Director Brad Peyton admits most movie scripts don’t hold his interest. With a self-described short attention span, Peyton has a list of characteristics a film must have in order to capture his attention: dramatic visuals and set pieces, character drama, maybe a touch of comedy and, above all, heart.
When he was presented with the script for “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” it immediately got past his ADD tendencies.
“I immediately knew I wanted to do it, and thought I really knew how to achieve it correctly,” he explained.
What he didn’t know right away was that he’d end up getting his first choices for the actors in each of the film’s roles, including Michael Caine, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Luis Guzman, Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson and Kristen Davis.
“In my wildest dreams, I never saw this coming. I couldn’t see the specifics being so great.”
Peyton perhaps shouldn’t be so surprised, since it seems his entire career as a filmmaker has been full of blessings and opportunities. It started in 2001 with “Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl,” which earned a Genie Award nomination and caught the attention of Tom Hanks’ company, Playtone, which hired Peyton to write and direct “Spider and the Fly,” an animated feature. While engaged in that project, Peyton also wrote a feature film script called “Billy Grimm,” which was bought by Sony.
Living in Toronto, Peyton earned attention for the stop-motion animated CBC TV series “What It’s Like Being Alone” — featuring mutant orphans looking for families — which he created, directed and produced.
After that, Peyton said he felt the need to move to Los Angeles to try to see through some of his projects. His most recent film before “Journey” was the 2010 3-D comedy “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” with a cast that included Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bette Midler and Nick Nolte. He’s currently working on animated CBC movie called “Pirates Passage” with Donald Sutherland, and is in development of the animated TV series “Dr. Dimensionpants.”
“Journey,” the followup to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” is a 3-D family adventure film that follows 17-year-old Sean Anderson (Hutcherson) and his stepfather (Johnson) on a quest to find Sean’s grandfather (Caine) on a mysterious island in the South Pacific.
The island is full of strange creatures, volcanoes of gold, lush vegetation, and secrets relating to the books of Jules Verne.
“The movies that inspire me are adventure films that I grew up on, like ‘Indiana Jones.’ That movie is very much a location movie,” Peyton told The Telegram. “In my opinion, the more fantastical your movie is, the more you have to work around it. Putting this one on a soundstage would have made it difficult to ground it and it certainly would have been difficult to get the scale and the scope that I wanted.”
The movie, filmed in Oahu, Hawaii, is definitely fantastical. Life on the mysterious island follows Foster’s Rule, a genuine theory that over the course of evolution in an isolated environment, big things become small and small things become big. In the film, the characters pick up and cuddle elephants, dodge a monstrous lizard, ride huge bumblebees while escaping even bigger birds, and have a run-in with a gigantic electric eel.
As one can imagine, the special effects in the film took a lot of work. A stunning helicopter crash scene was filmed on a sound stage in North Carolina with a rigged-up device modified from truck suspensions that could stimulate a Category 5 hurricane battering the helicopter and tearing it apart.
Underwater scenes, in which Johnson and Hutcherson’s characters find The Nautilus, Captain Nemo’s submarine from “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” were filmed in a custom-built 750,000-gallon tank, 80 feet wide by 20 feet deep.
As for the golden volcano, the crew was unable to use the standard mica or Mylar flakes, risking polluting the Hawaiian environment, so they used real gold leaf instead.
“Budget-wise, even though it looks a lot bigger, it was very comparable to ‘Cats and Dogs,’” Peyton said. “In this movie, there was a real opportunity to design all the visual effects from scratch early on, and I wanted the experience. I wanted to make the most rollercoasty, epic ride I could do.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s a great 3-D movie, a really fun 3-D movie, but 3-D for me is about trying to immerse the audience into the story. Trying to tell them a story that could only be told in 3-D and not letting the technology dictate the storytelling, but letting the storytelling dictate what the technology should be doing.”
The storyline also has to be balanced, Peyton explained.
“I didn’t want it to be just spectacle and not emotionally engage you. Obviously, it’s meant to mostly be fun and enjoyable and give you the right amount of laughs and action and adventure, but if it doesn’t have heart and we don’t care, then the ride’s going to be kind of empty and I didn’t want to do that,” he said.
Peyton also didn’t want to talk down to audiences, saying that’s a quality he doesn’t like in people or art. Instead, he said, he feels the movie respects the intelligence of adults and the wisdom of children.
He hopes families might take home a sparked imagination, an interest in Verne, and the idea that families, no matter how perfect or fractured, can come together to help each other.
“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” opens in theatres across North America, including Empire Theatres Studio 12 IMAX 3-D in St. John’s, today.
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