***Spoiler alert! Some very light discussion of the Thor plot follows.***With the live-action Thor feature film in theaters this Friday, the creative team behind the movie — director Kenneth Branagh, producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, and screen writers Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne — discussed finer points of the process with an assembled group of reporters in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon.
What people wanted to know most was the "how" of it all — How do you balance a character with centuries of lore in mythology and decades of history in Marvel comic books? How do you make that captivating to an audience of both fans and those coming to the concept for the first time? How do you wrap it all up in an entertaining summer movie, playing in 3-D and IMAX screens?
"It was the challenge really from day one, all the way through, right through to the last day," Branagh told the crowd of journalists. "How do we walk the fine line between including what I loved in the comic book character of Thor, and that world, that was epic, and fantastical, and in some cases went to space, and had so many characters, the balance of that, and then the desire to bring Thor to Earth, and find some of the humor, and the interaction of the god amongst men?"The answer, the director said, was to take inspiration from everywhere — both the comic books, and the original Norse myths themselves.
"I was pleased to see how sort of brief and condensed and compact they are," Branagh said. "A Norse myth will occupy a page, or a page-and-a-half. It's condensed, the flavor is very rich, and I could see what a great match they were for the comic book material."
Marvel Studios has a big summer, with Thor followed up in July by Captain America: The First Avenger. Feige was asked, if 2011 was an especially meaningful year for Thor to see release, and the producer said he hopes the film kicks off the next decade of the "next kinds of comic book movies" — ones that blend traditional superhero tropes with other genres.
Thor clearly mixes traditional Marvel superheroics with fantasy and science-fiction, and Captain America is a superhero movie set in World War II. With 11 years since the first X-Men film hit, Feige said he thinks audiences are ready for a new type of comic book movie."When we got financing to become our own studio, it was with the idea of bringing more of our characters to life," Feige said. "Because we wanted to establish ourselves as a studio that made our own property, but also because we had tons and tons of characters that hadn't been brought to the screen yet.
"Is there something magical about this time? I don't know, other than to say we're more than a decade in to the resurgence of the comic book film, and certainly the Marvel films. The more you make, the more audiences become aware of the various archetypes and tropes and things that go along with it, so you can then more easily spin them, or introduce a more unique concept into that notion."
To further illustrate the unconventional nature of Thor as a "superhero" movie, Branagh talked the specifics of the film, and how Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) loses his powers when Odin (Anthony Hopkins) casts out of Asgard and onto Earth.
"We reverse the superhero model — we give him powers at the beginning, and we take them away," Branagh said. "The classical model for this is the story of the hero who must be exiled — who must lose everything, he must lose family, friends, powers, home — and perhaps earn a chance to return to them if, perhaps, he can re-value them in some way."Branagh said a key element of Thor's hero's journey in the film is to "understand what the nature of sacrifice is."
"Maybe we want that kind of thing from our heroes. To know they're a bit like us, but they're capable of doing the right thing," the director said.
With any comic book movie, the question of accessibility is always looming. In this instance, not only is Thor a character that's starred in hundreds of Marvel comics, but he comes with a large cast — the movie includes Loki, Odin, Heimdall, Sif and the Warriors Three — and a meaningful tie to centuries of mythology. Unsurprisingly, Feige said that the movie was constructed to appeal to a mass audience, regardless of their level of familiarity with the characters and concepts.
"We always go into these movies saying, 'There will be a segment of the audience that's very familiar, knows everything, and there will be a larger segment of the audience that doesn’t' know anything,'" Feige said. "We want to concoct a story in a way that's an introduction to the character — and in this case, it's more than just an introduction to the character. This movie, you're not only introducing the character, you're introducing the world, and all the ensemble."From the screenwriter perspective, Stentz noted that he was impressed that the Asgardian sets were actually physically constructed, rather than just using green screen technology. "Way back when we were in the development stage, I was just kind of assuming when we were doing all the Asgard stuff, 'Oh, this is going to be just like 300, and they'll just be people in front of green screen, and they'll fill all that in later,'" Stentz said. "Going to visit in Manhattan Beach, and seeing that they had built all of Asgard, those were Golden Age of Hollywood sets. The fact that the actors are really in real environments and reacting to things, I think really informs their performances. I think it's up there on the screen. "
Of course, the movie is still embracing current technology, opening up on both 3-D and IMAX 3-D screens. The movie wasn't actually shot in 3-D, but converted; "I wasn't confident enough about shooting in 3-D, is the honest answer," Branagh noted.Speaking of the challenges and priorities of the 3-D conversion process, Branagh said, "How do we do it so that it's smooth, but still offers us an added dimension, an immersive quality, that isn't just to do with hammers flying, or going through space, or snow, but also laid out a little more of the depth of the New Mexican desert?"
Other topics discussed included the score by frequent Branagh collobartor Patrick Doyle ("I didn't want to be too snug or cozy, I wanted to check that it really worked," Branagh noted), the enduring quality of Marvel's version of Thor ("There's something really appealing about a mythological character walking among us, and being a part of a team of Avengers," Payne said), and Branagh's thoughts on the all-encompassing nature of the filmmaking process ("You don't finish a film, you abandon it").Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!