If you've been following my posts on Green Lantern over the past few months, you're probably aware that I'm pretty excited about it. Not just because it's another summer superhero spectacular, but because it's the next chapter in the ambitious expansion of the massive DC Comics universe in mainstream media and, on a more personal note, the Emerald Knight has always been my favorite. Still, even though I'm a die-hard fan of his interplanetary adventures I've got to admit that I never thought ole Hal Jordan would be the first DC hero to get his own movie (apart from Batman and Superman). Why? Well, any GL enthusiast will tell you that he's not exactly the easiest character to crack. His mythology is more or less a universe unto itself, and the fact that mainstream audiences aren't at all familiar with his back story, rogues gallery and allies like they are with the Caped Crusader's or the Man of Steel's makes it a tough sell in a season that boasts sequel after prequel and reboot after remake.
That's why it was so important for Warner Bros. to send a handful of film journalists down to New Orleans, Louisiana where the movie was being shot last year. We scoured the set to get all the details of the production so that we could let you know all about the first chapter in this brand new franchise that could be around for a very long time. In the following set visit report, I'll be featuring excerpts from interviews with a few of the film's key players, including director Martin Campbell, stars Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong and production designer Grant Major to give you an in-depth look at what's in store on June 17th. But before you hear about Green Lantern from the horse's mouth, allow me to elaborate a bit on my experience in the Big Easy. First, check out my set visit preview here, which was unveiled last October. Then read on below for a description of what we saw on-set:
My journey started out in a sizable but largely empty sound stage on the NOLA set, where three makeshift walls were set up and emblazoned with hundreds of pieces of concept art that outlined the ENTIRE film. We were taken through the story with Major, producer Donald De Line and Geoff Johns of DC Entertainment, who answered all our questions about everything from being faithful to the source material (which they were) to the Big Easy experience (which was awesome for everyone, including we bloggers). Though I've been given the okay to tell you about the movie in great detail, I'm going to leave most of that kind of information out of this report, as you deserve to explore the world of Green Lantern and its story on your own. What I will say is that the film utilizes a traditional three-act narrative structure, beginning with the origins of the energy source at the heart of the Green Lantern Corps. and culminating in a cataclysmic event that brings the entire intergalactic police force to our world. In between, we'll meet dozens of extraterrestrial characters, including fan favorites Tomar Re and Kilowog, but also slightly more obscure Lantern's like Bzzd, Boodikka, Lin Canar, M'Dahna, G'Hu, Salaak and Hannu as they show Hal the ropes of the power ring. We also will learn a great deal about the history of the Corps. itself through the Guardians of the Universe, who are omnipresent wraith-like beings responsible for the safety of the whole universe.
Another highlight of the story walk-through included an in-depth look at the evolution of "construct creation" within the production. This is a term that you should learn well, because it sums up Hal's abilities. Take a look at the photo below: That green gatling gun you see Reynolds sporting? It's a product of the power of the ring and Hal's own imagination, and ultimately it's what makes the Green Lantern's unique compared to other heroes of the DC Universe. Throughout the film, you'll see the members of the Corps. conjure anything they can think of to aid them in battle, from a big pair of fists or swords to attack to a giant net or shield for defensive maneuvers, but what was so interesting about this was seeing how naturally the filmmakers planned to show Hal's growth as a Lantern. When he first gets the ring, he's sloppy and unable to properly control the vast amount of power at his disposal. This is visually conveyed through erratic spurts of green energy flowing from his ring. As he becomes more comfortable controlling its power, however, we see the energy become more concentrated. It may seem like a minor detail, but those familiar with the comic book source material will find it to be an authentic addition to the look of the film.
And speaking of the look of the film, did I mention that we got to screen a few select scenes from the picture? Well, we did, and though at the time of the set visit most of the visual effects were incomplete, director Campbell prepared a reel of less-flashy sequences for our viewing pleasure. The first was from early in the movie, where Reynolds is being scolded by Carl Ferris (the aviation magnate who employs Hal and his father before him) after crashing an experimental aircraft that his company had designed. After they have words, Ferris' daughter Carol (who also happens to be a fellow pilot and BFF with Hal) gives him an earful as well. As the maverick flyboy Hal, Reynolds is his usual charming self, but he instills a sense of familial nobility and honor into the character as well, which is fittingly appropriate as Jordan's back-story is marked by the tragic death of his father in a flight-related accident not unlike the one he was just in. I think that Reynolds may surprise audiences with how stoic he can actually be. On the other hand, I have to admit that Blake Lively's performance wasn't all that inspired. Carol is supposed to be sweet but strong, and I didn't get that impression in this short scene. I'm not saying that she's not going to deliver on June 17th, but her turn is the one I'm most skeptical about at this juncture.
