How "DC Universe: Rebirth" Fulfills Its Promise of Restoring Legacy to DC Comics
By the time the Sony Pictures panel began mid-afternoon at WonderCon Anaheim, a large number of people in the arena at the Anaheim Convention Center had been waiting all day just to get a glimpse at the stars and creators of the upcoming movies The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Evil Dead and This Is the End.
Fans of author Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments fantasy novels made plenty of noise for the first part of the panel, with moderator Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly introducing Clare along with City of Bones stars Lily Collins (who plays Clary Fray), Jamie Campbell Bower (Jace Wayland) and Kevin Zegers (Alec Lightwood).
Ross asked Clare what it was like to see the books come to life. “It’s extremely surreal to be sitting with Clary, Jace and Alec, since they only lived in my head for such a long time,” she said. Being on set, “Everything was real. I could touch it. I freaked out.” Clare got the chance to appear as an extra in a scene at a party thrown by Magnus Bane (Godfrey Gao), and she told the audience to look out for her in cat ears, which she wasn’t able to take off, even when she went to the airport to head home. “I really want to see what the demons look like,” she said, which she noted was one thing she hasn’t had the chance to do yet.
Ross then turned to the actors, asking Collins what drew her to the role of Clary. “She really fights for what she believes in,” she replied. “She never gives up, and I really, really admire her for that.”
Bower was asked about his sword-fighting experience from appearing on the Starz drama Camelot. “This was far beyond anything I’d ever done before,” he said. “It was pretty physically demanding for me. At the end of the day you’d go back and pass out.”
Asked about the pressure of living up to fan expectations, Zegers said, “I think the good thing for me is that I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it,” because he was cast just a week before rehearsals began. “I didn’t have time to freak out about how many fans there are of the books.”
Speaking to fan expectations, Clare said, “I feel like [the movie] stays pretty true to the spirit of the books. There are things that have to be altered, because otherwise it would be a 10-hour movie, which I would watch but nobody else would watch.” She said she hasn’t seen the final edit yet, but “it looked like they were trying to stick as close to the book as possible.”
“I was a fan of the books before I was cast, so I already had an image of who Clary should be before I was cast,” Collins said. As for managing those expectations, she said, “You just have to involve yourself as much as you can in the process, but you also have to keep a separation between yourself and what people expect.”
Ross asked Clare how involved she was in the filmmaking process, and the author replied she was “more involved than I thought that I would be. The fact that they wanted me involved at all I was pretty excited about.” She was able to get in touch with the casting director, with whom she spent hours on the phone nearly every day during the course of the casting process, and had the chance to watch auditions. “We all got kind of a vote on the casting,” Clare said. She was also involved in set design and costumes. “The more that they consulted me, the more that I felt confident.”
Ross then introduced a new trailer, which featured Collins’ Clary discovering her true supernatural heritage and getting drawn into a battle between good and evil, with some big special-effects set pieces and plenty of action.
After the trailer, Ross opened up the panel to fan questions. A number of fans asked Clare very specific questions about character details, which the author deferred with a reference to possible spoilers (although she did reveal that the Silent Brothers will appear in the film). Asked what age was appropriate to read the books and watch the movie, Clare said, “I have readers that are old as 90 and as young as 7 or 8.” In the movie, “The monsters can be kind of scary if you’re really young, but other than that there’s nothing that I would consider problematic.”
A fan with her own rune written on her palm with a Sharpie asked the actors about working with the characters’ rune tattoos. “I can say for us, it’s brutal,” Zegers said. “In order to make them look real, they have to be very meticulous,” which could take hours each day, or more for Bower, who has his own tattoos that needed to be covered up first.
Asked about her favorite part of filming, Collins said, “On a sentimental level, I think I grew up a lot during this movie. I took a lot of risks and learned a lot about myself playing Clary.” Echoing one of Bower’s earlier sentiments, she said, “We were all put together for a reason. I loved every second of filming this project, and I’m really proud of it.”
The final fan came to the microphone holding her baby, and after Bower jokingly apologized for neglecting to pay child support, she revealed her son was named after his character Jace.
