Set Visit: “Green Lantern”

A fog of sticky humidity wraps New Orleans. It is late summer 2010 and, lucky for the cast and crew of Warner Bros. summer tentpole “Green Lantern”, their movie is shooting within the climate-controlled confines of a sound stage just outside of town.

The production is the largest yet to take up residence in the Big Easy, a locale that has become quite the hot spot alternative for Hollywood in recent years due to the sizable tax breaks being offered in order to lure penny-pinching productions. It also doesn’t hurt that New Orleans offers rich tradition and a night life that could rival Las Vegas’ worthiness of the title Sin City.

Dark Horizons was invited to the set of “Green Lantern” in August 2010, the 101st day of its 104-day production. Along with a select group of press outlets, we spent the day on set viewing production designs, costume concept work and digital pre-vis footage of Green Lantern in action. We spoke with director Martin Campbell, who hopes to do for the Green Lantern character what he has done for James Bond twice – namely, make him cool and bad-ass. Ryan Reynolds was entertaining and amusing as always, happy to take a breather from his motion capture suit (though his face was still dotted). And Mark Strong discussed playing Sinestro, a character fans know will take quite a turn should the first film warrant the planned sequels.

Our day began with a tour of the concept art from start to finish, courtesy of production designer Grant Major. He showed us all the character designs and some truly eye-popping imagery. A large grey model depicts the planet Oa with the Guardians gathered before Sinestro. Major even brought out the actual lantern and ring. Yes, yes we did put on the ring, hold it to the glowing lantern and geek out for just a moment. Trust us, you would have too. In brightest day, in blackest night… Okay, sorry, we’ll stop for now.

To offer some context for the layman, “Green Lantern” is one of the oldest and most storied DC characters, his history stretching back nearly long enough to rival the Man of Steel and Dark Knight. Aside from appearing in animated form, however, the character has never appeared in live action form.

The character of Green Lantern is part of an intergalactic police force known as the Guardians and, in the case of the comics, six men have stepped into the role of Earth’s Green Lantern. The new film focuses on the second and arguably most popular, Hal Jordan, first created in 1959 by John Broome and Gil Kane. Jordan’s origin story in the film differs somewhat from the comics, an amalgam of several different series and the work of screenwriters Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg.

In the film, Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is a promising but somewhat cocky young pilot looking to prove himself after witnessing the death of his father when he was ten years old. He is chosen by the Guardians when their representative, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash lands to Earth and bestows Jordan with the ring. After slipping the powerful green ring on his finger, Jordan is at a bit of a loss as to how he should best utilize it. But Jordan will soon receive plenty of on-the-job training when a mysterious new enemy known as Parallax forces the rookie Lantern to defend planet Earth from complete destruction.

Joining Reynolds in the ensemble cast list are the aforementioned Strong as Sinestro, Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond and Tim Robbins as Senator Robert Hammond.

By now most of the fan outcry about the CG suit has been laid to rest by the undeniably cool footage from WonderCon. With that out of the way and considering the guidance of a capable director like Campbell and the impressive ensemble cast, DC’s hopes are high that “Green Lantern” will follow in the footsteps of Marvel’s recent commercial and critical hit “Thor”.

From the new footage and trailer, we can say that much of the concept art shown to us on set looks to have been faithfully recreated in live action form. If that holds up for what isn’t in the trailer, particularly the ending (we don’t want to be spoilers) then we should all been in for one hell of a ride come June.

The story opens in space with an introduction to the powerful and deadly force known as Parallax. From there it shifts to Earth where Hal and his gal, Carol (Lively) are piloting two F-35 fighters against two robot-piloted jets. After some reckless flying that results in the destruction of Hal’s F-35 just after his successful ejection, the brash young flyboy is grounded by his superior. It’s an inauspicious beginning for the man on whose back the salvation of the human race will soon rest.

“Hal’s story is steeped in tragedy,” Reynolds tells press. “A lot of people lose their parents, but Hal loses his father in way that’s pretty difficult for any kid to overcome. He witnesses it firsthand at 10 years old. I think that stays with him forever.”

