Quint wanders around Pinewood and checks out Matthew Vaughn's STARDUST!!!
Published at: July 7, 2006, 5:44 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Obviously, London is full of history. I did a bunch of sight-seeing on my 5 day trip back in May... Big Ben, Parliament, London Eye, Picadilly, Covent Garden, SoHo, Leicester Sq., Buckingham, Trafalgar Sq., etc, but, possibly to my detriment, I didn't feel as awed by that real life history as I felt when I arrived at Pinewood Studios today (check out their website here!). My destination: the Stanley Kubrick Building, right next to the 007 Stage. That's right. The Stanley Kubrick Building. The 007 Stage.
Don't get me wrong. Buckingham was gorgeous and up close Big Ben took my breath away. The walk through St. James Park was one of the prettiest walks I've ever done. But my passion is film and God what a geekout I had to suppress when I arrived at Pinewood (oddly enough, my arrival was foretold as my car approached... The Classical station was on and for no apparent reason John Williams' STAR WARS theme was played. Nifty, huh?).
I was there to tour around the sets of STARDUST, the next film from LAYER CAKE's Matthew Vaughn, adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman. The story is very much a fantasy/mission movie along the lines of THE PRINCESS BRIDE or LORD OF THE RINGS, but with Gaiman's skewered reality laid on top of everything.
The story centers on a young man named Tristan Thorne who is a child of... shall we say... interracial parents. This world exists in both the history we know and a fantasy world. The border to these worlds is a town appropriately called Wall, a quaint English town that guards the only opening in a long wall that separates the two communities.
These two worlds mix only once every nine years when a fair is held in the field beyond Wall's wall. Only then are people from the real world allowed to mingle with the people of the world of faerie. At all other times the passageway is guarded by watchmen from Wall.
One night young Tristan Thorne is escorting young Victoria home. The girl, prettiest in Wall, has his heart. She is being coy with him, obviously not really interested, but the boy has his mind made up. She will be his. He asks for a kiss. He is denied. He asks for her hand in marriage. He is denied again. He offers her the world in return for her by his side. Nope. They both see a falling star and she tells him that if he can bring her that fallen star he can have whatever he wants from her, including her hand.
So the adventure starts.
This star is being sought by more than just Tristan for a variety of other, darker reasons. Also after this star are a trio of Princely Brothers, constantly fighting for the right to rule in their father's stead... to the death... and an evil witch whose business with the star is far more sinister and brutal. Tristan has to travel into the world of Faerie to recover the fallen star and the whole stage is set for the romantic fantasy adventure.
Let's go over the cast first, shall we?
TRISTAN - Charlie Cox
YVAINE (the star) - Claire Danes
SEPTIMUS - Mark Strong
PRIMUS - Jason Flemyng
SECONDUS - Rupert Everett
CAPTAIN SHAKESPEARE - Robert De Niro
SLAVE GIRL/UNA - Kate Magowan (Saw her headshot and she's absolutely gorgeous... And I recently saw her act in IT'S ALL GONE, PETE TONG... she played a real bitch in that movie, but her beauty is undeniable)
DITCHWATER SAL - Melanie Hill
LAMIA - Michelle Pfeiffer
DUNSTAN - Nathaniel Parker
BERNARD - Jake Curran (supposedly physically looks like a goat... those who read the book will know why that's important)
VICTORIA - Sienna Miller (Good Lord, this girl's beautiful)
HUMPHREY - Henry Cavill
KING OF STORMHOLD - Peter O'Toole
FERDY THE FENCE - Ricky Gervais
MR. MONDAY - Frank Ellis
When I arrived at Pinewood, I was driven past the 007 Building (supposedly currently housing a Venice set that I couldn't manage to sneak in to) and delivered to the Stanley Kubrick Building where I was to meet with producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura.
Now, I wasn't quite sure how this meeting was going to go. Harry and Lorenzo had a rather public feud for quite a long time back when Lorenzo was head of Warner Bros... back in the BATMAN & ROBIN days. So, you can see where there might be some tension.
