With butt-guns at the ready, Capone chats with ASTRO BOY director David Bowers!!!
Published at: Sept. 7, 2009, 4:28 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with the first of two pieces on the upcoming 3-D animated adventure ASTRO BOY, based on the insanely popular Japanese comic and animated series from creator Osamu Tezuka about a robot boy developed by his scientist father to take the place of his dead son. If this plot sounds vaguely familiar, imagine how millions of ASTRO BOY fans felt when Spielberg's A.I. was announced. Granted, ASTRO BOY is a take on Pinocchio, but the Spielberg script (from a story by Stanley Kubrick) sure does lift a bit from the comic books of the early 1950s and the TV cartoon that originated in the mid-1960s. Tezuka has long been referred to as the God of Manga, with the "Astro Boy" cartoon considered the first Japanese TV series to feature the anime style.
Although less familiar in the states, Astro Boy has an almost-unparalleled following around the world. In an effort to splash the character's name and universe across American screens, the feature film debut of ASTRO BOYS lands on our shores October 23--in 3-D no less. Comic-Con 2009 was the first time the world really got to see loads of footage from the film, and I was there to see that clearly the filmmakers are going after a unapologetic action film. Sure, there are loads of great actors lending their voices to the film (including Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, Charlize Theron, Nathan Lane, and Freddie Highmore as Astro Boy), but the emphasis is eye-popping (and screen-popping) action. The film is also an origin story, and the film's producers have no qualms about wanting to turn ASTRO BOY into a movie franchise.
Director David Bowers has worked as an artist on several high-profile animated films, including WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, THE ROAD TO ELDORADO, FERNGULLY, BALTO, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, SHARK TALE, CHICKEN RUN, and WALLACE & GROMMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. Obviously, these last two films were done for Aardman Animations, where Bowers got his first directing gig, as the co-helmer (with Sam Fell) of Aardman's first CG feature, FLUSHED AWAY.
Shortly, I'll also have a joint interview with lead actors Highmore and Bell, but in the mean time, enjoy ASTRO BOY director David Bowers…
Capone: I was at the panel today, and I realized that you can get away with endangering children a lot easier than you can in live action.
David Bowers: Well, he’s a robot, so he’s robust. He can take a few licks.
Capone: It just struck me how many child-endangerment laws were being broken in those scenes. [Laughs] Why do you think it has taken this long to get a movie featuring this character made? He’s obviously such a huge icon in the world.
DB: Honestly, I don’t know. To me it’s just the simplest thing in the world to look at the wonderful work that has been done before and take the classic Tezuka origin story and use that as a basis for the movie and build on that. There have already been so many great stories and great adventures for Astro. I think in Hollywood there is often a tendency to re-imagine completely and through out the baby with the bathwater, and certainly we re-imagined Astro Boy for this movie, but at the same time hopefully we just built on what was there, rather than throwing it all out and starting again.
Capone: Speaking of that, in what ways did you sort of modernize him and in what ways were you insistent on leaving things exactly how they have always been in terms of the look and the plot?
DB: It was a challenge to update it to 3-D, to be quite honest, because the original manga is so graphic, but I think our characters look good and we have done a pretty terrific job with it. I think the characters all have integrity and they all are very similar to the originals. They are in the same universe, definitely. I think people look at the Tezuka stuff now and it’s really sort of retro and retro-cool and it’s really fun in that way, but at the same time it’s worth remembering how in the 1950’s, when that stuff was published, it was absolutely science fiction and cutting edge and really really modern and that’s what I wanted for this movie. I wanted it to feel as fresh for audiences today as Astro Boy felt in the 1950’s for audiences then and into the '60s. I wanted to make it feel contemporary. Did that answer your question? [laughs]
Capone: Yeah, you started to. In which ways did you actually make him contemporary? What did you say, “We need to update this!”
DB: We updated the look of the city and the technology of course, because things have come a long way since the 1950s. I think the thing we wanted to be really sure of keeping was the look of Astro Boy and the powers that he has. When I started the movie, I was working with a lot of crew and people say “Well, Astro Boy has X-ray vision and special hearing and this and that, and he’s got a butt machine gun, but of course, we won’t be doing those.” And I said, “You can absolutely bet your life we will be doing that. That’s the best thing ever. Are you kidding?”
Capone: That was in the original?
