Interview with David Giancola of Time Chasers

The following is a rough transcription of an interview I had with David Giancola, who directed the IMDb Bottom 100 feature Time Chasers. Many thanks to Rifftrax for setting this up. Be sure to check out the Live Riffrax of Time Chasers, to be simulcast in theaters on May 5. Likewise, many thanks to David for his time.

GM: Hello David! I have a few questions about Time Chasers here for you.

DG: Shoot!

GM: I first saw Time Chasers a few years ago when I went through the entire IMDb Bottom 100. What is it like to have a movie in those depths? That is some illustrious company to keep.

DG : You’re a glutton for punishment, huh? Well, being on that list is kind of like being in prison: once you are in it, it is on your record, and it isn’t going away. If I remember right, we got as high (low?) as #6 in the ranking. I actually really wanted to get it to #1, but you just can’t be worse than Manos. That movie barely even has sound! In any case, I look at it fondly now, and can laugh about it. I made that movie when I was 19, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I can look back on that now with perspective. Also, the audience attention from the riffs has been mostly positive, and the MST3k fans are generally pretty great.

timechasersGM: Speaking of MST3k, what has it been like to be on the receiving end of the riffs? How does it feel to be chosen for the Rifftrax Live show?

DG: Really, the riffing is what brought eyes on the movie. I have seen plenty of movies over the years that are worse, but they have mostly been forgotten. I feel like, really, I was lucky. I have also been lucky to still be in the business. Being forgotten is the worst thing that can happen. For Time Chasers, it released on 12 screens in 1993, and now it’ll be on 700. That’s huge! I was excited that Time Chasers was chosen, but it only dawned on me how big this would be when I saw the trailer. I’m also thrilled that they are bringing me and much of the cast to the show. Most of those people don’t work in movies, so we haven’t been together in 25 years. They’re farmers, school teachers, etc. I had to talk one of the cast members into coming, because he was worried he couldn’t find someone to milk his cows! Luckily, he did find someone, and he’ll be there.

GM: Something that really stands out about Time Chasers is how big the vision is behind it. It doesn’t look or feel like a YouTube movie, because there are some big aspirations in there.

DG: I always wanted to do big visions, particularly when I was young. However, I did write the screenplay keeping in mind what sort of resources would be available to us, like the warehouse and the airport. Unfortunately, money was always an issue with that vision. And, when you don’t have the resources to fulfill a vision, it winds up looking cheesy. Really, I was naiive enough for that vision and enthusiasm. I always knew I wanted to do time travel, but had to figure out a way to make it happen with what was available.

GM: Speaking of the airport, one of the things that really makes Time Chasers stand apart from most movies like it are those plane stunts. It all looks incredibly difficult and dangerous.

DG: A lot of that was the benefit of the time period. Back then, we were able to film at that airport, which would just be impossible today. We were, astoundingly, given the run of that airport, and a lot of local pilots were enthusiastic about helping us out with the footage and the stunts, and even loaned us the planes. Those shots of planes flying parallel to each other are incredibly difficult and dangerous, and were only possible thanks to those pilots. My father was also an amateur pilot at the time, and flew the plane that picked up the point of view footage going into the cliff. I was shooting, and remember telling him to “fly closer!” to the cliff-face. That’s definitely a benefit of youth, and I certainly wouldn’t do that today. There are so many ways those stunts could have gone wrong. I remember always expecting the local police to shut us down during the bigger stunts. They definitely drove by a few times, making a point to slow down, but never stopped us. Somehow.

GM: So, how did those Revolutionary War sequences work? Were those just local reenactors?

DG: Yeah, those were legitimate reenactors. There are two big reenactments in Vermont every year. For most of those shots, we just filmed one of them in action, before we even started shooting the rest of the movie, and that came together with the magic of editing. For the shots where the actors are in the foreground, we did that later. We had all of our permissions in order, but the General on site (a plumber by day) was far from cooperative and definitely didn’t want us there. He would yell at the crew and stop the battle in the middle of shooting, trying to throw a wrench into things. Worse yet, he was speaking in period dialect the whole time. It was a nightmare.

GM:  I read on IMDb that there was a big delay between the filming and the release of Time Chasers. Was that due to trouble finding a distributor?

DG: Part of it was trying to find a distributor, but most of that time was due to post-production and editing, which was a much more time-consuming and expensive process back then (thanks to the physical film). Frankly, we were out of money, and it took a while to afford the finishing touches on the film. Once we did wrap up and find a distributor, that’s when the title was changed from Tangents to Time Chasers. I always liked the original title, but apparently it doesn’t translate well. That’s business, though. Nowadays, they’ll change movie titles just to have an alphabetical advantage, because movies that start with numbers or “A” show up first in search listings.

