Okay, okay, I know it doesn't come out til December, and there's no spoilers here, but I thought I'd make it my last 'Thon offering, because this was, hands-down, the greatest movie-making experience I have ever had, and it's got a SHITLOAD of zombie action in it (seemingly that action being a notch or two higher than 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake), TONS of shit blowing up, and some KILLER stunt action.
But that all pales in comparison to what MY job entailed on the set (of course), which was to personally own and control, on weekends in the fall in New York City, the most populous avenues and streets you could possibly imagine. I employed no less than 150 and at a maximum 250 Production Assistants on any given day (a film-industry record, that's right), all for the sole purpose of making huge swaths of Manhattan streets look like they had been deserted for four years (it's 2012 in the movie, everyone dead of mysterious virus in '08).
And the streets were empty. As if New York had died. THAT’S what I (well, and a hundred-plus others) created. [And if you’ve never been to New York City, try imagining those streets empty, devoid of activity. That’s what we had to do for that one shot in Vanilla Sky of an empty Times Square, which I was one of ten Key P.A.s for, but that was only for one quick shot on Sunday morning, ending at 7am. On IAL, we did this shit ALL DAY, EVERY WEEKEND, IN THE FALL, AND ALL WITH THE CAPS LOCK KEY PRESSED DOWN THE WHOLE TIME.]
Standing in the middle of Broadway, 6th Avenue and 34th Street at 9am on a September Saturday with three Bradley tanks and a bunch of Humvees behind me, completely blocking what would normally go on in New York City at that time, bullhorn in hand, inconveniencing arguably thousands of people, and yelling at the director, “I’ve got all ten blocks locked up! Roll the cameras!"” was a bit of a thrill. Actually, “bit of a thrill” doesn’t quite cover it. It was a complete fucking power trip that went straight to my head. I could have started my own religion.
Speaking of the director (this was the Action Unit, not the Main Unit), it was Vic Armstrong, who, if you don’t have the time to imdb him, actually WAS Superman while he was flying in 1977 (Reeve stunt double) and also Indiana Jones (Ford stunt double) under the truck. Yeah, that guy. [Fall off the radiator, get dragged underneath the truck, working your way back hand-over-hand clinging to truck undercarriage while being dragged on your back at 35 mph - this is the guy I am personally clearing twenty blocks of New York City real estate for. And HE came up and thanked ME for doing such a perfect job. I love this business.]
In any event, the movie is a remake of The Omega Man (1974) starring Charlton Heston and Abner Devereaux from Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. I’m quite sure that that actor has a real name, and he in fact appeared in the Matrix Reloaded, but it’s far more funny this way.
Abner Devereaux, anyway, played the lead zombie, who fortunately speaks perfect English and wears Ray-Ban aviator glasses throughout. This, while seemingly completely absurd in nature, actually ends up being pulled off quite nicely (comedically, to be sure, but compellingly so. JUST like Kiss Meeets The Phantom Of The Park - funny, that). Abner has some great dialogue explaining how his species is now the “new” human race, and it is in fact Charlton Heston who is the oddball, the hunted “zombie” of the flick. Two and a half stars for The Omega Man. Check it out.
Such was the thrust of the short story “I Am Legend,” written in the 50s, which The Omega Man is based on: a flip-flop of the humans vs. zombies theme, in that the one lone human (a super-scientist doctor) still alive struggling to restore “normalcy” is now the oddball, the “zombie,” the one that is sought out by the newly-mutated masses and destroyed. Whereas we would consider a zombie an “aberration” and something to be eliminated, the premise and appeal (and title choice) of “I Am Legend” is to make the one lone human survivor the aberration, the one the mutated zombies are trying to eliminate. For us, zombies are the stuff of myth and fantasy and legend, and now it's the one HUMAN who is the legend, the story told around the proverbial zombie campfire. If they do those sorts of things. Which this movie does not cover.
But "Zombie Campfire" is a great title for SOMETHING.
