LONDON -- At this point, I've come to think of the Shepperton lot in England as Marvel's home away from home.
Not long after the presentation that Marvel made at Comic-Con for "Guardians Of The Galaxy," a group of journalists were invited to visit the sets for the film and to talk to the filmmakers and the cast. As part of that group, I found myself somewhat blown away by what we saw and by the conversations we had. That is not always the case, and while I've had plenty of set visits where I walked away feeling optimistic, I've had very few that knocked me out to this degree.
Why? What is it that convinced me that this is a departure for the studio and a very special version of what we know right now as the big action blockbuster?
One of the first things we did was visit the War Room, which is sort of like stepping into the entire movie at once. I've seen some very persuasive War Rooms over the years, and I remember being overwhelmed by the one for "Watchmen" in particular. Normally, they're covered in production art and photos and even models, and this one was no exception.
Jeremy Latcham, an executive producer on the film, was the one who showed us around the War Room, and who talked us through what we were seeing. He showed us Morag, one of the first planets we see in the film. He showed us the designs for The Milano, flown by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in the movie. He talked about how amazing the work by production designer Charles Wood is, and how amazing the practical builds on the film were overall. He told us that the set we were going to visit was for The Dark Aster, which is three miles wide, and that it is the ship of Ronan The Accuser, played by Lee Pace.
He also showed us production art of Nebula, the character played by Karen Gillan, and right away, it was a striking design. He laughed and said, "That make-up, I think they've gotten it down to three and a half, maybe four hours now."
He explained that Nebula and Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) share a relationship at the start of the film, but that Gamora becomes disenchanted with living in service to Thanos, and when she leaves, it sets some of the film's primary events. He showed us artwork of the Necrocraft, the fleet of ships that serve Ronan, all of which come flying out of the Dark Aster in swarms.
The next artwork we saw was of Planet Zandar, which is where we meet Rocket and Groot in the film, and where Quill first meets Gamora. One of the things I really enjoyed about those designs is how colorful and bright the world is. It's easy to make everything in science-fiction films look dark and gloomy, but it also creates this feeling that all science-fiction is the same. There's a lot of this movie that is going to challenge the idea of what we expect from these films, and I love that.
There were paparazzi photos during production of an exterior shoot that took place at the Millennium Bridge in London, and we were shown how those exteriors were going to be used for part of the Zandar sequence. "We're going to lock it with a couple of other pieces of real architecture, and then we go in and tie those to our CG environment a bit." In addition to the Millennium Bridge, they used the Yangtze train station in Brussels, locations from Singapore, and several other real-world locations, all to help create something that feels like a real place.
After Zandar, Quill finds himself arrested by the Nova Corps along with Rocket, Groot, and Gamora, and they're taken to the Kyln, the giant prison that featured prominently in the 17 minutes of footage that was shown to the public at several IMAX venues last night. While the first trailer for the film, featuring John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz as Nova Corps members who are processing the characters into the Kyln, was not actual footage from the film, it captures the tone of things nicely.
The Kyln is where Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista) comes into the story, and we learn that he has a history with Gamora. When the main characters come together, they're not immediate friends. Far from it, actually, and it's not until they realize that they need to escape that they decide to work together as a group.
If you've seen the trailers for the film, you've most likely seen that strange-looking floating object that the Milano is flying towards, and it's one of my favorite things I saw during the entire visit. Knowhere is, as described by Latcham, "the severed head of a celestial being. It's… become this mining town that's popped up around little bits of what you can mine." That includes brain matter and spinal tissue, and within the head, there is the equivalent of a Wild West frontier town. It's also the home of The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). "He's been absolutely amazing, an incredible intelligent actor who we're really lucky to have."
The scene at the end of "Thor: The Dark World" introduced the character and his insane environment, which Latcham called "this amazing lab and museum… which fans of the comics will really appreciate." If you're a fan of "Guardians" as a comic, or Marvel in general, sharp eyes will be rewarded during the sequences involving the Collector. Gunn's packed in more insane Easter eggs during this one sequence than I think anyone will recognize the first time through, and there are some great characters who haven't even been teased yet in public.