During what at times feels like an apocalyptic present, I was lucky enough to sit down with director Zack Snyder to talk about a post-apocalyptic future, namely his new movie; Army of the Dead.
There is little doubt that Snyder is a big fan of the zombie genre. After all, his debut as a director was Dawn of the Dead, a personal favourite of mine. I loved Dead Rising, largely because it reminded me about Snyder's work, being stranded inside a shopping mall surrounded by an ocean of the living dead.
I recently got a sneak peek at the trailer for Army of the Dead (which is now available for everyone), and my immediate impression was that this movie knows what it is. After all, it is marketed as a "zombie heist movie". I mean, come on. With this in mind, it was a pleasure to hear that both Snyder and movie protagonist Dave Bautista shared my view. This is what they had to say about the bloodbath that arrives on Netflix in May:
GR: This is a movie with lines such as "It's a goddamn zombie tiger". Tell me a bit about what you had in mind making this film.
Snyder: I wanted the movie to be a genre-busting movie. I wanted it to be self-aware. It knows what it is, and so it allows for that dry humour and visual hilarity to really hit home.
Bautista: When I first heard about the project, not knowing much about it, I thought "oh, it's a zombie film", and so I wasn't crazy interested. But then I realised how layered it was in regards to entertainment value, being a zombie film, being a heist film, being an emotional drama. There was so much more going on than I originally thought, and I was sold immediately. 300 (one of Snyder's earlier films, and in this writer's humble opinion, his absolute best) was a game changer for me. I'm a student of this game, and I love working with people that I can learn from. This movie is very self-aware, which makes it very entertaining. Sometimes you just want to entertain people, and I think that's a good thing. I think that's a great thing.
Snyder: Scott Ward [Bautista's character] was a difficult casting for me, because the guy has to be able to not only be vulnerable, but then also be able to pick up a machine gun and fight a zombie. I didn't want to choose one or the other, and I think Dave did them both so well.
Bautista: I don't think just anybody could make a movie like this. This would be a risk to a lot of filmmakers, because it's one of those things where if it's not done just right in tone, if it doesn't flow just right, there's gonna be that critic who says "this film doesn't know what it wants to be".
Snyder: Yeah, critics often say things like "It takes itself too seriously" or "It doesn't take itself seriously enough". That was something I always kept in mind during production.
GR: Let's talk about the menagerie of zombie animals. Was that always the plan?
Snyder: There was always a zombie tiger. Zombie animals were going to be part of it, animals were not immune. The only creatures immune to the zombie virus are birds. Birds have immunity. Birds have their own paths in life. We tend not to go too much into their heads because...well, because they're birds. That was something we decided in our science, because it is science, that birds would be immune. Plus, you know, having zombie birds would cause certain problems from a narrative standpoint.
GR: Zombies behave differently in different movies, what are the zombies in Army of the Dead like?
Snyder: We have different categories of zombies in the movie. We have the kinds of zombies you know and love, and we have alphas, which are the evolved version. They're zombies who have taken the next step. They're fast and self-aware, and we treated them like wolves in the sense that they fight in packs and have that pack mentality. These zombies could open a door, let's say.
GR: What do you love the most about the zombie genre?
Snyder: What I love most about it, and in particular for this movie, is deconstructing the concept of what a zombie actually is. Who are the good guys and bad guys, and how do you subvert expectation? I think that's fun. Zombies are ripe for an evolution.
GR: What was the funniest moment on set?
Snyder: Oh, the fun that went on behind the scenes! There was a scene where we blasted a bunch of money into the air, and a hundred-dollar-bill landed directly over my eyes. Pictures were taken.
GR: How was your experience working with Netflix?
Snyder: Amazing. My team there have been nothing but supportive, incredibly collaborative and just a joy to work with. This has been one of my most gratifying experiences making a movie.
GR: Since this movie is set in Vegas, is there another location that you would like to visit with these characters?
Snyder: Oh, sure! Absolutely, but I don't think I'm allowed to say that. Sufficed to say that yes, I would be very excited if that would turn out to be possible. Who knows.
GR: What do you hope to achieve with Army of the Dead?
Snyder: I want to take the audience on a ride that is purely by design. I'm obsessed with tone. I want the people who watch the movie to have fun.
GR: To round things up: What are your thoughts on the nickname "The Amazing Snyder-Man", especially considering your work with DC?
Snyder: No comment.
Let me put it like this: Army of the Dead seems to know what kind of movie it is. This isn't Shakespeare. It is, if you'll allow me this low-hanging fruit of a pun, braindead action. And you know what? Sometimes that's exactly what we need, so consider me hyped.
Army of the Dead will be available on Netflix May 21.
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