Marketing Method: Godzilla (2014)

Trailers can reveal a lot about a movie. They can showcase the plot, the tone, and the characters. Often times, a film audience can tell the quality of a film, based on its previews. This May, the second American Godzilla remake will release across the world. This 2014 makes another attempt at adapting the Japanese creation for American audiences. The first attempt in 1998… did not go well. Just to recollect, here is the teaser for the 1998 remake:

I still remember seeing that in front of Men in Black. At the time I thought it looked fun and badass. Godzilla was taking out a T-Rex – take that, Jurassic Park! Oh, what foreshadowing that was. Godzilla 1998 never did get past that image of the T-Rex and those movies that came out right before it. But, enough about this movie, maybe I’ll talk about it another time.

I would like to show you the first teaser to the 2014 film, but sadly it was never legally released. All I can say is that it exists online and is worth checking out. This time, there were no mentions made of T-Rex. Instead the teaser was solemn, filled with images of destruction and the following quote:

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people cried; most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'"
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people cried; most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'”

The teaser concluded with that image of Godzilla roaring at the sky. It gave goosebumps and sent a message: this remake was trying to capture the tone of the 1954 original. The first Godzilla was not a fun action movie, I have already spoken about it at length. After the debacle in 1998, director Gareth Edwards wanted to send a message to Godzilla fans that his film would be different. Message received. Here is the first, publicly-shown teaser:

Leaves a different impression from the 1998 version, right? While both teasers are light on the actual plot and characters (as teasers often are), they mainly exist to showcase a tone. The 1998 teaser was light and fun, while the 2014 teaser provided shots of death and destruction. Godzilla himself was also featured much more heavily in the 2014 teaser: showcasing the monster as the main presence of the film.

In the trailers since then, this image has been reinforced. The audience has gotten snippets of plot (Bryan Cranston appears to be a scientist, Aaron Johnson is his son, the soldier) and how Godzilla is being presented. He is shown as a force of nature. An unstoppable juggernaut that even nuclear bombs cannot slow down. The shots are dark, often set at night or filled with shadow. There is very little normalcy shown, the audience instead being treated to soldiers, scientists, and other figures who are playing central roles in the action (there is only one shot of a “happy couple” dynamic in any of the trailers).

This looked like a disaster movie, when mankind trying to survive Godzilla instead of a volcano or meteor. Then came the first real trailer, and another factor was added to the mix. Godzilla is not the only monster in this movie.

While it is hard to say exactly what MUTO is (other than a bug), this monster is definitely not Godzilla.
While it is hard to say exactly what MUTO is (other than a bug), this monster is definitely not Godzilla.

Dubbed M.U.T.O., there isn’t much known about this adversary, other than it is an original creation (there is no Japanese film where Godzilla fought Muto in the past). With the appearance of this new plot element, questions arise about the films tone. Can it still echo the somber nature of the 1954 film (Gareth Edwards spoken intention) while featuring something as blockbuster as a monster fight? The trailers seemed to back this up. That is, until the most recent one:

Of all the Godzilla marketing, this preview is the most apart, in terms of content and tone. While other previews spoke about Godzilla in very realistic terms (almost as if the events were actually happening), this one adds some definite movie lines. “No, a god”… really? A god…zilla, you mean? Yeah, it’s kinda cheesy. “Let them fight” also is marked departure. If destruction (and the horrors of) is a central theme, then why are the humans encouraging the giant monsters to battle each other?

The destruction is still highlighted, but this time it is also an effects shot.
The destruction is still highlighted, but this time it is also an effects shot.

It creates issues. The tone of the original Godzilla is what helped it to be such a powerful movie. If that tone is battling with say, another monster, it looks as though it is going to break down. Again, however, the trailers could be trying to simply appeal to a wider audience. Note back to that 1998 teaser: how prevalent were the children? Pretty easy to spot that film’s target audience. This new Godzilla has looked far more scary by contrast, and the marketing department may simply want to show that there are other elements of the film beyond Godzilla destroying things.

It remains to be seen just how well-made a movie this new Godzilla is. That said, the marketing has certainly done its job creating excitement for the movie. Whether the tones conflict or not: destruction, ominous lines, and dark shots of the monster seem to be all that is necessary to make an effective monster-movie trailer.

Oh yeah: and budget for believable special effects! Always forget that one.

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