Chris Weitz was devastated when the blockbuster film, The Golden Compass, was taken away from him. He says directing the new Twilight was his chance for redemption. Plus: Barbara Spindel on Robert Pattinson as the sexiest vampire alive; Nicole LaPorte on watching New Moon as a Twilight virgin; and our video gallery of the stars before Twilight.
There are many reasons to want to direct a movie based on one of the most hysteria-inducing books in recent times. But for Chris Weitz, taking on New Moon, the second installment in Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire series, Twilight, was about more than just being part of a global phenomenon. It was also, he says, about “revenge.”
The 40-year-old director, who got his start co-directing the raunchy American Pie with his brother Paul, with whom he went on to make About a Boy, wanted to redeem himself after a “disastrous experience” on another fantasy film, The Golden Compass. That film, based on the first book of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, and planned as the beginning of a Lord of the Rings-like franchise, ended up tanking at the box office (it grossed $70 million domestically on a budget of $180 million) when it was released in 2007. It also caused an uproar among Pullman’s fans, who were furious at how the books’ anti-religiosity (Pullman is a staunch atheist; in His Dark Materials, God is killed) was completely absent from the film.
The brutal reception to director Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass “killed me. That kept me awake at night for months,” Weitz said. “What I really wanted to do with The Golden Compass was to deliver a film that was faithful to the book and that didn’t disappoint the fans.”
Weitz was tarred and feathered for the whitewash, an experience “that killed me,” he said the other day. “That kept me awake at night for months… What I really wanted to do with The Golden Compass was to deliver a film that was faithful to the book and that didn’t disappoint the fans.”
Sitting in a hotel suite following a long day of press for New Moon, Weitz—who was wearing a pale, pink button-down and beige corduroys—gave no sign of having spent the last several hours pent up doing interviews.
Perhaps because New Moon, which comes out Nov. 20, looks to be every bit the juggernaut of Twilight—which grossed $191 million—the director was relaxed, and remarkably candid, about his experience on Golden Compass. “I kind of kept my mouth shut until now,” he said. “This is probably the most I’ve talked at one stretch about it.”
Prodded to expand, Weitz squarely blamed the Golden Compass debacle on New Line, which released the film, saying the studio took control of it and cut out anything remotely controversial.
“The studio’s utter lack of understanding of the book, and lack of caring about the integrity of the film, when it comes to adapting a book, was devastating in the end,” Weitz said. “It was taken away from me and turned into kind of popcorn fare—not even successful popcorn fare.
“Everything that they could find that had any connotation of religion to it was excerpted from it… I’d never had that experience before and it was devastating.”
Thus, when the offer to direct New Moon for Summit Entertainment arose—another film with a hard-core, and very exacting, fanbase—Weitz relished the opportunity to clear his conscience. “I had a do-over, really,” he said. “I could faithfully represent a kind of large-scale fantasy film, which is all I ever wanted to do in the first place. And so, I was able to exorcise quite a few of my demons.”
Weitz took over the franchise from director Catherine Hardwicke, who parted ways with Summit over “creative differences.”
Directing New Moon came with inherent challenges, however. Unlike Twilight, the narrative is built around three characters—Edward (Robert Pattinson), Bella (Kristen Stewart), and Jacob (Taylor Lautner)—not two. And one of them, Edward, who also happens to be the franchise’s most beloved, is absent for much of the book, off brooding in Italy.
Weitz’s dilemma was remaining true to the story, while not entirely casting Pattinson aside. “You don’t want too much Edward, because then you lose the sense of missing him,” he said. “But you don’t want too little Edward, because everybody loves Rob.”
To reconcile this, Weitz has Edward appear to Bella in Obi Wan Kenobi-like apparitions, a device that slightly tweaks the book, in which Bella hears Edward in her head when she is in danger. Aware that he was reworking sacred mythology, he tread lightly, only allowing for a certain number of visions, many of which were cut out in post-production.
“He wasn’t ever going to just do things for the sake of doing them,” Pattinson said, at a press conference earlier in the day. “He was always on the side of the story.”
Weitz said that he mostly stayed away from the Internet while making New Moon, to avoid hearing what the Twi-hard chorus had to say about him or his movie. But now that he’s finished, he’s indulging a little bit, and is glad to find that fans are, at this point anyway, mostly approving.
Inevitably, though, some minor deviations have been discovered, such as Weitz’s decision to have Edward’s new car be black instead of silver.
“I got in trouble for that,” Weitz said. “I usually check all those details, but that one just kind of slipped. There’s a deal with Volvo, where Edward was going to have a new car, and once we had the new car, I thought, ‘Well, if we paint it silver just like the old one, it’s gonna seem like we’re trying to fool the fans into thinking that he has exactly the same car.’
“And I thought, well, this is a very dark, depressing story, and so it’s gonna be slight black—a matte black, not a glossy black, a black that actually absorbs light.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.