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Director Jon M. Chu Talks G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, the Film’s 10-Minute Silent Sequence, Why the Release Date Was Delayed, Extra Channing Tatum, 3D, & More
by Christina Radish Posted: January 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 am
A four-minute preview of the highly anticipated G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be shown in IMAX, RealD and digital 3D theaters with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, beginning on January 24th. To debut the footage from the sequel and give a glimpse of what audiences can expect from the 3D conversion, Paramount invited a handful of online press, including Collider, over to the studio lot.
Following the footage, we participated in a roundtable interview with director Jon M. Chu, who talked about the 10-minute homage to “Silent Interlude” (of which the preview shows an abbreviated version), how much of the film was shot on stage versus location work, his favorite theory about the film’s delayed release date (from last summer to March 29th), that no reshoots were done as a result and no extra footage of Channing Tatum was shot, what he thinks the 3D adds to the film, maintaining ties to the first movie while doing his own thing with this one, how the conversion turned out to be a lot more legwork than he expected, what he was most excited about bringing to the film from the G.I. Joe mythology, and how daunting it is to take on this franchise. Hit the jump for what he had to say, as well as my thoughts on the footage.
As someone who, more often than not, doesn’t understand what 3D does to enhance the film-going experience, I have to admit that I am always skeptical when something is presented to me in that format, especially when it’s converted quickly without much thought given to anything other than extra money at the box office. However, in the case of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, it is obviously apparent that the release date delay was so that the proper care and time could be devoted to doing the conversion properly, and what has resulted is a depth that adds to the thrill-ride and a vibrancy of color that has me excited to see more.
What we were shown was an abbreviated four-minute version of a larger 10-minute silent fight sequence in the Himalayas, between Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park), that was not only really cool (with ninjas, throwing stars, sword fighting, gun play and zip lines), but also easily illustrated how the filmmakers plan to enhance the experience for audiences. And the small glimpse of the banter from both Bruce Willis and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson showed that, while this film is definitely grittier than the first one, it also isn’t taking itself too seriously.
Question: Is the 10-minute silent scene your homage to “Silent Interlude”?
JON M. CHU: That was definitely an inspiration. That’s where it all started. Obviously, ninjas are a big part of the movie, and we thought it would make it really unique from other franchises to have both the military and the ninja side. So, we wanted to make sure that we did something really different with ninjas that we’d never seen before. And because they have masks on and they don’t talk anyway, it was just a perfect place. We could tell story with their fighting. When you see the whole sequence together, it’s really fun. In fact, the fight between Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) has no music. We had score, a long time ago, and then we just played it once, when I was with the sound effects guys, without the music just to hear the effects, and it was so awesome. We were like, “We need to have their whole fight without music.” So, we brought it in and tried it, and knew people would freak out a little bit, but it’s so awesome that you can’t deny that it’s fun to watch them do their thing.
How much of this was shot on stage versus location work?
CHU: It was multiple levels of shooting, spread out through many months. We shot real stuff in Whistler, of all places, up in the mountains there, camping out in the snow. We had a crew up there, setting up the zip lines. They were real zip lines. That was very early in the process ‘cause we knew it was going to take a long time. Even the suits that we were designing for Snake Eyes had to be able to fit that environment. They had to go plan the mountain stuff, and it was a very hard thing of, how moveable can he be in it? Can he breathe at that altitude, with that mask on? It was really hard for him to breathe, so we had to figure that out. And she’s not in a thick outfit, but it’s freezing cold up there, so we had to find ways to keep her heated. If there was a snow storm, you had to camp out there. I think the set up crew had to camp out there a couple of times because the only way in and out was this helicopter and, if the weather wasn’t good, you just stayed. So, that was one whole piece. The other piece were the close-ups and some of the swinging stuff that we could do on a huge giant green screen. They were really swinging. We had guys with these swords who were running into each other. Trying to keep that coordinated was a whole task, in itself. And then, our editors had to piece that together. We had to figure out where the rocks were and where it all would happen.
After the delay of the film was announced, there were quite a few theories about why. Do you have a favorite theory?
CHU: Yeah, that was a crazy time! I didn’t want to answer any of the crazy rumors that were happening, at that time, but the reality was the 3D. We were told they wanted it turned into 3D, and luckily we had the time to do that. It just so happens that the March date was a date that they could do it in, and that gave us enough time to focus on it. We didn’t reshoot anything. We didn’t go in and [add] Channing. I’m not going to say what happens to Channing in the movie. You have to watch the movie. But, there wasn’t any of all that crazy stuff, so we just ignored it. It’s funny, when the new trailer came out, everyone was like, “Oh, Channing is in it way more!” I just didn’t want to say anything, but it was very interesting. There were rumors that we shot more things, but we literally didn’t shoot anything. We had done some reshoots a couple days before all that, in January, that were just some pick-up things, but that’s pretty much it.
