Tonight, just after I posted my review of "Knight and Day," I hopped in the car and sped down to Hollywood, where I joined a group of other online writers to see the trailer for "The Green Hornet" on the bigscreen, and then participate in a Q&A afterwards. That was enough for me to go. I visited the set last year, and I dug what I saw including the sizzle reel that was sort of a loosely-cut trailer.
The trailer, which is online now for you to enjoy, is not what we saw in the sizzle reel. My first impulsive reaction was that they were overexplaining things in this trailer, but in talking to the filmmakers afterwards, it's obvious that they have done the testing and they realize that they need to sell the character first with an introduction, since the general attitude seems to be that no one in the general mainstream has any idea who or what The Green Hornet is.
My reaction to the footage we see in the trailer is strong overall. The fight stuff still only hints at what Gondry has planned for the film visually, and instead, the focus in this trailer is on the premise (no-good playboy decides to follow up on his father's death by assuming the identity of a criminal, trying to get close to other criminals) and on the relationship between Brett Reid (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou). Their chemistry is the movie. Either they work together, or the film doesn't work at all.
After the Q&A, we walked across the street as a group, along with Seth, Evan Goldberg, Neal Moritz, and Michel Gondry so we could all pile into the green room at Jimmy Kimmel's show, where Seth was going to be a guest to introduce the trailer on the air. We had a lot more time to talk to everyone there because there were technical issues with the power, and they ended up not being able to record the show. I drove home about the time they realized they weren't taping a show tonight, and now I can share the trailer with you, some new images from the film, today's Q&A, and some impressions from afterwards.
First, let's look at the trailer:
We watched it twice, and then the lights came up. Director Michel Gondry joined producer Moritz and co-writer/co-producers Rogen and Goldberg down front. Although it seemed self-explanatory to me after the trailer, the first question someone asked was, "What’s the story line with the characters?"
Seth took the question. "To explain it, I guess briefly, I’m an irresponsible kind of idiot, as one might imagine and my father dies and I form a friendship with someone else that did not have the highest opinion towards him… one of his employees, Kato. And through that friendship, we realize that maybe we can create this kind of thing that will help us both live out our dreams. In time, we realize that each other’s personalities are the most difficult thing to overcome and try to form this thing. That’s how the story goes."
Michel waited for Seth to finish, then jumped in. "We see a bit of his childhood and home. This friendship finds its resolution through his inner voice. He’s talking to his dad in his mind."
I told them that this new trailer looked very different than the action we saw in the presentation on-set, and asked, "Is this more of the final look of KatoVision? Or is it still evolving?"
Michel demurred, saying, "It’s not really represented here. There’s an outside of KatoVision. There’s the way he sees things which is not really represented here. It’s more like a surprise, I guess."
Seth continued, "There are two steps to KatoVision, as I guess we’ve called it. The way you see the fights as an observer and then the way Kato sees fights in his own eyes."
Jeremy Smith, also known as Mr. Beaks on Ain't It Cool, asked, "Have you reconsidered how you stage fights, now that you’re doing it in 3D?"
Michel answerd, "To be honest, we were always hoping to go 3D. The way I put the camera was always like, 'It would be so cool to see it in 3D'. We pushed a little more with the effects. The way the fight works… the use of the 3D to split the screen... we sort of always wanted to do it in 3D."
They talked about preparing the trailer, and how hard it was to find the right way to introduce the character to people. Seth said, "There will be more trailers and more advertisements down the line and we can explore the intricacies of what the movie is about. First, we have to make sure people understand the general concept of what it is we are doing."
Tone is something people have been wondering about since the project was first announced, and Evan talked about the dynamic between Kato and the Green Hornet. "Kato is the definitely the more skilled individual. We joke about it how Seth had to get in shape to do the movie and Jay didn’t. He was in shape. It was inherently there. He is this very talented, genius kind of guy and Seth is a normal guy."
Seth continued, "We didn’t want the joke to be one of complete and utter goofiness and complete physical incompetence at all times. And we knew that ultimately it had to live up to the expectations of a superhero movie and needs to have the kind of full-blown action that people expect from that genre and we knew that we couldn’t just rest on the comedy to make it interesting."
He went on to explain, "Michel and Sally [Menke], our editor, are really coming up with a lot of interesting ways to tell the story. Both of them are really great at that. She cut 'Pulp Fiction' and movies like that, which really are great at telling the narrative, the story. It's really amazing to see what they’ve done in the editing room and what a giant creative step the movie has taken, leaving it in Michel and Sally’s hands for a little while. It’s really exciting for us as fans to see our movie filmed and then taken to this whole other place."
The big thing that I came away with tonight was a sense of just how serious Seth Rogen is about 3D, and he talked about it first at the Q&A. "It’s like any other visual effect. There are really good applications of it and really bad applications of it. It all depends on whose hands it’s in. You look at CG sometimes and its terrible. You look at CG sometimes and its great. I think this is no different. Very good versions and very bad versions. I think it’s like any other creative decision. It’s going to be gauged by the levels of enthusiasm… of the creative people behind it. It’s something that we all feel really strongly about… something that we’ve always wanted to do since the first idea of this movie came along. I’ve been working in 3D movies for years. I started in 'Monsters vs. Aliens' almost four or five years ago. I traveled around the world with Jeffrey Katzenberg hearing him pontificate on 3D and what a big evolution it was going to be. So it’s always something I’ve been a big fan of."
Michel's enthusiasm was just as evident as he spoke about it. "You could imagine a movie in 2D in 3D and transform it. If you take this type of movie where they really use the full depth of field. This movie if it was transformed in 3D would use much more fast editing. And even before we could do it in 3D we talk about the fight or we say okay we don’t want to rely to much on the other team so we didn’t make it so fast with editing and this is a very important element to make 3D work well."
