Unrated and extended versions of films for the home entertainment release have become so commonplace that the title hardly has significance any longer. The extended cut of Fast and Furious 6 was less than a minute longer than the theatrical cut. Even when there are differences to the cut of the film, it is hardly of significance, so I was somewhat surprised by the fanfare the unrated extended cut of The Wolverine was met with by 20th Century Fox and the film’s director, James Mangold. In anticipation of the film’s release on DVD and Blu-ray this week, on December 3rd, Mangold attended a screening of the extended cut of the film held on the Fox studio lot.
Working in the online film press world can be exasperating at times, though not for the reasons you might imagine. It might seem the perfect job to watch films for free and offer a humble opinion on them, but the constant stream of movies to watch is not always enjoyed. And yes, there are opportunities to meet celebrities and to listen to filmmakers speak, but these opportunities are also shared with my fellow colleagues. Perhaps if I worked for a more exclusive publication I might have the opportunities for a one-on-one interview, but often I must be content to share the privilege with a bevy of unpredictable online journalists and reviewers.
I don’t mean to disparage the entire world of film press, as one of my closest friends was met at one of these events. Writing under the name of ‘The Dude,’ he worked for a Canadian based website at the same time that I worked at a UK-based website, making us something of outsiders in the clique-ridden world of film press. ‘The Dude’ has often been my companion in the murky waters of screenings, premieres, special events and press junkets. I only wish he had attended this event for the unrated version of this past summer’s latest installment in the X-Men franchise. Though 20th Century Fox did a fantastic job with the event, this could not prevent the many groan-inducing, eye-roll worthy moments caused by the fellow journalist chosen to spearhead the conversation with director James Mangold post-screening.
The evening began with a cocktail hour to warm up the audience, all themed appropriately for the film. In this installment of Wolverine’s storyline he travels to
, and this
translated into the food and drinks provided. Along with sushi and Japanese
beer, there were also sake martinis and a wonderfully decorated courtyard
outside the Little Theater on the Fox Studio lot. Mangold introduced the film,
which is certainly more than a slight alteration from the theatrical cut, and
then followed the screening with a brief conversation about his filmmaking
process in taking on a comic book film. The first question immediately showed
the comic book geek in the interviewer, addressing the fact that Mangold has
chosen a simpler hairstyle for the iconic X-Men in his vision, as well as
alterations to the claws and the over-all look of the film. Japan
Mangold: “Well, they were all part of a general strategy I had to make the type of movie that I would want to see. I looked at images of Hugh in previous movies and I felt it looked like he was wearing a wig, frankly. And he was.” (laughs)
At this point, the interviewer interrupted Mangold to argue that the character’s hair was tough, because he was a wolverine. Apparently these creatures are known for having tough hair, which is the explanation for the high amount of hairspray and a wig, in previous Marvel films. Once again, I wondered why this was the person interviewing Mangold, though he had no problem cutting him off to defend the choice of a minimalist approach to Wolverine’s mutant afro.
Mangold: “Its tough hair, but it shouldn’t be… You’re always trying to walk that line between some kind of relationship to the existing comic book art but at the same time you’re having to make it work on the physical flesh. There’s my own barometer of what I’ll reject, and I didn’t want Wolverine to look like Flock of Seagulls. And that took, each one of those things, just pushing that through in the offices of 20th Century Fox when there have been as many movies as you’re listing that have had his hair like that, and “Why can’t we do it like that again?” and you’re like “Because I think it looks like shit, and I’d like to do it differently.” It was very much in keeping with the idea of trying also, given also that the previous origin film had not been extremely well received, to try and rethink some things about how we’re doing this. We were very conscious even at the scripting phase of giving ourselves a chance to do it. Honesty, since he lets his hair grow so long in the beginning and there’s people cutting it who may not know the official Marvel style, that maybe I can credit to what happens in the room with those two ladies in the tub. But for me, I think he looks fantastic in the movie. Any time you allow your actor within their own skin and their own scalp to be the character, and not separated by layers…Wearing a wig feels like wearing a hat. Everything separates you from authenticity. If anything, that’s what I was after. And that relates to the claws, as well. [In past films] I felt like some things got over-designed. I literally just pulled a page from Marvel comics. It was right on the cover and I said, “Make these.” I felt like the claws had looked fake, frankly, in some other shots and movies. To me, this wasn’t a film that was going to operate on the ‘will-the-world-be-saved’ question, so it was going to live and die by just whether you were interested in him as a character. It may not seem gigantic from the outside, but from the inside its an entirely different construction, in a way where there really is no central villain out to hurt millions and the whole thing is operating on a different architecture, and from that point of view you’re going “How can I make the reality of the character and his humanity come to life?”
Next came an assortment of personal information, just to let us know that the interviewer is familiar with the comic books, all eventually leading up to an extremely brief question asking where the ideas for the film were created from.
Mangold: “All of the characters visible have either been lifted or evolved from what was in
Miller. The trick you have coming onto a movie like this is you somehow have to
relate to the other things that exist. You can’t just pretend those movies
didn’t happen, so you try and take the story and plug it in to this larger
universe. First of all, following Darren seemed like a suicide mission.