Following a short break and a warning regarding the R-rated footage about to be shown, Ross returned to introduce a WonderCon-exclusive Evil Dead trailer, which featured buckets of blood, including star Jane Levy vomiting a flood of it onto co-star Jessica Lucas, more than justifying the preceding warning.
Ross then brought out stars Levy, Lucas, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci and director Fede Alvarez, as well as producer and original Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell, who received by far the biggest applause of the presentation. Campbell dominated the panel with his wisecracks, which the audience clearly appreciated.
Ross asked Campbell why he, original writer-director Sam Raimi and original producer Robert Tapert decided to remake the movie. “It happened over a lumpy period of time,” Campbell said. “We always had talked about a sequel, not a remake, until this guy got involved,” he said, pointing to Alvarez. Raimi was busy with his Spider-Man movies, and Campbell was busy on his television series Burn Notice. When Alvarez’s short film Panic Attack became a viral hit online, the Uruguayan director began taking meetings in Hollywood, one of which was with Raimi, where he revealed himself as a huge Evil Dead fan. “You can tell an Evil Dead fan who’s a real Evil Dead fan because they won’t fucking shut up about it,” Campbell said. When the feature version of Panic Attack stalled in development, Alvarez signed on to direct the new Evil Dead.
Alvarez said the MPAA was “really helpful” in getting an R rating for the movie. “They were precise about what the problems are with the movie,” he said. “We never had to get rid of anything,” only trim five frames to get an R rating. Still, he said, “it’s by far the hardest R movie out there.”
The cast talked about the extreme physical conditions of the shoot, thanks in part to Alvarez’s insistence on using practical effects and not CGI. “I think the hardest thing I did in the movie was get buried alive,” Levy said. One version of that scene featured her with a plastic bag over her head, and she had to lie there with a hidden oxygen tube while being covered entirely in dirt. Lucas described having a movement expert come in to teach the actors how to move like the undead.
Ross asked about the possibility of the worlds of the original Evil Dead series and the remake ever meeting, which Alvarez was eager to make a reality. “The whole point, and my dream as a fan, is to make a sequel to this film while Sam is making Army of Darkness 2 and then to connect the two together into one epic film,” he said, stressingit was only his wish and not an official plan. “That would be my dream come true,” he said.
In terms of including references to the original film, Alvarez said it was a balancing act. “The whole challenge was making a film for two audiences at the same time,” he said. “We want to create a new film that if you haven’t seen any of the original, it will work for you.”
Before moving to fan questions, Ross introduced a new exclusive clip with a video greeting from Raimi himself. In a scene from early in the movie, Lucas’ possessed character graphically cuts open her own face and attacks Pucci’s character in the cabin’s bathroom. Once again, the warning about graphic material proved apt.
The subsequent fan questions focused largely on Campbell, who had no shortage of snappy responses. A fan who asked if there was a chance of seeing Campbell either in the remake or in a new Evil Dead sequel got only the enigmatic response, “Yes, there’s a chance.”
Asked about his favorite part of working on the original movies, Campbell turned to Levy and said, “Jane, what was your favorite part? When it ended?” And to the fan, “You say that like there was a favorite part.” When the next fan asked what his favorite part was about “returning to the carnage” of the Evil Dead series, Campbell responded, “What was it like watching other actors go through the carnage? It was absolutely fantastic.”
A fan asked Alvarez about the most important elements he wanted to include in the remake, and he said that “we decided not to give ourselves any rules.” For this movie, “nothing was going to be too outrageous, nothing was going to be too bloody.” The idea was to have such consistent intensity that, “when you think it’s not going to get any worse, it’s just beginning.”
Levy said what drew her to the role of Mia was that “it was the diametric opposite to Suburgatory and the other comedies I’ve worked on.” Although she’s not a horror fan (“I get scared easily”), she was eager to explore the genre, and picked Evil Dead because “it’s the horror of all horror films.”
