Everyone seated in Austin's Alamo Ritz theater last night knew something was up. Something big. Skyscraper-big.
The scheduled screening was a newly restored 35mm print of the original Japanese monster classic Godzilla (1954), which will hit theaters next month as a warm-up for the massive remake. Opening on May 16, the 2014 Godzilla stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen. It's directed by Gareth Edwards, the English filmmaker who emerged out of nowwhere at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival with his super-low-budget sci-fi flick Monsters, about, among other things, giant beasts not unlike the almighty Gojira. Thus, it made perfect sense that Edwards would return to SXSW last night to discuss his new version of Godzilla after the O.G. film's special showing.
But, after all, this is SXSW—Edwards wouldn't just show up to talk, right? He'd have to bring something special for the dedicated Godzilla fans who'd spend their night revisiting the Toho original instead of getting drunk with all of the party people outside on 6th Street.
Eagle-eyed attendees spotted the two rows inside the Ritz theater blocked off as "Reserved," with the logo for Warner Bros. Studios accompanying the "Reserved" notification. Signs and wonders...
The 1954 Godzilla played as promised, and it looks and sounds better than ever. After the film's 95-minute running time ended, Gareth Edwards walked onto the stage. Funny and self-deprecating, he talked about how much it meant for him to be back at SXSW, the festival that started his career, and how it would only be right for him to choose SXSW as the location to debut the first footage from his Godzilla outside of the trailers. But, for a quick second, he broke a few hearts by saying that the music wasn't done yet, and to finish the score it'd cost way more cash than either he or Warner Bros. was about to spend. Fortunately, he continued, composer Alexandre Desplat (Zero Dark Thirty) tossed him an assist in the form of some freshly arranged music.
And then came the first-ever scene from Godzilla, clocking in at slightly north of ten minutes.
Presented without any context of set-up from Edwards, the nighttime sequence opens on a above-ground train cart. On the train are Aaron Taylor-Johnson and a little Japanese boy he's traveling with. The train comes to a sudden halt, and the panic transfers over to a military ocean liner where actor Ken Watanabe is surrounded by dozens of soldiers holding guns. Watanabe looks out into the ocean and sees the water rising up—rather, being pushed up by something enormous. Things then shift to a beach in Hawaii, where a dog is tied up to a tree and barking ferociously at the water. Violent, humongous waves form and start cascading onto the beach, prompting the pooch to haul ass towards the street, its leash ripping off. The dog runs down a street as the waves come hurdling towards it, eventually running into a crowd of fleeing people who get swept up by the water
Next, a gang of smart folks stand on rooftops and watch Army guys fire red flares into the night's sky; on their way downward, the flares pass what's clearly Godzilla's end zone-sized thigh.
Back on the stopped train, Taylor-Johnson's character noticed something out into the distance—a giant, insect-looking creature that's not dissimilar to the Cloverfield antagonist, with numerous long, spindly legs, but with a flattened head. One of its legs strikes the cart, slicing it in half and sending many of its riders tumbling down to their deaths. Johnson's holding onto a pole, and when the little boy shoots towards him, Johnson snatches him up and saves his life.
Outside the ravaged cart, the Cloverfield-ish monster is withstanding aerial bullet-spray when, with a gargantuan stomp, Godzilla's ridiculously big leg comes into the camera's frame. And then the camera pulls backward to show all of Godzilla, and…just, whoa. Burly and standing with its shoulders puffed up like Jersey Shore meathead ready to fight, it's like the 1954 Godzilla if it'd eaten nothing but 'roids, spinach, and protein shakes.
Just as diesel 'zilla let out his ear-piercing new roar, the scene ended. Whether the God and that other monster are about to scrap Rampage style or tag-team the train cart is anyone's guess.
Not that anyone inside the Alamo Ritz seemed to care either way. They were too busy offering a standing ovation to the film and its director. A couple of middle-aged men, unable to contain their excitement, actually hugged each other.
Yeah, the new Godzilla is going to be huge. Skyscraper-huge.
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