From Movie-Con Day 1: Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours Preview

The BFI’s Movie-Con kicked off tonight with a light-ish program of surprise guests, surprise clips, non-surprises* and the surprisingly dumb The Expendables. Some of what happened is news, so let me tell you about it. In this post I’ll deal just with 127 Hours.

Our host for the weekend is going to be Chris Hewitt of Empire Magazine. After his opening stand up routine (I was laughing on the inside Chris, I really was) he introduced our first, previously unannounced event: the trailer for Danny Boyle’s 127 Days, freshly cut and only today out of the colour grading lab in presentable form.

In essence, it’s a three part trailer plus a brief prologue made up of clips from the other Fox Searchlight and Danny Boyle films – he’s a brand now, didn’t you know? Their brand.

Part one saw James Franco as Aron Ralston cycling around in the middle of nowhere, falling off his bike and recording it on camera for posterity. Little detail: he hurts his arm and sort of affirms it’s okay by touching it. Foreshadowing 101.

In part two, Franco is climbing on and between rockfaces with a couple of girls. They’re doing a kind of squeeze-walk through the air, pressed between two sides of a chasm. Franco tells the girls something to the effect that whatever happens, they should trust him, and he stops holding himself up and slips down, away from the camera. When the second girls is falling, we go with her and see that they’re above a pool or lagoon of some kind, and they land with a happy, joyous splash.

And then, in part three, we get to Franco on his own, and getting his arm trapped behind a bolder. There’s a shot of him looking up and the camera pulling back, a CG blend from the on-the-set close shot of Franco to what may have been CG, may have been a live action plate of the spare, empty area that he’s all alone in. The horror!

Second surprise: Danny Boyle and Christian Coulson were present and would be taking questions from the audience. The applause was mixed with whoops and hollers. Here’s a bunch of their revelations and more interesting notes as bullet points:

  • Boyle cast Franco as he considered him underrated and something of a bridesmaid. He’s not a likeness for Ralston, but Boyle thought the audience wouldn’t care.
  • Once the film is into it’s darker, later portion there’s a Pineapple Express moment (whatever that means) which lightens the mood for a moment.
  • The real Aron Ralston did record a lot of his experience, and spoke to the camera too. Very few people have seen this film, but Boyle and Coulson have. Boyle noted that after a few days of dehydration Ralston looked markedly different, and talked about “the shrivelling of the human spirit”. They have not tired to replicate this as it would require extensive CG.
  • Most of the film was filmed in a warehouse set, built in a realistically claustrophobic way. For a sequence in which Ralston tries to pull his arm free, shortly after being trapped, they actually tied Franco’s arm in place and had him try to pull it free. It was made to sound like an arduous and stressful bit of shooting that communicates very well on screen.
  • There were two directors of photography, Anthon Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak. Boyle had them alternate daily. His thinking here – which maybe he didn’t do the best job of explaining – was that the film has no actual antagonist as such, besides the boulder, so he wanted there to be two DoPs, expecting them to fall into “good cop, bad cop” behaviour patterns. Something in this logic escapes me.
  • Boyle considers the film to be British, definitely in it’s sensibility.
  • The filmmakers will consider it a success if the audience is willing Ralston to… do what he does to get free. They don’t want us to see the ending as downbeat, but in this sense at least, triumphant.
  • However, Coulson and Boyle have argued about the ending of the film, the better to make sure they’re doing it right.
  • Somebody in the audience asked Boyle about Sunshine and the director said he’d never make another “space movie”.
  • At a couple of occasions, Boyle disparaged “fantasy type science fiction” and “the kind of thing” that audiences at Movie-Con were there to see. Both of his comments raised a laugh, but I wondered if people were either not really taking his point in, or if they were just choosing to ignore it?

I’m hopeful that Franco’s performance in 127 Hours will be compelling and rich. It’s a heavy weight he’s got on his arm shoulders.

*The audience gasped at the “revelation” Karl Urban has been cast as Judge Dredd but Bleeding Cool scooped that news weeks ago. More on Dredd soon…

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