Darker versions of traditional children’s fairy tales seem to be taking over movie screens. Adaptations such as Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters in which the well-known siblings take on the role of bad-ass Ninja-clad duo to combat evil witches that feed on small children. Or Snow White and the Huntsman directed by Rupert Sanders, in which the innocent Snow White is transformed into a warrior of sorts, refusing to be awakened by the kiss of a young prince.
Perhaps following this trend, director Max Gold is transforming the story of Beauty and the Beast, setting it as far away as possible from dancing tea kettles and catchy music scores. Set within the sometimes hostile and remote climate of Iceland, Beast mixes traditional Viking tales and folklore to create a narrative that is closer to Game of Thrones than Disney (actor Hafthór Júlíus Björnsson, who successfully played The Mountain in GoT, is in fact cast in Beast as a rather menacing antagonist). The result is breathtaking cinematography, and the sense that one is in a place where ethereal magic is in the works.
Art Film File had the opportunity to ask Max Gold questions about Beast, his crew and some of the challenges he has faced in the process of bringing his unique vision to life.
A.F.F. With Hollywood remaking so many traditional fairy tales into darker and certainly versatile versions, why did you feel a new version of Beauty and the Beast was something that would interest the general public?
M.G. You are right: there are many contemporary takes on Beauty and the Beast- not only direct ones (the CW show and Beastly) but also Twilight, 50 Shades and now this live-action Disney musical being released. However: what we don’t have is a film that stays true to the psychological resonance of the original fairy tale. The story of Beauty and the Beast is archetypal, so when told right it goes in at a very primal level. Every culture has its own version; you can find it as far back as the Eros and Psyche myth. Our characters are given the space to breathe. They are not sanded down by studio executives into the lowest common denominator of how a man and a woman should behave. As a result, this is truly an adult fairy tale. It has texture. People seem to really be responding to that.
A.F.F. Why did you choose Iceland as a setting for Beast?
M.G. Iceland not only offers stunning landscapes, but I situated the story within their unique historical context. In the late 800’s Iceland, Viking invaders clashed with the Gaelic settlers. This provided a hotbed of conflict from which the modern Icelandic people emerged. So in telling Bell’s struggle, we also explore this difficult history; one filled with pain and irony.
A.F.F. What particular challenges have you faced regarding production and funding for the film?
M.G. Every challenge we’ve faced in production taught me something new about the process and brought me closer to my core collaborators. I can safely say that because of the talented crew with whom I’m working, every single challenge we have faced has, in the end, contributed to making the film better and deeper.
But, to answer your question in one word: weather.
A.F.F. The cinematography seen in the trailer for the film is absolutely amazing. Who is your crew, and have you worked with them on other projects?
M.G. Isn’t it?? Ed Wu is the man behind the cinematography. Ed is a story-focused cinematographer and a graduate of the American Film Institute. I am so lucky to be collaborating with him. Ed and I have worked together before, on an adaptation of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Thematically, Pillowman actually had a lot in common with Beast. However, our budget for that was $0 and even with that Ed was able to conjure an elegant visual design.
Henry Behel is the man behind the aerial cinematography, all of those stunning landscape shots you see from above. Henry not only has a great eye, but he’s also a real pilot! So I can’t imagine a better person to navigate expensive equipment through the torrential skies of Iceland.
A.F.F. Finally, when do you expect Beast to be released once funding is secure?
M.G. That will ultimately be answered by the distributors. However, here’s what I do have control over: we are going to shoot the film in May/June. Post in July/August. The film will be completed by September.
Max Gold/Twitter: @blindhummingbird