Lorenzo's assistant, Izzy, met me when I arrived and deposited me in Lorenzo's office as he was being wrangled back to meet with me. The office was simple, the walls decorated with at least 2 dozen pieces of production artwork, ranging from designs for the Prince's chariot (think of Dracula's chariot mixed with the Batmobile from BATMAN BEGINS and you're on the right path) to our star sitting in crater, nursing her broken leg. Not to mention a DVD of STARDUST dailies that really tested my moral barometer, damn near begging me to pick it up and put into my pocket.
Lorenzo came into the room and warmly greeted me, no hint of the venomous B&R Wars about him. He just seemed genuinely excited about the project and about Matthew Vaughn. Of course, he is the producer, so I wouldn't expect him to tell me he hated the project.
Lorenzo opened a giant leather satchel/binder thing and showed me a lot more production art and some shots from their location shooting already accomplished.
There was a section of the movie shot in Iceland on a black sand beach. Everyday icebergs the size of a large desk wash up on shore. They also shot in Scotland in a place called the Faerie Hills. Neil Gaiman has a house there, apparently. The trees are short, the lakes are small... Lorenzo called it a sort of postage stamp place that messes with your optics. Lamia's Inn is placed there, but more on that in a minute.
I asked about the rating since we were talking about the Inn. For those not familiar with the book... there are some pretty gruesome sequences that take place here. The rating will be PG-13, but will "be right on the edge." A lot of the violence will happen off-screen. To me, this part of the book (Lamia's Inn) really takes the story into a sort of Grimm's Fairy Tale area. Some really nasty stuff happens here. Of all the sequences in the movie, this is the one I'm most hoping they pull off.
I also got a glimpse of the designs for Lamia's knife set... They are sharp, elegant and black as the night. Absolutely evil looking.
In terms of a real life time period, they figured Victorian England. Neil Gaiman felt strongly they needed to set the time and place for the movie, so they all settled on Victorian England.
Saw a piece of art of the actual wall in Wall, which doesn't look like it could really keep anybody out... maybe chest high on an average man, with the gap in the wall being very narrow, but person-sized. I guess the idea is most of the people of Wall don't want to venture into the land of Faerie, so it doesn't need to be massive and imposing. I also saw a piece of art that was a far up aerial view of the crater the star makes when she falls. It's giant, but then they added in a smaller, person-sized crater that Yvaine is sitting in, giving it a kind of ripple in a pond effect.
Speaking of the star, I saw a few tests for her appearance throughout the film, how they're planning on giving Claire Danes a fantasy-creature look. She's dressed mostly in white and throughout the film she will glow. I'm assuming it'll be slight, but I do know that they are planning on having her glow increased when she's happy and dimmed when she's sad or frustrated. They want her to be almost ethereal. They hadn't settled on a definite look yet, but they were toying with even making her slightly translucent when she's really dim.
Also saw Stormhold. It's giant, very much looking like Minas Morgul from ROTK, however with more historical England looking architecture. It's stone black, but I was told that they put in layers of different architecture as if the castle has been building and building through so many generations that as the style changes so does the continued construction.
For the 7 Royal Brothers (Primus, Secondus, etc all the way up to Septimus) they told me about a bit of trickery. These guys are killing each other off as their father (Peter O'Toole) is getting closer to death's door. At the beginning of the movie there are only 4 brothers left, with the other 3 seen by us as ghosts observing the family drama (in the book it's never really settled upon whether or not the characters know these ghosts are there). Rupert Everett plays Secondus. The trick here is that you expect him to be the hero Prince, but right away he's out the window, and splat. Dead. For the rest of the movie he appears as a ghost with a mashed-up face, marring his good looks.
Lorenzo spent some time talking about the challenge of marketing a film like this. It's a fairy tale, so you can't completely alienate families, but at the same time you want to faithfully adapt the material. How do you market these beautiful images of Yvaine as a glowing, fairy-looking being without turning off the boys and teens? I argued that post-LOTR it's easier to sell a movie like this, that you can cut a trailer that has the brutal aspects, the adventure aspects and the romance aspects and if it looks cool at all, you'll hook most kids. Sell the adventure and they'll come. If the adaptation is faithful to Gaiman's work, then you'll get the fans on board, too.
After looking at the art, he asked if I'd like to have a walk around Pinewood and some of the sets. The first stop was a giant flying ship built to scale (1:1, I'd imagine). This was huge and aged by some of the best set builders in the world. Imagine a pirate ship and then put it up in the sky, with a TRON-like sail in the back as well as a regular sail like all the old vessels we might have seen in bottles or Errol Flynn movies.