GM: Always have to capitalize on that alphabetical advantage, huh? That’s an odd side affect of the rise of streaming services. So, you are still in the movie business today?

DG: I run Edgewood Studios, so I have done some producing on Hallmark movies, and I’ve directed a few more movies over the years. Most notable among them is probably Illegal Aliens, that I did with Anna Nicole Smith and Chyna. In the years since, they’ve both died of overdoses, so that production might just have been cursed. I made a documentary about the experience of making that movie a few years ago. Much like Time Chasers, it got a title change from Craptastic! to Addicted to Fame (thanks to the alphabetical logic I mentioned earlier). Right now, I have a movie coming out in July called Mail Order Monster, which is about a young bullied boy who finds an advertisement in an old comic book that promises the delivery of a monster. To his shock, it actually comes. Because I have done these movies with my own company, I’ve had a lot of creative control, which I’ve really enjoyed.

GM: Thanks for your time! This was all very interesting information. I’ll look forward to seeing Time Chasers on the screen!

DG: This was a blast! Thanks!

 

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Green Lantern

Green Lantern

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Given the recent success of the Ryan Reynolds-led Deadpool film, as well as the true kickoff of the DC cinematic universe with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have decided that it is high time to take a look at one of the most loathed comic book movies of the modern era: Green Lantern.

Green Lantern was directed by Martin Campbell, whose credits include both of the Antonio Banderas Zorro adaptations, as well as two notable James Bond films (Casino Royale and GoldenEye).

The screenplay for Green Lantern went through a number of iterations over the years, but the final writing credits were given to Michael Goldenberg (Contact), Marc Guggenheim (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Arrow), Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville), and Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl). Interestingly, Greg Berlanti officially signed on to direct Green Lantern as well, but stepped down to instead direct This Is Where I Leave You, and left directing duties to Campbell.

Green Lantern was edited by Stuart Baird, a proficient and long-tenured cutter whose credits include , Tommy, The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, and Skyfall, among many others.

The cinematographer for the movie was Dion Beebe, a well-regarded director of photography who is best known for movies like Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, and Edge of Tomorrow.

The score for Green Lantern was provided by James Newton Howard, an 8-time Academy Award nominee who has worked on films such as Nightcrawler, Michael Clayton, The Dark Knight, Lady In The Water, The Hunger Games, Falling Down, The Sixth Sense, Collateral, Waterworld, King Ralph, and Flatliners, among many others.

The cast of Green Lantern is led by Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, who would later get married in 2012. The accessory cast is rounded out by such notables as Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech), Michael Clarke Duncan (Daredevil), Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Tim Robbins (Jacob’s Ladder), Angela Bassett (Malcolm X), and Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass).

greenlantern2The critical response to Green Lantern was overwhelmingly negative. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.6/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% from critics and 45% from audiences. Commercially, the movie was ultimately profitable, but failed to come anywhere near its expectations. In total, it raked in just under $220 million on a lofty budget of $200 million.

There was a long history of trying to get a Green Lantern movie made prior to the culmination of this 2011 product. Kevin Smith was apparently approached to write a treatment in the late 1990s, and one of the film’s producers (and DC’s Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns was working on pitching the idea to studios as early as 2000.

Given the high profile of the film, the central roles went through a significant casting process. Some other actors considered for the lead included Sam Worthington, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pine, and Jared Leto. Many fans passionately campaigned on behalf of cult favorite star Nathan Fillion, who endeared himself to Green Lantern loyalists through a number of voice acting gigs as Hal Jordan. Likewise, the role of Sinestro could have easily gone to any one of Hugo Weaving, Jackie Earle Haley, or Geoffrey Rush, the last of whom stuck with the project in a tertiary role after Mark Strong was ultimately cast.

greenlantern3Zack Snyder was apparently approached at some point to direct the film, but decided to hold to his commitment on Watchmen instead. Of course, he would eventually become entwined with DC and Warner Brothers to create Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In the IMDb trivia section for Green Lantern, there is a quote attributed to an anonymous insider, which indicates that the film faced significant interference from Warner Bros:

“[Green Lantern] is not Martin Campbell’s cut of the film, but the studio’s. I live in New Orleans where it was shot, I read the shooting script, all of which was painstakingly filmed with intense research, and all of that was left on the cutting room floor…character development sacrificed for CG, scenes made irrelevant by removing their setup. The movie in the theater starts with an explanation of mythos that is made redundant by the more natural, scripted questions from Hal when he gets the ring. Ten minutes of childhood Hal, Carol, and Hector that sets up Hal’s first ring construct is reduced to an awkwardly placed flashback in the middle of another scene. The training with the ring is almost completely excised except for one minor scene. Most appallingly, the ending completely deletes the fact that Kilowog, Sinestro, and Toma-Re arrive at the end and help Hal defeat Parallax. Not to mention Parallax was supposed to be a 3rd act reveal after we spend the film worried about Hammond going evil, not the main villain for the entire film. I sincerely hope we get a director’s cut or at least all the deleted scenes on the video release”.