Seth addressed the idea head-on that the filmmakers were being forced into the choice to do the conversion process. "First thing people like you say is that the studio is forcing us to do it and it’s a quick fix. The funny thing is it could not be more opposite. It was us begging and pleading as creative entities to the studio to allow us to have this tool to tell our story in an original way. And we’re super excited that we were able to do it."
The coolest thing Gondry said all day about 3D was, "There were some ideas. The relationship is such that even after his father has passed away, Seth keeps talking to him in his mind. Several times. We got this idea to represent his father with his silhouette, which you can only see if you watch the movie in 3D. In 2D, you would hear the voice, but in 3D he’s going to suddenly pop out. So that’s why we were so thrilled to be able to execute this in 3D. We always had the voiceover of the father in the story but then when we decided to do it in 3D, it was perfect."
I loved the short in front of "Toy Story 3," and I would argue that if you only see it in 2D, you haven't "really' seen it. It's something that uses depth and layers to communicate, and it sounds like Gondry's thinking the same way.
Mr. Beaks asked if they were going to evoke Bruce Lee at all when selling the film. Seth shook his head. "If you ask most high schoolers who Bruce Lee is, they will say that it's the guy they sit next to in English class. I think it’s not something that would ever be my instinct to do and not to attempt it. Jay Chou is one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met or been around. What we say is that he’s like Steve McQueen. He does everything cooler than anyone else does anything. And I think Jay… man, I’ve never been psyched to show up to work and be completely overshadowed by somebody on a regular basis. And it’s just how it is. Jay in his own right will win people over. He is an incredibly impressive and charismatic performer. Jay is an incredibly talented martial artist and he’s just a rad dude and I don’t think we will need to do that."
When Seth was asked if he improved on the set a lot, like on the Judd Apatow comedies, he replied, "We definitely wanted it at times in the relationships, so the relationships have that spontaneous feel. I just think that me and Evan found something that works really well. The things in movies that people relate to a lot are the ways characters interact and they see themselves in the characters and a lot of that is through improv. Jay is amazing at it and even in the trailer, his 'I don’t want to touch you'? He improvised that and we were joking around one day on a scene and yes there was a lot and everyone got really into it. I mean obviously as an action movie there’s limitations to what you can do but it doesn’t have a rigid feel to it. It’s a very loose conversational feel."
They were asked how it was to work with Christoph Waltz, and Seth was careful in answering, just like they were on-set. Whatever Waltz is playing, they're being careful to not reveal too much. "Working with him was great. I would say that his character is a very unique villain, I hope. It's not something were going to talk about a lot because I think its something that people are excited to discover on their own. Christoph is a great actor, really fun. He embraced coming and doing things in our strange way with open arms. And I don’t know… he’s technically a very impressive actor to watch. And the way he does things is very demanding at times. At the same time, he is very nice and collaborative. I would love to work with him many more times."
When I asked about the score, Gondry told us that Danny Elfman is still in the very early stages of working on it, and Seth laughed. "Watching him and Michel weird out together is pretty rad."
Finally, the subject turned to Cameron Diaz, who has a fairly muted presence in the first trailer. Asked how much she gets into the action in the film, Seth turned coy again. "As to how much she gets involved in the action, we should keep that somewhat under wraps. She’s amazing. She gets very involved creatively. The character is very important to us that it was not just an obligatory character. The character added a lot to the movie both comedically and story wise. She had a lot of great ideas. Anytime someone that famous puts any extra effort into anything, I really feel great about it. Because if I was that famous, I wouldn't bother. Not at all. Anyone that famous… you don’t expect them to get involved at all. Evan had a party one night and she showed up when Evan was really drunk and literally gave him two hours worth of notes and made Evan drunkenly type them on his computer. And I thought wow, that’s so impressive."
Evan agreed. "And she came in like ten times to help Jay Chou learn English."
Seth continued, "His English at first was a little sketchy at times. She put an enormous amount of time and energy into making sure that their scenes were natural and understandable and very loose and funny. Again, it’s the kind of thing where you’re like 'She’s too fucking famous to be doing this. She should be on her island.'"
So... earlier today, two images premiered everywhere. One showed the Green Hornet and Kato running from an explosion...
... and the other showed the two of them together in costume.
Now we've got two more new images for you. The first is a great close-up of Christoph Waltz as "Chudnowsky," the film's villain...
... and then I love this last shot. It's Brett and Kato testing a set of weapons for the Black Beauty, and when I was talking to Seth later in the evening about the image, he told me that they hooked up a practical machine gun and a practical flamethrower, so they were letting Seth and Jay really control the weapons. That look on Seth's face? Totally real.
Look, it's early days for "The Green Hornet." They'll be at Comic-Con and based on what they were saying tonight, there's a chance they'll be bringing some amazing things to show. They are just starting to advertise the film, and there's a long way to go until next January. And before you write the film off over that January date, talking to Seth tonight, he couldn't have been more excited about the date. They originally were facing competition in the form of "The Cabin In The Woods," also in 3D, but thanks to MGM's financial issues, that film may be off the schedule indefinitely.
Overall, it was great to catch up with the "Hornet" team, and talking to them about the film tonight, I got that same sense of excitement I've gotten from Seth and Evan at this stage on earlier films like "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express." It sounds to me like they're enjoying what they're seeing come together, and Gondry's long discussion of how he's planning to use the photography he did on set to create some truly one-of-a-kind 3D moments left me feeling like the film's going to be a visual treat. Listening to Seth talk about the experience of working with Jay and watching him grow into the role of Kato, I'm equally sure that they're aiming to give you more than just pretty pictures.
Will it all work out? We'll see, and I have a feeling next month in San Diego, we'll get a real taste of what they've got in store for us next year.
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