While the films of Quentin Tarantino may not exactly be comic book movies, the world he has created over his highly decorated tenure at the top of the film game is so heavily steeped in popular culture that it seems a perfect fit for the writer/director to be debuting footage from his spaghetti western, “Django Unchained,” at Comic-Con. After all, pop culture guru Tarantino is a comic fan himself, having referenced characters from the pages now and again, such as in the somewhat awkward but totally Tarantino rewrites of “Crimson Tide” in which Denzel Washington stumbles through a monologue about the Silver Surfer. But I digress.
Tarantino was at Comic-Con to present “Django Unchained,” the story of a freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) that teams up with a dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to enact revenge on the men that tortured and separated him from his beloved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The recent debut of the trailer was met with very positive response. Yesterday in Hall H Tarantino offered up an eight-minute sizzle reel, which expands on the scenes from the trailer and offers some entirely new scenes from the film.
As fans of Tarantino know, justice to the man’s work can’t really be done in description alone. The stylized world he creates is so highly visual that, even reading the pages of his scripts, it’s quite difficult to picture exactly how a film like “Pulp Fiction” will play out unless you step inside the active brain of Mr. QT.
The footage gives a more detailed look at the major players, starting off with the scene in which Schultz rescues Django from the slave chain gang. Delivering his eloquent and often sarcastic dialogue as Schultz, it looks quite possible that Waltz may have created another classic character equal to Col. Hans Landa of ‘Basterds.’ As Foxx’s character comes into his own, taught to shoot and live like a free man by Schultz, the Django character starts to come into focus. This is a slave revenge story and Foxx’s Django is a pure bad-ass as he enacts vengeance on one of his past tormentors. “I like the way you die, boy,” he says as he watches the fat man he just shot fall to the ground. James Brown music blares across the Hall and a quick shot shows Django wielding a whip to ward off an attacker. Don Johnson’s character, Spencer Gordon Bennet, also known as “Big Daddy,” is a white-suited Southern gentleman who reluctantly welcomes Django and Schultz onto his plantation at the mention of financial returns. Leonardo DiCaprio is a slave master who seems amused at the boldness of the two men’s proposal to “buy the slaves you don’t want to sell.” Both Johnson and DiCaprio look to have had a blast stepping into the shoes of their colorful characters.
The “Django Unchained” reel absolutely brought the house down. The crowd freakin’ loved what they saw. While it may be ironic that the biggest Hall H response of 2012 came from a film that didn’t feature any characters in colorful spandex (the Man of Steel himself would fail to garner half as big a response a few hours later), it’s also quite appropriate. Tarantino is a fan’s director, steeped in the popular culture of films, comics, trashy pulp novels and everything in between. You don’t have to like a particular type of cinema to like his movies. You just have to be willing to go along for the ride.
After the big applause slowly died down, Tarantino and cast members Foxx, Waltz, Johnson, Washington and Walton Goggins fielded questions from the Comic-Con faithful. Here are five highlights.
1. The origins of Django
Like many of Tarantino’s story ideas, ‘Django’ has been kicking around for a while before the writer/director felt he was ready to bring it to the screen. “I think it’s been about 13 years, altogether,” says Tarantino. “I’ve always wanted to do a western. Spaghetti westerns have always been my favorite. The violence, the surrealism, the cool music and all that stuff. The initial germ of the whole idea was a slave who becomes a bounty hunter and then goes after overseers who are hiding out on plantations.”
2. Stripping the celebrity to play Django
One of the worries QT had after casting Foxx was whether the actor could get to the lowly place Django starts at. “Getting there was really a journey,” says Foxx. “QT at the beginning of this process, he pulled me aside and said, ‘I’m worried that you can’t get to that slave.’ What he was saying was, you live your life as Jamie Foxx, this celebrity, how do you now strip everything away and get to the slave? The most important thing was letting everything go because we all have egos. He said, ‘Throw that out of the door now so we can actually get to the work,’ so that was what was unique for me, to actually do homework, to listen to what he says, strip yourself down and start all over again.”
“I was talking about the movie before the movie,” adds Tarantino. “When you are introduced to Django, you see him on a chain gang with other slaves being lead from Mississippi to Texas. I said Jamie, ‘Where I’m coming from at the beginning, is this guy’s just six from the seventh on the left in the chain.’ ”
3. The Dentist
As we meet Dr. Schultz in the film’s beginning, sitting atop his wagon with a big tooth bouncing around on a spring on the wagon’s roof, he is a dentist-turned-bounty hunter looking for a very specific slave. “Dr. King Schultz needs Django,” says Waltz. “He needs him to get the story going, but secondly he needs him because… I’m not going to tell you the story. You need to go and see the movie. (Laughs) This is a unique and fabulous relationship that is forged in the course of fantastic adventures. We’re talking about a spaghetti western. I find it sensational that Italian directors forge a new thing, spaghetti westerns, and then an American director takes the new thing and brings it back to America. Schultz and Django are a team and, yes, the dynamic changes over the course. But whether that’s a father figure or a teacher, I don’t know.”
4. To prepare for the role of Spencer Gordon Bennet, Don Johnson studied Foghorn Leghorn
“Quentin and I have been talking about working together for many years,” says Johnson. “When he mentioned Big Daddy, I thought it was a character that I could step into, that I could make big and flamboyant. This character is, not to diminish the period and the surreal, brutal and inhuman nature of slavery, but Big Daddy is a character who, if you can find something to love, he’s found that. He’s funny and bad.”
And how did he find the voice of Big Daddy? “I studied a lot of Foghorn Leghorn. I say boy!” Johnnson said to big laughs from the Comic-Con crowd.
5. The great great great great grandparents of John Shaft
Throughout many films in the Tarantino universe, various connections can be drawn between character names, places, events and situations. The moderator asked Tarantino whether ‘Django’ might feature some forebears from other characters in Tarantino films. “Well there is one, but I don’t want to say it. I want you to watch it and figure it out. There is one thing I’ll say though. Broomhilda and Django will eventually have a baby and then that baby will have a baby and that baby will have a baby and one of these days, John Shaft will be born. John Shaft started with this lady here. They’re the great great great great grandparents of shut your mouth!”
“Django Unchained” is unleashed on Christmas Day.