It’s in your best interest to drop by the Disney panel at ComicCon, I’ve been warned, and not by Disney. By an anonymous source who claims this is one of three panels where there are going to be big giant unscheduled things a-happenin’.
Of course, that could just be a way of getting us to tell you to drop by the panels for Disney, Fox, and Dark Castle. But what if it’s true? What is this bombshell surprise that is planned?
Could it be Pixar’s announcement of JOHN CARTER OF MARS? If so, expect everyone present to need the immediate use of new pants following whatever they might present. Not that I’m saying that’s what it is... I’m just guessing what they might have in their golf bag that would be considered a big deal. Is there an obvious guess I’m missing? Would UP be considered a big deal if it actually made an appearance? You tell me.
I’m not sure what footage they’ll be showing from WITCH MOUNTAIN, but I’m sure they’re going to try to give you a sense of what they’re going for, a real no-shit action movie with a hard SF/superhero edge to it.
When we visited the second time, it was on the Disney lot in Burbank instead of a location. They were using one of the stages, and they’d built an underground garden environment, part of the mystery surrounding the two kids played by Alexander Ludwig and AnnaSophia Robb. This is their birthright, a place left for them by their parents, and just as soon as they find it and get a chance to explore it, they’re forced to either run or fight when the Siphon, the alien assassin that is chasing them, breaks into the place.
Dwayne Johnson was there again, front and center, and I have to say... watching him work journalists when you visit a set while he’s working... it’s a well-polished show. He knows exactly what he’s doing, what he’s saying. He’s never unaware of people watching him. I’ve talked to a lot of directors who are intrigued by him and who want to figure out how to cast him, where to use him. I’ve been part of four different set visits where he’s been working so far, and each time, I felt like we were seeing as much of a performance as what went on in front of the camera.
He was just doing a few quick inserts while we were actually there, but they brought in the stunt team to talk to us, including Mike Justus, the guy who was inside the Iron Man suit in IRON MAN, and Scott Rogers, who is partnered with Dan Bradley, Kevin Scott, and Darrin Prescott in Go Stunts, one of the most cutting-edge stunt units in the business right now. “We started pursuing the technology instead of letting it steamroll us.” Now, it’s all about them putting the lead actor in the action, and really doing it. Allowing them to do as much as possible, so it’s as real as possible. They used the Go Mobile for the first time on THE BOURNE SUPREMECY. And what, you might ask, is The GoMobile? Well, that’s what I wondered when I heard them mention it in passing. Color me curious. When they brought Scott Rogers over, that’s what I wanted to ask about more than anything else.
“It’s an engine and a driver’s pod that you can attach to anything... you can look back and see your actor in whatever you want to see them in, going 70 miles an hour, and it’s really them... we did stuff like that with Dwayne on this film, and that’s all real. We took him out and did a chase on this long highway, and you can’t cheat that. It’s them. The lighting is real.” He talks about the difference between that and the films where you use greenscreen for the lead actor to pretend to be driving.
“Here, you’re really doing it. You can shoot the outside of the car, then drift into the car and see the actor at the wheel, doing it.”
We talked about him training the actors to drive, and how most of them come to it ready to do it, with some practical experience already under their belt. “We came up with the NAR approach... No Acting Required.” When you do these chase scenes, you don’t have to act, you just have to react. We talked about the impact of technology on the stunt industry, and the way it’s finally working to boost the industry instead of compete with it. That’s the philosophy behind his company, which is still fairly young, but these guys have amazing credits to their names, and they seem determined to shoot action in ways that were never possible until now, something I find exciting as an action fan and as a filmmaker.
Fickman and Gunn, director and producer, told stories about Ciarin Hinds. Gunn took particular delight in doing his impression of Hinds watching Fickman work his first week on set. “Andy, you do know that I’m not going to be able to put everything on my resume, right? I have to make room for ROME and MUNICH, where I worked with Steven Spielberg, of course.” And to his credit, Fickman contributed many of the best jabs at himself, playing off Gunn back and forth.
Fickman talked about how much he loves peppering this film with easter eggs regarding the history of WITCH MOUNTAIN. The two most notable, of course, would be Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who both play roles again. Fickman talked about his first meetings with Richards. “She said how strange it was when she stopped being the girl from WITCH MOUNTAIN and started getting known more as Paris Hilton’s aunt.” That was news to me, and as a ‘70s kid, I’d be a liar if I didn’t confess a hardcore crush on her back in the day. I really admired Richards in BLACK SNAKE MOAN, and brought it up, and Fickman told me how much it helped convince Disney to cast her. “She had two great hardcore scenes in that film. I was able to call the studio and say, ‘She can totally pull it off.’” That movie had marked the end of a self-imposed sabbatical for Richards, and she had a great experience on this film as well. Richards and Eisenmann got to play one moment together, and Fickman enjoyed being able to put the two of them together, and watching a steady stream of people speak to them about how much that meant all day long. Eddie Albert makes a particularly brilliant cameo in a winnebego in the film, and I want to see how that plays out. There are street names, boat names, props and more, all making visual and thematic references to the earlier films and the original books, which were a little more paranoid and creepy.
We had a few minutes to talk to Ludwig and Robb together, and basically, they are the yin and yang of young performers when you set them side-by-side. Robb’s already got this incredibly focused Hollywood polish down cold, just like Dwayne Johnson does. I heard a few anecdotes from people onset about Robb managing to get some product placement in the film for something she’s an investor in, an energy drink that ended up with a prominent kiosk in the convention sequence they were shooting at my first set visit.
Ludwig, on the other hand, seems like a big ball of youthful exuberance and energy, happy to be onset and working, professional but still very much a kid. I think Robb seems very nice and very smart, but I know 30 year olds who aren’t as together as she appears to be. Ludwig strikes me as young... or more precisely, he strikes me as being exactly his age. Should be interesting to see how that contrast between them plays onscreen. We learned what their powers are in this film. She’s the one who can move things with her mind, while this time, he’s basically Kitty Pryde. He can make himself incredibly dense or make his molecules so spread out that he passes through things.
And then, once again, we were off, with the promise that they were going to bring us back one more time to visit Witch Mountain itself. If you’re interested in seeing if this looks more like a Disney Channel original movie or “a science-fiction BOURNE IDENTITY,” as Fickman wants it to be, then make sure you’re at the Disney panel from 3:00 – 4:00 in Hall H, where Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino (who really is that incredibly gorgeous in person) will be appearing with Andy Fickman and some footage. When you see Fickman talking about his film, you’ll understand my earlier reference to Yosemite Sam as played by George Costanza. He’s a lot of fun, so if you’re interested in this film at all, check it out.
And if there IS some giant bombshell revelation at the panel, drop me a line and let me know.
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles