This time last month, Rango was a project we, like most almost everyone else, had only the most rudimentary knowledge of: an animated film being directed by Gore Verbinski, with Johnny Depp providing key vocal talent. Then, a few weeks back, the teaser trailer landed. Which was, to be honest, unhelpful. You know the one: that shot of a desert road, with a wind up fish (out of water, and in mid-air) slowly making its way from one side of frame to the other, which didn’t really elicit much more of a response from anyone, beyond “Okaaaaaay.”
Thank your chosen deity then that Paramount chose last week to launch the far more exciting first proper trailer. Now we talkin’. Why? Because just twenty four hours earlier, we’d been at the film’s production offices, being shown all manner of eye-popping artwork, as well as several bits of unfinished-but-still-breathtaking bits of animation, complete with commentary from Verbinski himself; we’ve now got at least some evidence to support why Rango has rocketed from largely-below-the-radar curio to one of our most anticipated films of 2011. Here are a few reasons why:
Firstly, plot. The trailer goes only a small way to introducing the story, letting you know pretty much solely that Rango (a Hawaiian shirt-wearing chameleon, no less) is a stranger to the desert. How does he get there? Well according to Verbinski, he’s a domesticated lizard, whose entire terrarium goes out a car window when the vehicle hits a bump on a highway through the Mojave. “He’s basically a thespian in search of an audience,” explained the director, in his production offices at Universal Studios. “In his terrarium, he’s made friends with inanimate objects. Actually, when we meet him, he’s in the process of putting on a play with those objects, when the production goes down.” He somehow survives a walk through the desert – as would seemingly be depicted by the trailer, before he stumbles into the town of Dirt.
With the look of a town of the old west, Dirt’s townsfolk – all desert animals - are in need of a sheriff, as they’re at the mercy of Rattlesnake Jake (briefly seen in the trailer, and voiced by Bill Nighy). As Verbinski put it “this town is really in need of a hero, and they get the great pretender.” What they trailer doesn’t show you is Rango leading a rag-tag posse of locals on a quest to defend their community from the malicious, malevolent forces that threaten them. “I’m not going to explain much more than that,” said Verbinski, “it all gets highly involved, and hopefully, entertaining.”
Rango has a look and feel like no other fully CG animated movie to date. That’s because it’s the debut animated feature of Industrial Light & Magic. It’s hard to believe that no-one had thought of it before, but this is the first time the effects powerhouse – who still don’t officially have an animation arm to their studio – have opted to do a project of this kind. Head illustrator and production designer on the film is Crash McCreery, who we were lucky enough to meet very briefly, and as his unbelievably heavy workload was revealed to us, we were just trying to not to too obviously geek out at the various sketches and maquette of Edward Scissorhands adorning his office walls (he was employed by Stan Winston for many years, and among many other towering achievements, is the designer of Davey Jones in Pirates 2 & 3).
Another interest-peaking element to Rango is its almost unique shooting style. Verbinski explained that it was basically a big experiment – neither he nor ILM had made an animated movie before, and they were all feeling their way in the hope of creating something fresh and different. “Just because it’s an animated movie, I didn’t want to give up the techniques that were developed in shooting live-action.” Similar to and expanding upon Wes Anderson’s recording techniques on Fantastic Mr Fox, the filmmakers made sure to get all of the cast together for ‘principal recording’, if you like. “Once we had Johnny’s days locked, I scheduled a recording of twenty days, and basically if you weren’t available on those twenty days, you weren’t in the film,” differing of course from the now standard procedure of actors coming into a studio in small groups, pairs, or even on their own, and recording pieces of dialogue over a period of months, or even years. “We got some video cameras just to have reference, so if I’m talking to an animator, I can say ‘no, look at this’.”
What Verbinski showed us then, we pray will end up as a Blu-ray extra – the entire cast: Depp, Isla Fisher, Stephen Root, Abigail Breslin, et al., running around a studio, crew and an abundance of microphones in shot - sometimes dressed partly in costume, sometimes not – appearing to have the time of their lives as they deliver their lines, acting out the action to give the vocal performance a true physicality – hilarious to behold.
The thing that really hooked us though, was the last of the clips we were shown. No spoilers here, suffice to say that you can see just a tiny slice of this astonishing scene in the trailer (where Rango walks across the busy highway at night, with headlights rushing past him in both directions). We were told that this clip wasn’t quite finished, and had temp score on it, but it was good. Really, really good. Like, opening montage of Up good, and similarly utterly moving. This especially well chosen sequence really demonstrates what Verbinski had been mentioning to us all morning, and what a damn fine filmmaker he is; the painstaking attention given to the eyes of each character, and the tiniest of head movements or facial tics - none of them remotely accidental, all of them forged by his guidance through actors and animators alike - writ large on the big screen in crystal clear digital (and by the way, that shot of the posse riding across the setting sun looks exquisite).
You get the feeling that ‘getting small’, as he describes it, is something that Verbinski is naturally adept at, yet also - even after three years on Rango – something he could continue getting used to. Mark our words: this is gonna be a mighty fine slice o' entertainment.
kisswithatear Posted on Sunday July 18, 2010, 19:38
I would like to be the first to say, this doesn't look half bad and I actually chuckled at the opening sequence; plus the animation looks really brilliant. Ok so it's Gore Verbinski, the action sequences may overtake the character development just a tiny bit, but hey, it's not Michael Bay and unlike Bay Verbinski is actually entertaining
So yeah, this could be a surprising film to enjoy; plus it doesn't look like theres any possibility of it being drenched in pop culture like Shrek and it has a unique setting (they're definitely not copying Pixar). So yeah, cant wait!