WonderCon 2012: Universal Pictures Panels and Presentation

Sunday, 18 March 2012 17:51 Written by  Rocio Anica
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WonderCon 2012: Universal Pictures Panels and Presentation

Universal Pictures held court for an hour at WonderCon to present footage and host a panel for the movies Snow White and the Huntsman and Battleship.

First on tap was Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristin Stewart (Twilight), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Charlize Theron (Young Adult). A movie that comes out later this year, it was directed by Rupert Sanders (a relative directorial newcomer), who stepped on-stage to speak with the panel moderator about filming his own raw medieval take on a story that is traditionally known as a rosy-cheeked fairy tale.

According to Sanders, the most challenging thing as a filmmaker is to be true to the original material so many people know and love, while catering to a young, contemporary audience. He said that in preparing for this production, he went back and read all of Grimm’s fairytales and just embedded himself in it, to tell a universal tale that could appeal to both men and women.

One thing film buffs and aspiring filmmakers would be interested to know is that, in convincing the team at Universal to get on board with his vision, Sanders went out and shot a trailer for the producers. “It’s kind of hard to describe this kind of film, so a few of us went out to Disney ranch and spent a couple of days shooting, really, what is the trailer that you see in the cinemas.” Only he had a lot less money to shoot it.

At this point, Kristin Stewart and Charlize Theron joined the discussion. The first question was directed at Kristin, who said that the thing that she was most proud of her performance was that, in the end, everything she aimed for in her character was there. “Which is rare.”

About filming such a physical performance, Stewart said, “I hurt myself a lot. It was fun; it was one of the things that drew me. I got to jump of cliffs and horses, which I hate.”

At this point, they showed some footage, which featured a lot of dark woods in fog and cast metal mise-en-scene behind a very angry Theron screaming at everybody around her, especially at the mercurial mirror on the wall that shifts into a cool composite of a figure in robes when answering the Queen’s psychopath questions. The footage goes into how Snow White escapes her prison (she plays weak and then punches her jailor in the face! Take that Bella Swan!) She runs into the crazy forest, and Hemsworth’s character is coerced into accepting the job of making sure Snow White is dead. From that it cuts to shots of monstrous woodland creatures to evade, bird-chirping lands of green that amaze Snow White, and battle scenes on horseback. It ends with the most sinister laugh that I’m sure Theron can evoke.

When the footage ended a fan asked her if she had any prior horseback riding experience, and Stewart replied, “When I was, like, nine I fell off a horse and I dislocated my elbow. And I was really, really not happy about having to do all that for the movie, but it was one of those things that I just had to not think about it, because I wanted so badly to do this. So, it was like, all right. If I perish by horse, that’s all good. So I went for it.”

Another fan stepped in to talk about how he recently saw Theron’s turn in Young Adult. “How do you channel that inner darkness? …You play evil really well.”

“That’s ‘cause I’m a bitch,” she joked. “No, well, I actually was talking about this the other day.” Theron went on to say, “We came to the conclusion that, you know, Picasso had his blue period. Well, this is my Bitch period.”

The rest of the questions were basically directed at Stewart, and were all basically the same question, simply worded differently, the essence of which were about what it was like to play not-Bella-Swan.

Here is a list of things she said:

“I think essentially we were very true to who Snow White is. What I was really excited about as soon as I read the script was that we weren’t just playing archetypes, we were given a chance to play who they are.”

“That’s a tough question because Twilight was a really extended period of my life… Everything I do always feels very different. Twilight was very much its own thing.”

On not playing a damsel-in-distress. “I could have a full-on Twilight conversation right now, but I’m not going to do that. This movie was awesome. I love what drives Snow White. I’ve always wanted to do a fucking badass action movie, but this one I could get behind on so many other levels… This one just made so much sense. I felt so strongly because Snow White is endowed with so much, there’s so much inside her.