Immediately I felt like anyone who would even be tempted was going to be
slaughtered, and I say this with love for Darren. I’m a great admirer of him,
but it would be like following Springstein. Why would you bother? You’re just
going to get slaughtered. Everyone’s going to imagine what could have been. But
time went by. The project didn’t get filled, I finished this pilot, I came back
and was working other scripts and it came up. But what I was getting to was
just that when it finally landed in front of me, the first thing I thought
about was where it takes place in terms of what I’ve seen already. It struck me
while reading the story, why is he in the Claremont ? You don’t ask that question when Yukon Miller opens because
you find him in comic books anywhere and everywhere, but from the comic to the
movie it’s like here he is out living in the woods. Why? Why now? Hugh was
going to ask me, “Why am I here?” (in an uncertain, mumbling voice)“I don’t
know, it’s in the comic book.” So the reality is, it struck me, that the reason
he’s there is that he doesn’t want to have any more contact. He wants to be
alone. And that, to me, was not to change Claremont
Miller but to get underneath it and support it. Why would this journey to Claremont be
important? What has he been avoiding? What is he running from? It occurred to
me that he’s running from the fact that anyone he cares for dies. Either
through the curse, the dark side of immortality in which you are forced to ride
this very slow train in which you watch everyone you care about die, or the
more aggressive version which also exists in this world in which people that
want to get at him kill the people he loves. Then you have the added juice of
the fact that he took out someone he loved. So, I decided to take this
narrative and try and put it after X-3, and in a way make it a sequel to the
X-Men films.” Japan
This next question had very little question to it, and a lot more positing and theorizing, which all appeared little more than posturing and an attempt to show off rather than do the job of a moderator of such an event. His essential point began with a comparison between Wolverine and other superheroes who are physically immortal, such as Superman. Since Wolverine feels pain but can heal quickly, he spends much of his time onscreen as something of a martyr, but there is little at stake when a character is unable to die. The Wolverine implants a scenario which removes some of these abilities in order to raise the film stakes, which the questioner pointed out, without asking much of anything.
Mangold: “You’re answered your own question, but yes. I should dig up this article I read twenty-five years ago, where someone did an analysis of Alien, Ridley Scott’s first movie. Not Ridley’s first movie, but the first Alien movie. They drew this chart and they postulated that the movie was a meditation on humanness, or humanness vs. monster-hood. So they would go, why is there a cat in the movie? The cat is non-human, but not a monster. Why is there an android in the movie? The android is non-human and non-monster. And if you go through the cast, of course the creature is full on monster. So you have this interesting universe. And I’ve always kept that chart in my head. It was before I made Copland, because when I made Copland I thought about Stallone at the center and De Niro’s character is like “Law & Order” and then Keitel’s character is like ‘the brotherhood,’ and Ray Liotta’s character was all about ‘me.’ Not the brotherhood, not the law, just what can I get for me? Those were almost like the three aspects of the modern male and how they’re dealing with the world. I’ve always tried to think as I’m assembling an ensemble how you can take a theme and make sure these different points of view are represented, so when I came on the movie I wrote on the back of the script very early, “Everyone I love will die.” And I thought, how do I make a tentpole movie about death? So you have
, an immortal, who wishes he could die
but can’t. You have largo a mortal who wishes she could die, and can. You have
her grandfather, who is at the edge of death and doesn’t want to die and wants
doesn’t want, which is immortality. And you have a character like Yuko, who can
see death around a corner. And then of course you have Gene Grey, who actually
is dead. It’s not like I want you to get that as you are watching the movie,
but if I follow that kind of process I always know something we can write,
first of all, because there’s a lot of interesting ideas in there. The
characters all have things to say to each other about the themes, and that’s
how we got there.” Logan
Once again, the interview wraps his question within a theory that he has, leaving little room for more than a yes or no. This time he posits that the reason Mangold shows Wolverine scared during his flight to Japan being due to the fact that a plane crash might result in Wolverine repeatedly drowning, being revived due to his healing abilities, only to drown again. I’m guessing this means Wolverine is incapable of swimming, which isn’t something I have spent a great deal of time pondering.
Mangold: “I don’t know. Everyone who is really knowledgeable about Wolverine has always told me that he hates flying. And Hugh was like, “I hate flying,” as Wolverine. I love the idiosyncrasy of it. That’s the beauty of him, the beauty of Wolverine. It does separate you from the Batman, I’m indestructible because of my gizmos, or Superman, I’m indestructible because I’m just plain indestructible. Wolverine’s enemy, in a way, is not only the enemies that are out to hurt him, but his own psyche, his own ability to deal with the bullshit. Wolverine is a wonderful character in that he constantly struggles. So, for me the idea that he doesn’t like to fly fits in with the animalistic nature of him, also. That sense of, I don’t want to be contained, I don’t want to be in a tuna can, I don’t like to be under someone else’s control. I thought it played.”