The Green Hornet turns 75 this year. That’s pretty old for a masked crime fighter. Except he’s got an uncanny ability to regenerate throughout the ages – something that even Dr Who must surely be envious of.
Starting out life as the title character of a 1930s radio show, Green Hornet was created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, and went on to become one of American radio’s most loved programmes.
Detailing the crime-crushing antics of Britt Reid, the series followed his transformation into the ‘Green Hornet’, a vigilante aided in his night-time heroics by masked companion/enforcer Kato. Together, they drove weapon-loaded car the Black Beauty, eradicating wrongdoing. The duo’s adventures proved so popular, TV soon followed…
First into production under the Hornet title was the simply-named The Green Hornet , a 1940 TV serial starring Gordon Jones as the titular stinger. Interestingly, his voice was dubbed by the original radio show’s Al Hodge whenever Hornet’s mask was in place. The serial ran for 13 chapters, and was followed by The Green Hornet Strikes Again! Meanwhile, comics featuring the character were published intermittently in 1940, 1953, 1967 and 1989.
Next, and most famously, Bruce Lee flipped into the role of Kato for the 1966 ABC TV series, which survived for just one season (it was replaced by Batman ). But the iconic nature of the characters was undeniable – something confirmed in Tarantino’s use of the ‘Kato mask’ in his Kill Bill: Vol 1 . Then Hornet rested…
After 30 years of low-profile skulduggery, The Green Hornet still held a place in the hearts of comic book fans and classic TV aficionados. But to the pop culture masses, it was all but unknown, and somehow linked to a Tarantino movie. A 10 minute French short from 2006 would later pass unnoticed.
But something about the premise was always attractive, especially to Hollywood heavyweights during the 1990s. In ‘93, Universal Pictures were actively attempting to make a big budget Hornet . Chuck Pfarrer wrote a script. George Clooney signed a pay-or-play contract, then dropped out in favour of Batman & Robin . In 1997, French director Michel Gondry agreed to direct, but with Mark Wahlberg offered the lead role, the film floundered in limbo and Gondry departed. It was looking impossible…
Enter Superbad scribes Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. After a decade’s worth of false starts, yo-yo directors and stars (Kevin Smith, Jet Li, Jake Gyllenhaal), producer Neal H. Moritz acquired the film rights for the Green Hornet character, and gave Rogen a call.
“Me and Evan had been trying to make a superhero movie for years,” says the Knocked Up actor. “Years ago we had a script about two roommates and they decide to be a hero and a sidekick. Then we were working on Pineapple Express , we were really enjoying it, and we got a phone call saying, ‘Green Hornet’s looking for writers, do you guy have a take on it?’” It seemed like the perfect fit…
“We both have always been Green Hornet fans,” confirms Goldberg. “We all watched the show and read a couple of the comics and, you know, watched the old serials.” With Rogen also set to star as Britt Reid, the film – now set up at Columbia Pictures – was still looking for a director.
In July 2008, Rogen addressed rumours that Hong Kong action star Stephen Chow was to direct and play Kato, stating: “Until you get an official green light, the studio won't spend any money and you can't get an actor without any money. We would love to have him. The version of the script is ultimately written as a very intense action movie.” However, Chow stepped down as director over creative differences in December 2008. Luckily, Gondry was back on the horizon…
Variety reported that Gondry got the Green gig again after presenting “a vision that wowed [ the ] production presidents”. With Chow still on board as Kato, production looked ready to rock. Except Chow then had to drop out of the film altogether thanks to scheduling conflicts. Luckily, Gondry had the perfect replacement in Taiwanese singer and actor Jay Chou.
Rogen thought Chou was made for the role. “He’s just unbelievably cool,” he says. “I mean, he’s like Steve McQueen kind of. It’s like everything he does he does super cool. And he’s funny.” Time to get this thing on the road…
For Goldberg and Rogen, adapting a story that had appeared across so many mediums and over such an extended period of time meant that they had their work cut out for them. But instead of attempting to forge a dry, join-the-dots homage to the original incarnations, the writers took them as a start point. “To us, this was more like a format to make a movie we’ve always wanted to make,” notes Rogen.
“What is important to say is that The Green Hornet has so many forms,” agrees Gondry. “We had to digest all of that to find what would be our version of the Green Hornet.”
Rogen adds: “Green Hornet comic has nothing to do with our movie. Other than it’s called The Green Hornet. Yeah, sorry. There are some elements that are the same…”
Its Not Easy
So just what is the story of the 2011 version of The Green Hornet ? Well, the recognisable tropes are all there, albeit updated for a more sophisticated presentation.
“I’m an irresponsible kind of idiot, as one might imagine,” reveals Rogen. “My father dies and I form a friendship with one of his employees, Kato. And through that friendship, we realise that maybe we can create this kind of thing that will help us both live out our dreams.”
