First, you get a brand-spankin’ new “Amazing Spider-Man” trailer – and in glorious 3D if you watch it in front of “The Avengers.” Now you get director Marc Webb’s most extensive comments on the upcoming Spidey reboot to date.
PopcornBiz was among the handful of journalists who got a sneak peek at the new trailer, which bows in theaters Friday, and we got to chat with Spidey’s friendly neighborhood director immediately after for a more in-depth breakdown.
“Part of the fun of this was to create the movie thinking about subjectivity, meaning getting to feel what Spider-Man feels,” says Webb of the many P.O.V.-centric shots he unveiled. “I thought that 3D was really interesting way to exploit that. We spent a lot of time refining and just making that s**t better.”
Talk a little bit about bringing The Lizard to life and technically how you accomplished it.
There’s a lot that goes into it. I mean, when we shot those sequences we actually shot a combination of things: a guy, Big John – who was this guy who was literally a big guy named John who did a lot of the interactive stuff, because when you’re trying to interact with Andrew or with Peter, you need someone grabbing him and to do those things. And we would replace him with computer generated Lizard. But then the performance capture was done with Rhys [Ifans] and that was when we would shoot Rhys in a similar environment and get his facial composure – we’re still working on it, I actually just came from trying to incorporate his performance into the Lizard itself. That takes an enormous amount of time. It’s tricky, you know, in the comics there are different incarnations of The Lizard. There’s the [Todd] MacFarlane one, which has the snout [but] I was interested more in finding something that could relate human emotions, because I wanted to keep Rhys’ performance in that creature. Performance – Pixar does it extremely well, creating those emotional qualities within characters that are, essentially, computer generated. So Rhys’ performance is giving that nuance – getting the eyebrow tics and the looks, creating an armature that can actually speak and lips that make sounds, it’s a very detailed and, frankly, tedious process. So I really wanted to capture emotion. I wanted him to have a face, have a feeling. And that’s the way I chose to do that. Then there are the physical components of it. I wanted to make him very powerful, I wanted to make him stronger than Spider-Man, that was a really important part.
We see a lot of the film’s spectacle on-screen. How do you balance your approach to providing the thrill ride that people want with the fact that Spider-Man is one of the more down-to-earth superheroes?
That's the thing for me, the access point. I was always a Spider-Man fan, but I was a bigger Peter Parker fan than a Spider-Man fan. When you see the movie, I don't think anybody will be worried about the emotional part of it. There is an incredibly innocent and tender quality to Peter Parker. He's not a billionaire. He's not an alien. He's a kid and he doesn't have money. He has trouble with the people that raise him and he has trouble talking to girls. There's that intense relatability that's all throughout the movie…That's a texture that, for me, is really intuitive. It's just something that I love in movies, that particularly romantic dimension. It's something that I'm very familiar with. Girls, and being made nervous by women. But again, there's that relatability. The interpersonal relationships that Peter Parker has are so simple and so domestic that it's a very fun dichotomy to play that big, massive spectacle alongside those very small moments. There are very real moments, and in a very small way there's a small, intimate little indie movie at the heart of Spider-Man. That was my access point. In the trailer, you want that spectacle and you want that energy because I think there's an expectation surrounding that, but as we get closer to the release, there will be scenes that show the more intimate parts of Spider-Man and show where the heart is.
Some of the best parts of the Sam Raimi movie were where he was discovering his powers for the first time. Do you explore that again?
There's elements of that. Listen, I wanted to do things differently. If we've seen the origin of Spider-Man, maybe we haven't seen the origin of Peter Parker. There are certain iconic elements of Spider-Man that I felt obligated to honor. There are some exploratory phases. But, again, I wanted to build something with a different tone and a different attitude and do things in a little more of a practical way, especially at the beginning of the movie. There are elements where we spent a lot of time engineering and designing sequences that existed within the camera that we just shot practically with him swinging on these chains to help create that sensation and feeling of joy and fun, which is always a great part of these movies.
Talk about your approach to Peter Parker – It seems like he becomes this heightened version of himself when he’s Spider-Man.
That's something from the comics that I've always been really a fan of. Humor's a tricky thing because it's always very subjective. Everything in this movie, the first domino, is Peter getting left behind by his parents. I thought to myself ‘What does that do to somebody? How does that change your view of the world?’ To me, that creates a little bit of a level of distrust. It's a brutal thing to have happen to you. That's, to me, where he gets that outsider status. Then there's a sarcasm that comes from that and a quippy-ness. I think you guys have seen some of the car thief scene where that attitude comes out. That, to me, is generated from this chip on his shoulder. He's a little bit mean. He's a little bit snarky. But that’s an attitude that we can all understand and relate to. But I think it comes from a real genuine place. That was fun to explore the humor, but my point is that the humor comes from a very human real emotional place. It’s not just slapped on.
