VANCOUVER - "Godzilla" is returning to theaters this May, and bringing the giant creature back to life was no easy feat for director Gareth Edwards and the film's impressive cast.

With the poorly-received 1998 Hollywood effort still fresh in some fans' memories, the upcoming film is winning viewers over with clever marketing and some awe-inspiring visual teases.

Before the first trailer dropped, however, I visited the film's Vancouver set for a peek behind the curtain.

Simply judging from the set visit and the film's trailers, "Godzilla" appears to have an original and thoroughly consistent tone, with Edwards and his game cast lending the fantastic story a realist edge. The PG-13 result looks to be grounded, but not too grim. 

Edwards previously dealt with giant creatures in the low-budget 2010 "Monsters," for which he served as both director and visual effects artist, but "Godzilla" is much bigger in scope. 

Among the sets which a group of journalists and I toured at the Canadian Motion Picture Park in Burnaby, BC last year, was a colossal creation made up of the giant ribcage of some poor fallen giant. It had a look similar to H.R. Giger's otherworldy "biomechanical" designs in "Alien." It was complete with stalactites, faux limestone and oxidized rock, all realistically rendered with foam core, paint and hard work. Even in bright stage lighting, it was utterly convincing. 

"This set cost more than 'Monsters,'" cracked Edwards. 

On a different stage, father-and-son duo Joe and Ford Brody (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) explored a home in Japan, near where Godzilla had recently struck. The floor appeared to have a giant footprint.  

The scene takes place in the present day, but the Brodys have had Godzilla in their lives ever since a tragic incident in 1999, when Ford was a kid. "Godzilla," we were told, takes place in several countries (Japan, the Philippines and the U.S.) that have been terrorized by Godzilla and other kaiju, with the first incident occuring in 1954 (which coincides with the original Toho Studio film's release). The incidents were somehow covered up, but as an obsessed scientist who believes in a conspiracy, Cranston told us that Joe knows better, while his son is skeptical up until a certain pivotal point in the film.

Production designer Owen Patterson described it as a road movie taking place in different places, utilizing nearly 100 sets in Japan, the U.S. (Hawaii, San Francisco) and Canada.

In addition to the scene we watched being shot, we were treated to surprisingly effective animated pre-viz (pre-visualization) footage of a scene that later popped up (in completed form) in the trailer. With no dialogue, it followed the HALO jumpers as they dove out of a plane into a smoldering San Francisco, where the Big G is wreaking havoc. Another pre-viz scene found some U.S. soldiers on a giant bridge somewhere while at least two giant monsters duked it out overhead. 

Later, we were shuttled to a second unit set which was comprised of part of the deck of an aircraft carrier, with a giant green screen in the background. This was meant to depict the aftermath of "G Day" -- as the Battle of San Francisco becomes known -- complete with smoking rubble and bloodied extras. The battle itself was teased as one of the film's most epic action sequences, with significant carnage allegedly taking place on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Multiple monsters may be involved, but it's unknown if any other familiar Toho creatures will appear. On set, however, there was a small terrarium marked "Mothra," which could lead to something bigger. 

Despite its tenuous connections to the 1954 original, this "Godzilla" is more reboot than sequel.

"It is an origin story," Edwards revealed. "It's not about having seen another film to understand this movie. It's supposed to be the beginning. But it doesn't just take place in modern times. And in a way, the mistakes we made in the past come back to haunt us in the present, and that is something that the whole movie is driven by -- whether you want to call them 'mistakes' or 'choices' -- that now we pay the price for."

Go to page 2 to read about the film's human elements, Godzilla's design, Toho's involvement, and thoughts about a sequel

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