“Congratulations, you’re not at the Twilight panel. I think we know something about real monsters here…”
With those words and a huge cheer from the crowd, moderator Geoff Boucher welcomed legendary monster make-up artist Rick Baker onto the stage at Comic-Con’s Indigo Ballroom. If you’re not familiar with Baker’s name, you’ll know his work: the titular beast from An American Werewolf In London, the dance-happy zombies of Thriller, the simians in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes and the aliens in the Men In Black franchise, to name just a few.
Over the next 40 minutes Baker talked about the many joys of his job (“I’ve been lucky enough to make monsters for a living. I’ve never had to put hamburgers in a bag”) and reminisced about finding a mentor in make-up genius Dick Smith (The Exorcist) when he was a pasty 18 year-old, making creatures in his bedroom. But the subject he kept coming back to was his latest gig, Men In Black 3, which has clearly got him all fired up.
At one point he cued up a short video which presented the world’s first ever look at the threequel’s ‘60s-styled aliens (the story sees Will Smith’s J hop in a time machine). The images flashed past, but we got a glimpse at a dolly-bird with a long neck and a space helmet; a squat, red-faced beastie; and, most excitingly, a proper peek at the movie’s big bad, Boris The Biker, as played by Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement. As befits producer Walter Parkes’ description of him as “a biker from hell”, Boris has a gigantic black beard, a menacing bandanna and – freakily – goggle eye-pieces embedded deep in his eye sockets.
“Right from the first movie, I was always saying to Barry [Sonnenfeld], ‘Let’s do aliens that look like aliens we’ve already seen,” remembers Baker. “’Let’s say that Paul Blaisdell, who did the effects for Invasion Of The Saucer Men, actually had a real encounter with an alien and tried to recreate it on film, so there are saucermen in the Men In Black headquarters. And let’s have E.T. in there, operating the phone.’ Barry didn’t like any of those ideas, he thought they were stupid. But when Men In Black 3 came along and I heard about the time-travel element, I said, ‘Okay, it’s set in 2012, so we’ll have aliens that look like 2012 aliens in that part of the film. But when we go back to 1969, wouldn’t it be cool to have retro aliens? Big brains, bug eyes, stuff like that?’ I thought they should have a totally different, retro feel. And they agreed to it, thank God. So I got to make a whole bunch of cool stuff.”
Men In Black 3 has been dogged by rumours that the production is out of control, with no finished script and massive budget overruns. But Baker seemed certain they’ve got a winner on their hands, saying, “The whole gang’s back and it’s going to be something really special.” Although at one point, while talking about American Werewolf, he couldn’t stop himself from quipping, “We actually shot the script for that, which never happens. In fact, we’re still waiting to see the script for Men In Black 3!”
What are the odds he was neuralised backstage?