The next scene was even shorter, but brought an entirely different mood to the presentation. It showed Peter Sarsgaard's Hector Hammond and Angela Bassett's Dr. Amanda Waller inspecting the body of Abin Sur, the extraterrestrial who crash-lands on Earth and gives his ring to Hal. It's a cold, quiet sequence that plays up the mystery of the unknown and presents a tonal contrast between Sarsgaard's scenes and Reynolds. It won't be that hard to tell who the villain of the film is once you see it...The final sequence we saw was part of a pre-viz presentation from the middle of the film, when Hal heads to the center of Oa for a big confab with all of the Lantern's. You've already seen parts of this in the more recent trailers, so I won't hark on this too much other than to say that it's the piece de resistance of the second act, it's colorful, it's powerful and moving and features a defining monologue from Mark Strong's Sinestro, a character of great importance to the movie's mythology.
Believe it or not, that more or less sums up the set visit. There were some other highlights of the trip, including getting to hold Hal's Lantern and wear one of the rings that Ryan actually used during filming, but there's not much else I can say about that other than it was AWESOME, just like the movie is going to be when it flies into theaters on June 17th. However, as promised I'm going to leave you with excerpts from the various interviews we conducted with the cast and crew so you can get their take on making the film.
Q: What kind of architectural influences bled into the creation of Oa?
M: Oa is of course in the center of the universe, so it's an extremely old place. It's been around since not too long after the big bang, I assume. Since it's function is that of a UN/military compound in the middle of space, you imagine that with 3600 different sectors there must have been a lot of influence from a lot of different cultures over time. So what we’ve tried to do is introduce a plethora of different types of architectural styles to give a feeling that over the millennia there’s been building on building on building and this whole huge history of culture has collected here.
Q: Did you look toward the comics and even other comics or other superhero movies for some as a visual guide?
M: No, I have not. Of course it's a comic book story we’re making here and we can’t help but be influenced by a lot of what came before. But I also wanted to give it a sort of broader aspect. I really wanted to make it a place that you'd want to go back to and have a big look around. In the interest of the film maybe giving birth to subsequent films we’d get to have an opportunity to go back to Oa and look at it in a different place in a different way. So you try to give it a lot of depth.
Q: One of the cool things you did with Abin Sur’s ship is that, if you look at it from the front, its got that sphere and two wings and looks like the Green Lantern symbol.
M: There’s a lot of little sub themes and a lot of circles and the symbol does appear quite often. We tried to tie together the technologies that we see in spaceships and architecture. It's also tying together this energy thing which we’ll get to in a moment. It's about giving the energy some sort of purpose and history and dimension.
Q: How do you navigate the filmmaking technology to make these characters like Tomar Re and Kilowog lovable and empathetic in the way they’re supposed to be? They cheated in Avatar by giving everyone giant cat eyes, but here you can’t do that.
M: There’s an answer for anthromorphizing things that need to be relatable on a human level even though they’re not humans. The characters are based on the comics, and they all have this slightly humanoid-ness to them even though they’re not human. Most of them have heads, most have bodies, most of them have arms and legs, even though some of them have multiples of that. It's sort of about finding something people can connect to but also making it exotic enough to be different. It's tempting to make it more exotic and have them be so out there that you can hardly recognize them but I don’t think a 12-year old would be able to connect to that. So we’ve been putting a lot of work into making them different and exotic but also the top of the evolutionary chain on their own planets.
Q: When you come up with these concepts, do you take into account the fact that you’re dealing with the possibility of 3D?
M: Oh yeah, we try to look for those moments. Production designer is a 3D job anyway. Even though it's projected in 2D we design it in such a way that you have to get a feeling of this geography and the way that spacial systems work. And obviously we’ll think, "okay how do we make 3D moments eye popping from that moment to that moment," but it's story telling first and foremost.
