We watched 20 minutes of Aquaman footage, here’s what we saw
“Obviously, certain elements have already been established from Justice League, but I’m really coming into this making my own movie,” James Wan asserted upon inviting a small group of film press into an edit bay visit of Aquaman.
The Warner Bros. and DC film opens in just a few months and was in the thick of post when ComingSoon.net sat down with director James Wan at his production office to talk about the SDCC extended trailer and get a sneak peek at a handful of scenes.
Excited to talk to a new set of fresh eyes, Wan warned, “And, what I’m gonna show you guys, it’s a bit different. I think it has my stamp all over it. I’m literally still in the midst, but I’ll give you my disclaimer: I’m putting it together. A lot of visual effects work is yet to be done, you know, sound, mix, color, and all that stuff.”
What we got to see showed the film starting to take its full shape. Nothing you’ve seen online could prepare you. Set pictures, choices seen from afar, teasers and early previews that have been a part of the conversation still just examine a film in process. And honestly, it’s been like the internet reacting to cookie dough not looking like cookies quite yet.
In the extended SDCC trailer, we heard a bit of Jason Momoa’s narration as Arthur telling his story, and the film’s opening goes into the unlikely romance between his parents as told by the son of land and sea.
“I’m actually gonna show you guys the opening prologue to the film, ’cause this is very important for me because this shows how Mom and Dad met. And why I think it’s important is because, I’m gonna show you guys that for me, the love story of Arthur and Mera is important, but the love story of mom and dad, and how they meet, and fall in love, is just as important, if not more important, because the emotion that we have with those two characters is sort of the emotional backbone for the whole film.”
The narration feels reminiscent of the storytelling method in The Princess Bride–a film that has action, adventure and is rooted in the romance. We see the storm that led to Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) being found by Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and how their love grew from being curious about one another. Seeing Nicole play a fierce sea Queen who tries to figure out the human world was delightful, even when she tries to eat Thomas’ fish and he jokingly reacts by asking her to not eat his cat. The playful chemistry between her and Morrison is immediately endearing. It’s so pure.
“My whole movie is sort of built around how Arthur feels. And I know we live in a much more cynical world today, but I still think we can bring a lot of that back and deep down I’m such a romantic and I love that just the very sort of sweet, romantic nature of how Mom and Dad both people are from such different worlds, but it didn’t matter. Like the love for each other bring them together and through that, through their love you get Arthur Curry, you get Aquaman, right? I wanted a superhero very much shaped by the love that Mom and Dad had. And it’s also what kind of makes him a bit bitter, because what happened to them.” Wan explained as we also got to see an action-packed clip of the Atlanteans apprehending Atlanna in an amazing one-shot action sequence where Kidman becomes an instant heroic icon because she doesn’t go down without a fight to protect her child. Also in those flashback scenes, there are some really cool easter eggs in the set dressing like a copy of the Dunwich Horror by HP Lovecraft (as a nod to the Cthulhu mythos and aquatic horror), a cute white seashell Motherbox and great use of a Jules Verne quote.
“Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide, and, at last, they will come together.” – Jules Verne.
A fellow Australian, Kidman had been wanting to work with Wan since his early horror work. “I think it was right after Insidious Chapter I. We were working on a project together. It would have been really cool if it actually happened. It was like a very classic, sort of haunted house thriller with Nicole in it. Ever since then, we’ve been wanting to work with each other.” he shared, “And so when this film came along, I was like ‘Oh my God, Queen of Atlantis!’ She was literally my first choice.”
The backstory sets up how the Arthur we have come to know comes from how he coped with the loss of his mother and not fitting in. Wan’s investment in the character shines in his enthusiasm to bring the story of a kid who looks like he comes from two worlds and how that affects how they navigate through the world around them. “He has a chip on his shoulder with Atlantis because of what he blames Atlantis did to his mother. And so, that is like the backbone for the whole film.” Wan expands affirming that he wants to show how young Arthur becomes the Aquaman we met in Justice League, “I think that’s important to show who he was at one stage and how he was a very sort of optimistic young kid. And then what happened that kind of made him who he would eventually become, which is Jason Momoa. But then the journey that he kind of he goes through to become the king that he is supposed to be. And so yeah, that’s kind of fun just watching how his character kind of changes. And really kind of show a bit of the relationship between Arthur Curry and his brother, King Orm, played by Patrick Wilson. And their sort of like the antagonism that they have between with each other. And then kind of give you guys a look into just the underwater world and how they move, how they fight and that kind of stuff.”
Another sequence we were able to see was Arthur facing his brother for the crown of Atlantis in the first act. And his brother might not be playing fair. We also got to see Mera warning Arthur to not rush into the fight as the favor rests on Orm’s side. There are even fun stats of each competitor praising Orm while making fun of Arthur for being a human. The fight plays out like the first match with a big boss. Both fighters size each other up while zipping through the ocean with their weapons. We see Aquaman wield the trident that was revealed as his mother’s in the opening and it getting broken in two.
The polish was coming along for the underwater scenes and Wan discussed the challenges of the sequences. “Even though we did a lot of dry for wet we wanted to make sure that things looked somewhat authentic underwater as well. We would build costumes, sets, and our actors, we would literally submerge them underwater and we did so much study just to see what they would look like.” Wan described the process, “The most surprising thing that we discovered very early on is people, objects, and stuff do not look wet underwater. It only looks wet when you take it out of water. When it’s glistening and it’s dripping wet that’s how something looks wet. But when you’re underwater, it actually looks matte and so that concept was a bit tricky for us to kind of wrap our head around because we’d constantly have to go in there and pat out actors down–like with makeup. Under those bright lights and all the stunts, they were constantly sweating and all that and you don’t see water underwater. You don’t see sweat, right?”
For underwater narrative sequences, first of their kind to this extent, we were really impressed by the practical methods that were built upon to create a fantastic aquatic look. Mix that with the moments Orm antagonizes Arthur and you get a Shakespearean sibling rivalry vibe in the film’s tone. Patrick Wilson, a Wan fave from his Insidious and Conjuring films, is a cold royal who’s set in his ways when it comes to looking at the human world as a mess that he thinks should be dealt with not-so-diplomatically. Wan dug into the character, “I needed to tie it back to my main characters, tie it back to Patrick Wilson’s character, King Orm, and his sort of background, his idea of what Atlantis is, and then also, having a bit of history lesson in there about what Atlantis was before it sank. And, we all know that sort of mythology of that which is, they were so advanced. Right off the bat, you can tell that there’s the world of Atlantis, which is where King Orm is and where Arthur is technically the rightful heir to the throne.”
In another moment in this sequence, we see Mera (yes, her hair is color corrected) speaking to her father about her fate depending on the outcome of the fight. She’s in a gown that, has major prize bride vibes and a wicked tentacle train that floats with her. It’s really cool to see this ringside exchange as Amber Heard’s Mera starts to think of a way to get her and Arthur out of the situation they both don’t want to be in. Both don’t want the human world to have a war waged against it and know the only way to stop that is for Arthur to become King. The politics of it all is something Wan highlights about Orm wanting to unite the Seven Kingdoms to take on the humans, “We definitely touch on Atlantis, but then we also know that Dolph Lundgren’s character is in there and he’s the king of the kingdom of Xebel. And in the trailer, you see we touch on the wall of the trench. And, we go out into the desert. So, we touch on the desert kingdom, as well. Definitely trying to pull things from the comic that serves as our story, but then also bearing in mind for non-fans out there.”
Aquaman opens December 21st!