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Richard Kelly Unlocks Secrets of ‘The Box’

The San Diego Comic Con has become so big that it’s impossible to bring you everything in one weekend, therefore we have a few treats we saved for later. Beyond the break you’ll find our incredibly in depth interview with Richard Kelly, writer/director of Warner Bros. Pictures’ forthcoming The Box, which arrives in theaters November 6. In the interview he talked about the birth of the adaptation, reveals some alternate story ideas and talks about how filmmaking is like playing God.
Richard Kelly on the set of The BoxFor those of you unaware, in the film a simple wooden box promises to deliver its owner $1 million with the press of a button. However, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world.

It has a long and hard road for Kelly’s THE BOX, but the director tells us the main reason for the wait was the intricate special FX work.

I would say it was about 8 months of visual effects. The movie was completely finished about a week before Christmas – completely done. Warners was considering releasing it in March, but then everyone thought it was more of a fall film,” he explains to B-D in an exclusive interview prior to his Comic Con presentation. “It was about 8 months of visual effects work, mostly for Frank Langella’s face; the CGI on his face took a really long time. Each shot was very specific and you’re seeing the character’s face up close from many different angles and different environments; it was a very intense performance and as you’re editing and aging the film -completely readjusting film and reediting scenes – that’s just the nature of the editorial process that delays the completion of very expensive CGI work. It was a very long postproduction, mostly because of the CGI. When you see the finished film, you’ll see why. It has about 350 digital effects in it. Most of them involve his [Frank Langella] face, but also the invisible stuff and the 1970′s cars and snow – we had digital snow.

An interesting theme that continues on from DARKO to THE BOX is that of the due ex machina. Kelly explains how being a filmmaker is like playing God, and how it’s hard to kill characters you create. Be warned there are some potential spoilers that follow.

I was introduced to the concept from “Watership Down”, which is in DONNIE DARKO. The whole god-machine concept is something that fascinated me as I’m one of those guys who ends up killing all of his characters,” he jokes. “I’ve made three films now, and without giving too much away, I have the habit of murdering my lead character ,” he continues, “I guess I also want to be one of those filmmakers that also loves the characters that I’m unfortunately having to [kill] – as a filmmaker you sort of getting to play God, you’re putting these characters in peril and setting them on a course that’s not going to have a happy ending,” which is why he likes to give them the chance at redemption. “You kind of want to give them a chance at salvation or saving themselves. I like the idea of providing a narrative device in the third act that gives the characters an opportunity for either redemption or salvation or a sense of hope I guess. It’s from a practical standpoint, it keeps the movie from being just completely depressing.” (laughs)

But it’s much, much more than just giving them a chance at salvation, his characters could be responsible for saving the entire planet.

It’s like with DARKO, it’s a similar film. When we were making that film, Donnie dies, but you thought he accomplished something, learned something or earned something or sacrificed himself to a greater purpose that is open to discussion. Similar with THE BOX, you realize that Arthur and Norma, the experiences that they are put through, the test that is being conducted on him, also have great ramifications for the entire planet – maybe, perhaps, that ultimately all of the decisions that they make, and ultimately the final decisions they have to make, is something that will perhaps benefit the greater good or will have great ramifications. It’s not just about them, it’s about everyone,” Kelly reveals.

The courses of events begin when Arlington Steward brings Norma a box with a button inside. What really happens when she pushes the button?

They pick these married couples with a single child and then study every decision that they make. They are confronted with this demented little exercise,” he reveals adding that the pushing of the button sets a sort of analysis in motion. “Once the button is pushed, the analysis is pushed up to a second, third, fourth, fifth gear to the extent that their final decision is measured – it echoes, it’s studied, it’s almost like their decisions are perhaps responsible for a large, greater portion of the population.

Kelly continues on explaining who “they” are. “Arlington’s employees…the implication is that Arlington has since his re-awakening – after Arlington was struck by lightning in July of 1976, four or five months have passed since when the story takes place in December – he has started to encompass his infrastructure of employees, an army I guess,” he continues, “the guys you see with the guns and the black ops, the people who can help and facilitate whatever further tests or experiments he wants to conduct. Arlington has his lair, the wind tunnel at Langley, which is in the facility of the airport and NASA. He parks himself in that infrastructure and assembles this protection of employees. [This allows him to] be able to move from city to city and conduct tests throughout the world before he compiles his data and makes his recommendation to whomever. That’s the greater concept that brings the story together.

For those of you who have been reading Bloody Disgusting for years now, you know that at one point Eli Roth had been working on THE BOX. Kelly talks a bit about how this project came to be and some alternate versions he thought up.

I optioned the original short story that was written by Roger Matheson that was published in Playboy in 1970. Years ago Eli [Roth] and I talked about maybe him directing it. I optioned it straight from Richard Matheson, I’m a huge fan and I optioned it back in 2003, years ago, and over the years I wrote a couple of different versions of the screenplay that I just threw away. I wrote a really campy, ridiculous one -it took place in present day – where the box is this big metal machine that became a robot. There was one that was like an awesome ridiculous version of “Futurama” or no, “Tales from the Crypt”,” he reveals with a huge smile. “It’s an amazing premise for a story that I had to really spend several years vetting it and securing the options.

While vetting out the story details, he learned that it HAD to take place in the 70′s, especially with the way human nature has changed so dramatically over the years.

Then I found that what it needed was to take place when it was originally published in the 70′s, mainly because the concept of someone you don’t know doesn’t really work today. With all of the social networking, Google Maps, you can find anyone, access anyone… if you were to make this offer to someone today with the wooden box, they would probably push the button before Arlington even left the house. `Ok, I’ll push it, give me the money, I don’t believe you.’ In 1976 it was a much more naive culture, it took me a while to arrive in that conclusion.

So will modern audiences be able to believe this period piece arriving in theaters this November? Would you push the button in THE BOX for a million bucks? Even if someone dies? Talk about it below.