There is a 3D shot of Spider-Man swinging where his foot really seems to come off the screen – how did you do that?
It’s a matter of convergence. The movie I designed is in 3D and that sequence that that comes from is later on in the film. You know James Cameron was incredibly generous with me early on. He likes to have things play with depth. He wants you to see depth. Like if this is a window and everything you see behind there … that is what is fun about it. The jungles of Avatar are really a great example of that. I liked pushing the 3D a little bit further, so it will come out at you. I remember as a kid watching ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ with all those things coming out at you, or ‘House of Wax.’ There was something fun about that and seeing an audience with kids reach out for something. There were moments that I wanted to exploit like that. That was one of those moments. That was a shot that has many, many visual layers to it we generated around a figure. Then we converged, the screen level behind the character – behind Spider-Man there -- so his legs would come out. Then we made him a little bit more in focus so you could feel a tangible sense of him and reduce the motion blur so you it felt more tactile. Then that shot in particular, if you noticed, when a subject violates the edge of the screen, it corrupts the illusion. You notice that it’s not really real, so we designed it so it would exist within the barriers of the screen, so it’s not crossing out the screen. That helps with that notion that it can come out at you – that’s another one of those layers. And the other thing is in the movie, you sit on it longer [than in the trailer]. That’s the other part of letting that feel that it is coming in to your space.
In the comics, Uncle Ben’s death is really the catalyst for Peter becoming Spider-Man. From the trailer it seems the search for the truth about his parents is the catalyst.
That’s the first domino in the story are the parents. He goes out looking for his father and finds himself – That’s my tagline. But Uncle Ben, of course, his death… you have to see the movie! But there are elements that Marvel was very protective of, and I think are very important parts of the Spider-Man origins story. Uncle Ben’s death transforms him and has a huge impact on him. That’s an incredibly important part of the mythology. I would never subvert that. That’s I’ll say about that.
How was working with Martin Sheen?
That was so cool. That was awesome. It was a dream. In between takes he told stories about Terrence Malick, about ‘Apocalypse Now,’ Fellini – it was spectacular. That was one of the really joyful parts of making this movie, was getting to work with Sally Field and Martin Sheen and Denis Leary. It was so cool! They’re such pros and again, like Martin Sheen, you think about President Bartlett and he has that sense of benevolent authority and there’s something else that’s important in terms of the dynamic that I wanted to explore Peter’s relationship with his absent parents. Ben and May are streetwise, blue-collar people, but they’re not scientists. Peter has this incredible scientific ability, which creates a little bit of a gap between him and Ben and May. I thought that was a really interesting thing to explore. What Martin was able to do was to embody this blue-collar guy. There was some fissure, some break between the two that was developing. Even though there was a great love for him, he knew he wasn’t the father that… he wasn’t Richard Parker. That crack in Peter’s world, that missing piece in his life was a fun thing to start off.
Talk about your choices in casting Sally Field as Aunt May and Denis Leary as Capt. Stacy.
When you cast someone like Sally they come with a certain level of awareness and real genuine affection. Which I think for Aunt May is an incredibly important thing to have. We all love Aunt May, but I wanted to create a tension between Aunt May and Peter because, once again, what is the reality of the situation? God, I wish I could show you some scenes, but I don’t have them with me. I’m not setting anything up by saying that. I thought, what would happen if you were someone who was in charge of taking care of a kid whose had a lot of tragedy in his life, and he goes out late at night and comes back and he’s f**ked up? And you would be concerned if he’s got bruises on his face, what happens in that moment? That can create some tension but you want there to be love there and that is what someone like Sally Field gives...[Dennis] plays the authority figure that he has made fun of for his entire career. The other thing is that Denis Leary, because we all trust Denis Leary, like he’s got this attitude but we love him. In this movie he puts pressure on Peter Parker. He’s on Spider-Man’s case. But you understand him. Good drama comes from competing ideas on what’s good, right? People have different ideas on what that is, but if you put that together and they collide and there is an honest difference in opinion, then there is something really interesting that happens there. I wanted to explore that as much as possible.
Outside of the main story, how much of a global view do we get of Spider-Man's universe?
We spent a lot of time with the writers, coming up with a backstory and a world that could hold different stories if the series is ongoing. We plucked things from different…we took some stuff from the ‘Ultimate [Spider-Man]’ took some stuff from the 'Amazing Spider-Mans,' and the we invented certain other things to make it interesting. Like, Gwen Stacy, for example, I looked more towards 'The Amazing Spider-Man' because I just like the texture of her character in those than in the ‘Ultimates.’ I thought it was more appropriate for Peter. Whereas the body language in a lot of the [Mark] Bagley art I thought made really great reference points, in terms of creating the physical identity of Spider-Man was the ‘Ultimates.'