With that said, Reynolds deploys his trademark wit and comic timing to break up the moodiness. “He uses it as a way to push aside any issues or emotions that are presented to him,” says Reynolds. “He uses it as artful deflection. He’s a guy that keeps his cards close to his vest.”

Reynolds’ versatility, able to bounce between comedies like The Proposal and the tension-soaked Buried in a single bound, ultimately won over the notoriously choosy Martin Campbell. “I think we tested eight actors,” says Campbell, “and the thing was that it got down to two of them. We’d been screening them. I had to say that, for me, Ryan was always the choice. I never ever considered anybody else. You end up with a process of elimination. It’s very obvious that someone finally stands out and of course it was Ryan for all the reasons that you know. He has a terrific sense of humor and also, of course, he’s a very fine actor.”

Former N’Sync-er Justin Timberlake was also up for the part of Hal Jordan. “He did very well and I was very impressed with his screen test,” says Campbell. “Perhaps a little younger than Ryan, a little boyish if you will.”

The primary trepidation for Reynolds about the part was whether Green Lantern, a character he had little familiarity with before speaking to Campbell, was one comic character too many for his career path. Aside from playing Deadpool, he has long been the rumored choice to play The Flash, if and when that film should ever get past the planning stages. “Deadpool is more of a deconstruction of superhero movies. I didn’t see it as a conflict to Green Lantern. I wasn’t super interested in playing the part, but I was really interested in Martin Campbell. Aside from being an attractive man, he’s a fantastic director. I was anxious to hear what he had to say. We had a meeting, and another, and one more where he took me up to the art department. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What I fell in love was the scope. Hal Jordan is the key story in the mythology but there’s so much more to tell.”

For the role of Sinestro, Mark Strong initially planned to ignore the fact that his character becomes one of the great super-villains in the comic. “The fact is I’m so aware of what happens to this character over the course of the comics,” says Strong, “knowing what happens to Sinestro kind of defines the way he behaves in this film. He obviously doesn’t believe human beings should be members of the core so he’s pretty antagonistic towards Hal. There is a streak of arrogance and danger about him.”

Strong’s deep investment in the role led to his participation in the creation of the character’s look on film. “I was shown some designs,” says Strong. “I had very strong feelings about how I think he should look and how I wanted him to look. And they weren’t exactly as they kind of initially should have been, in my opinion. I made a big play for keeping him looking much as he does in the comics. I just thought that was a fantastic look. As I’m sure you all know, he’s based on David Niven, bizarrely, who had a trademark mustache and widow’s peak, so I argued strongly for keeping him like he is in the comics. And I think everybody now agrees it’s a very strong look.”

Reynolds, on the other hand, has to use his imagination rather than his reflection to get into the spirit of playing Green Lantern. While motion capture suits might look good after the post production effects team has had their way, they aren’t exactly flattering in person. “You feel about as threatening as Betty White,” says Reynolds. “You see the concept drawings and really kind of find it that way. This is actually a bio weapon that he’s wearing. I was all for it. You’ve got to get over feeling stupid in a grey unitard feeling pretty quickly if you are going to do 104 days of shooting.”

Likewise, the heavy use of CG technology was a new experience for Campbell, whose prior efforts have been largely practical. We asked Campbell how he first approached the project. “Probably with more trepidation,” says Campbell candidly. “I’d never done a superhero movie before, so it was a lot of blue screen stuff, a lot of technical stuff that had to be dealt with. Everything from the suit to the attention to detail to trying to be true to the origin story and everything else. But really, you just treat it like a another drama. A big mistake with this type of story is not to take it seriously. I concentrate it as much as I would if I was doing Shakespeare.”

One project that came up a few times in terms of the scope and tone of “Green Lantern” was “Star Wars”, a lofty standard to say the least. “It’s not as dark as ‘The Dark Knight’ but not quite as light as ‘Iron Man’,” says Reynolds. “It fell somewhere in the middle to me. It felt a little like Star Wars. The first three… the first three.”

