No fantasy is too far-fetched for Thor's 'Dark World'
05:00 AM, Nov 05, 2013
Not a whole lot makes Alan Taylor comfier than watching warriors battle it out with swords and shields.
He won’t even blink when you add in spaceships and laser guns.
Marvel Studios wanted to up the fantasy ante for its Thor: The Dark World sequel (out Nov. 8), and they found just the right guy in Taylor, a producer and director on HBO’s Game of Thrones. For Dark World, Taylor turned a few sites in Europe into the Nine Realms, a setting right out of Norse and comic-book mythology.
“There’s nothing like standing on a volcanic mountain in Iceland or even the Pinewoods in England and letting the landscape tell you where to put the camera and the angle of the sun showing you it’s going to look good,” says Taylor.
In the new movie, the different worlds including Asgard, the home of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Midgard, aka Earth come under attack by the ancient and powerful leader of the dark elves, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Thor enters into an uneasy alliance with his adopted brother, god of mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to help save London, Thor’s love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and the rest of the realms.
Taylor started with vintage Thor comics as reference material, “but at a certain point you lose your mind and I retreated a little bit,” he says. “In the early comics, they’re wearing Tiki headdresses and Aztec masks and loungewear from Vegas nightclubs. It blows your mind.”
Instead, he and production designer Charles Wood turned their attention to the classics. To build out bustling Asgard, a place with “a combination of technology and culture that transcends our knowledge,” Taylor says they mashed up historical references, mixing Arabic columns inside the palace of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with Celtic rune patterns on the outside.
“That’s the stuff I love and what I think helps you believe it,” says Taylor.
Having the actors believe that these fantasy settings were real was important, too. So instead of using all green-screen scenery, Taylor took the production to an Icelandic volcano to get a specific look for Svartalfheim, the bleak home of the dark elves, and used forests outside London for the opening battle scene set in the fields of Vanaheim.
And to flesh out Asgard even more, a second unit was sent to Norway for footage of various locations and terrains, and then the city was put on top of that.
“Sometimes you can’t even see any of the original terrain, but you still get foreground, clouds and camera shake and movement that make it very real,” says Kevin Feige, producer and Marvel Studios president.
Taylor also raised the fantasy a notch in terms of language: A week or so before production began, he sprang it on Eccleston that he wanted Malekith to speak Elvish. With this particular dialect, Taylor used the same person who developed the Dothraki language on Game of Thrones.
While Eccleston concedes he’s “your typical Englishman” in that foreign languages are not his forte, he discovered that Finnish was an influence on the dark elves’ speech. “So I spent a lot of time on YouTube listening to people speak in Finnish to steal some of the music and the rhythms and the stress patterns.”
Taylor says he’s eagar to see if he nailed the “funny combination” of fantasy and cosmic sci-fi elements.
“I kept thinking, ‘Elves and spaceships that sounds like a ticket to ridiculousness.’ Part of the challenge with the Thor mythology is you’ve got laser guns fighting broadswords and horses in the same battle where you’ve got spaceships. Making it all somehow seem like a coherent reality is the challenge.”
The key to that for Taylor, whether dealing with the Lannisters and the Starks of Game of Thrones or Thor vs. Loki in a comic-book movie, is relaying a human experience set in an exotic world.
“The struggle between two brothers who have to get along even though they hate each other’s guts, that’s something we can all relate to,” the director says. “The fact that you’re traveling in a flying ship over an alien planet fighting elven spaceships, hopefully that will feel slightly more real because you understand why they’re arguing with each other.”