sort of representation of depending on the era and what the fears of the moment were. But it felt like the common denominator there was that Godzilla always represents a force beyond our control. And so in all the different films, whatever that individual theme of the moment may be, it’s always the case that humanity believes that we are in control of the world around us by virtue of our technology, our intelligence, whatever. And we’re reminded by the arrival of Godzilla and whatever ancillary characters/creatures there are that we are insects on this planet. That we are not in control. So that sort of big theme felt like, if we could find a new way to approach it and make sure that our Godzilla hits on that, that feel, regardless of what the specific is, then I think we are kind of doing our job.
Now when did the Fukushima Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happen in all of this? Were you already well underway?
No, Fukushima happened shortly before I got involved, and really, that was obviously, one certain very resonant example that we definitely thought about. But it feels like it’s not alone in this day and age, you know? It seems like a year doesn’t pass without a catastrophic natural disaster that’s exacerbated in one way or another by human activity, whether it be, you know, Hurricane Katrina which is a super storm arguably exacerbated by global warming and then again on the other end, where it causes tragedy because we didn’t build our levies properly. Or Fukushima, where we built a plant in a way and in a place where maybe it shouldn’t have. And all these examples of the ways in which we have built our society and our technology to believe that we are in control, and then things happen suddenly and catastrophically that remind us that even though we’re more advanced than we’ve ever been, we’re still at the whims of this natural world and it’s a natural world that we treat cavalierly. It felt like that was a really resonant way to start to see Godzilla.