Sometimes, we do interviews here at ComingSoon.net that fall by the wayside for one reason or another, and that was the case with this interview with German director Marcus Nispel from Comic-Con in San Diego last July, done at a time when everyone expected his second movie Pathfinder to be released last fall. After numerous delays, the Viking epic is finally seeing the light of day on April 13, so it seemed like a good time to dust off our interview.
Nispel seemingly came out of nowhere when he helmed the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but considering the three years since that movie started the current wave of horror remakes, Nispel realy must have been saving something big up for his follow-up. Sure enough, Pathfinder may have one of the coolest concepts we’ve heard, one that we really haven’t seen before, involving Vikings invading America and being fought off by American Indians. It tells the story of a young Viking boy left behind in an earlier expedition, who was raised by an Indian family and as an adult, is forced to get revenge against his original clan when his adoptive family is slaughtered by another Viking invasion. Karl Urban of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy plays the main character.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk to Nispel before he was getting to ready to preview footage from the movie at Comic-Con in San Diego.
ComingSoon.net: Did you bring “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to San Diego Comic-Con, too?
Marcus Nispel: Yes, we did actually. When I signed on to do “Texas Chainsaw,” I had no idea what the movie meant to Americans. In Germany, it was outlawed, it was X-Rated, so you couldn’t see it, you couldn’t even get it. Though I know a whole lot about movies, I never knew anything about the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and then the moment I signed on, someone asked if I looked on the internet lately. There was an uproar like, “Why is this guy doing this movie? Why’s this movie being done?” Because it was my first movie, too, and I didn’t even know what it meant. I figured it was going down a path of disaster. Then the producer said “You should really premiere the trailer at Comic-Con,” and we did and it got a huge ovation. I knew there was an audience somewhere and we found it. Right away, the buzz turned completely around.
CS: I remember that at the time, it was one of the scariest and most effective trailers I’d seen. How involved were you in creating that?
Nispel: I was involved to a certain degree. We go back and forth. It’s a collaborative effort like the rest of the movie, but it turned it around in a huge way. I didn’t think a movie could do that.
CS: And you started this trend, because now every single ’70s and ’80s horror movie is being remade.
Nispel: Yeah. Well, the challenge of “Pathfinder” was to make an impression with something that wasn’t a comic book before, even though there was a movie called “Pathfinder” but it’s very, very different.
CS: There is also a “Pathfinder” graphic novel that was published by Dark Horse, so were you involved in that?
Nispel: Yes, in fact originally when I came to this country, I wanted to do graphic novels, so when this thing came about, I remember at some point thinking, “Why is it so hard getting this thing off the ground and getting it greenlit?” It’s something like “Conan”, that was made and what happened? Then they said “Conan was a comic book and there was a following,” so we said we’d make our own comic book then, so we started then whoops, this thing got greenlit, so then the design of the book and the making of the movie started to coincide. Christopher Shy, who did the illustrations, painted the movie essentially. We said “What are our Vikings going to be like?” because we knew that we’d take certain contrivances, but I didn’t want to rip-off Frazetta, so we had to come up with our own looks and our own designs. I put him to work on that and we designed the main set pieces and then I went off to shoot it and he continued to work on the graphic novel. It was really a fun way, because I’d do certain sequences while he would paint them and then we would show each other what we did. At this point, we were so into each other’s head, it was very similar. It was fun to look at the book, I saw it now for the first time complete, and compared it to the movie.
CS: So you had the idea for “Pathfinder” well before you started making “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
Nispel: Yeah, a long time. In a way, you know, times have changed. My favorite filmmakers from the ’70s, they’d always have to do something authentic and truthful themselves, that was sort of demanded from a filmmaker, then they’d go and make their first big studio movie. Times have changed. Essentially, you do a big studio movie or a movie they want you to do and then if you do very well, then maybe they let you do your own little piece. When “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was done, there was not one person in town that didn’t want me to spit shine their ’70s movie or sequel or whatnot, but I said, “Look, this is all great. I really want to do this at some point again, but I really have to do what I feel like I owe to myself as a first movie.”
CS: You mentioned Frazetta and I loved the original poster for the movie, since it reminded me of his artwork in a good way. Was that one of your inspirations for doing this?