This ship captures lightening and is electric-powered. The rigging has electric coils around them, etc. I saw a piece of art that showed a crewman holding what looked like a fire hose up to a brass and glass box that stood about chest-high, filled with electric bolts. Whether he was emptying the catch into the box or retrieving the lightning from it I do not know.
The ship built for shooting was massive, easily 50-60 feet long and 20-30 feet wide. It actually reminded me of my days on KONG standing aboard the Venture that was built on the Stone Street Studios backlot in Wellington. Very well constructed and very authentic, down to the peeling paint, rust spots and solid wood deck.
After disembarking, I went to see the interior of the boat, specifically Captain Shakespeare's (Robert DeNiro) quarters, built on another stage. The Captain's quarters is very spacious and near overflowing with stuff. Liquors, books, art... what you imagine a fantasy land Robert DeNiro sky captain would keep around, obviously. Although there was a rather large closet filled with dresses, costumes and various other clothes from his pillaging. Not very DeNiro that... a closetful of Victorian era pomp and circumstance.
The tour kept going, with a stop over at Tristan Thorne's humble abode in Wall. Pretty much a typical, dark Victorian Era working class home. Dirty, simple, not elegant at all, but comfortable in its own way.
The last two stops had to do with Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Lamia, the cold-ass evil fucking bitch of the story. Check her out below... this is a first look, AICN exclusive still!
Firstly, there's a point in the movie where she sets a trap for our heroes in the form of a magically created Inn. I went to this inn. It has a huge fireplace, in front of which will be a giant tub. The doors to the Inn are slightly bigger than you might think, but that has to do with some action that happens a little bit after we are first introduced to this place.
There's a stable that is also a part of the Inn and it looked very stably. Think Rohan.
The other set was the Witches Lair. Lamia and her two sisters live in this place, built in a sinkhole. It's a decent sized castle from the outside, but it is mammoth on the inside. And colorless. Everything is black or silver. The walls are all black wood, the floor black marble, the chandeliers are obsidian glass. There is silver trim to some of the sculptures built into the wall (depicting little cherubic angels eviscerating a pig, intestines and all falling out). There are also giant floor to ceiling mirrors every 10 feet or so down the enormous hall. This was my favorite piece of set work I saw and it was only about 60% finished when I saw it.
Lorenzo then took me to meet Matthew Vaughn, who was about to run through a rehearsal with Robert DeNiro who had just arrived onset. Vaughn struck me as a really cool guy, one of us. His first question to me was, "Have you seen X3 yet?" (Keep in mind this was about 3 weeks before it was released). He was genuinely curious about the film and touched upon his involvement, saying that he heard about 4 of his scenes remained 100% intact. He wouldn't tell me which scenes they were. He also was hoping fandom wouldn't tear him apart since it was his idea to cast Kelsey Grammer as Beast. I told him that Grammer was great casting and if the fans hate him it'll be because of how they physically approach the character.
I didn't get much time to bullshit with Vaughn. He left DeNiro sitting in his trailer to bother with the likes of me to start with and he had to get back to the Taxi Driver. I was secretly hoping to be invited to watch DeNiro go through his rehearsal... I mean, how many times do you get to see a master at work, especially since this'll be his first fantasy film since what? BRAZIL? Damn. That wasn't to be however and I didn't feel like pressing my welcome.
So, there you have it. My hour or so at one of the most famous studios in the world, looking at the pieces that will build up a fantasy flick that'll hit screens next year. I really dig Neil Gaiman's book and it seems that Gaiman is very much a creative producer on this film, giving his input on all the creative decisions. I love Vaughn's freshman outing, LAYER CAKE, and I'm really damned excited to see him attack some fantasy, especially if it's going to look like the production art I saw.
There are still a lot of question marks with this project. I didn't see what any of the footage looked like. I haven't seen how any of the actors are portraying their characters. I just know that the source material would make a fantastic movie and the talent they have attached seem to be up the challenge. I'm pulling for this one.
Hope you guys enjoyed the peek behind the curtain. I have one more UK visit to dive in to, which shouldn't be too long in the waiting. Stay tuned for my HOT FUZZ coverage! 'Til then, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.