Despite the crummy weather and resulting traffic nightmare in Austin on Friday, I was able to haul ass across town to the Alamo Drafthouse for the second day of Fantastic Fest, in good time to attend the presentation on special effects in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The lobby area of the Alamo had transformed entirely from Thursday's Zathura theme to Narnia. Several large glass cases housed models of various creatures, armor, and weapons used in the film. Two nearby monitors showed "Making of" featurettes. The metal-detector drill was even more severe than on the previous day.
Howard Berger from KNB EFX (aka "the B of KNB") brought along some interesting samples of his work from the film, as well as two slide shows. The presentation also included a 10-minute preview of the film. In between, Berger fielded questions from audience members and moderator Harry Knowles.
Berger said that for The Chronicles of Narnia, KNB was responsible for creating many of the creature effects. CG effects were used for Aslan the lion, the faun legs, and a few other creature effects, but KNB designed costumes and makeup for 23 species and 170 individual characters. The armor and weaponry were designed by Weta.
Berger showed us slides of centaurs, minotaurs, male and female goblins, two types of ogres, giants, lots of dwarves, and a gorilla (which he actually played for a couple of days). The costumes were amazingly detailed. It would take weeks to thread the hair into a minotaur costume. For the creatures who had speaking roles in the film, they made animatronic heads, which sounds cheesy but looked quite natural. Apparently there were plans to overlay CG effects on these heads, but the effects KNB created were good enough to render that unnecessary.
"This was my Where The Wild Things Are," Berger said. "I got to be Max and go into the forest with the creatures every day."
He also showed drawings and photos of specific characters, noting that they'd worked particularly hard on Mr. Tumnus the faun because he is the first Narnia character you see in the film. Apparently the original designs for the character, done long before the role was cast, were based on the actor looking ilke Ewan McGregor. I always envisioned Mr. Tumnus as looking a little older than he does in the film, but he still has the right sort of look.
The 10-minute preview contained some stunning scenes. I'm not sure why the WWII fighter plane sequence seemed necessary, but perhaps I'll understand that better when I see the finished film. Narnia in wintertime looks gorgeous; the production design is just right. I think the preview we saw was similar to (if not the same as) the one reported here on Cinematical a few days ago, although that post mentions a couple of scenes I don't remember seeing yesterday.
I saw enough of the preview to know that I'd like to see the movie. The script could be a mess, the acting could be all wrong, but the visuals are right on target.
The one thing that startled me in the preview was a scene early in the film in which the children are being put on a train, and the train station had a note about "evacuees." I've seen that word a lot lately in a very specific context so it was odd to see it in a fantasy movie, and then realize it was in regards to war-torn London, not hurricane-torn New Orleans. A little distracting.
After the Narnia presentation, I got in line immediately for The Wild Blue Yonder, Werner Herzog's latest film. Most films at Fantastic Fest are being shown twice, but this one only had one showing and I didn't want to miss it. I noticed no one ran us through a metal detector or search for this film; I guess video pirates are unlikely to do a brisk business in selling bootleg Herzog movies.
The Alamo Drafthouse came through again with crazy trailers before the movie, including one for Capricorn One with Elliot Gould and O.J. Simpson. I'm not sure what Herzog would have thought about that.
The Wild Blue Yonder is described in its own credits as "a science fiction fantasy" although it has a definite documentary look to it. I can't call it a "mockumentary" because this is 180 degrees from Christopher Guest's world. Brad Dourif narrates a tale in which his character is an alien from a faraway planet that became uninhabitable, so many of its residents migrated to Earth. When our planet is in danger of becoming inhabitable, a space shuttle is sent to find alternate planets for migration. They encounter the planet where Dourif's character lived.
The movie moves at its own pace, taking time to show long sequences in the space shuttle or the watery far-away planet, without worrying about the storyline overmuch. The music is strange and at times I found it somewhat annoying. I also struggled with the slow pace at times, even though the movie is under 90 minutes long. It felt longer. Still, there were some very rewarding sequences and the underwater photography was exquisite. (Martha, I hope I haven't tantalized you too painfully with these details.)
After the movie, I noticed a lot of people clustered in groups in the lobby discussing The Wild Blue Yonder and what it meant, regardless of whether they liked it. I think that's a reception that Herzog would have liked.