SAN DIEGO — Tucked inside a nondescript warehouse-like building just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, Godzilla is rumbling back to life.
For this year's San Diego Comic-Con, Legendary Pictures has mounted a thorough and impressive pop-up exhibition celebrating the cultural history and impact of Godzilla — and teasing their 2014 feature film reboot. The goal, says Legendary "experiential marketing" guru Barnaby Legg, is to "reward Legendary fans and Godzilla fans with the definitive fan experience."
Rather than create a staid museum of Godzilla artifacts, Legg and his team spent three months planning, designing, and building an immersive, multi-stage presentation that, in Legg's words, "physicalizes the impact Godzilla has had on popular culture." The experience will open to the public starting on Thursday; fans can download a free iTunes and Android app, via a special "Godzilla Encounter" website, that will help guide fans on a merry scavenger hunt leading them to the building pictured below:
And what will fans find when they step inside?
The first stage of the "Encounter" is what Legg calls "a pop-culture strike zone," which in practical terms means a visualization of Godzilla's legacy via a gonzo recreation of a Tokyo street.
It's almost as if Godzilla rampaged through the street, and then left behind nearly 60 years' worth of pop-culture relics.
Scattered throughout the street are all manner of nods to Godzilla's history, from the real giant rubber suits used in more recent Japanese Godzilla films, to faux newspaper headlines written as if Godzilla was real.
One wall celebrates the work of Eiji Tsuburaya, the mastermind behind the "man in a giant rubber suit" special effects introduced with the first Godzilla movie in 1954.
There's also a full, working ramen bar, likely named after the character Yasuaki Shindo from 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
The man at the end of the counter, by the way, is part of the experience. When you approach him, he points out various parts of the exhibit around him — in Japanese.
The ramen bar even has a Godzilla-themed menu and placemats.
At the end of the street, visitors can take in an exhibition of Godzilla manga and memorabilia.
"Everything that your seeing here," says Legg, "is a collection of merchandise that has either been out there in the public domain, or things that never made it to shelves that we managed to get our hands on."
According to Legg, nothing contained within this stage of the experience relates to Legendary's new Godzilla movie, directed by Gareth Edwards (2010's Monsters) and currently still in production.
Instead, after the press invited to preview the experience had milled about for five minutes or so, the rest of the experience — which Legg called "a sneak peek" of what's in store in the new film — kicked in.
The press were asked not to photograph what we saw, but I can tell you that a series of alarms went off and a man wearing something resembling a Hasmat suit rushed everyone into the next area, which looked like a control room of some kind. Japanese scientists moved about frantically, looking at a vast array of readouts and TV screens that seemed to indicate Godzilla was attacking the west coast of the United States — namely, San Diego.
From there, we were hastily gathered into an "elevator," which got "stuck" on the 25th floor. We were then ushered out the other side, and asked to watch a giant screen made to look like a window in a high-rise office building. Soon enough, the floor rumbled beneath our feet as Godzilla's enormous and menacing head lumbered across the window. And he looked...like Godzilla, with maybe a small bit of giant snapping turtle DNA mixed in for good measure. A few moments after it seemed like Godzilla had passed us by, he suddenly raised his head into view, much closer than before, and let out his signature roar.
Satisfied he'd scared the bejeezus out of everyone, Godzilla lumbered away, and the experience was over — but not before everyone was handed the poster below, designed by Phantom City Creative and presented by Mondo:
With all this clearly expensive attention paid to the Godzilla legacy — Legg declined to tell me how much the "Godzilla Encounter" cost — it's obvious Legendary wants to separate their film in fans' minds from the clammy, jokey 1998 version of Godzilla. But when I asked Legg if he also hoped his Godzilla experience would be crowned the buzziest event at Comic-Con, he almost cringed. "Listen, that's something the fans will decide," he said.
At Comic-Con, at least, the most intimidating creatures of all are the fans themselves.