Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the best and most recent entry in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs Kong.
We’re four films deep now in Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse which brings epic kaiju battles back to the screen in CG-filled fashion. That’s not a knock as they’ve delivered some pretty spectacular visuals and set-pieces over the years — even if the earlier films stumble when the big monsters aren’t the focus. The latest entry once again includes some uninteresting human antics, but thankfully director Adam Wingard and friends keep it to a minimum knowing that the monsters is where it’s at.
Godzilla vs Kong premiered on HBO Max and in theaters, and now it’s new to home video with a speaker-shaking release on 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray. It’s loaded with extras, and of course, I went straight to the commentary track with the filmmaker. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Godzilla vs Kong!
Godzilla vs Kong (2021)
Commentator: Adam Wingard (director)
1. Wingard recorded this commentary in early February, 2021, so he’s discussing it without knowing how the film would be received. (Spoiler, it’s currently fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and our own chief critic Rob Hunter is a fan too.)
2. Kong’s casual morning wasn’t the original opening and was instead something they thought up deep into production. It took them a while to feel confident enough that the monsters are characters in their own right.
3. The device on the tree seen at 1:56 was added during editing to suggest that something more was afoot in the jungle scene. They “didn’t have any money” to build something new, so they just repurposed a tech part from the front of the HEAV aircrafts seen later in the film.
4. He references John Carpenter’s comments about his own filmography essentially being made up of westerns. “If I had to pick my own version I’d say every movie I’ve done is actually a musical in disguise.” He adds that he doesn’t think he’d ever make an actual music.
5. Wingard was resistant at first to the big orchestral score as he instead favored a more synth-oriented score, but he relented after meeting Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) and hearing what he had in mind.
6. They intentionally avoided repurposing any existing monster themes for Godzilla or Kong.
7. Wingard comments on Kong’s look saying he’s older, scruffier, and worn down. “He’s the gunfighter who doesn’t have a fight to keep him going anymore.”
8. Legendary gave Wingard wiggle room to play around with Godzilla’s look, but he decided to keep it in line with Godzilla: King of Monsters seeing as this is a direct sequel. “In retrospect I wish I made his head a little bit bigger cuz his head is a little small and it does hurt some shots.”
9. He describes Godzilla’s entrance at 10:00 as “our Apocalypse Now Godzilla intro.”
10. The film’s opening thirty minutes went through multiple iterations before ending here. As it now stands it features several scenes repurposed and/or moved from later sequences. The footage of Godzilla’s attack on Pensacola was originally part of an assault on a Monarch base.
11. The blurry footage on a TV screen at 12:36 is actually an unfinished visual fx shot from an early opening sequence. One of the vfx guys used his cell phone to shakily film it off a monitor.
12. He learned just how popular Millie Bobby Brown is when she arrived for her first day of filming — the crowd scene alongside Kyle Chandler — and two hundred extras grew quiet as they watched in awe.
13. The first meeting between Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) was part of the reshoots, and they were stuck with a bearded Skarsgård as he was working on The Stand (2021) and couldn’t shave it. Kudos to Warner Bros. for learning their lesson from Justice League‘s (2017) mustache-related fiasco…
14. Wingard credits his history of delivering movies on time and on budget for his being hired to direct Godzilla vs. Kong.
15. Little Jia’s (Kaylee Hottle) art seen at 19:32 was actually drawn by Wingard himself. “You can never get the art department to do like real-looking child art because they’re all too good of artists. So I have a lot of fun sitting off to the side with a bunch of crayons.”
16. “I’m the biggest Elvis fan of all time,” says Wingard, adding that he’s actually been working on an Elvis movie. Let’s consider this his second Carpenter reference.
17. Wingard took three months of sign language lessons but was incapable of grasping it. He ended up using an interpreter alongside Hottle so as to avoid embarrassing himself.
18. The auditions for Jia came down to a handful of deaf kids, but Hottle impressed him most and made it clear that she was a professional. He tried making her laugh at one point by attempting Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, “and she was just completely deadpan.” He learned then to let her do her thing and “just stay out of her way.”
19. The aircraft carrier scenes were filmed on an airport tarmac where they also shot the boat scenes from Kong: Skull Island.
20. They tweaked the lighting in several scenes to ensure the monsters were plenty visible, most notably the rainy sequence on the carrier. Pre-production originally had “a lot more dark and rainy stuff” planned as it always looks cool, but they trimmed it back to just this one sequence.
21. He’s long been on the fence about the shot of Kong smiling at 35:12 because he worried “is this cheap?” The idea was that he wanted a moment where they weren’t “just beating Kong up” and that “this is a movie for kids at the end of the day.”
22. The shot at 36:04 of Lind looking at the photo of his brother was originally him looking at a rubber band on his finger. A scene in the original opening showed him proposing to his fiance and offering a rubber band as he didn’t have a ring. Wingard recalls telling Skarsgård during reshoots “your character is still the same except for all the things why your character is the way he is.”
