As any action hero – and Hollywood executive – knows, you just can’t keep a good monster down. Godzilla, the fire-breathing mutant dinosaur who first emerged from beneath the seas of Japan in 1954, will soon be slugging it out at the box office with Frankenstein, who made his first appearance on film in 1910.
After years of being sidelined by superheroes, wizards and vampires, monsters are once again invited to the Hollywood ball.
The animated Monsters University is currently the biggest box-office draw in the UK, while Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s tale of sea monsters vs robots, is at number three.
Two new Frankensteins are in production, one starring Daniel Radcliffe as Igor the hunchback while, I, Frankenstein, starring Bill Nighy and Aaron Eckhart, will pit Mary Shelley’s monster (created in 1816) against demons and gargoyles.
But if the audience reaction at this weekend’s Comic-Con in San Diego is anything to go by, it is Godzilla, which will lumber on to cinema screens next year, that will be the biggest monster hit. The lizard was all over Comic-Con, which continues today with that enemy of intergalactic monsters, Doctor Who, celebrating his 50th anniversary with current star Matt Smith and writer Steven Moffat.
What was once a haven for geeks has turned into a hugely important movie industry extravaganza where film-makers and stars preview and showcase their work directly to potential audiences. It was at last year’s convention that Godzilla was finally given the green light after its years of development hell, thanks to the enthusiastic reception fans gave to the film’s British director, Gareth Edwards.
Edwards, who made his name with the appropriately titled low-budget 2010 hit Monsters (about aliens), said he made his first trip to Comic-Con last year to discuss possibly rebooting the monster movies, and the audience reaction helped to get the film approved for production.
“I hadn’t really comprehended how significant it was going to be for the film,” he said. “I thought some people might clap and they’d get on with the next film, but the reaction – I was so knocked out by it. There was so much love for Godzilla. The film was going to happen, but they pushed it over the finish line to get a green light, so I’m very much indebted to everyone in Hall H last year.”
Yesterday, Hall H was rewarded when the cast, featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston, as well as Edwards turned up to unveil the first look at the monster.
Godzilla’s return is a bit of a risk, however. Its last Hollywood re-emergence in 1998 (there have been at least 28 Japanese films) ended in disaster. Audiences initially flocked to see it but soon trailed off, leading to the cancellation of a planned trilogy and franchise.
The screenwriter Frank Darabont said the latest film will add a “very compelling human drama”, however, and that Godzilla would be tied to a “different contemporary issue” rather than the original atomic bomb testing which gave the monster its laser eyes.
He added: “What we’re trying to do with the new movie is not have it camp. We’re kind of taking a cool new look at it, but with a lot of tradition in the first film. We want this to be a terrifying force of nature.”
Paul Gallagher and Andrew Johnson
Volcanic eruptions aside, Iceland is seldom a crucible for the latest chart-topping musical hotness. Of Monsters and Men, the unassuming five-piece indie folk band from Iceland who are selling out arenas around the world, are exactly that. Just don’t call them twee.
Singer-songwriter Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir had to look up that word when she first heard it used in English, and shakes her head when asked if she thinks it sums up the band’s tunes. But the 24-year-old admits the term hasn’t done the group any harm.
After winning Iceland’s equivalent of battle of the bands in 2010, they released their self-funded debut album, My Head Is an Animal, as a “hobby” to distract themselves from work and university courses. In a historic feat, it reached No 6 in the official US charts, the highest position for an Icelandic group.
They have since been compared to everyone from Arcade Fire to Cyndi Lauper and the Cardigans; the record reached No 1 in the iTunes chart in nine countries last year, including the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Portugal. The single “Little Talks”, a folk song accompanied by percussion, brass and a few hoots thrown in for good measure, sold more than four million copies worldwide, and was named iTunes UK’s Alternative Single of the Year.
But the band – comprising Ragnar Thorhallsson, Arnar Rosenkranz Hilmarsson, Kristjan Pall Kristjansson, Brynjar Leifsson and Hilmarsdottir – remain understated. Guitarist Thorhallsson is adamant that the British folk act Mumford & Sons helped the group break the American market. He does not flinch when I ask him about the reports that a certain Duchess of Cambridge chose their music on a playlist for the royal birth. Did he know who Kate was? “No,” he smiles. “Not at all. But I’d love every queen to play our music while having a baby. It’s pretty cool.”
Thorhallsson said he never imagined they could garner international recognition. “Usually bands that are big in Iceland don’t get to tour a lot. You think of Björk or Sigur Ros – they’re the only two who are able to do it from Iceland steadily. It’s expensive and hard. It was never really a thought for us. We never thought we’d be able to do it,” he said.
But 16 months into an 18-month world tour and they have already experienced their fair share of hysteria, including a car chase in Chicago.
The band performed at a sold-out Somerset House last week and will return to the UK to play at V Festival next month, as well as heading to Scandinavia, Japan and then Australia. “We always look at Iceland as a safe haven,” Hilmarsdottir said. “When I land, and I drive into the city and I see the lava, it’s an immediate feeling of ‘phew’.”
The band hope to start writing their next album once they return home, and for now they want to swap the mayhem of the past year and a half for a little calm.
“Loud is good, but space and quietness is also one of the greatest instruments,” said Thorhallsson.