Category: intertexty

Robot in Disguise: Dr. Zahi Hawass

When director Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock) and his enormous production team were shooting Transformers II he managed to persuade the great Dr Zahi Hawass, the most famous of Egyptian archaeologists, to support his request to the Egyptian Government. That request was to film at the Giza Pyramid complex and allow some of his actors to actually climb a pyramid!

The rare exception was made for the Robots in Disguise at a time when computer imagery is becoming so powerful on the big screen that its nearly impossible to spot CGI in films that dont intentionally spell it out for you.But of course nothing but the authentic locations will do for a Hollywood budget.

Some things certainly had to be shot in digital though. Bay said, “Dr Hawass did put his arm around me when I introduced him to Shia and Megan and he said, ‘Young boy, don’t hurt my Pyramids!’ I didn’t actually tell him that the top was going to come off one of them – digitally!”

So did the ever-interesting Michael Bay seem more worried about damaging the Pyramids or just damaging some of his more expensive A-list-ish cast?He went up quite high, he says talking about actor John Turturro, I think he is careful enough.The one I worry about is Shia [Labeouf] because he is always very adventurous.He is a kid and does stuff and I tell him not to because he will hurt himself.Kids feel they are invincible.

If you believe reports then Dr Hawass, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, is a big Transformers fan which is kind of cool if you think about it.His official website certainly seems to be proud of the fact that he offered permission to the production the first time anyone has been allowed to shoot on the pyramids in around thirty years. According to film producerLorenzo di Bonaventura, the shoot was highly secretive for security reasons: “A crew of 150 Americans and several dozen local Egyptians ensured a remarkably smooth shoot.” Although how secretive it could have been with 80ft-crane shots and helicoptersis anyone’s guess.

The first Transformers film grossed $700m worldwide and Bay is on record as saying of the franchise, I could see myself doing a third. I just want to take a year off from doing the third. Well see how the second does.So, who knows?Maybe the Autobots could drive along the Great Wall of China, or Shia and the crew could descend on Machu Picchu or Chichen Itza?

Woo’s Wish: East/West Unison

The worlds third largest economy may command respect for its military might and new superpower status.But director John Woo wants to use the universal stories of ancient China to build a more culturally respected worldview of the great nation.

His new film Red Cliff (read the review here) is one hes been trying to make for almost two decades to that end.The story of Red Cliff took place a thousand and eight hundred years ago in China, says the godfather of action-films. It was a battle bearing significant historical importance. Through the widely told tales of the battle, we learned of the great intelligence and bravery of the ancient people of China, who, though gravely outnumbered, managed to defeat their enemies.

With all this talk of Battles, and the Chinese cultural heritage of martial arts, one might expect Red Cliff to be nothing but a close-quarters fighting fest. But Woo’s ambitions for the film are much higher. He claims, My goal is for this film to rise above cultural and historical barriers, so that the Western audience feels as if they are watching an Asian Troy, while the Eastern audience can discover new perspectives on a familiar story.

Woo took a brave step in his dedication to historical accuracy. For me, the most attractive aspects of Romance of the Three Kingdoms [the novel many believe the film to be based on] are not the supernatural characters idealized by the novel, but true Heroism that the characters show.The world has many kinds of heroes, he continues but I like heroes that are real and human.

A Philosophical Woo

In 2008,China demonstrated their desire to forge closer links with the West through their hosting of the Olympic Games.It’s a sentiment shared by Woo, who says, I genuinely believe that human emotion is universal and not bound by culture. The same values of virtue, morality and friendship are praised in the West just as they are in the East. Though these feelings are expressed in different ways, deep inside, we all essentially share the same emotions. With this in mind, I disregarded a great deal of the details in the book when I made Red Cliff. We have a large production crew assembled from all over the world: China, America, Japan and Korea. During the course of our collaboration, talented people from both East and West were able to learn from working together.

While Woos comments are admirable, one cant help feel hes stretching his ambitions a little too far.For one, making a film that is supposedly closely linked to the history books about a culture existing 1,800 years ago, and then attempting to apply universal beliefs to the other side of the world is a little off-kilter.Secondly, if Woo really wanted a connection to be made with the West, why did we end up with the paltry 2hr 30mins version when the four-hour long Asian two-part release contained all the nuances and ancient subplots?

Maybe he wanted to do too much in making a realisticancient world film that was also accessible to the masses, provingChina can do Hollywood’ after all. In the words of Mr Woo, While audiences in the East love many great movies from the West, Western audiences also appreciate our splendid culture of the East. Therefore, I genuinely hope that when you watch Red Cliff, you do not look at it as a Chinese film or a Hollywood film, but as a global film.

Image by Markus Vandriel