Posted on Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 by Jack Giroux
A trend in audio commentaries for comic book movies? They’re often much lighter than, say, a historical drama or a war movie. The participants are typically jovial, and perhaps it’s because they finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after a two or three experience, or maybe even more than that in some instances.
After spending a few years on a project, and coming out of that high-stakes process with a movie they’re actually proud of, the filmmakers in commentary tracks for comic book movies seem more than happy to go down memory lane. If you’re in the mood to get some insights into some of the finer comic book adaptations from the past few years, here are five recommendations on where to get started.
A History of Violence (Featuring director David Cronenberg)
Why Listen: Cronenberg is alone in his audio commentary – not the first time – and like plenty of other great filmmakers, he’s never at a loss for words on his own. Right from the beginning, he hooks us by talking about the film’s startling opening shot. Cronenberg explains in detail why the camera is where it is. What angles to frame star Viggo Mortensen from was a fine line to walk, actually. From one angle, he’d be too much like Joey, in other too much like Tom, the two versions of the same man he plays in the movie. Cronenberg also opens up about bringing body horror to this comic book adaptation, making the violence up close and personal and all the more disturbing.
Days on the Job: We all know Viggo Mortensen is an exceptional actor. To get into character for the film, the Eastern Promises star did something Cronenberg had never seen an actor do before:
You see that fishing poster in the background [in the diner]? Viggo bought that. Viggo bought a lot of things for this set when he went on his travels through the midwest. He was doing some research into the tone of who Tom might be, where he might come from, and the things he might surround himself with. A few of the things in this diner and in the Stahl’s home were actually set decorated by Viggo himself [Laughs]. It’s a very unusual thing. I’ve never actually met an actor who bought things for the set before, I have to say. It was so he could feel comfortable in his character, and feel he had touchstones for his character. Everywhere he’d look there’d be something that is Tom, and it’d keep him in the groove for his character.
What’s Said: “What can be more iconic than a cheerleader?” Cronenberg asks, talking about the (sex) scene you already know he’s talking about:
As a part of that American mythology, these characters can play with it themselves. They know they’re the cheerleader, high school jock, or high school nerd, perhaps. The nerd’s fantasy is he’ll get the cheerleader, the prom queen, and that’s the past they’re creating for themselves. Maria says, ‘We never got to be teenagers together.’ This is the fantasy they’re playing in.
Of course, in a shot like this [close-up of them gazing], you can see that they are in fact a passionately in love married couple. I must say that there arent’s too many movies that you see the sex scenes are exclusively between a married couple. A couple who’ve been married at least 20 years and have children together. It’s not too common in movies, especially American movies. The attitude is once you’re married your sex life is over. Obviously not true.
Trivia: That sex scene is also, as Cronenberg was told, the first American studio movie depicting “what the French call soixante-neuf” (be careful if you Google that). If that’s the case, then he’s “very proud to have broken through that barrier.”
Constantine (Featuring director Francis Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman)
Why Listen: This audio commentary has far more jokes than the movie itself. That’s not uncommon, but Lawrence and Goldsman are clearly having a ball discussing the film. A lot of thought went into the world, which they wanted to present without a hint of irony. If you want to know how to convincingly build a comic book world with some subtle touches, this commentary offers up some good suggestions. A part of the joy of this commentary is, with most of the dialogue drowned out, watching how much Lawrence accomplishes visually. It’s especially stunning how he frames his leading man. Keanu Reeves is, especially in a close-up, an innately watchable screen presence, communicating quite a bit without saying much.
A Day on the Job: There’s no romance in Constantine. There’s a trust that grows between Constantine and Angela Dodgson (Rachel Weisz), but that’s all the film needs. Anything more than that wouldn’t have been believable. While there’s no kiss in the rain, the sequence Lawrence calls the film’s “equivalent of a sex scene,” where “she’s bared all for him,” is when he submerges her underwater so that she can experience hell.
Constantine doesn’t have too many lighthearted jokes, so when it came time to finally shoot a joke, everyone was nervous, Lawrence says:
This was in our second week of shooting; it might’ve day seven or eight of shooting. This was one of the first jokes we got to in the movie. “Do I have to take my clothes off?” Everyone on set suddenly got very concerned. They didn’t think I covered the joke properly. I remember I said, “Just wait for the dailies.” We all watched the dailies, and they got an audible laugh, but I remember getting speeches. “Make sure we get the jokes.” Now it’s our biggest laugh in the movie that nobody thought existed.
What’s Said: Constantine doesn’t have the most winning or sparkly personality for a comic book hero. He’s a severely damaged hero Lawrence and Goldsman responded to right away. For them, the character allowed them to venture off into dark, sometimes unusual places. Says Lawrence:
This is also why I also loved this story: this movie goes to places you wouldn’t believe or expect. You get to this moment where your hero props himself up against a couple of doors and slashes his wrists. You’re just thinking, “What the hell is going on?”
If your lead character’s triumphant return is to kill himself, you know you’re in uncharted territory.
Trivia: The shot where Constantine is dead and the camera zooms in on his face and then pans up to show John entering heaven in one shot was influenced by What Lies Beneath, where Zemeckis “did a shot that dollied along the floor and then went down a level beneath the floor.”