When we last looked in on director Kevin Munroe, he was a week away from the release of his all-CGI version of the film Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not that he was resting on his laurels. He was in Hong Kong getting ready to work on what he thought would be his next film, a CGI version of the anime classic Gatchaman.
But a lot can happen in a year. In that time, Munroe left producer Imagi Animation and Gatchaman. Why?
“That’s the big question,” says Munroe from his home in L.A.. “It’s such a simple and complicated thing at the same time. Basically, I was a huge fan of the original series. We talked about it back then. I also don’t think you can look at the lack of success of Speed Racer and say that applies. There’s a power and universality of Gatchaman I think will work no matter what. There’s a way to reach a truly broad audience. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it a real sci-fi action thing. But as the year went on, there came creative differences. So we parted ways.
“Am I bummed about it? Yeah. It’s one of those jobs where we tried everything and it just couldn’t work. I can’t say I absolutely know what’s good and what’s not, but I certainly knew what I wanted to do with it. Especially after the Turtles experience, where we really wanted to push the envelope and came up against a lot of obstacles. I felt Gatchaman would have been the chance I was looking to push the envelope that was started with Beowulf and Ghost in the Shell.”
Not that Munroe has much time to be bitter. Hyde Park Entertainment (Street Fighter) and Platinum Studios (Men in Black) presented him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. They asked him to direct the film Dead of Night.
For those who don’t know the title, Dead of Night is based on an Italian giallo Dylan Dog. It has been one of the top selling titles in Europe since its debuted in 1986. Created by Tiziano Sclavi, it tells the tale of a former Scotland Yard detective turned paranormal investigator. Although the character is based on the actor Rupert Everett, Brandon Routh was cast to play the hard luck gumshoe.
“You know, I’m really jazzed about this project,” says Munroe. “In many ways it’s like many other projects I’ve done in the past, which is take something that’s purely fantasy and try to ground it in the real world and relate-able to an audience.
“What happened is the guys at Hyde Park and Platinum heard that I had left Gatchaman and sent me the script. After that last experience I was planning to take a vacation, but after I read the script I signed right on. It’s just really cool.
“What I like about Dylan Dog is there’s sort of a surreal realism to it. What I also like is, [while] I don’t mind doing the big CGI fests like the Turtles, this will probably involve more wire work and maybe some CGI. This will all be done much more on location, like right now I’m scouting for some New York shots and checking out various prosthetics.”
Not that Americans should be completely unfamiliar with giallo. Rupert Everett did star in a film called Cemetery Man. It’s based on the Dellamorte Dellamore series that usually back up the Dog comics. Dark Horse also released its share of giallo collections. The titles not only include Dylan Dog, but also Martin Mystery and Nathan Never. Those books include covers by Hellboy’s Mike Mignola.
This genre is also closely identified with certain Italian horror directors, particularly Dario Argento and Mario Bava.
“I have sort of a cursory awareness of them,” Munroe admits when his fellow directors are brought up. “I am ordering a lot of their movies and am expecting them shortly. That was because I talked to the guys who worked on the comic book and they said I should. They’re also sending me a bunch of the comic books, too.
“What’s really funny is I’ve worked with Mike Richardson and Dark Horse a lot over the years. I remember one time Mike asked me to look over all his properties and see if there was something I’d like to develop. The one title I really gravitated to was Martin Mystery, but it was the one property that was already taken at that time (editor's note: it was turned into an animated series for Nick by the French studio Marathon).”
Getting back to Dead of Night, it also looks like a final script is done and Munroe is currently scouting locations. If one thing becomes quickly apparent, the director wants to stay true to the horror title’s pulp roots.
“We’re going full live action,” says Munroe. “It won’t be as stylized as Sin City. The camera and lighting work will be an extension of Turtles, very dark and from all kinds of angles. We should be going back to a lot of film noir if it works right. I want it to be like Third Man where you really have to admire their use of light, especially considering they shot in black and white.
“What I really want to do is as Dylan moves into this world, the audience is kind of taken on a trip that’s like a dark version of Alice in Wonderland. It will get more gritty and vibrant. I want the audience to feel like the world of the supernatural is all around them, but you don’t see it unless you look for it. That’s the world of vampires, zombies and werewolves. You’ll learn how they really function.”
As for Routh? It’s a very different role from his best-known previous job, the one which had people wondering if he was the Last Son of Krypton or the Last Son of Man.
“I think he’s a great choice for the role,” says Munroe. “He’s actually pretty tall and slender, not as beefy as they made him out when he was Superman. The important thing about Dylan is you can’t make him the prototypical tough guy. He’s supposed to be a very real kind of guy. There’s also a natural snarkiness to the character that makes people want to stay away from him. He says it’s due to him living in ‘the cesspool.’ I also think Brandon can pull that off.
“Dylan is just an incredibly intelligent guy. You would never guess when you look at him. He’s a John McClain kind of character. I think as an audience member that’s something you can really relate to. I love the idea that the guy can get smashed in the face and still do his job. Dylan’s the kind of guy who’s got to go through that in order to solve the case. When I first met Brandon, one of the lines I said was ‘You know, it’s going to be a lot of fun kicking the crap out of you and you having to take it.’ He laughed with me on that. He understood. I would say we’re very much on the same page that way.”
As for the prospects of the film being a hit? One can argue that the Hellboy franchise was a true dark horse (pardon the pun) until it hit the big screens. The director himself does have a track record. TMNT did $95 million worldwide, more than recouping its initial cost of $34 million. Munroe also calls on more recent films to back his decision up.
“What I thought was humongous was one day my parents called and asked me if I had seen Iron Man,” says Munroe. “They loved it. I also think it’s a shame that the Wachowski Brothers of Speed Racer didn’t catch on. I love how they dropped you into that world. It all made sense to me. I think what happened is people like you and I, who love that kind of stuff, immediately got it. For other people, it was too much.”
If all goes well, we’ll see if Munroe is correct by Summer, 2009.