Q&A: Max Borenstein on his approach to “GODZILLA” & “GODZILLA: AWAKENING”
Today, GODZILLA returns to the screen. But the new iteration of the King of the Monsters has already been on shelves for a week or so, as screenwriter Max Borenstein and co-author Greg Borenstein saw to whet our appetites for monster mashing in a prequel graphic novel titled GODZILLA: AWAKENING. Expanding on the 1954 incident only briefly touched on in Gareth Edwards’ new film, AWAKENING accompanies the blockbuster both in mayhem and theme, as characters both on the page and in the cinema try to reconcile their beliefs, acceptance and reactions to a world of giant creatures. Fango spoke to Max Borenstein about the book and what exactly Godzilla represents in the modern world.
FANGORIA: The first thing I’d like to talk about is this great page in the comic that depicts the world changing around Godzilla. Did you envision such an image writing the script?
MAX BORENSTEIN: Yea, he’s ever present. We really had that image, Greg and I, from an early stage. We were trying to explore ways that graphic novels and panels can tell stories differently from what you do in a film. Having written the film, I was especially excited about finding new ways of unpacking these stories. That idea came to us of really telling, from the dawn of man to the invention of the atomic bomb and the dropping at Hiroshima, and all the while Godzilla’s there. And this sense we’ve disturbed him felt like a really cool way to show this time lapse all on one page. That was a page we were always really excited about and I thought the execution was awesome. That was a page both Greg and I were obsessed with, and asked for the original. I don’t know who’s going to get it!
FANG: The story is connected, it really kind of ends as the film is beginning. As a writer of both, was this story all one thing and you understood only so much could be in the film?
BORENSTEIN: Writing the film, I didn’t know everything about this story. The germ of the idea was certainly that there was an encounter with Godzilla in 1954—that we tried to kill him—all that stuff that is in the film. Obviously, the real seed was this idea that Serizawa’s father had lived through the atomic bomb and had a connection to these events, as well. The story started to germinate and gel in the back of my mind. I knew that the film could only accommodate a hint of it. As it started to take shape and started to feel like an origin story for the organization that we see in the film, and for Serizawa’s character (played by Ken Watanabe). Around that same time that was kind of dawning on me, I was approached by Legendary with the idea of potentially doing a graphic novel that would expand the Godzilla universe we created in the film. Immediately, my mind went to that kernel of an idea. It felt like the perfect way to do this book.
FANG: One of the interesting story choices is this idea that despite the existence and confrontation of MUTOS, the military is still hesitant and skeptical about Godzilla. Is it that their minds can only handle one monster, psychologically?
BORENSTEIN: That’s certainly what we were thinking. In terms of resonance, that idea is pervasive. The way we survive this world that is filled with random threats is by trying to ascribe fate or meaning to the things that have happened, and a sense of control and command over the things that will happen. Even though, our command over the things that will happen, I would argue, is incredibly limited, if not completely non-existent in many ways. Especially when it comes to things the scale of Godzilla, like a natural disaster. These things are, if not random events, events that are so far beyond our ability to comprehend that we are pawns. We refuse to believe that, so we’re reminded time and again by events like hurricanes, tsunamis or earthquakes that we are not in control. But we forget the moment later. It’s just the way we’re built.
We survive by building things, technology, by using our intelligence to try to control and command our surroundings and our situation. So, it’s not a negative necessarily, but it has certain limitations. One of those limitations I think is it’s difficult for us to accept we’re not in control. It’s one thing when you have some threat, be it scientific or supernatural, that you can put your finger on and say, “That’s the threat.” But the idea that there is a force so far beyond our control that we have to put our fate in the hands of that force and just kind of run away, that’s so contrary to human nature. Even though Serizawa is pushing for that in the comic book, I don’t see the military as being stupid, or being foolish when they say, “Listen, I appreciate what you’re saying, but we have the bomb, we’ve got to use the bomb.”
We might do the very same thing. There are very few human beings who would say, “Okay, I’m going to put myself in the hands of fate and of Godzilla.” So we tried not to make these military people into mustache-twirling idiots. We wanted it to feel like, what if you were in their shoes and you had the ability to maybe end these things? Would you take it? You probably would.
FANG: Do you think there’s also this conflict, a push-and-pull of this idea that—whether it’s Godzilla or a natural disaster or climate change—here’s something that we can’t control, but we’re also responsible for.
BORENSTEIN:: That’s exactly the theme, and that’s exactly the complexity of it. That is our relationship to climate change. One of the reasons some people are resistant to the idea, or have trouble with the idea, is because weather is the single most complicated kind of math to my understanding; that kind of chaos math. These things are so complicated, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t causes. It’s just that the causes aren’t A to B. They’re not as simple as rolling a rock down a hill, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We know, beyond a shadow of scientific doubt, that we’ve had an impact on climate change and that that impact has resulted in more extreme weather. We have responsibility.
Whose responsibility and how much? It’s so complex and beyond the ability to just point a finger. And so, we tend to sort of ignore that. At the same time, it’s creating events that are beyond any one person, or any one government, or maybe even beyond the entire human race’s ability to fix, even if we all got on the same page. Which, of course would never happen. So it’s a weird, double-edged sword. That’s terrifying. Both of those things are viscerally terrifying at a gut level for humanity, the idea of not being in control and the guilt of being responsible.
FANG: Finally, MUTO is a fine acronym for the other kaiju, but I’m curious if as a writer, you didn’t have a more affectionate name for the monsters.
BORENSTEIN: I have two cats. Benson and Stabler—named after Law & Order SVU detectives. The bigger MUTO was Benson.