The first 10 minutes of Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' screened at Comic-Con 2013
SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Comic-Con 2013 is in full swing, but to me, it still feels like it's revving up. Both times I was in Hall H today, huge sections of it were empty. That's no fault of the people on the stage, but it is a sign that Comic-Con sometimes seems to be scheduling things in the wrong venues. It sounds like Ballroom 20 was running at capacity all day today with wildly popular TV programming, when maybe a smaller, more intimate setting would have been a better place to see the panel I enjoyed this afternoon, a first look at the new film by Terry Gilliam.
Gina McIntyre, who writes for Hero Complex at the LA Times, was the moderator of the panel, which was nice to see after Anne Thompson asked me last night at the HitFix opening night party if there were any women I could think of who moderated any of the Hall H panels. I couldn't offhand, and Anne has a good point. As more and more of the programming here seems to be aimed at a very different audience than the stereotypical fanboy, it seems logical that you'd also see some more diversity in the people who moderate these events.
She brought out the producers of the film, while explaining that Terry Gilliam was not actually going to be able to join us for the event. Dean Zanuck, Amy Gilliam and Zev Foreman came out and took their seats, and then a video was played on the screens around the room.
Shot from the POV of a laptop camera or a desktop camera, Terry Gilliam spoke directly to the crowd, claiming that the producers had locked him up and cut off all access to the outside world until he finishes the movie. He said that he was counting on the NSA to monitor his various computer screens in his house and he called upon them to release the footage to us to explain why he couldn't be there. He told us not to believe any of the lies that the producers would no doubt tell us about superheroes and car chases and bang bang because none of that would be in the movie. None. He told us instead to expect a film that asks all the big questions about existence, and that we can also expect to get some answers. He spoke in glowing terms about his cast, and particularly his leads, Christoph Waltz and Melanie Thierry. And then he wrapped it up, worried that he heard someone coming.
Dean Zanuck talked about how much collaboration there was between screenwriter Pat Rushin and Gilliam during production, and it sounds like these producers are all fans of Gilliam's work, looking to give him the specific support he needs to not run into the obstacles that seem to derail him so often. That's a dream come true for Gilliam. That's what he needs, the right team to let him not worry about the little things like running out of money or having his film taken away from him. It helps, of course, that Amy Gilliam is his daughter, but when she talks about him, there's obvious a distinction for her between "Dad" and "Terry Gilliam, filmmaker," and she seems dedicated to making sure he has what he needs to get the film done.
The footage reel they showed us was basically the same one we ran a few weeks ago here on the blog. I guess that was originally prepared for buyers, as a sort of promo reel for Cannes, and then adapted into the Comic-Con specific version we saw today. Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a strange brilliant man who is enlisted for an intellectual mission, challenged to prove the equation that "Zero equals 100%." We saw glimpses of Peter Stormare, David Thewlis, and a whole big bunch of Melanie Theirry. She appears to be a distraction to Qohen, a temptation designed to prevent him from solving the theorem. Or maybe she's a muse, sent to guarantee that he finally solves the theorem. Or maybe she's just a crazy girl who likes Qohen. All of those seem possible from the reel we saw.
Foreman talked about what a thrill it is to watch Terry build a scene, from the production design to the actors to the visual choices he makes with Nicola Pecorini, his cinematographer. Again, Foreman seemed like a smart young producer who also happens to be a raving fan of the director he's working with, a pretty winning combination.
McIntyre read a quote from Johnny Depp that came from a great Geoff Boucher piece on Gilliam. "Terry is one of the last true auteurs. His profound influence on an entire generation of filmmakers is all too apparent. He is a madman, in the finest way possible." Foreman agreed with the sentiment and talked about how the artists who were considered "mad" in their day are the ones that are often appreciated later once the real brilliance of their work can be set in a larger context. Foreman said that Gilliam is one of those rare artists who can genuinely change the world with his films.
Amy Gilliam spoke about how it was to grow up with Terry as a father, and how her life has always, appropriately, felt like a Terry Gilliam movie. She says he is always on the job, always working, always pushing to create something. She spoke with evident pride in her father's work tempered by the frustration and the love that comes with being part of a family. She had her iPad out and told us that she was filming the audience in the panel so she could take the footage home to Terry to show him who loves him. The crowd cheered that, and Amy seemed very moved by the demonstration of affection.
People only got louder and more enthusiastic when she revealed that as a way of saying "thank you" for supporting Terry, they were going to wrap things up by showing the first ten minutes of the film. They left the stage as the lights went down and, sure enough, "Zero Theorem" began.
It is undeniably and distinctly a Terry Gilliam world. When we first meet Qohan, he is sitting naked at his terminal, working, thinking, determined. We see him going through the motions of his daily life, spending most of his time in his private space, which is dark and quiet. I like the footage lulls you at first by showing you Qohan in his environment, vital for the world we're hit with when Qohan steps outside.
Did I say "hit"? I meant more like "punched in the face." It is an ugly invasive blaring world, and Qohan is obviously miserable as he moves through it. We see ads for Mancom, the strange firm that Qohan works for. If you look closely at the Mancom advertising, Matt Damon is obviously the head of the company and their spokesman as well. I cackled at another holo-billboard, where Robin Williams was imploring people to join the Church of Batman The Redeemer.
We see Qohan at his Mancom job, and I like that it is impossible to figure out what he's actually doing. His work cubicle is pure Gilliam, as is his trip to see some doctors, including Peter Stormare. Stormare is convinced something is terribly wrong with him, and he certainly looks bizarre with no hair. Once they diagnose him, the doctors pass over a new medication for him to try, some sort of creepy red something, and the footage concluded.
Man, I want this film to be great. I adore Gilliam, as you could probably gather from the interview I did with him at Comic-Con a few years ago, and I am always rooting for him to make something brilliant. Even on his worst day, Gilliam still has a unique and provocative voice, but when everything comes together, the results can be absolute magic. Here's hoping that's what this one is.
"The Zero Theorem" will open in the US sometime in 2014 most likely, but I hope they decide to move it forward for this year.