This is undoubtedly the year of the alien movie and Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block continues that trend, but shakes up the genre a bit. With rave reviews pouring in, the movie is generating a cult following even before its July 29th limited release in the U.S. But this sci-fi movie has been flying under the radar and may continue to do so with blockbusters like Cowboys & Aliens overshadowing it. Regardless, director Joe Cornish and star John Boyega are convinced they’ve made a film that separates itself from the pack.
Director Joe Cornish is also a co-writer of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie The Adventures of Tintin and has been linked as a co-writer of Marvel’s Ant-Man, alongside Scott Pilgrim director Edgar Wright. Cornish is at the precipice of fame, and if Attack The Block is any indication of his grasp of entertainment value, he has quite a career in store.
The movie’s star, John Boyega, is at a similar point in his career. With mostly stage experience, he makes his theatrical debut with Attack The Block as the central character in an ensemble arc that finds its heart in his character’s progression. He has the onscreen poise and the off-screen charisma of a far more experienced performer.
In our interview with the pair, we discuss the film’s place in cinema, the outstanding music that drives it, and the evolution of its story.
On what makes it an entertaining film:
Joe Cornish – I think it is made, influenced and inspired by American cinema and a particular thing American genre cinema does, which is mixing up realism and fantasy. Britain’s always been good at the realism bit, but not so good at blending the two.
John Boyega – It’s based on having great characters. If you care about the characters and you care about the journey you are able to release yourself and get lost in the story. It’s just so fun, like you get involved in the situation as an audience member and put yourself in it.
On the creature design:
Cornish – It would take me half-an-hour to tell you all the influences, so I have to sort of select one to talk about, whether it’s a black cat I grew up with that looked like a silhouette. I was obsessed with Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings - the old animated one where he used the rotoscope technique. When I was a child I saw a documentary about that and it fascinated me that you could shoot live-action and then color it in frame by frame and it would literally become flat. I was interested in the super flatness – you know that Japanese art movement called Superflat? I was interested in the flatness of the creatures. Then I wanted to do something practical, so I thought what if you shoot a guy in a furry suit and then rub out the reflection of the fur and then it became a two-dimensional shape. What if you make that a scientific property that it absorbs light and that actually came from Spinal Tap when they are given their album cover and like “that’s blacker than black.”
On going up against Cowboys & Aliens:
Cornish – Well we are on seven screens in seven cities? That’s probably going up on 7,000 screens in 7,000 cities. But we are the little movie that could. It’s very weird that it has come out in this year full of alien movies. It’s weird that Paul, Battle: L.A., Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens – it’s very weird, are we all the same age as directors maybe? Are we all kids who saw E.T. when we were the perfect age…Our film is very different from all those movies. If you enjoy that kind of movie then we have that in it, but in a very different world with very different characters. And hopefully because we don’t have the budget we’ve put more heart and work and effort into character and story and those other elements that maybe sometimes take second place in big-budget movies.
On British films performing in America:
Cornish – It got a pretty enthusiastic reaction in the UK. It did really well critically. It was released in the middle of the blockbuster season, you know, right in the middle of Fast Five and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Thor, so it had pretty tough competition, but it did really well. We never had huge expectations for it. We’re not so overconfident that we thought it was a shoe-in in America. We really kept our fingers crossed that someone over here would be interested and the reaction has really blown us away. But to answer your question, I don’t know, I think it’s true in everything – there are people who will go out of their way to seek different things and there are people who are more comfortable just staying in the middle of the market, but that’s cool. The thing about Attack The Block is that hopefully it works as just a crazy monster mashup movie and a chase film and a mini-blockbuster, but there’s also a little bit of roughage, a little bit of fiber, a little bit of sugary goodness.
On the soundtrack:
Cornish – My intention always was to create a combination of a John Williams score and a John Carpenter score. So the pitch was those two getting together – there is a British musician called Roots Manuva that I really like – so my original pitch was John Williams and John Carpenter go over to Roots Manuva’s house and get really stoned and write the score. That was before we really had anybody on board. Then we found this guy called Steve Price, who was music producer for Edgar [Wright] on ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and one of his skills is to be able to wrangle pop musicians to a movie schedule and get them to deliver and get their cues for the scenes. Then we got Basement Jaxx involved, who are a Brixton-based outfit, which is where the movie is set. They are very good at all these different feels and there is a sort of happiness to everything they do. We were just lucky.
Music is incredibly important. It can affect the tone of a film very late in the day. You hear about directors who throw scores out. You hear about directors who won’t have a composer on there, like Quentin [Tarantino] does everything from his record collection. So we were just lucky they nailed it. The first demo that Basement Jaxx came in with was that riff, bum-bum click bum-bum-bum click. They hadn’t even seen that much of the film – I had shown them about 25 minutes of the film. Then we had a long discussion and they brought back eight demos and one of them was that and I remember listening to it at home and I was worried because it was late in the day and I was thinking ‘Are we ever going to find anyone who can get what’s in my brain?’
Boyega – I am a big fan of scores, like Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams, so I really knew the orchestral side because I listen on my iPod all the time, but I didn’t know how they were going to fuse it with the electronic sound. So when I first heard it, the way it just all happily joins together was just epic.
On the evolution of the film:
Cornish – I have wanted to make films since I was like 13, I went to film school when I was 18 and I’m 42 now so it has taken me 20 years to do this – 20 years working TV and comedy and stuff. Like you, I’ve got loads of ideas in my head and always I walk around with loads of ideas and movie ideas have to be clusters of ideas, like a premise and development and characters, so it’s just a question of letting them just sit in your head. There’s a writer I know in the UK called Graham Linehan, who writes ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd,’ who said a brilliant thing to me – and this kind of sounds weird, but he said, “Part of writing is not writing or knowing when to start writing, because there’s nothing worse than sitting down and being blank.”
So his thing was to wait until the last minute to write – until there’s so much S*&^ in your head that you cannot stop it coming out. So I just waited. I waited for a good idea and a story I felt passionately about and this mugging incident – because when you live in Brixton in South London, you spend a lot of your life being asked when are you going to move and I tell them I’m not going to fucking move, I love it, I grew up there. So when this thing happened to me that lived up to the stereotype, it kind of upset me so deeply I couldn’t not make a story out of it. Then when I thought of the idea of a meteor falling out of the sky that was the first idea that happened. Then the switch of not following the victim, but following the gang, I thought that’s going to freak some people out.
On some of the great one-liners:
Cornish – Some of the lines in the movie are things actual kids from the area said to me in reaction to the story. The Ghostbusters line ["You're better off calling The Ghostbusters, love."] was something actually said to me and I don’t know if the kid actually knew how profound, funny and true it was when he said it.
There has been little advertising for the film outside of the Internet. While much of its core fan base gets its information from the Internet, a lack of television advertising and a smaller studio has kept this movie relatively low-profile. There has been a large contingent of online critics pumping out the word on this film and a limited release should give it a chance to create stateside buzz while accumulating some revenue for a larger release. If it sounds interesting to you check it out – and check out our official Attack The Block review, which should be posted shortly.
Attack The Block enters theaters in limited release on July 29th.