Another fan asked whether any of the panelists were intimidated by remaking a classic, and Pucci said that “there was no pressure. Honestly I didn’t think we could screw it up because it was written so well. They created serious drama about what was plot holes, like why are they at the cabin? They answer that in this one.” Fernandez said, “If I thought about the pressure, I probably would have crumbled. I tried to ignore it as best I could.” Lucas didn’t feel the pressure because she wasn’t familiar with the original movies. And for Levy, the stamp of approval from Raimi, Campbell and Tapert made her feel confident about the remake. “If they wanted to do that, I trust them,” she said.
Alvarez said he was a fan long before he thought directing the movie was even possible, and he and his friends learned about the remake plans just like everyone else. “When we heard that news, we were so pissed,” he said. “Some Hollywood dude is going to grab that movie and turn it to shit.” But when presented the opportunity to direct it himself, he decided he could do it justice. “I know my friends, I know the movie they want to see,” he said. “I was so happy that they gave me the chance to do it. Otherwise somebody else would have ruined it.”
With time running short, the final segment, showcasing the apocalyptic comedy This Is the End was a bit truncated. Ross introduced stars Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, star/co-director/co-writer Seth Rogen, and co-director/co-writer Evan Goldberg. Rogen emerged in a Wolverine outfit, complete with plastic claws, mock-pleading with McBride and Robinson, “You said you were going to come out as the X-Men with me.” Goldberg followed in an even more ridiculous outfit, an S&M-inspired harness and face mask, with Rogen telling him, “It’s not Adultcon. Adultcon was last week.”
Once the panel was seated and Rogen and Goldberg had removed their masks, they introduced the premiere of the movie’s green-band trailer. Featuring a range of stars playing themselves, This Is the End is about Rogen and Jay Baruchel confronting the apocalypse while attending a star-studded party at James Franco’s house.
Ross asked Rogen how many celebrities were killed off in the movie. “Quite a few,” he replied. “I think in the double digits. We thought it would be funny to see famous people die in really gruesome ways.” Were there any celebrities they hoped to get but were unable to land? “We killed most of our favorite stars,” Rogen said. “They wrote the names in the script and people showed up,” Robinson added.
Rogen set up the first of two clips, which showed the beginning of the apocalypse as the party is raging at Franco’s house. A parade of celebrities met their ends in the clip, including Michael Cera, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Aziz Ansari.
Following the clip, Ross asked which of the stars would survive a real apocalypse, and everyone on the panel agreed that Baruchel would be best equipped. “Jay loves canned food, so he would probably have a lot of that stocked up,” Robinson said. “He basically lives off of cigarettes and skittles,” Rogen added.
“I just went through a bunch of message boards to try to get a lot of ammo to make sure I was really equipped to destroy these guys,” McBride said about the movie’s portrayal of “aggressive” versions of its stars. “We never stopped anyone from saying anything,” Goldberg said. Michael Cera was the actor who played himself the least like he is in real life, with his movie version being a raging cokehead.
It was then time for another clip, this one featuring Baruchel, Rogen and Franco attempting to perform an exorcism on Jonah Hill, who’s somehow become possessed by a demon.
A few questions from the audience followed, with one fan asking about the similarities between This Is the End and Edgar Wright’s upcoming The World’s End, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. “We talked a little bit, and we know there was no real overlapping,” Rogen said. “We’ve been in communication with that camp.”
“We’ve been trying to do this for almost seven years,” Goldberg said about the movie, which began as a 2007 short called Seth and Jay vs. the Apocalypse. “We just took this long to get it done because we’re not powerful enough.”
“Honestly, the idea of playing ourselves was really hard to get people to let us do,” Rogen said. “We actually told the studio that we’d shoot it in a way that if people don’t like that we played ourselves we could edit around it. That was total bullshit.”
Getting the movie made also involved Rogen and Goldberg convincing studio executives that they could handle big action sequences as directors. “We really had to sell ourselves on this,” Rogen said. Goldberg cited The Green Hornet as a turning point for their ability to attract studio interest. “It did well internationally, guys,” Rogen deadpanned, and with that, half an hour past the scheduled end time, the panel came to a close.