Nispel: It started with when you ask yourself the question, “Hey, if I can make a movie, what would it be?” Way back then, before “Chainsaw,” I remember I wanted to do something with gladiators, and then “Gladiator” came along and there goes that, then I said, “Pirates. I haven’t seen a really good pirate movie yet” and then “Pirates of the Caribbean” came along. Then I said, “Maybe I should think about something I actually know something about.” Being from Europe, I said, “Vikings.” They’re these pretty bad guys, but everything that I see that talks about or shows Vikings in America, they’re sort of “cute-ified.” They have round noses or they’re like Hagar or they’re some seafood restaurant promotion platter for little kids. So I said that I have to get them out of that ghetto, and show the Vikings as they really were.
CS: Where is this story supposed to take place?
Nispel: It’s supposed to take place in a sort of primordial New York area, a thousand years ago, so this was before Christopher Columbus. That’s the big news, because I’ve never seen one image where you see an Indian and a Viking in the same picture.
CS: That’s what really got me psyched when I first heard about this movie and then saw the poster. How was it finding locations in Vancouver that matched what you were looking for?
Nispel: There’s not much left in America that looks how we imagined it to be a thousand years ago, so Vancouver, the rain forest over there, this really old growth of forest and trees is very hard to find even in Canada. It’s getting harder to find, so you have to travel very far.
CS: As far as the visual influences for the movie, with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” you had a very specific visual look, somewhere between the ’70s and very modern. What were you going for with “Pathfinder”?
Nispel: It’s very dark, very desaturated, very gritty. There’s always a method to find it in a way, because I pretty much shoot what I see and the method of this one was to not do what everybody else is doing which is to do green screen special effects. One of my mantras was I was watching one of Werner Herzog’s making of “Fitzcarraldo,” and he said that they really do that kind of stuff, so we did. We went out and made a real physical experience. We had torrential monsoon-like rains every day of production Vancouver in the rainy season. Ice cold, tough terrain. We had 99 hospitalizations throughout the entire production. We had 20 broken legs and ankles in one two-day period alone. So none of it is green screen or faked, you know?
CS: How much of the movie is going to be action and battle sequences?
Nispel: Let’s put it this way, the first script, the first draft, had no dialogue. Even now, some parts that are being spoken are mainly for decoration, and it’s a completely visually driven movie, and to me, that relates into action when people don’t talk. And yes, it’s action pretty much throughout. I want a good ride.
CS: I presume this is going to be an R-rated movie?
Nispel: Oh, yeah, that was the big fight. Every studio wants the biggest possible audience and ultimately, movies try to wind up being everything for everyone and what I really was hoping was to do something quite specific, ’cause the movies I liked when I was growing up, those great ’70s movies like Carpenter or John Milius, that kind of stuff. I spoke to John Milius actually, because at some point, I was hoping he would write the script, and we talked about the R and the PG-13 thing. As we got friendly we keep on talking, I said that I wasn’t sure if this has to be an R movie, and he says (doing presumably a John Milius impression) “The axe must cleave.” (laughs)
CS: It always seems that whenever someone tries to make a movie about cowboys or other historic films, it loses realism as soon as you try to make them PG-13.
Nispel: Yes, you can’t make a PG-13 Viking movie.
CS: How many actual people did you have on-set while doing your battle scenes?
Nispel: Actually, the movie is quite contained, because the way how I kept it small enough so I can still do the hard-R version that I wanted to do was by avoiding what I saw in other Viking movies. I read a lot of Viking movie scripts and they all had the battle scenes and them eating the ham hocks and cloned armies, so I said, “No, I want to do it roughly like ‘First Blood.'” I wanted something as simple as that. Essentially one getting revenge against many. When we finished the first draft, the Smithsonian Institute actually announced that they finally have irrefutable proof that Vikings made it all the way to America. Until then, it was just Newfoundland, but they found stuff in New York and Boston. They came on three different campaigns in a ten-year interval. Wherever Vikings went, you couldn’t get rid of them, you’d even have to marry them, but in America, they left. Nobody knows why and how, and this is sort of a legendary question [about what happened to them.]
Pathfinder finally opens on April 13. Look for our exclusive interview with the film’s star Karl Urban next week.