Back in February CBR News got a chance to visit the Montreal set of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” starring Hugh Jackman. This is Aronofsky’s third and most ambitious film following the success of “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream.” A full report of that set visit is to come a bit later here on CBR, but first we’d like to share with you some news about the upcoming graphic novel adaptation coming from DC/Veritgo this August.
To begin with, “The Fountain’s” story takes place in three distinct time periods – in 1535, during an ancient Mayan war; the present day, following one doctor’s desperate search for the cure to a cancer that afflicts someone he loves; and the far off future in the vast reaches of space. Tying these three time periods together is Tommy (played in the film by Hugh Jackman) – a warrior, a doctor and an explorer – as he desperately tries to beat death and prolong the life of the woman he loves.
The story crosses genres in a variety of ways. Sure, it has elements of science fiction as seen in the final act, but it’s not that action/adventure dressed up as scifi you see so much of in film these days. It’s got elements of adventure as Tommy searches for the Tree of Life/Fountain of Youth. And at its core, “The Fountain” is a love story.
It’s important to know a little backstory on the film’s production before talking about the graphic novel. The film was originally set to begin shooting about three years ago with Brad Pitt set to star. The ambitious film originally had a $70+ million dollar budget and was ready to begin shooting, but then the film fell apart. Pitt backed out and went off to film “Troy” and the huge budget was causing major problems for the life expectancy of the production. Everything appeared to be dead, until Warner Bros. asked if Aronofsky could put together the film with a leaner budget. Aronofsky and his writing partner Ari Handel worked up a new script that’s now being used for the film you’ll see later this year. The film recently wrapped principal photography in Montreal. But Aronofsky wasn’t content to let this just be a film, he wanted to explore the world of comics as well.
“Before I even went to Warner Bros., I made sure that we preserved the rights to the comic book so that I could always print it,” Aronofsky said. “I knew it was a hard film to make and I said at least if Hollywood fucks me over at least I’ll make a comic book out of it.”
So, Aronofsky began to shop the graphic novel around. The terms of his contract with Warner Bros. stipulated that he had to shop it to DC first, but then had the right to shop it around town if he wanted to. “So, I got in touch with DC and Karen Berger over at Vertigo. They showed me a few artists and I said ‘This guy,’ [pointing at the work of Kent Williams].” What immediately attracted Aronofsky to Williams’ work was the fully painted style he works in. He felt that was exactly what was needed for “The Fountain” graphic novel.
Where Aronofsky is the director of the film, it might be best to think of Kent Williams as the director and production designer of the graphic novel. Williams has been given free reign to interpret the script his way and he’s working off the original script, the Brad Pitt script, not the script used for the upcoming feature film. “Kent’s interpretation is his interpretation,” said Aronofsky. “I’m going to place the dialogue, but he’s completely interpreting it himself. It’s very close to what we were planning.”
With the graphic novel coming out in advance of the feature film, some might be concerned that giving away story elements early could hurt the film, but Aronofsky doesn’t believe that’s the case. “Look, people go see Batman and everyone’s read a batman comic and people will go see ‘Watchmen’ despite the fact that everyone’s read it,” said Aronofsky. “I don’t think that hurts at all. I think everyone that’s going to spend $30 on the comic book is going to spend the $10 bucks to see the movie. It’s a different experience. That is looking at Kent’s beautiful art and his interpretation of it. What’s nice about this is it’s not a comic book based on a movie. So, it’s not one of these cheesy comics where they do the likeness of the actors. It’s not going to be one of those where they just pump it out to sell. This is a different thing. You can look at the artwork and while there are some similarities, it doesn’t look anything like [actress Rachael Weisz] or Hugh. The story is similar, but there are things that are different and I think that will just add to the conversation. I’m hoping it will help make people more excited about seeing the movie and vice versa.”
Aronofsky’s not exactly a comic book guy, having come to them a bit later in life during college, first reading the work of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. “When I was older and I saw graphic novels, that was interesting,” Aronofsky said. “I read ‘Watchmen,’ ‘Ronin,’ ‘The Dark Knight Returns.’ They were great.”
The director has flirted heavily with comics in Hollywood, having been attached to a “Batman: Year One” film as well as the feature film version of “Watchmen,” but Aronofsky had been working on “The Fountain” for the better part of six years and was focused on bringing that to theaters. He said he’s definitely interested in exploring the comics medium further.
“I think graphic novels are a great medium that’s incredibly underused,” said Aronofsky. “Since that great year when ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ came out, there have been very few things that have been that revolutionary. There’s been great stuff, but nothing like that. I don’t have anything that would work right now, but as soon as I do I’d like to. I think I’m a film maker first, but if you come up with ideas that can’t be done on film, it’s a great medium because there’s an unlimited budget with comics, although it’s deeply limited — the scale of economics is low!”
Aronofsky is joined on the graphic novel by Ari Handel, a PhD graduate in Neuroscience from New York University’s Center for Neural Science. He brings his scientific expertise to the story. “In part of the development of the script I had done tons of research on Mayans, astronomy, pulsars and all kinds of cool stuff that may not have made it in to the script,” said Handel. “So we gave [Kent] all this and let him go.”
So all those photographs, reference books and images that Handel found and used in his research made it in to Williams’ hands. “What he chose to use and what he didn’t was up to him.”
Handel feels the same way as Aronofsky about releasing the graphic novel before the film, noting that they’re two different types of media and two very different audiences. “There’s definitely some overlap, but that group is going to be happy to have both,” said Handel. “I think it’s different enough just because Kent is such a stylized artist and Darren’s such a stylized film maker, they have such distinct voices in those fields that you’re going to get so much of their own take.”
Look for more about “The Fountain” late Thursday/early Friday when we publish our full report detailing our Montreal set visit.