Is there a particular scene that you think the 3D really shines with?
CHU: I think the [Himalayas scene] is really fun. We have a whole tank battle with these H.I.S.S. tanks, and a Rip Saw tank that Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) drives around. That’s really cool in 3D. We have a great crazy prison escape, that I don’t know if I should call a prison escape. We have a great scene where Storm Shadow comes back and Cobra Commander arrives. That’s really fun in 3D ‘cause it’s all places with water and glass, and shards going everything. Ultimately, this is a spectacle movie. It’s a really fun movie to experience, and the 3D only helps. If we were this big dramatic, dark movie, I’m not sure it would be worth that wait, but it only lifted our biggest strengths.
How did you approach maintaining ties to the first movie while doing your own thing?
CHU: We’re in that same world, in terms of being a continuation of that story. But, what’s great about G.I. Joe as a brand, over the years, everybody reinvents it in a different way. The cartoon brought its own interpretation. So, I had a lot of freedom to create the tone of this world, which was really nice. I’m amazed how many people saw the last movie. Everywhere we go, people know it because it plays on TV a lot and so many people saw it in the theater. This is definitely a continuation. The President, at the end of that movie, is not who he says he is, and we take it from there and move on. Obviously, Duke (Channing Tatum) is in our movie, and we refer to some of those other characters, but we don’t hang onto all those things. We leave a lot of things open-ended, so that we’re exploring this part of the world, but maybe this part of the world can keep going in a different other way. You can jump to different parts of the G.I. Joe universe, if you wanted to. That was really important. One of my biggest challenges was to fit those things together. But ultimately, it’s because of G.I. Joe that the history of G.I. Joe fit well. We have this great opening prologue that helps paint a little bit of how the world is and where we are in that.
Because the villains in the G.I. Joe world are so bright and colorful, were you ever worried about getting people to root for the good guys, over the villains?
CHU: Yes and no. You have Dwayne and Bruce, and you’re going to root for them, no matter what. They can even be a little more bad-ass than normal, and you’re good with them. Of course, the bad guys in our movie are really kick-ass. They go for it. Harder than that is just that the humor of the movie is very real-world, but at the same time, we’re trying not to take ourselves too seriously. Everything does have a little wink and a nod to what the spirit of G.I. Joe has always been, to me, at least. It is a crazy, weird world, even though you’re supposed to believe it co-exists with us, maybe six years in the future. More difficult for me was when do we not take ourselves too seriously and when do we actually have to play the real danger of it.
In doing the 3D conversion process, were there specific scenes that turned out to be more challenging or that you had to make the most adjustments for, or did the whole thing turn out smoother than you expected it to be?
CHU: It is more legwork than I expected. To get it right takes not one, three, five or six go-arounds. It takes 12 to 20 go-arounds, literally watching the scenes, over and over again, and just making little adjustments, here and there. That feels more freeing than even when we shoot in 3D because you can’t adjust some of the things that we can adjust, like some of the edges we want to clean up. There are scenes that are cut fast. We actually are still in that process of finding those things. That’s something we learned on the dance stuff, that you can do those things. We’ve got to push it and get all the fun moments and keep going back, over and over, to see where we need to control it a bit more. So, we’re in that process, right now. There are some fast moments in this movie. There are some fast action things that we want to do in it, and we don’t want the 3D to restrict those either. The hybrid is a fun thing. We get to play both sides. That just takes focus and time.
Being a big fan of G.I. Joe, was there something you most loved bringing to the big screen?
CHU: The H.I.S.S. tank was a dream. I guess it was written in the script originally, but to actually build the thing [was cool]. The last movie felt like, “Oh, there’s a lot of CG stuff, so we’ll just build on green.” But going in, I was like, “We’ve gotta build this stuff,” not really knowing if they were going to spend the money or if we could actually build a life-size H.I.S.S. tank that goes up and down, moves and rolls around. There was some resistance, of course. They were like, “You can’t do that! It’s going to take months and months to even design and build, and then it’s not going to be able to move.” But, we got it! So, the H.I.S.S. tank, in itself, was pretty awesome. Firefly’s (Ray Stevenson) motorcycle is really cool. We went through a ton of different versions of that. And the masks were my biggest surprise, with how intricate and difficult it was to get a good looking mask for these guys, like with Cobra Commander and Snake Eyes. Even just helmets can go way wrong, really quickly. I wanted to nod to the stuff that I knew, as a kid. I didn’t want to say, “This is a brand new Snake Eyes,” that was not the Snake Eyes that you know. I wanted the Snake Eyes that I played with. So, we got to play around with that. We went crazy. We did over 60 designs of Snake Eyes, and probably over 100 of just what his visor would be like. Those are tough. With the tint, do you go more amber or do you go more black? And then, you are dealing with the history of what it is, and you still want to give something fresh. So, those choices were made, piece by piece. The details for Cobra, just with what those gears would be and what he was actually doing. Is he breathing through it? Are we ever going to see his eyes? Is he just moving around like that? But, when you have people like Ray Park play Snake Eyes, it really is different. We had stunt doubles go in for a certain moment, here and there, and you can tell that there’s no acting there. Whereas with Ray, you know the personality. He has a humor about him. It’s a very strange thing that he does with Snake Eyes, but he’s funny when he’s in there. When Rock talks to him and they communicate in silence, it’s a fun thing. They actually have that communication, which is funny.
