Set Visit: Dark is Rising
When I got the email from JoBlo asking me whether or not I'd like to go to Romania in order to cover a set visit for the site...I thought he was joking. (I also had a thought that maybe there was a place like Romania, Ohio or something similar that I hadn't heard of.) But alas he was referring to the real Romania, the eastern European country. He told me that it was for a film called THE DARK IS RISING, and that it was based on a British book series. While I hadn't heard of it before, I went out and got the book, the second in a series of five written by Susan Cooper.
THE DARK IS RISING is the first film adaptation of the author's acclaimed "The Dark Is Rising" Sequence. The film tells the story of Will Stanton, a young man who learns he is the last of a group of warriors who have dedicated their lives to fighting the forces of the Dark. Traveling back and forth through time, Will hunts for a series of mysterious clues and encounters forces of unimaginable evil. With the Dark once again rising, the future of the world rests in Will's hands. Based on the award winning novel by Susan Cooper.
I read the book on the flight over, and to be truthful I didn't really think much of it. Filled with more detail pertaining to atmosphere than anything, it seemed slow to me and I couldn't figure out how this thing would ever pan out on screen. I found that after speaking with some of the other journalists about this I wasn't the only one in this boat.
After a long night of drinking and a car ride to the studio, which was so nerve racking I had to stop looking out my window for fear I might have a panic attack, we rolled up to this enormous studio set in the country side of Bucharest. Filled with screaming Romanian teamsters and packs of roving dogs, which were being followed by packs of roving puppies, the whole set was bustling with activity.
We were brought to a small festival tent outside the studio where filming is in it's final days. It's here we meet with John Hodge, the man responsible for adapting Susan Cooper's book into something that will be enjoyable to see on screen. You may recall Hodge's name from a little flick called TRAINSPOTTING. After Hodge discusses how he's altered the book for a more enjoyable watch, we are taken with David Lee, production designer for DARK and he begins to fill in the details of why a film set in the English countryside is being filmed in Romania (Basically it comes down to the all mighty dollar.) From here we start to visit the sets, and this is really where everyone begins to get excited about the film.
The sets are absolutely enormous. Built with all 360 degrees in mind, we first see a church that will be the pinnacle of many scenes. The set has working trap doors, faux stain glass windows that must be at least 20 feet high, and secret markings everywhere that tell a story filled with symbolism. We also get to visit a mansion in which the crescendo of the battle between good and evil in the film will take place. The building is marvelous from the front, and it's inconceivable to think that there's nothing behind this front except logs and 2x4's. There is no mansion per se; just a house front. We also get to see the set which used to be one of the rooms from inside that mansion.
I say was because it has been completely destroyed. When director David Cunningham shot the scene, he went the more traditional route with the SFX and had the room succumb to all the damage that any house would in the same position. (In this case in particular flooding water) The result is a trashed set filled with debris, loose floorboards and hopefully one hell of a shot. The best set that we see however is a recreation of a snow globe. It truly looks like it's been taken our of a glass orb and is very cartoon-ish in appearance. In front of this globe sits a huge tank of water that director Cunningham will film through, as to give the shot a look of actually being outside the globe looking in.
We speak with director David Cunningham and he tells us about how he came onboard and why his 'realistic' film styling is more in tuned with what the producers are looking for with this picture. More and more the book seems like it will be amazing to see on screen. We're than taken behind the set where filming is happening to get a sneak peek at some footage David has put together to show friends and workers what they've got so far. It was once I saw this that any fears I had about whether or not this book would turn into a good movie were vanquished. The footage Cunningham showed us was absolutely amazing! The cinematography, the acting, the mall security guards turning into friggin' birds! It all looked so good, and this was only a rough cut.
During lunch along the river that runs through this studio, we were able to sit down with Jonathan Jackson, who plays The Walker in DARK. It's a nice conversation over apple juice and spicy sausages. Jackson is thoughtful in speaking with us, and it's interesting to note that of anyone that we spoke to that read the original novel, he's the only one to have enjoyed it.
We finished the day by leaving the studio and hitting up the hotel where Chris Eccleston was staying. He wasn't able to be on set with us, so we chilled out in the bar at his hotel, drinking beers and eating funky appetizers. Eccleston was even cool enough to pick up the tab for us. He briefly talks about the villain character of The Rider that he plays and also gives us a glimpse into the future of his HEROES character.
Romania actually means 'I love George Michael!'
While I'm primarily a horror movie kind of guy, this seems like one of the better fantasy films that has come out in the last few years. The realistic feel that Cunningham has brought to this work, the edginess that Hodge has been able to give this slightly flat story, and the character actors who are filling the roles marvelously make me think that this film really has something over other films of a similar genre. THE DARK IS RISING will be hitting theatre's October 5th, and if you want to hear more about the film, be sure to check out our upcoming interviews with director David Cunningham, writer John Hodge and actors Jonathan Jackson and Christopher Eccleston.
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