Warner Bros badly needed the $200m Green Lantern movie to hit, and to help launch its DC movies – and that meant some late extra spending.
With Marvel and its cinematic universe on the ascendancy following the huge success of its first Iron Man film, it was inevitable that Warner Bros was going to follow suit, and exploit some of its DC Comics properties. This was, after all, the end of the 2000s and the start of the 2010s, when Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was still coming together, and following the release of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Warner Bros opted to press ahead with a film of Green Lantern.
It seemed like a sure thing. Ryan Reynolds – before he became Deadpool standalone film movie star Ryan Reynolds – signed up to play the lead role, and Warner Bros recruited Martin Campbell to direct. Given that Campbell had twice rebooted James Bond on the big screen – GoldenEye and Casino Royale – as well as Zorro, he seemed a good choice.
The greenlight was formally given in 2009 when a script was agreed upon, and Warner Bros – buoyed by the billion-dollar gross of The Dark Knight – wrote a gigantic cheque for the movie. The budget even at the point it was greenlit was said to be around the $200m mark, and filming duly got underway in March 2010. This was a couple of months later than originally planned, but there was no obvious cause for concern there.
Instead, what became clear was that the challenge was coming with the post production visual effects. Because whilst the physical production of Green Lantern was not on the cheap side, the challenge of the film was that it was going to need an awful lot of CGI to realise the world that was being put on screen. On an ambition level, it was about equal to Aquaman, that would follow in 2018, when technology had moved on to a point where that film could come in at a slightly cheaper price too (around $180m).
Furthermore, it wasn’t just that the Green Lantern effects bill was going to be on the high side, but also, the physical work involved was very much up against a ticking clock. Production wrapped on the movie’s principal photography in August 2010, but that gave the production team less than a year to have the film complete. Warner Bros has inked in a June 2011 date for the picture, and this was a pretty immovable target.
In all, the film was going to need around 1,400 effects shots. Furthermore, the studio knew that competition was going to be stiff. The same summer, Fox’s soft reboot of the X-Men saga, X-Men: First Class was due, and Marvel had Captain America: The First Avenger. Add to that the final Harry Potter film, a Transformers sequel due to open the week after and the unknown quantity of JJ Abrams’ Super 8, and Warner Bros’ comic book tentpole was going to have to fight to stand out. Plus, effects houses around the planet were chock-full of work on those other pictures too.
On the one hand, Warner Bros mitigated this by stumping up a nine figure sum for the film’s promotional campaign. But also, as ‘crunch’ was intensifying on the effects, it dug into its pockets again. Whilst it’s not unusual for big films to spend a little extra on effects shots late in the day, what’s rarer is that such a spend becomes a story in itself. It was pretty well known that Disney forked out a few extra quid to let Michael Bay add more scenes of blowing shit up late in the day for 1998’s Armageddon, but a story spiked in the case of Green Lantern just two months prior to its release that Warner Bros had injected another $9m into the film’s effects budget.
On the one hand, this was to offset some of the crunch, Crunch is generally a polite way of describing unpaid overtime in videogaming circles, where sometimes employees are left working 100 hour weeks in the run up to shipping a new game. In the case of Green Lantern., its effects were being tackled by an assortment of houses around the world, and Warner Bros brought more in the lighten the load.
But also, it was a useful story for Warner Bros to put out. In the early promotions for Green Lantern, there was very little in the way of key effects work showcased, as the studio protected its hand a little in the run up to the movie’s release. By letting this particular story out, it helped get across the message that it wasn’t doing things on the cheap. Sure, the flip side was that when Warner Bros held back the look of the film for a while, it raised questions about whether it was actually in trouble. But at least it had an answer to that, even if people didn’t necessarily buy it.
The final bill for the film’s visual effects would come in at around $55m – and certainly that’s not at the top end of what studios had been known to spend. But also, the studio then wanted a 3D bolt-on on top of that as well, which needed to be plugged onto the budget.
In the case of Green Lantern too, a pre-credits CG sequence that had at one stage been cut out of the film altogether was reinstated when Warner Bros saw an early cut of the film. That meant that funds were needed to pay for the work, but also, the workload on the effects teams increased, and calls were put in to see which studios around the planet had capacity.
Of course, when Green Lantern ultimately landed in cinemas, the response wasn’t what Warner was after at all. As impressive as the visuals were deemed to be, the film was a muddle. And As smart a hire as Martin Campbell seemed to be, his impact on the material was dwarfed by what looked like a committee approach to the movie, and plans for a sequel would quietly be dropped.
After all, the box office fell way short. A worldwide take of $219m was far short for a film whose expenditure was likely to require half a billion dollars in receipts to get into the black. Furthermore, there was no overt fan clamour for a Green Lantern 2.
Instead, Green Lantern Corps is on the cards as a reboot of sorts, as Warner Bros follows a fresh path for its DC projects. And, sadly, behind the scenes crunch continues in effects houses around the planet. Not all of the projects concerned being recipients of extra studio expenditure to cover what’s needed, either…
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