Eventually, Sanders stepped in to help Stewart and said, “Kristin keeps up with the men, she’s the one knocking men out. This is a tough movie. Some tough girls in charge.”

When it came time for the Battleship panel, director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Brooklyn Decker (Just Go With It) and Alexander Skarsgaard (True Blood) stepped out onstage. The protagonist of Battleship, which is one of 2012’s summer blockbuster popcorn flicks, is played by Friday Night Light’s Taylor Kitsch (John Carter).

Some cool facts about Battleship is that it hails Rihanna in her debut film role as Lt. Raikes; it is based on Hasbro’s popular board game of the same name; Kevin Costner was the unofficial voluntary water-filming guru in pre-production; and the premise of the script was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s documentary on alien life forms.

Peter Berg began the discussion by talking about his love of the Navy. “My dad was a Marine and was a huge Navy war historian, and as a kid my dad used to take me to every single Navy museum in America.” Berg went on to explain how his dad would interrupt the lecturers at these museums, to tell them what they were doing wrong. “So, for a long time, I wanted to do a movie about the Navy.” Berg explained how he initially wanted to do a movie about the Essex (the whaler that had inspired Melville to write Moby Dick), but, given the cannibalistic turn of the real-life events, no studios wanted to take on such a bleak and dark story.

“So, then I thought, Battleship.” Berg admitted that, initially, he knew that it didn’t lend itself to the most logical interpretation for a film. “I’ve certainly heard inherent skepticism about how we could possibly be so insane as to try and do it.” But he explained that he saw that at the fundamental base of the board game (the no-mercy idea at the core of wanting to sink another person’s battleship). “That’s actually really good DNA for a movie.”

Friday Night Lights was going to come up at some point, given that Taylor Kitsch is the lead star of both and Berg is one of the strong creatives behind the small screen force.

“For anyone who’s ever seen my work, you know. Friday Night Lights, half of that show is improvised. That’s all on the actors. And for me, it’s all about finding smart actors. The one thing that we know is books, and maybe these two are good-looking”—here, Berg gestured at Decker and Skarsgaard, to much howling by the audience.

At this point, the moderator was ready to show the footage made specifically for WonderCon audiences. Berg set the scene up. “The tone of Battleship, you know, it was very important for all of us to understand what we were making. We want this movie to be fun, kick-ass, intense, emotional, at times. But at its core it’s meant to be a big fun rousing piece of popcorn madness. A sense of humor was important to us. In the following scene, you’re going to meet our hero, a man who is going to end up being involved in saving the world. He’s not doing so well in life in this particular scene, where he also meets a young lady named, Samantha, played by Brooklyn.”

The clip is a scene early in the movie that opens in a dive bar. In the background, a TV reporter explains how NASA is setting up shop locally, while Stone Hopper (Skarsgaard), sipping beer, is simultaneously wishing his younger brother, Alex Hopper, a happy birthday while begging him to get a life. Kitsch, disheveled and annoyed that his brother is nagging, ventures off to introduce himself to Decker, who seems incredibly committed to wanting to eat a chicken burrito. The rest of the clip follows Kitsch as he uses his brawn instead of his brain to fetch his newfound dulcinea a freaking chicken burrito, because that is what real men do.

The audience seemed to enjoy the clip’s short-story sequence and jokes, and then the panel opened up to some more discussion.

About her character’s relationship with Hopper, Brooklyn said, “I think all women can relate to being in love with a guy who is a fixer-upper. He’s fun and exciting. And they’re young.”

About filming a movie of this magnitude, Skarsgaard said, “It was kind of scary. There was this one shot, a sequence where there’s glass and a sound wave. They blow up the windows, and (Berg) wanted a shot of me when the glass hits my face. So I said, yeah, that sounds pretty cool. How do we do that? And he says, ‘No, we’ll figure out something cool. So on the day of, I showed up, and there’s what looks like a WWII cannon, twenty-five feet long. And Pete’s like, well, you’re going to stand here, and you’re just going to look straight into the barrel, and we’re going to shoot you in the face… And that’s how much I trust this man.”

