Gore Verbinski's "Rango," that wonderfully bizarre, hyper-referential and occasionally psychedelic Western about a lonely lizard's alter ego, screened for Academy and guild members Monday evening at the ICM Building in Century City. Verbinski and actor Ned Beatty (who voices the corrupt, John Huston-like turtle mayor) were on hand for a Q&A following the screening. Here are some of their responses to audience questions.
A "lizard with an identity crisis"
Verbinski talked about the conception of Rango as a character, mentioning that he approached screenwriter John Logan with the idea of "making a film about a lizard with an identity crisis. And that it should be a Western." Verbinski's initial thought process for Rango's insecurities? "He has to be an outsider. [Which means] he should be aquatic in some way if he's in a desert. So he should be a chameleon. If he's a chameleon, then he should be an actor. If he's an actor, then he should have issues."
Verbinski on live action versus animation
"The biggest difference is that there are no gifts in animation. You have to fabricate anomaly, and try to make it feel like there are two people who are actually present. Our biggest fear was that things would get sterile. In live action you have actors reacting and there are ways to capture that moment, ideally the moment where something happens that nobody really intended. In animation we just painfully, frame by frame, talk about [for example] the twitch under the eye to indicate that Rango's saying a line but doesn't believe it.
"[In terms of the visuals], it comes out of the computer perfect, and you have to [mess] it up. So you add lens flares, or somebody turns their head and the focus is a little late. You add film grain, you add a bump in the dolly, all that. We talked endlessly about that. The mouse and the math are immediately perfect and that's not the way we work on sets. We wanted to make it feel like it was occurring."
'Rango,' the school play
On the rehearsal process, Verbinski said, "It was like a Montessori school play. You basically walk into a room like this, you grab an ill-fitting hat and a rubber gun, and you're in street clothes. There's a boom man and some guys with video cameras. And you rehearse for eight hours straight." He also stressed the importance of the actors being in the same room together, as opposed to doing voice recordings on their own personal schedules: "If they weren't available for those twenty days, then they weren't in the movie." Beatty joked about the confined quarters, saying that all the actors were "judging each other repeatedly," but that Verbinski "was wonderful" and "never, ever, ever acted like he didn't like us."
On cinematographer Roger Deakins' involvement in the film
Verbinski discussed the need for a cinematographer's input for "Rango," mentioning that the computers offered "too many choices" in terms of lighting options for any given scene. This was when Deakins was brought in as a consultant, to advise on "how we'd [light the film] in the real world, how we'd limit the choices. And that put us back on schedule."
About that gigantic eyeball
There is a delightfully allusive scene in which Rango and some of his vermin cohorts journey underground and are seemingly watched by a larger-than-life eyeball. During the Q&A, a very young member of the audience asked, "What was that giant eye?" After laughter and scattered applause, Verbinski answered: "Exactly. I don't know."