In any event, the Will Smith version looks promising, to a point. What you will see in the opening five minutes or so of the movie (which is the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rocketing through the city in a souped-up Mustang 2008 Shelby Cobra, streets devoid of life), was all worked by me on the aforementioned Action Unit. You might think it’s computer generated - but it ain't. That’s how good and big our street lockups were. Setting the stage of Will Smith in an empty New York City is executed with perfection, nothing but a real, honest-to-goodness film crew of hundreds doing it, and nary a computer nerd in sight.
It’s what happens after that with that actual zombies that may or may not break the film. The problem is, we’ve seen this before. We know about the one guy fighting off the onrushing, unrelenting hordes of zombies. We know how this story ends. For the most part.
All I can say is that during the filming, we had an enormously elaborate plan for the creatures and how they look: latex sculpted bodysuits with peeling rotting flesh, some totally bleached out, some with twisted, blackened organs – they looked pretty cool, and it took about four hours to get one single zombie ready, with said zombie being worked on by three different people. Then, halfway through our first week of shooting nights with 80 stunt men and women running through Washington Square Park in these elaborate outfits, the producers decide they don’t like the “look” and are just going to CGI all of the onrushing hordes of creatures, and they’re gonna look different than what we had.
So I’m not sure I’ll care about Will Smith that much, or the woman and kid that he finds, or how they resolve it in the end, because I wasn't there for most of their filming. I do know, however, that the empty-street future stuff and the flashback stuff to the quarantining of New York City looks, for lack of a better term, (damn this English major liability) pretty fucking awesome. The ending (slight spoiler) kind of sticks to the short story, but they definitely make it an original version for the most part. But those first five minutes are ALL Handsome Stan, and it only remains to be seen how cheaply the producers go with the credits, and whether or not the Action Unit gets any credits at all, or if I see my name, because they dicked aroud with us for the whole thing.
To get back on some sort of track here, IF they pull off the Everybody-Wiped-Out-By-Virus thing with credibility (done very well in the book and miniseries The Stand, by Stephen King), and IF they pull off the Show-Us-Something-Relatively-New-With-Zombies-Fucking-Shit-Up aspect (again done very well in 28 Days Later and DOTD remake), THEN the movie has a fighting chance. Their ace in the hole is that quarantine of New York City scene, which they had to for weeks prior to the filming of that, advertise on local TV and radio that what was coming up was not real, it was just a movie, and that real New Yorkers should not panic about a posible outbreak and/or quarantine for any reaon. It's that post 9/11, approaching-2012 impending doom feeling of total paranoia that they can capture and capitalize on if they execute well.
It's just all the shit with the woman and the kid I worry about. For the most part, I gather that the "kid" role is minimalized, and there's no "I-happen-to-be-an-expert-ten-year-old-on-zombies-that's-seen-zombie-movies" aspect to it. It's all played out damn serious-like, and if you can't tell by this point, I like hyphens almost as much as parentheses. So I'm pulling for the film, big-time, but then again, I was also pulling for Eight Legged Freaks.
Working on IAL: *****
Potential for IAL: *** to ****
Probable for IAL: ** 1/2
Plus, I should add that the wrap party for the movie was pretty cool. Will Smith basically put on a mini-concert, and did a full-on word-for-word hardcore version of the theme from Prince of Bel-Air. DJ Jazzy Jeff was there, so it was great to see him getting some work. If you happen to care about these sorts of things.
And yeah, that picture of me up there sure does feature a T-shirt with a Superman logo from Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, for those that care about these sorts of things. Stunning photographic proof that I seriously Nerd it up at work and chicks still dig me. (Except there's no girls in THAT picture. But right after it was taken...)
Is there an Honorable Mention category for Horrorthon? Or, more appropriately, Rookie Of The Year Award? I'd like to think I've earned consideration for SOMETHING.
Standby in November for the Hardest Star Wars Trivia Questions you have ever fucking experienced. All of you. I can not be beat, and I will stump the greatest of you. I got weeks worth of 'em stored up.