Long before G.I. Joe: Retaliation was bumped from a summer 2012 release date for the purpose of post-converting the film into 3D, we attended a set visit event while the movie was shooting just outside of New Orleans - at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. For decades, the facility housed the construction of Saturn rockets and enormous tanks for space travel but, back in October 2011, the 832 acre compound was home to a number of highly-detailed Hollywood sets - including a maximum security prison vault and Blind Master's cliff-side monastery, to name a few.
According to executive producer Herb Gains roughly 65-70 percent of G.I. Joe: Retaliation was shot in or around the NASA facility - including external shots that will double as the Korean DMZ - no small feat considering the globe-trotting adventure that will be depicted in the final film.
That said, while the NASA facility served as a solid backdrop for much of the project, helping producers work with greater efficiency, whether or not the project can reignite the G.I. Joe movie brand, after mixed reactions to Stephen Sommers' The Rise of Cobra, will be up to director Jon Chu and his team - along with the high-profile ensemble cast.
Check out the latest trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation below to see the fruit of their labor:
As indicated in our Retaliation set visit preview, Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura have been adamant that their new G.I. Joe film will offer a satisfying balance between sequel and reboot - a tricky tightrope but one that the filmmakers believe will ultimately deliver the best possible film experience for G.I. Joe fans and casual moviegoers alike.
According to Bonaventura:
By process of elimination or by process of feeling our way through it, came to this sort of balance. It’s interesting because, I’ve watched a lot of the footage, and it doesn’t feel like we’ve stepped away and yet we have. It’s a really interesting thing. I can’t really explain it because it was a sort of ‘feel your way through it.’ One of the things we wanted to do was we wanted to try to bring an uptick of machismo to the cast and with Rock and Bruce we sort of got a lot right there [...] I think all of those things have brought a different flavor, and at the same time, it’s Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and we’re fighting the same battle – a new and improved Cobra.
Leading up to G.I. Joe: Retaliation's March 28th 2013 release, we'll be posting individual interviews with the film's cast and crew, including: Director Jon M. Chu, Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock), Ray Stevenson (Firefly), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Byung-Hun Lee (Storm Shadow), Elodie Yung (Jinx), DJ Cotrona (Flint), as well as Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. Stay tuned for those but, in addition to roundtable interviews with the filmmakers and cast, we toured two separate filming locations - moving from set to set around the Michoud Assembly Facility as well as an outdoor second-unit shoot near the Fort Pike State Historic Site, which will serve as a stand-in for an active military installation in the final film.
During our time at the NASA facility, we had a chance to examine several sets in various stages of construction and deconstruction. While the production had already started taking-apart the prison facility set, and were gearing up for a climactic battle in the "Nuclear Depot," we toured the eclectic interior of the Blind Master's monastery. In the film, the Blind Master, mentor to Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and newcomer Jinx (Elodie Yung), is played by Wu Tang Clan-member turned actor, RZA. The cliff-side hideout is a fitting backdrop for the musician/actor - given that the monastery features a colorful mix of scattered books, preserved animal remains, and high-tech gadgetry.
In general, the set is a perfect example of the grounded approach to G.I. Joe the filmmakers have been touting - mixing the cartoonish image of an isolated Himalayan dojo with functionality that makes sense in the world of Joes and Cobra. Amidst melted candles, human skulls, and cluttered wooden storage shelves, is a very modern body scanner table (complete with an iPad indentation).
Fans can catch a quick glimpse at the Blind Master's monastery in the latest trailer - during the hallway fight between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow - though the final film will, no doubt, allow for a much clearer look at the sharp details that were easily apparent on set.
An external shot of the monastery, the conclusion of the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow brawl, was filmed on a separate stage. We watched as Storm Shadow attempted to choke Snake Eyes into submission - only to be caught off-guard by Jinx who doses the Cobra villain with a sleeping gas. The shot can be seen in the recent G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D preview footage that aired ahead of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (read our impressions of the 3D teaser) - and sets off the action-heavy cliff-side chase sequence that has been featured in a lot of the film's marketing.
Teasing what fans can expect from the film's (now) three ninja characters - as well as their respective conflicts and relationships, Park said:
We wanted to make it real. Like it's two brothers fighting, there's a lot of aggression. Instead of flashy-flashy and doing flips in the air, we wanted to tell the story throughout the fight as well. There's a lot of good moves, a lot of great choreography that we worked on. There's a lot I can do with the character but I'm also working with my fellow actors, especially with Jinx. And I love Elle's character and we've had this great sort of rapport since day one, and this great relationship between the two characters. Where Snake doesn't speak, it's sort of sold through our actions toward each other.