While on the “Star Wars” tip, Reynolds also likened his characterization to a certain wise-cracking, black-vested cynic beloved by fanboys worldwide. “Hal is a little more rough around the edges. He’s kind of like a Han Solo, Chuck Yeager type. He’s a guy who will throw a punch, tell a joke, kiss a girl. That’s the kind of ideas that were swimming in my head when I first read the script.”

Another project Lantern has drawn comparisons to is Richard Donner’s Superman. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve hired that film’s editor, Stuart Baird. “He’s very clever and obviously he cut Dick Donner’s Superman and I thought that was one of the best, if not the best ever made,” says Campbell. It had the emotional punch, that movie, which was so great and also a great relationship between Superman and Lois Lane, Margot Kidder. Completely nuts, but she was very funny. It was a terrific relationship they had. It had humor and it was totally right. Baird cut his teeth on that and I think he did a marvelous job. I’m sure he’s hopefully inherited something that I’ll see in the cut for ‘Green Lantern’.”

In terms of the structure, Campbell says it is also very similar to Superman. “This follows the three act structure. It does start with Hal being Hal and end with potentially the greatest Green Lantern of all. So absolutely it does that. And it is probably a three act structure unlike some of them, which sort of tend to be slam, bam, thank you ma’am sort of action, but no really coherent narrative line. The characters are never developed as much as they should be.”

The cocky Jordan has a bit of a wake up call coming his way when he goes to Oa to undergo his training. This is serious business and the Guardians, particularly Sinestro, do not suffer fools. “Kilowog is his physical trainer and Tomar-Re is his spiritual guide,” explains Strong. “Sinestro doesn’t really put him through his paces in terms of training as such. There is a scene where they meet on the training platforms where Tomar-Re and Kilowog are putting him through his paces and Sinestro introduces himself to Hal in a very physical way, is the best way of putting it. It’s all to do with his feelings about the death of Abin Sur, his personal mentor, and his attitude towards humans becoming members of the Core. It’s pretty explosive. And at that stage, I’m not even sure he believes Hal is going to survive. So he is not a trainer in a sense, but he’s certainly a hard taskmaster.”

The moment Oa first comes to life on screen is one longtime fans will be awaiting with bated breath this summer. For the unfamiliar, Oa is in the center of the universe and the headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lanterns come from all difference races and alien courses. The movie will reveal about 25 Green Lanterns, including fan favorites like Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan). Other Green Lanterns spotted in the concept art include Galius Zed, Voz, Larvox, Amanita, Bzzd and Chaselon. All look quite similar to their comic page likeness.

“Obviously the scope of ‘Green Lantern’ is huge,” says Campbell. “By virtue of these stories and the character being part of an intergalactic police force; you go to Oa, which are some very unusual superheroes. You look at Superman, he resides in one city and, basically, whoever’s got the Kryptonite turns out to be the bad guy. It’s very limiting as to what you can do. This character, you can go anywhere on Earth, but more importantly you go to space and the universe of Oa and that gives you tremendous range. It’s at the center of the universe. How much bigger scope can you get from that?”

Some concern has been expressed as to how you tackle this huge universe without confusing and ultimately losing audience members who’ve never read a single issue of the comic. Campbell reminds us that Hal himself is in the same position, making his perspective the key to this joint voyage of discovery. “Where Hal goes, you go,” Campbell tells press. “The thing is to center the story on the main character. When Hal discovers Oa, we discover Oa. If he goes through training, we go through training. You have to make sure your central character is leading you and taking you on the journey. It’s all seen through his eyes and seen through the audience’s eyes. Hal Jordan’s journey of discovery is our journey of discovery.

The Green Lantern opens in theaters nationwide June 17th, 2011. You can be a part of the action by checking out Infinite Oath where you can leave your own take on the Green Lantern’s famous recitation.