DB: That was in the original. And it just wouldn’t be Astro Boy without it, so we were just keen to keep that sort of thing, but at the same time it’s very much a big-screen movie you know and I wanted to do it in cinemascope to have that big canvas to paint on; I wanted it to be spectacular, I came at it from the story’s point of view, which is the story of Astro and his father, so that’s the key thing in the movie. You know the basic a story is that a scientist loses his son and creates a robot to replace his son, and then he finds out that having this robot son around makes his grief worse, so he casts the boy out. And it’s about Astro and his relationship with his father, and Astro finding out who he is and what his destiny in the world is going to be and ultimately reconciling with his father and from that, because that all sounds very bleak. It’s a big action adventure with lots of comedy and lots of funny characters, and we have a group in the movie called “The Robot Revolutionary Front,” who Astro runs into when he’s thrown out of Metro City. They're voice by Matt Lucas as the leader called “Sparx” and Bill Nighy is a character called Dr. Elefun.
Capone: I love Bill Nighy.
DB: Me too. I would work with him on anything at any time. These two robots, they are really keen to get Astro on their side, because what they want more than anything is to do something really horrible and terrifying to force humans to free all robots, but unfortunately they are subject to the laws of robotics, so all they can do is write angry letters to newspaper editors or tickle people, but at the same time they are really militant about it. They are kind of crazy and silly, so there’s a lot of fun new stuff.
Capone: You were talking in the panel about how there are these level sof living, one group in the sky and the other on the surface. It sounds like you do get a little bit of a political undertone to some of what is going on. Having the villain being a President also adds that dimension.
DB: I know. I can’t for whatever reason, I can’t help but be a little bit political in my films. There’s a little bit of that in FLUSHED AWAY.
Capone: Yeah, in FLUSHED AWAY there was a little bit of an upper and lower rat society.
DB: I just think it makes it a bit more interesting, because they are a bit more sophisticated as well as something to think about. There is a lot in the original manga about robots being second-class citizens, and a lot of this movie is about saving the environment. I hope it’s quite timely. It’s not done cynically in the hope of drawing things in. I think it’s just things that are around at the moment that people are concerned about and things that can be put into the movie through the writing.
Capone: Well, I think the best science fiction has those kinds of messages in it anyway.
DB: I think so. I also think what appealed to me most about Astro is I love science fiction and always have. Astro is a great science-fiction story. A wrinkle in ours that is different from the original is that Dr. Tenma gives Astro [his son] Toby’s memories, so when Astro is created, he thinks he is a real boy, so when he finds out the truth that not only is he a robot with a dead boy’s memories, but also the father, the man he loves, doesn’t want him anymore. It’s quite devastating.
Capone: It’s interesting. When I hear that synopsis, A.I. might have borrowed a little from that story as well…
DB: Yeah, I wonder.[laughs]
Capone: Two things, have you always intended to tell it as an origin story, and then had you always wanted to tell it 3-D?
DB: That was already a part of it. Imagi [Animation Studios] is a 3-D company, so it was always going to be a 3D CGI movie. I love superhero origin stories, and I love Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN. I think it’s just the most wonderful superhero film. This is the film we are hoping would introduce Astro Boy to particularly American audiences, and I think for an introduction along with the story is great. I love origin stories.
Capone: Now, when you talk about introducing a character in origin stories, you immediately think “That sounds like they have many installments of this series planned.” Are you already thinking about doing another one?
DB: It’s impossible not to think about what could come later with this story, especially since I've been more idle lately with all of the story work and the editorial… for a month or so, but if this movie does well, fingers crossed, and anybody wants to make another ASTRO BOY movie, there is certainly lots of material out there, it wouldn’t be hard. It’s certainly open for a sequel.
Capone: Probably the greatest pressure on you is going to come from the Japanese fans. What have you done to make sure that you have kept their national hero relatively intact?
DB: Well, we worked with the creator’s son, Macoto Tezuka, and he’s been keeping us on the straight and narrow, but at the same time, the Tezuka estate in Japan encouraged us to expand on the world and expand on the characters and expand the Astro Boy lore and we have, and they are very happy with it. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?
Capone: No, I believe that was it. I think that should have covered it.
DB: Well thank you very much. You know, I love Ain’t It Cool News. I have for what seems like a decade. How long have you guys been around?
Capone: About 12 years now, yeah.
DB: I read it every day. I think you guys are great. Thanks for stopping by.
Capone: Thanks. Best of luck with this.
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