Following a pair of box office successes with Step Up 3D and the Justin Bieber concert film, Never Say Never, Paramount tapped Jon Chu to direct their G.I. Joe follow-up, G.I. Joe: Retaliation. At the time Chu might not have seemed like an obvious pick and our coverage speculated that the director could have been moved up the list because the studio was interested in shooting their toy-to-movie sequel in 3D. However, as filming started it was made clear that G.I. Joe 2 would not be a 3D venture - only to find out later on that Paramount intended to reshoot the film and, at the same time, add a 3D post-conversion.
Chu was reportedly "shellshocked" by the news but now, months later, the director is opening up about the 3D add-on as well as his next in-development project, another 1980s toy line-turned film, He-Man aka Masters of the Universe.
Chu recently spoke with MTV Geek about his past and future movies, including his YouTube passion project, "The League of Extraordinary Dancers" (check out his Super Ballet video), crediting his theory that "dance helps action" as the reason he landed the G.I. Joe: Retaliation gig:
I brought out some of the LXD episodes and showed them. You get some hints of how the camera moves, the choreography of the frame itself matches what’s in the frame. That was my reel to get the job, and they were like, “Okay, we get it" [...] In a weird way, doing the online dance videos that everyone thought was crazy at first helped me get G.I. Joe,” said Chu. “It’s nice to bring it home.
Now that G.I. Joe: Retaliation has been delayed, it'd be interesting to know whether the producers still agree with Chu's action filmmaking philosophy. Though, the director is quick to downplay the "shock" he was reported to have experienced several months back when the film was bumped out of its summer time slot - claiming that, given his experience with 3D before, the first cut of G.I. Joe: Retaliation already contained a lot of opportunities for cool 3D:
I really want to push how we use the 3D [...] I shot two 3D movies. So being around that, I know what we are actually capable of doing [...] Fortunately, a lot of our shots, I guess it was in my brain anyway. We had a lot of depth in our shots, or let our shots play longer. For me, if we’re going to do this, we have to make sure it enhances the experience. That’s where we are right now, and it’s a slow painful process, to be honest!
I’m trying to convince them to give me a couple days to do a couple of enhancements. But as of right now, we’ll see what they let me do. I really want to shoot some of the sections in 3D to give it that edge… But we’ll see if time permits, and they’re down to do that.
To Chu's point about his 3D instincts, the G.I. Joe: Retaliation production has been an outright bizarre endeavor to follow. As mentioned, the producers hired a filmmaker, best known for smart use of 3D in dance/music films, to shoot a 2D movie - only to later ask that director to oversee 2D reshoots and a 3D post-conversion, as well as add more Channing Tatum. While moviegoers would, no doubt, have accused Paramount of a 3D cashgrab when the project was originally announced - at least the final film could have benefited from Chu's 3D knowledge during shooting: instead of attempting to make use of his expertise in post. Understandably, film production is a fluid experience but, given the positive response to first full length G.I. Joe: Retaliation trailer, it's hard to ignore that the problem behind the G.I. Joe 2 delay might not be Chu but a studio that didn't have a clear idea about what film they wanted to release.
That said, the trouble around Retaliation certainly didn't help Chu when it was announced that he'd be helming Sony's attempt to resurrect He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for the big screen. Even though former He-Man, and Expendables star, Dolph Lundgren, has expressed excitement about the reboot, not to mention interest in jumping back into Eternia (this time as King Randor), plenty of fans have been less enthusiastic.
However, the director asserts that he doesn't intend to let fans down and, while they're very early on in the process, the key to Masters of the Universe is finding the right tone:
We’re working on the script, to make it better and stronger. We’re designing a bunch of stuff. I learned on Joe that to make it right, you have to do a lot of experimenting first, and you have to trust that during the process you’ll find where the tonal line is… It’s so delicate. Masters of the Universe means so much to a lot of people out there – and myself as well. I don’t want to disappoint my friends! We all grew up with Masters, played with the toys… I had a Castle Grayskull, played with the toys, I had a Battle Cat. We’re just designing now, going too far on some things, pulling back on others… Making it more real, or more fantastic. We’re trying to find that line as we go.
Finding the right tone in a He-Man film is going to be significantly more difficult than the "down and dirty" approach that Chu took with G.I. Joe - considering the latter is essentially a military story whereas Masters of the Universe includes loads of beastly villains, supernatural heroes, and downright campy companions (such as the Trollan court magician, Orko). Nevertheless, if Chu can find a smart balance with the property, there's plenty of action-adventure potential for He-Man veterans and newcomers alike, not to mention tremendous franchise potential (and toy sales for Mattel). Who wouldn't want to see He-Man and Battle Cat (along with Man-At-Arms, Teela, and Stratos) storm Snake Mountain and take on the Evil Horde?
A lot of people ask, who are you going to cast? We’re not even there yet, we’re just trying to get the character of the movie down. This is one of the most fun parts, where all the possibilities are open, and we’re just playing in the sandbox [...] Right now, I’m just soaking it all in. Learning, watching, listening, reading a lot. Any blogs that are out there, or people who have opinions. I’m just soaking it in, and feeling what the environment is in this world. I know what I personally feel about Masters, but there is something to be said for experiencing what other people experience in the world.
Given that Chu is taking a lot of lessons learned on G.I. Joe 2 into Masters of the Universe, the director also gave a brief tease about whether or not we might see He-Man take-on Skeletor in 3D?
It’s not always my choice! I love 3-D, and for certain movies it can be really great, and for certain movies it can be poison. As we figure out the character of the movie, I think we’ll have a better feel for it. Of course, I love 3D – a movie like Masters in 3D would be amazing… To be in that world would be a crazy, crazy experience. We’ll see what Sony decides.
Of course, Sony is not typically shy when it comes to 3D filmmaking (releasing Men in Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Total Recall in 3D during the summer of 2012 alone). Plus, seeing Eternia and all of its crazy locales, heroes, and villains in 3D would be pretty impressive, especially given Chu's experience with the format, so a 3D Masters of the Universe is probably a no-brainer for the studio. Let's just hope that Sony has learned from Paramount's mistake and gives Chu everything he needs out the gate to make a jaw-dropping He-Man movie.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future updates on Masters of the Universe, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now positioned to hit theaters (in 2D and 3D) around the U.S. on March 29th, 2013.
The Masters of the Universe reboot does not yet have a release date.