Peter Lord revels in his 'absurdist' new film 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits'
LONDON - If you're a movie fan, its to your advantage to live overseas this spring and summer. Not only are big summer blockbusters such as "The Avengers" and "Battleship" opening across the globe before landing in the states, but so is highly anticipated animated fare such as Aardman's "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."
The legendary company's first stop-motion feature length film since "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", "Pirates" is also Aardman co-founder Peter Lord's first directorial effort since the worldwide smash "Chicken Run" in 2000. Based on Gideon Defoe's "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists" (the film's UK title actually), the 19th century tale centers on the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) who isn't as successful plundering the Seven Seas as he'd like to believe he is. A bit too goofy and unintentionally kind hearted to dominate his profession he sadly finds himself disrespected by his peers including Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and the Pirate King (Brian Blessed) among others. In fact, our anti-hero is chronically an also-ran in the annual Pirate of the Year Award and becomes obsessed with finally winning the top award this time around. After randomly meeting a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant - go with it), the Pirate Captain discovers his beloved Polly isn't a parrot at all, but actually a long thought extinct bird. When Darwin slips that the discovery of Polly could provide the presenter with a lucrative award, the Pirate Captain decides to venture to London to show his bird off. Of course, that means coming dangerously close to Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) whose official motto is "I Hate Pirates!" And there, ladies and gentlemen is your villain.
In January, Lord traveled to Los Angeles and I took some time out during a busy awards season to talk with the animation legend about "Pirates." At the time, Lord was understandably nervous about how moviegoers and critics would react to his latest passion project, but he shouldn't have been. To date, "Pirates" has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and solid 76 on Metacritic. The film has also had a fine start at the box office with over $25 million worth of tickets sold overseas in less than two weeks. That has to be reassuring for a project Lord has been working on for five years. Unlike many book adaptations, "Pirates'" creator Gideon actually wrote the screenplay. Pretty surprising considering how much Lord says the story "evolved" as a movie from its literally beginnings.
"It is really quite different from the book actually," Lord says. He then bluntly adds, "I think Gideon is brilliant at comedy and comedy writing funny situations, but the character was not his strong point, but so that’s evolved."
Lord became interested in turning the children's novel series into a movie because "It had such a funny tone and it was this very unique and eccentric world that [Gideon] had invented that was I’d never seen anything like it and that really, really appealed to me. I mean what can you say about that world? Like it’s very inaccurate."
Considering some of the strange plot twists and the intentional historical inaccuracies in the film (Aardman was asked to stage an exhibit around 'Pirates' at the National Maritime Museum, but felt uncomfortable about it), I asked Lord if the film was meant to be a farce. He replied, "I don’t know. Well, to me a farce is a very specific sort of meaning. It’s definitely absurdist."
Lord later added, "The story has a kind of a swaggering confidence, which you go along with and only afterwards you might think, 'That didn’t make a damn big of sense,' but it doesn’t really matter because it’s not really about that you know."
Finally seeing "Pirates" in London today, the first reaction I had was to just how gorgeous the production design by Norman Garwood ("Brazil, "The Princess Bride") is. In particular, The gigantic Pirate Captain's ship set is a wonder and Lord spoke reverentially of it.
"When it came into the studio the first time it was like the tribal totem - you know because everyone knew what the film was about when that was in there" Lord says. "It was like it sat there in its green screen set and everyone just loved it. If I was feeling depressed about something I would go and hug it you know. The detail is amazing. We have this amazing model making team that’s so brilliant and it’s full of detail and it’s full of comedy. Everything was beautifully worked out."
18 months of shooting, 40 physical sets, and 8,000 removable character mouths later, Lord is so pleased with "Pirates" that he admits they've already thought about a sequel.
"We have a good idea, but I hope that the film does well enough that they want a sequel because I’d love to do it again. I’d love to," Lord confesses. "It’s just a great world to be in and if we do then that’s a good reason to keep the sets."
"The Pirates! A Band of Misfits" opens nationwide and in 3D on April 27.