Martin Campbell is apparently in agreement with the above statements, and has publicly stated his displeasure with the studio’s editing of the film. However, there has never been an official director’s cut of the movie released.

While most of the filming for Green Lantern was done in New Orleans, most of the exteriors and identifiable landmarks are taken from San Diego. The DC comics setting for the events is the fictional Coast City, which is located on the west coast of the United States.

This film was originally supposed to kick-off a Justice League series of films. Some early iterations of the script even included a Clark Kent cameo, which hints at a future film. However, after the negative reaction to the movie, this idea was delayed until 2013, when Man of Steel was designated to start the DC cinematic universe.

According to director Martin Campbell, Parallax’s design in the movie was inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“The images of those massive dust clouds coming down the streets from the collapsing World Trade Center are directly associated with terror”

The line “I’ve seen you naked! You think I wouldn’t recognize you because you covered your cheekbones!” was an ad-lib by Blake Lively, and is one of only a few widely-remembered aspects of the film.

Reportedly, Ryan Reynolds and director  Martin Campbell clashed repeatedly on set. Campbell has stated in interviews that his first and only choice for the lead was Bradley Cooper, and Reynolds was cast behind his back. This lead to an uncomfortable experience on set for Reynolds, who’s performance was harshly critiqued by Campbell. Reynolds stated in a Variety interview that the failure of this film was a huge relief, and that he “dreaded doing it again.”

Personally, my issues with Green Lantern are numerous, even as someone not invested in the source material. I managed to avoid it when it first hit theaters, and just saw it for the first time prior to writing this review, so a lot of my thoughts on it are still pretty fresh.

The first notable issue with the movie is the character of Hal Jordan, who is written as an unlikable ego-case. If not for Reynolds having an undeniable natural charm, he would be an insufferable character to get behind. To boot, he doesn’t really improve as a result of the events of the movie, and is basically the same person at the conclusion that he is at the outset of the story.

In relation to this, the human aspect of the plot is really hard to care about. Partially, this is due to a bloated cast and a general lack of chemistry between the performers. However, the way the film is written and cut doesn’t emphasize the characters themselves, instead focusing on action, which makes it hard to get invested in anyone.

In spite of it all, there are some decent performances to be found in Green Lantern, primarily from Strong and Sarsgaard. However, both men receive very little screen time to develop, and don’t get the necessary room to create compelling villains. Played out well, the obsessive nature of Sarsgaard’s character might have worked out, but his infatuations and eccentricities are mostly glossed over by the film.

Perhaps the most criticized aspect of the film is the extensive use of computer generated enhancements. Not only do countless alien creatures appear in fully CGI forms, but the Green Lantern suit itself has no practical elements, and all of the effects of the ring are digitally rendered. Worse than all of that, however, are the CGI modifications made to Strong and Sarsgaard, which are cartoonishly ridiculous. Despite being mostly accurate to the source material, Sinestro still looks like a pink elf-demon when depicted in live action.

I think the filmmakers was just a wee bit overconfident in the abilities of CGI on the whole, and placed a burden upon it that the technology could really handle. This also contributed to the movie’s budget rising significantly, which surely irked Warner Brothers, and contributed to their less-than-generous editing treatment for the film.

The plot itself for Green Lantern isn’t terribly interesting: primarily, it only serves as an origin story, and provides a brief setup for a follow up. While it is necessary to introduce the characters and concepts in some way, origin stories for superheroes are always a bit formulaic, and audiences have started to fatigue on them quite a bit. I think this, as much as anything, contributed to the movie’s critical failure: the story was just too familiar.

The positives of Green Lantern are few and far between, but they aren’t totally nonexistent. However, the movie is boring above all else, and is very difficult to honestly recommend to anyone. Unless someone has a curiosity about the film or is a die hard fan of the character, there isn’t much to recommend here. It is, however, quite a compelling paragon of how not to make a modern superhero movie.