Director Andrei Konchalovsky discusses his latest film, which is a 3D adaptation of the classic holiday ballet
Russian born director Andrei Konchalovsky is best known in the United States for his work on the classic '80s buddy-cop film Tango & Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. But on November 24th, the filmmaker will be bringing the classic holiday ballet, The Nutcracker, to the big screen with the release of The Nutcracker in 3D. The movie promises to be a musical, 3D extravaganza for the whole family and stars a talented cast of actors including Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane and John Turturro. We recently had a chance to speak with Andrei Konchalovsky about his new movie, the classic ballet that it is based on and bringing the story to the screen in 3D. Here is what he had to say:
To begin with, was it your decision to retell this classic story in 3D and can you talk about why you decided that it would be a good creative choice for this material?
Andrei Konchalovsky: Yes, the choice was mine. The film has to be in 3D for many reasons. First, because it is a fantasy and its magic, it's a magic world we are getting in. You can see the 3D we use quite elaborately and quite selectively, not all the time is it really deep 3D because you don't need it when you do the close up. But when the girl goes into her dreams, into the magic world, then we have to see the 3D that will be breath taking. When you see a giant Christmas tree, some trip on the flying machine or riding the bicycles through the tunnels, some things that make you hold your breath for a second. Then we have to go back into the story. I wanted to make very stable, simple camera movements and keep the language simple otherwise it would be very jarring to see the film with a handheld camera on top of 3D. I was trying to make a classical film. I would say the examples of classical films for me are always the films that not only survive one generation but survive two or three generations. Like when a child sees a film and then when he or she is a parent, they can already enjoy the film, even as a grand parent. We're talking about Mickey Mouse, Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz. They are movies not only for children but for the whole family as well. That's what my intention was, to make that type of film where you like it as a child or an adult. 3D is just a kind of entertaining little gimmick. I am saying little gimmick, not big gimmick because 3D is like if you put a man on a rollercoaster for ten minutes, he will enjoy it but if you put him on the roller coaster for an hour and a half he will die. You understand what I mean? We still don't understand how effective or ineffective 3D can be in telling the story or giving some emotions to people because emotions cannot be constant. There are certain moments that a man can have a lot of fun going through the rollercoaster in film, but he cannot go through the rollercoaster for one hour and forty-five minutes because then he would be numb. It's like too much of caviar or ice cream. If you have two kilos of caviar or five pounds of ice cream you are going to have diarrhea. It is very important to have the right sense of measure and the right place to use it, in a sense. Because film for me is not only entertaining, but also it is an emotional moment. The films we usually consider classical are the films that first of all have a good story, then characters and a hero we have to root and dig for. We have to love the character and we love him not because he is in 3D but we love him because he does something we like. In a sense, its important that it touches more people especially in a fairy tale, which is a trip into the magical world of fantasy and resembles some place that any adult can relate to because every adult was a child at the beginning. Every adult has childish dreams. Every adult remembers the smell of toast, pine needles, some presents, seasonal greetings and a feeling of hope, I would say. That is a different story that doesn't have to be in 3D. It is just a story of an art medium that fills itself.
In the film, Nathan Lane plays Uncle Albert and he has a striking resemblance to Albert Einstein, is Lane actually playing the famous physicist and was that in the script or a choice the actor made?
Andrei Konchalovsky: You know, I would be too clever to say I don't know myself. No, no, no. It was a choice I made. I was looking at Nathan and I was thinking he could be Einstein. He looked like Albert Einstein. His eyebrows are like a little roof on the house. Yes, Uncle Albert became a storyteller because first of all, this is a great character. Secondly, he's a charming character all together and because I was thinking what kind of character I would like to be in the film, in the fairy tale as kind of archetypes. Uncle Albert is an archetype of a great man, a genius who understands children much more than parents understand them.
Can you talk about how you were able to orchestrate the classic "Nutcracker" theme into the narrative of the music of the film?
Andrei Konchalovsky: Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky is one of the greatest melody writers. His themes are world known. I was thinking I didn't want to take away The Nutcracker from Tchaikovsky. I also didn't want to take Tchaikovsky from people who like The Nutcracker because of the music. The Nutcracker has a serious following in the world and the United States especially and I didn't want to disappoint them and make The Nutcracker without Tchaikovsky because people go to see The Nutcracker because they love Tchaikovsky music. They will be disappointed it's not a ballet, but I think ballet cannot work in cinema very well. So I decided to make a story of The Nutcracker and reshape it and give Tchaikovsky's music some new dimension and I asked Tim Rice to write the lyrics. I hope some of the lyrics will stick in your mind and you will sing it. We used Tchaikovsky's music and we used the symphony. We used all themes that are very, very well known and heard even by people who are not into classical music. It is to remind them. It is like a cultural association, but to give them a new kick.
Finally, in addition to the 3D in the film it is also filled with visual effects, how much of that was done practically and how much was done with CGI?
Andrei Konchalovsky: Today's technology, today's ability with CGI to give you whatever you want, whatever the director wants is extremely tempting to use it to the full extent. When you use it to the full extent, it is exactly the same as what I said about 3D. If you use it to the full extent it becomes overbearing. The director should be very, very careful and self-restricting because every director feels like a child in a candy store. He is completely unleashed. He is going to use everything, dinosaurs are going to run seventy miles per hour and Superman will never hit a corner. I tend to restrict myself in order to make the world of visual effects almost imperceptible. If it is acceptable it should be extremely light. The most difficult thing technologically was making the snowflakes. The dance of the snowflakes; I needed at least one dance because ballerina people who go to the film will expect to see at least one ballerina. The snowflakes are a perfect example of what can be done. It is completely magical because I didn't put ballet dancers on the floor dancing to snowflakes. This dance was very complicated because I wanted to have snowflakes; a blizzard and stardust but at the same time they should be able to recognize the male dancer. That was the most difficult thing, first of all to explain what I want and secondly to achieve later. It took about six months to have it look how I wanted it to look. Second thing technically that was extremely difficult was the tree. I can imagine how hard it was for the cameraman to make the tree in Avatar. But I had to make a tree where you were traveling inside it and have it looked like the Empire State Building. Fighting with the proportions, it was very complicated, very hit and miss. In general, I think the most difficult task was to restrict myself in everything that CGI could afford in order to make it almost imperceptible. The Nutcracker is a figure, it is a doll and there are certain movements that can be done by a wooden doll. Many directors showed me different movements that can be done, there is a motion caption movement but I said I didn't want it. It was very, very difficult for us to come to terms with how heavy this doll should be and clumsy because he has a wooden body and thin legs. He needs to balance a little because he has to be careful when he walks or he is going to fall. Once the wooden doll is alive he could have thirty little facial expressions but I said I want none, open and close his eyes, mouth and eyebrows only. It was very risky. We decided to go very reduced to achieve this kind of reality where there is a live person inside of a wooden doll because he views himself as a handicap person. For me the biggest compliment I have heard when some visual effects people make comments is, who are your puppeteers? It is very important to restrain yourself. When you see the film, you don't ask why he is so clumpy or why he has no facial expressions? You understand exactly why it is that way because he is a wooden doll that is alive. It is like less is more.