At this point, they showed more footage that was later in the movie, in which an alien is captured on the ship.

Berg set up the shot, explaining that he knew and respected American naval history. It’s something that he understands. But for this type of movie, he wanted to do something a little more fun, and so when he was looking for his movie villain, he said Stephen Hawking inspired him. “I watched Stephen Hawking’s documentary on aliens.” He elaborated on Hawking’s idea of Goldilocks planets, which are planets that have been identified as possibly in theory having a climate that can support life. “That we’ve found that are in solar systems similar to earth and have similar orbital relationship to their suns which burn at approximately the same frequency.” Berg continued by saying our current NASA protocol is to target these planets with high-frequency signals.

“The purpose of these signals is to basically say, hey, we’re here. We’re Earth! How are ya? Stephen Hawking said this was a horrible, stupid idea,” Berg continued. “If they’re out there, the last thing we should do is tell them where we are. And they’re out there. Stephen Hawking. Don’t take my word. Google him!”

In the clip, the crew stands around what appears to be a dead alien, encased in his shiny suit. Alex Hopper and a crewmember take the helmet off, and we see the alien’s head and mouth, which is a flesh-colored rete of what look like the tentacles or arms of a small beige sea urchin. The alien’s hands are like what a very giant human’s hands would be like, with soft wrinkles and tiny pores. It becomes very apparent that the alien is not dead, though, when Hopper shines a light into the alien’s fully dilated pupil. The black of the eye shrinks in rage, moving the alien to action, prompting him to toss some brave sailors aside. Hopper has a little moment with the alien when he looks into his eyes; Hopper sees some massive destruction. The sequence gives us some shots from behind the alien’s helmet, and then the rest of the crew tries to fend for itself, as nothing seems to break the alien’s casing.

(Rihanna, in this scene, is the one who ends up saving the ship from acute danger, and for the purposes of not giving away any suspense, she does get the chance to say “Mahalo, motherfucker.”)

Before the footage ended, Hopper shares his thoughts on what just took place on his ship. “I have a bad feeling about this… I think we’re going to need a new planet.”

About Rihanna’s acting debut Berg said, “Rihanna is awesome. For all the doubters and the skeptics, I have a long history of believing that musicians often make great actors… I personally had great success with Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights. Rihanna showed up and asked for no special treatment. She stayed in the same motels and trailers as the rest of us… she worked her butt off. We’re huge supporters of her, and I think you’ll all be really impressed with her.”

About filming in the water, Berg said, “Filming a movie in the ocean is the stupidest thing you could ever do. You should never do it. We filmed off of Hawaii, which gets huge swells.” Kevin Costner, of all people, called Peter Berg about a month before cameras started rolling, to say that he felt compelled to give his advice. “He said, ‘Listen, I feel compelled to tell you all the things we did right on Waterworld, and all the things we didn’t do so right and could have.’ So I really appreciated that.” Costner told him what to expect, and helped get Berg get the crew mentally prepared, which went a long way because, as Berg said, when filming in the water, things you would never imagine being a problem become big problems. “Like, we had a seasick cinematographer; we thought Kitsch broke his kneecap; someone got on a dingy and quit the movie. And that was all within the first fifteen minutes.”

After that, they rolled a new extended trailer for Battleship, a trailer that will be launched before Wrath of the Titans on March 31st. It featured more of the same stuff as recent trailers, showcasing the alien descent more than the relationships between Hopper and those around him. Which is always fine by me when there are rolling destructive balls that bounce from skyscraper to skyscraper, I don’t think I’ve seen that before.

That about sums up this panel and presentation. I learned a lot, and I think I’m, strangely, more of a fan of Kevin Costner than anything else.

Snow White and the Huntsman will begin enchanting audiences on June 1st.

Battleship goes to war on May 18th.

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