The first G.I. Joe didn’t get the greatest reviews, so were you at all hesitant about taking over the reins of the franchise?
CHU: No, I wasn’t hesitant. I jumped at the chance, obviously. It was an amazing opportunity to make a movie of characters that I know and love, even if I wasn’t the biggest comic book guy who knew every issue of everything G.I. Joe. It was the cartoon that I really was a part of. And I loved the first movie. I had a lot of fun with it, but it wasn’t necessarily my G.I. Joe experience. I remember when it was coming out, I was like, “It’s gotta do this, this, this, this, this, this and this.” And then, I saw the movie and was like, “Oh, that was a little bit different, but it was still enjoyable and fun.” So, when they offered me the movie, I knew I could go back to that list. It’s hard because you get lost along the way sometimes, and things change and characters shift, but I always tried to remind myself of the things that I always wanted in a G.I. Joe movie. You want the ninjas right up against the military guys. You want that humor. You want that comradery. You want to know that each one is different. They’re not just a group fighting one thing. They all have personality. Even if it doesn’t really make sense, you want it to be fun and just go for it. If you think about all those things, I don’t know if this movie is necessarily for you. This is just a fun ride. You get to experience this mash-up of all these genres. In a way, G.I. Joe was mash-up before mash-up ever existed. Everybody has their own sound, which was really fun to do.
How daunting is it to take on the G.I. Joe franchise?
CHU: Just in taking something that I grew up with and having the opportunity [to do my take on it], it’s scary. You know everyone is watching, including every person that you’ve ever talked to Joe about. My friends and I would collect the toys and go to the different conventions. I would call my friends a lot of the time and be like, “Do you think this is weird? Is it jacked up, if we do this, or do you think it’s okay?” It’s a daunting task. I can’t rely on those immediate feelings for certain things because it would throw my process off. I just have to trust that the reason I love the property is probably the reason it was working, at the time. Having Bruce [Willis] be the original Joe was really trippy. You want him to be the original Joe, in every way. If he didn’t want to do this movie, we probably wouldn’t have Joe in the movie. It was only because we said, “This would be our dream, as a G.I. Joe fan, to have the guy who represents it be the guy who represents all action movies of our generation, growing up.” It just worked right. And we have him next to the next generation’s action guy. There’s not a lot of action heroes anymore, and the guy who’s picking up all of that is The Rock. And that’s a theme in our movie. At some point, you don’t have your laser guns and your spaceships and your hovercrafts, and all that stuff. It’s just about the soldier or the ninja, or the person who’s fighting the uphill battle, and it’s about what’s inside. Bruce comes into this movie, as the original Joe, saying, “We didn’t have any of that stuff. You don’t need all that stuff. We’ll go old school, in that way.” That was fun, and it helped frame our visual look and style of our storytelling.
Were there things that you wanted to do, but ended up deciding against doing in the film, or did you get some version of everything on your dream list into the movie?
CHU: Yes, for sure. I wanted to do a lot more nods than we probably have in the movie, but some of them were just so random that it didn’t fit. It just confused people. We still have to deal with, not only people understanding where the first movie came from, but people who have never seen it before and have no idea who G.I. Joe is. When you see Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, we have people who don’t know who’s bad and who’s good, and you’re like, “Don’t you know?! It’s the ultimate rivalry!” And they’re like, “No. Usually, the guy in white is the good guy and the guy in black is the bad guy.” And I’m like, “No, it’s the exact opposite, guys!” It’s hard because then we have to explain what happened with them, which they also did in the last movie. It’s a trade-off. If I wanted to add a little extra thing about Snake Eyes that I definitely wanted, we could put little seeds of it, but we really couldn’t go crazy into it. I think we get it established and set, and if the audience wants to see more, we’ll give them more.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens in theaters on March 29th. Click here to read our interview with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
I was at some diplomatic party once. Got to talking to this princess who told me that when it came to Superman, I was missing the point. She told me, "His real strength lay in his generous spirit and sense of what's fair." - King Faraday