23. The shot of Godzilla’s tail causing havoc at 39:22 is among Wingard’s favorites, “that kind of Cthulhu-looking tail shot.” It’s followed in quick succession by visual nods to The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Jaws (1975), and Die Hard (1988).
24. Kong puking up some water originally featured some fish flopping about, but they stripped them out as it’s meant to be a dramatic beat. “It’s already kind of funny seeing him vomit anyway.”
25. Wingard suggests that Godzilla is not for a second worried about losing against Kong and is instead merely playing with the big ape. “Look at him, he’s smiling right here. He’s having fun! Kong is not having fun.”
26. He showed Michael Dougherty some early Antarctica art and worries that he upset the King of the Monsters director as Dougherty believes that each installment should go someplace new with the monsters, but “at the end of the day I can’t imagine the opening to Hollow Earth being anywhere but Antarctica.”
27. One of Wingard’s early thoughts after taking the gig was “I just hope we don’t have a silly scene where Kong is being lifted by balloons like in the original movie.” But then he suggested Kong get lifted by helicopters… but he was okay with it once he saw the initial artwork.
28. Kong’s big ax was an idea of Wingard’s that started as just a visual concept meant to look cool, but it grew to become a major thread in the narrative.
29. Guillerman (Lance Reddick) was initially in far more of the film before story shifts left his character appearing in just two brief scenes.
30. One of his early thoughts upon taking the film was “I just want to see Godzilla and King Kong fighting in a synth-wave neon city, and that is 100% my main drive.” He credits the film’s visual effects artists for delivering on that dream.
31. Mecha-Godzilla was originally going to remain piloted, but they changed that in the exploration of the dangers of AI by having him become sentient.
32. Wingard has always known that Godzilla would win in a fight against Kong. (Sorry Brad.) He recalls a good friend suggesting in grade school that Kong would win, and “I was so offended by that.” He was excited to put that argument to rest by making this movie. “I knew that Kong’s victory was going to be the Rocky victory, you know you don’t actually have to win to be a winner, and Godzilla respects that.”
33. The original plan was to have Kong kill Mecha-Godzilla by clamping his mouth shut so his nuclear breath cooks his own head.
34. He’d inexplicably never heard “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies before catching it on an Elvis Presley Spotify station during production on this movie.
35. Wingard initially got into filmmaking with a desire to make big, epic action/sci-fi movies, but “you can’t just start here.” He recounts dropping out of high school to attend Full Sail film school in Florida, working on small productions, and working his way up through the ranks. “I made a really bad slasher movie which no one’s ever seen,” he says before rightly correcting himself and highlighting the positives of Home Sick (2007) including the plentiful gore and fun actors. His first “big budget” movie was 2010’s A Horrible Way to Die which cost $70,000.
36. For those of you curious about such things (and upset that the data isn’t on IMDB), his Netflix movie Death Note (2017) cost roughly $28 million.
37. Wingard gives a shout out to the hundreds of visual fx artists, saying “I’ll never meet most of you, but I’m forever indebted to you for bringing all your talent.”
38. Other visual influences that Wingard mentions include Return of the Jedi (1983), Akira (1988), Robotech (1985), Demon Seed (1977), Pop Skull (2007), King Kong vs Godzilla (1963), the Back to the Future Ride at Universal Studios, Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Sanjuro (1962), Mortal Kombat (1992), Ghostbusters (1984), some horror movie from the 90s featuring a villain pressing whirling fan blades towards someone’s face, and without being aware of it… Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001).
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Music in my films has always been the most important thing to me in a lot of ways.”
“This is the Legendary Godzilla, and he’s got swagger. He’s a badass.”
“The secret of these sci-fi movies like this is that you always end up shooting in a sewage treatment plant.”
“It doesn’t matter what budget level you’re at, you’re always going to have to cut corners and get clever.”
“There’s never enough money. Movies are always budgeted completely wrong.”
“I love holograms.”
“I won’t talk about Ghostbusters anymore even though I would love to.”
“This is part two of my ‘neon cafe’ series.”
“Finally here we are, the exposition is over, we’re at the monster fight.”
“There’s the bitch-slap.”
“I love seeing Kong puke.”
“Racoons are evil.”
“It’s basically Mecha-Godzilla porn.”
“None of this makes any sense, it doesn’t matter.”
“Godzilla knows he’s gonna win.”
“I get teary-eyed when I watch that part sometimes.”
“And now we have Mecha-Godzilla who’s the biggest jerk ever.”
“Movies are very simple when you boil it down, you’ve got a camera and you’ve got to put things in front of it.”
Wingard gives good commentary on Godzilla vs Kong, and while he allows a handful of silent gaps he spends the bulk of the film sharing details, stories, and a very clear enthusiasm for the film. The guy loves movies — both watching them and making them — and like Robert Rodriguez before him is keen to share tips and tricks along the way. It’s an entertaining listen and highly recommended for fans on their second or third rewatch.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.