In adapting a rather flimsy children’s book into a full-fledged feature film one has to take some liberties. We first meet the lovable little monkey in the wild where his curious habits wreck havoc. Meanwhile in the big city Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell)--aka The Man with the Yellow Hat--is a highly enthusiastic guide at the soon-to-be-closed Bloomsberry Museum. In order to save the museum (here’s where they pad it) he is sent on a mission to Africa to retrieve a lost shrine. But when he gets there the only thing he finds is a miniature version of it--and George of course. The lonely monkey decides to follow Ted all the way back to the city where his mischievous tendencies get him into even more trouble. George nearly ruins everything for Ted but somehow the little feller eventually grows on him. How could he not? If I can borrow a line from Madagascar little George is so cute I just like to dunk him in my coffee. When you’re reading Curious George out loud to your kids you don’t get the impression The Man with the Yellow Hat is a good-natured but geeky fellow gangly clumsy and clueless about women. Thank goodness the film has Will Ferrell to clear it up for us! You basically know what you’re in for once you recognize his voice and his natural comic timing shines through lending for some funnier moments (“OK I’m looking directly into the sun. Staring right at it. I’ve got to be honest with you it stings…”). The other voices in the film also do a fine job including Drew Barrymore as a schoolteacher who has a crush on Ted; Eugene Levy as the mad museum scientist; Dick Van Dyke as the museum’s old-time curator; and David Cross as his weasly greedy son. Based on the books and illustrations by Margret and H.A. Rey Curious George embraces the essence of the timeless stories created 65 years ago. The film apparently took awhile to find its voice. Producer Ron Howard originally conceived it as live-action film but quickly realized they could never get a real monkey as cute and fuzzy as George. Then CGI was considered but ultimately the filmmakers kept returning to the source: the late H.A. Rey’s original painstakingly beautiful illustrations. Thankfully they stuck with that idea. Curious George is lush and vibrant with all of Rey’s best efforts fully realized in Technicolor. And much like what the Piglet’s Big Movie did with Carly Simon and The Wild Thornberrys with Paul Simon Curious George is also sprinkled with original songs by hot pop singer Jack Johnson to give it a modern feel. So what if the story gets a little overblown in parts it will still introduce one of literature’s most enduring icons to the young-un’s--while allowing the adults to reminisce.
Ten-year-old Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase Lilo of Lilo & Stitch) and her parents (voiced by Lauren Holly and Michael Chiklis) are driving to their new home in another town. When they stop along the way at what seems to be an old decrepit amusement park they're intrigued by its strange beauty--and by the wonderful aroma of cooking food from what looks like a deserted stall. They enter to find a spread of delectable delights and the girl's parents dig in. What they don't know however is that this food literally was from the gods set before them as a test. The parents failed and are turned into pigs; aghast Chihiro who never tasted a bite runs away. Like Alice through the looking glass she suddenly finds herself in a phantasmagoric spirit world where she learns she must accomplish a series of dangerous tasks in order to save herself and turn her parents back into people. Along the way she meets an assortment of wild characters who both hurt and help her: an old evil bathhouse owner named Yubaba (voiced by Suzanne Pleshette) her henchman Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden) who can transform himself into a wolfish serpent a ratlike cat a kimono-wearing frog and sootballs. Yep sootballs--and they're cute too.
The actors providing voices ultimately take a back seat to their own characters as the film's animation is the true star (in fact the film was dubbed into an American version no doubt to lure in those who can't both read and watch) and the dialogue is awfully trite. Unlike most American animated films this one has no clear good-vs.-evil message; in fact even our small heroine has her faults which is the reason why she's being tested. She never finds herself up against one single evil force either. The menagerie of characters she encounters are often good and not so good at the same time. In the end it's up to Chihiro to find and nurture the best in herself to get out of her predicament.
Spirited Away certainly doesn't suffer from American animation's tendancy to beat you over the head with the message; the plot here is decidedly less linear and somewhat harder to follow. The story often wanders with seemingly illogical elements to the narrative. The shape-shifting creatures might be a little too imaginative for traditional audiences to get their heads around--it's like watching someone else's drug trip. In the end though it's no wonder Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away has become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history won the prestigious Golden Bear Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival and took home the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture.