Joe Dante Talks The Hole, in select theaters this weekend before its October 2nd Blu-ray debut
Joe Dante has made some great films throughout his career. He started off by working with Roger Corman, making the original Piranha. He then went onto make such seminal 80s masterworks as Gremlins, Explorers, Innerspace, and our own personal favorite The 'burbs. His second to last film was Looney Tunes: Back In Action, and then he went onto make The Hole, which is often referred to as his comeback and a return to form for the director, who is known for making darker family fare that doesn't quite fit the norm.
The Hole was supposed to come out in 2009. It was shot in 3D, one of the first to jump on the bandwagon, but the conversion of other 2D films into 3D flooded the market, and The Hole was swallowed up in the storm. Before long, it lost its distributor, and it looked as though the thriller faced a fate worse than death: Direct-to-DVD!
But low and behold, this Friday, The Hole is finally coming to select theaters in the format in which it was meant to be seen! And then it will arrive on DVD and Blu-ray this October 2nd (neither home version will be available in 3D). To support and celebrate The Hole's long-awaited theatrical release in the states, we caught up with Joe Dante to find out where he and his film have been hiding.
Here is our conversation.
What happened with this movie that it took so long for us to finally see it?
Joe Dante: Well, it was very frustrating. I talked them into shooting in 3D, because 3D was the new thing, and I thought it would be good for the feature. They said yes. We checked to make sure there were enough theaters at the time. There would be enough converted to 3D by the time we were done shooting. And it looked good. We shot the movie, we finished it. What we didn't realize during that period was, the new invention of converted 3D movies had hit the fan. All of a sudden, all of the theaters where we thought we were going to play were showing Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland, which had never been listed as 3D movies. And they were doing great business. So they got held over. All of the places we thought we were going to play, we were out of bounds. So we thought, "Okay, we're going to have to pick up the slack in the fact that there aren't enough theaters." Because at that time, there still weren't a lot of theaters that could play 3D. So, we ended up with the short stick. Then other big movies came out, and they filled up those 3D theaters. We didn't have any stars. So we sat out on the sidelines. Just like The Cabin in the Woods and Red Dawn, waiting for someone to pick up the movie. No one wanted to take it.
Wow! That's hard to believe that no one wanted it...You guys actually shot this in 3D, though? Right? Its not converted...
Joe Dante: Yes, we took a lot of care in that we shot it in 3D. And we won an award at the Venice Film Festival for it. I thought that would be enough to get it over the hump. But you really need to have a high profile movie to fill up these theaters.
How disappointing is it to see this come out, and its just on DVD, and its not in 3D?
Joe Dante: Of course, it's very disappointing. It played in Europe in 3D. It did really well. It's a really good 3D movie. I like to think that it's good in 2D. But it was really designed to bring the audience into the picture, and make them feel like they are in the basement with these kids. That they are in the hall, and that this adventure really did happen to them. As I said, it's very frustrating to know that most people will see it in 2D.
What is your overview of the whole 3D phenomenon as we've come to know it over the course of this past decade?
Joe Dante: As it generally happens, it comes in waves. 3D went out in the 50s. Then they tried to revive it in the 60s. There were some pictures in the early 80s. All with different formats. And they all have their own problems. The current version of 3D, which is digital, is completely rock steady. It has no focus problems. If you've seen Avatar, then you know what is possible. But even a modest 3D movie, like The Hole, you can get some really remarkable effects, and they don't give you eye strain, which is good. The problem is, and its what killed off 3D in all these other iterations...People always say its because the movies were bad...No, that's not true. It wasn't because the movies were bad. Its because the presentation was bad. It was substandard. People got headaches. If there was a splice in one print, they had to make a splice in the exact same spot, in the other print. Or it would go out of synch. Those things eventually ate up the audiences for 3D. Now, I am seeing the same thing happening. We have the greatest potential version of 3D imaginable, and I have seen some abysmal projections, and some terrible presentations of it. Its too dark, and its blurry, and its got double images. If it's not done correctly, it's really annoying. I've seen people ask at the box office, "Which one is in 3D?" And then when they find out, they pick the 2D. Not even because it's cheaper, which it is...They outrageously overcharge for 3D. Which is why the exhibitors like it. But people don't want to watch it because they don't want to deal with it, and that's a real shame.
Another problem, I saw The Avengers in 3D, and I didn't know these particular glasses had a battery in them. The battery was dead. I was sitting there, watching the movie, thinking, "This is horrible!" Because it was all dark, and blurry...
Joe Dante: (Laughs) Look, there are no projectionists anymore. It's just a machine. A guy stands at the top, and he pushes a button, and the machine is going. And the people that hand out the glasses, they are low skilled workers. They don't change the battery. They don't clean the lenses. It's a surefire recipe for killing the medium.
Yeah. I agree. That is what's so disappointing about it, too. I saw Conan the Barbarian, which was converted, followed by Final Destination 5, which was shot in 3D. Seeing them back-to-back, the difference was incredible. Some people don't realize how good a movie shot in 3D actually looks. It's a whole different world. If you choose the wrong movie, you may have not even seen a true 3D movie since this up grade in technology.
Joe Dante: Yeah, I lot of people aren't going to recognize that there is a difference. The editing style in a 2D film is completely different than a 3D film. There is a lot of fast cutting in a 2D film. You can't watch that in 3D, because your eyes don't have time to adjust to it. The whole way that you shoot and edit a 3D movie is completely different than a 2D movie. You can't just pull a movie off the shelve, shove it through the computer, and have it come out looking great. It does not work that way.
Looking at Amazon, your movie isn't being offered in 3D on Blu-ray, even...
Joe Dante: Well, it is overseas. Just go to Amazon.uk, and you can get the British version in 3D. I think there is also a Hong Kong version in 3D. And there is an Italian version in 3D.
I'm out of touch. I don't know how this works any more. Is there still region coding when it comes to buying a foreign disc that is in 3D?
Joe Dante: Yes. There is still region coding, and you have to get an all-region 3D player. But many people are getting all-region 3D players. They are quite common.
I'm amazed that they didn't put it out on 3D in America. I just went to get a new player, and the best brands are around $100. It's in 3D, its Blu-ray...
Joe Dante: I can't speak for these guys that are releasing the disc, because I don't know them. But they will do these things in waves. They put out the no frills version. And then they put out another version that's got all sorts of extras. They say, "Oh, you have to get the new version! It's a new transfer!" It's an HD transfer, and it has all new things on it. It's about buying it twice. That is a basic American tendency. Remember 8 track tapes?
Yes. I have an 8-track tape player. I just bought it over Christmas time. It has a unique sound too it, but its not vinyl. I won't be claiming it's the best thing around any time soon. But it's neat...
You'll probably hate me for saying this, but I got this Blu-ray player just the other night, and I have never really watched a Blu-ray before. I get the disc in there, and I think it's going to be life altering. Things are going to come out of the screen, I'm going to see Jesus...But then I'm watching this movie, and its just the same ol' movie I've seen before. Sure, it looks a little crisper, but if it's a good movie, the novelty of that wears off...
Joe Dante: Really? With me, I find that I am shocked by certain things. There are some really good transfers that have been done. The image won't get much better than it is on Blu-ray, but again, there are a number of films that were poorly served during there first incarnation on DVD that do look really good on Blu-ray.
Maybe its because I come from a VHS generation. I'll watch things that look like they were recorded off an old inner tube. I just come from a different generation of downgraded tapes.
Joe Dante: (Laughs!)
Now, when I read reviews for The Hole, I keep coming back to the same observation: This is a return to form for Joe Dante. What do you think when you hear that?
Joe Dante: (Laughs) I think its ridiculous. A return to form indicates that the form has gone away. You have the same form no matter what you are doing, and how often you get to do it. Just because I made Looney Tunes: Back In Action doesn't mean I've forgotten how to make a horror film. You take the job at hand seriously, and you try to make the best movie you can out of it. I think that is true of every filmmaker.
I'm one of those people that believe, when you have a great director, you can tell its his movie without being told its his movie. When I watch Looney Tunes: Back in Action, I can tell that is a Joe Dante film...
Joe Dante: No, they weren't able to erase my personality completely. (Laughs) But they tried...
I don't know the backstory on the making of that movie. I like that movie. I think some of the scenes are great...Like the part in Area 51, that is so awesome...
Joe Dante: They wanted me to cut that out. They hated that.
How could they hate that? Its one of the best parts of the movie?
Joe Dante: They hated it! They actually made me shoot a replacement scene with Pepe LePew in Paris. Where those moments take place with no monsters, and no Joan Cusack. I spent the money. Then I proved to them in a preview that it wasn't as good as what I had. That movie was a constant battle.
Like I said, I had no idea what went on with the making of that movie...
Joe Dante: Its good that you don't know. You're not supposed to know.
Its fun, though, to hear those stories in retrospect. I watched this documentary just by coincidence last night about Grindhouse cinema. Which you are in. I love watching you talk about these types of movies. I love hearing John Landis. I'm always constantly fascinated by the history of cinema, especially this type of cinema...
Joe Dante: Yeah, the people you see in these documentaries are there because they want to be. Because they don't pay you. Its because we love the subject, and we love the movies, and we love talking about them. That's why I did my website, Trailers from Hell. You have nothing but people like John Landis and me talking about movies we like.
Now that we know why this movie has taken so long to come out, why did it take so long for you to return to directing with this movie in the first place? There is a big gap between Looney Tunes and The Hole...
Joe Dante: Like everyone in Hollywood, I am working on many projects at once. I spent a lot of time trying to make a movie about Roger Corman shooting The Trip. I almost got it made, I was this close. Then the whole thing fell apart. I had been working on that for a few years. A lot of people...If you look certain people up on IMDB, you will see huge gaps in their resume. And you wonder, "Geez, what happened? Were they in rehab? What's the story?" No, its not that he wasn't working. He was probably working harder than when he was actually shooting. Because you are trying to set up contacts, and you are trying to get things made. I have had movies canceled two weeks before shooting started. That is a long pre-production to be throwing away. It's just the nature of the business.
What did you see in The Hole that made you want to come back to this genre? Its family friendly horror...
Joe Dante: Nooooo, its not because it was family friendly...When I started reading it, I liked the characters, and I thought the kids were well written, which is unusual in today's Hollywood...And when the reveal came, of what was in the hole, it was completely not what I thought. It didn't go where I thought it would be going, which I thought it would be more like The Gate. Because it went into some darker places, and dealt with family dysfunctions. It was stuff that doesn't usually appear in this kind of picture. I thought it was offbeat. This is something I knew I could bring something too.
I was a kid when Gremlins came out, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A lot of the PG rated horror movies, they were meant for kids as well as adults, and they were dark. That darkness seems to be absent from a lot of our family movies nowadays...
Joe Dante: Kids movies today...It's just say no, today! PC rules, and you have to make a jolly happy fuzzy bunny movie for kids. But in fact, a lot of kids went to see Ted. And a lot of unsuspecting parents took their kids to see Ted. Ted is certainly not a movie for children. But it has a talking Teddy Bear. As soon as you put a talking Teddy Bear in a movie, everyone goes, "Ah, it must be adorable. It must be so sweet!" The movie may be a lot of things. I think it's very funny. But adorable and sweet it is not. (Laughs) I don't think these kids are going to go off and become car jackers because they saw that movie.
Those are the kinds of movies I saw as a kid, and I didn't grow up to become a car jacker.
Joe Dante: Because now, kids movies are for kids, period. The idea in the 80s was that people were going as a family. And you could enjoy the movie on a nnumber of different levels. That bifurcated approach is really gone. It's either happy bunnies, or its people getting their heads chopped off. There really isn't a whole lot in-between.
Should I ask the question you get asked all the time?
Joe Dante: No, don't ask it. I don't have any idea!
Well, then, let me ask you this. Why are the teens of today still so drawn to Gremlins and so many other movies of that time period? I've talked to quite a few different kids and they think these movies are better than what is at the Cineplex right now. Why do you think that is?
Joe Dante: A lot of that is nostalgia. You love the movies you saw when you were a kid. I have a great affection for the movies from the 50s, the ones that hardly anyone but me remembers. Because those are my formative movies. They really stuck with me. Same thing with the 80s. There was a period where kids were seeing these pictures, they are growing up, and some of them are getting married, and having kids, and showing those kids these pictures. Its one of the reasons I still have a career. Its because I have been able to span a couple of generations, with movies remaining popular.
So you blame the parents. Because I am talking about the kids nowadays. There is no nostalgia there for them. They genuinely like the movies on their own merits...
Joe Dante: Yeah, parents show the kids. Movies have to be curetted. People have to point you to them. There are too many movies to find them on your own. You really need someone to point you to them and say, "Hey, you need to watch this! You'd love this. My big brother showed me this movie. I really like it." That's the way the legacy goes.
And that has to be a real testament to you and the other filmmakers of the era...
Joe Dante: Yeah, you'd think we'd work more often. (Laughs) Lets get these kids to buy studios, and then they can hire us!