THE MONSTER OF MEL­BOURNE

An old story about an odd man out is res­ur­rected with a all-star cast in an Aus­tralian set­ting, writes Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

AARON Eck­hart is re­clin­ing in his camp chair puff­ing on a cigar. No, it’s not a habit he picked up from his star­ring role in the black satire Thank You For Smok­ing; rather, it came from his time op­po­site Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary.

He’s re­laxed in the leafy out­skirts of Mel­bourne and there’s no in­di­ca­tion the ac­tor will soon trans­form into a new Hol­ly­wood ver­sion of Franken­stein. For starters, Hol­ly­wood doesn’t come to the sub­urbs of Mel­bourne too of­ten. But the grow­ing in­flu­ence of our di­rec­tors and writ­ers and the gen­eros­ity of a govern­ment re­bate scheme for those who cre­ate their own projects has changed that. Hol­ly­wood is slowly bring­ing films back to Aus­tralia and al­low­ing lo­cal talent to stay at the helm.

The cap­tain of this film, I, Franken­stein, is Mel­bourne-born and Syd­ney-reared Stu­art Beat­tie. Beat­tie is best known as the screen­writer of Col­lat­eral and the man who cracked open the char­ac­ters for the Pi­rates of the Caribbean se­ries.

He made his di­rec­to­rial de­but with the suc­cess­ful 2010 adap­ta­tion of the pop­u­lar Aus­tralian young adult novel To­mor­row, When the War Be­gan and I, Franken­stein should be his next step to­wards the big time. He’s over­see­ing con­sid­er­able stars such as Eck­hart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Jai Court­ney and Yvonne Stra­hovski in a big-budget film aimed right at the global mul­ti­plex mar­ket.

Eck­hart, even with­out the calm of his cigar, be­lieves Beat­tie can step up. “He knows what he wants and is very clear and he’s a writer so sto­ry­telling is his bones,” he says. “I feel like the pro­duc­ers are mak­ing his movie and he’s very happy to be mak­ing it in Aus­tralia.”

Beat­tie is happy, if flag­ging. As we speak late at night on the set of a ma­jor set piece in a forested val­ley in the in­nards of Park Or­chards, he is half­way through a fre­netic shoot. Yet he’s on sched­ule and budget. This de­spite hav­ing to shoe­horn a US film into an Aus­tralian shoot­ing sched­ule.

“It’s tir­ing but it’s go­ing to plan,” he says, smil­ing, be­tween shots. “This pe­riod of the night’s nice. It gets cra­zier as we have to chase the sun­rise later.”

The val­ley is the kind any sub­ur­ban kid would have to loved to have seen from their back yard, par­tic­u­larly now as it is dressed to play the part of an an­cient ceme­tery hold­ing Vic­tor Franken­stein.

Right now, all is serene other than the hum of gen­er­a­tors far­ther up the hill. Even the kids from ad­join­ing houses sit still and in their pyja- mas, watch­ing in quiet awe as a stunt­woman re­peat­edly drops from above on a ca­ble, try­ing to land as softly as the winged gar­goyle she be­comes in the film.

The pro­duc­tion of I, Franken­stein is a big ask for Beat­tie, par­tic­u­larly as he likes a tac­tile film, full of real stunts and pros­thet­ics, rather than the eas­ier op­tion of dig­i­tal ef­fects over­rid­ing re­al­ity.

The film will be shot in 40 days, in­clud­ing a stint at Mel­bourne’s Dock­lands Stu­dio and many ex­ter­nal lo­ca­tions, such as the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne and Flin­ders Lane. The city scrubs up nicely as the gothic city pro­ducer Gary Lucchesi de­scribes thus: “If the world took a step to the left in 1795 and then con­tin­ued on for 200 years in this slightly di­verg­ing di­rec­tion, this is where we end up.”

“This is in­sane,” Beat­tie ad­mits of his task. “Hol­ly­wood films have 80 days [to shoot]; I’d be com­fort­able with 60 to 65 days, that’s what it should be, but 40 is tough.”

Nev­er­the­less, the set is calm and does not re­flect the mayhem that will hit the screen 18 months hence as two su­per­nat­u­ral tribes, the “good” gar­goyles and the “bad” demons, bat­tle with Eck­hart’s Adam Franken­stein, the monster in the mid­dle.

The film used the ti­tle of the graphic novel by Kevin Gre­vi­oux ( Un­der­world) but Beat­tie worked on the premise of a mod­ern-day ac­tion movie fo­cus­ing on Franken­stein’s monster with­out slav­ish ref­er­ence to Gre­vi­oux’s novel. In­deed, the film be­gins where Mary Shel­ley’s orig­i­nal clas­sic ends, with a crea­ture car­ry­ing Franken­stein’s monster away on the ice.

Beat­tie con­tends Shel­ley’s book, not Gre­vi­oux’s, is the source ma­te­rial al­though later

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