Movies

Robert Zemeckis takes ‘Flight’

 

The director returns to live-action film for the first time since 2000’s ‘Cast Away’

rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

“When are you going to make another real movie?” is the question that has been dogging Robert Zemeckis for more than a decade. Ever since he went down the animation rabbit hole to make 2004’s The Polar Express — the first film to use motion-capture technology, or mo-cap, in which real actors are filmed on bare sets and then transformed into cartoons — Zemeckis seemed to lose interest in the live-action pictures that had earned him critical and commercial success ( Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Contact).

The Polar Express was a big hit, grossing more than $300 million worldwide (it was also the first film released in 3D IMAX simultaneously with multiplexes). So for the next five years, Zemeckis devoted himself to the animation format, making Beowulf (2007) and Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009). The speculation was that Zemeckis had lost interest in traditional filmmaking and would never make a “real” movie again, at least not one starring actors made of flesh and blood.

But the director shoots down that theory. The truth is actually much simpler.

“I only made those movies using [mo-cap] because they were projects that were interesting and naturally lended themselves to be digitally animated,” he says. “I just didn’t come across a script for a live-action film that really captured me until Flight.

The movie, which opens Friday, begins with a terrifying plane crash that showcases Zemeckis’ talent for special-effects and making the impossible look real. But the rest of Flight, which is the director’s first R-rated film since 1980’s criminally underrated Used Cars, marks new territory for the filmmaker. It’s a character study of an airline pilot (played by Denzel Washington) who manages to save most of his passengers, but the ensuing investigation exposes his alcoholism and drug abuse and reveals he was drunk during the accident.

“The thing that’s interesting about substance abuse is that there are a lot of people who have occupations where they are responsible for the well-being of others,” he says. “We never tend to consider they may have personal problems — pilots, doctors, surgeons. You don’t want to go into heart surgery the day after your doctor had a horrible argument with his wife. But you never really know.

“With Flight, I saw Denzel’s character as a man with a much deeper problem than substance abuse. His issues are magnified by drug and alcohol, but they are not caused by it. He uses them to get relief from his real dilemma, which is that he’s emotionally cut off from his fellow man. He doesn’t have any relationships other than with his drug pusher. That’s what I think sets Flight apart from movies such as The Lost Weekend or Days of Wine and Roses. They are about the disease of alcoholism. Flight could have been about any disorder — a gambling problem, a sexual addiction, anything.”

Flight is unusually dark and explicit for Zemeckis, whose body of work had previously been characterized by a gentler, family-friendly veneer. But the director says he didn’t think of those things when he signed on to make the film.

“I don’t have any predisposed interests,” he says. “My previous movies cover a wide range of stories and tones. I thought the screenplay for Flight [written by John Gatins] was really bold and courageous. I loved the complexity of the entire piece. I wasn’t trying to make an R-rated movie.”

In an era where studios strongly encourage filmmakers to stay within the boundaries of a PG-13 rating to maximize box office potential, Zemeckis says he felt no pressure whatsoever to soften the edges of his movies.

“The trick is to keep your budget low,” he says. “You can’t make an R-rated adult drama for a lot of money, because the financiers won’t take the risk. But we made this movie for $30 million, and the studio says ‘OK, we can survive an R-rated movie for that price tag.’ [Distributor Paramount Pictures] loved this movie. They wanted to make this movie. They’re sad the marketplace has shifted to a point where we can’t make movies that are about anything anymore. But they never suggested we change a thing. They left us alone, and I’m really happy with what we delivered.”

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

  •  
Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

  •  
A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category