Adds Gondry: “We see a bit of his childhood and home. This friendship finds its resolution through his inner voice. He’s talking to his dad in his mind.” It’s a tricky balance…
The original Green Hornet was a more straight-forward adventure. Of course, with Rogen and Goldberg on scripting duties, a little humour was always going to be injected into the mix. Gondry, though, is keen to stress that his Green Hornet doesn’t go too far.
“There is comedy but overall the tone is not a spoof,” he assures us. “You get that in the trailer. [ We ] never intended to do something comical. [ We ] really embraced the superhero feature and there are serious parts. Of course there is some comedy but I think it’s more of an action movie.”
Confirms producer Neal: “We always talk about it as an action movie with comedy.”
With their movie, Rogen and Goldberg’s main motivation was exploring the dynamic that plays out between a hero and his/her sidekick. Green Hornet is unique in that respect because sidekick Kato is clearly the more capable of the two, boasting impressive fighting skills – where Reid just likes to party.
“Kato is definitely the more skilled individual,” says Goldberg. “We joke about it with Seth and he had to get in shape to do the movie and Jay didn’t. He was in shape. It was inherently there, he is very talented; genius kind of guy and Seth is a normal guy.” Right down to Kato's fight sight…
Considering Michel Gondry is the brain behind some of the decade’s most interesting – and bizarre – imagery with Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Science Of Sleep , it was par for the course that his Green Hornet would boast some intriguing visual flourishes.
Sure enough, these come mostly in the form of ‘Kato Vision’, which up the spectacle of Kato’s fighting by putting viewers right in Chou’s shoes. “Two steps to Kato vision as I guess we’ve called it,” explains Rogen. “The way you see the fights as an observer and then the way Kato sees fights in his own eyes.” Shown in a sequence unveiled at Comic-Con 2010, Kato Vision is a stylish, pioneering and typically Gondry approach to a fight scene. Then there’s the 3D…
Pushing his visuals further than ever before, Gondry decided that 3D was the perfect way to present Green Hornet . “We were always hoping to go 3D,” he admits. “The way I put the camera was always like, ‘It would be so cool to see it in 3D.’ We pushed a little more the effects. The way the fight works…the use of the 3D to split the screen. We sort of always wanted to do it in 3D.”
The film’s release date was pushed back in order to ensure that the 3D conversion was done just right. “We did not want to be reprimanded like Clash Of The Titans was,” says producer Moritz. “We really wanted to take our time and do it right.”
Rogen’s also optimistic. “It’s like any other visual effect. There are really good applications of it and really bad applications of it. It all depends on whose hands it’s in. You look at CG sometimes and its terrible.” Then, of course, there’s the car…
Integral to any superhero is his wheels. Batman has the Batmobile. Red Mist has his Mistmobile. And Green Hornet has the Black Beauty, which is as much a name as a description.
To his surprise, Rogen learned that he wasn’t expected to give his Hornet so radical a facelift as to trade in the iconic original car. “In one of the early versions of the script, we assumed that we would be forced to make a new, fancy, futuristic car,” he says. “But we always liked the idea of using the original. As different companies pitched us their version of the car and we looked at more futuristic ones, we realised that none of them were as cool as the original.”
In total 30 stunt cars were built, though Rogen has no idea how many survived the shoot. Time for the weapons…
Lock 'N' Load
What makes Black Beauty the coolest car ever? Not only does she look amazing, she’s also packed with only the very best – and most useful – of artillery.
Did Rogen have a say in the weapons the car was equipped with? “Yeah, definitely,” he enthuses. “We didn't want it to feel like it was just action for the sake of action, so we wanted to conceive what the car does in conjunction with what's actually happening in the movie - there's a part where the car drives into an elevator and the elevator cuts it in half, and then we wanted the front half of the car to be able to keep driving. So something like that isn't just something the car does, it's actually a major part of the movie.” Now to introduce a villain…
A superhero is nothing without wheels. But a superhero without a villain to fight is a sad thing indeed. Which is why Christoph Waltz was hired - before he bagged his Oscar for Inglourious Basterds - to play Russian criminal Benjamin Chudnofsky, who controls LA’s criminal underworld.
“I can tell you that he was integral in making the character,” reveals Goldberg. “He really helped us a lot and brought a lot to the character and it’s a lot of him.”
Rogen adds: “He’s a wonderful guy. But I will say our intention with the movie was to kind of deconstruct these movies in a lot of ways and, to the best of our ability, we deconstructed the villain role in these movies as much as anything else, so our hope is that it’s a very unconventional villain.”
Everyones A Critic
Having shot the movie in Los Angeles, after realising that the movie just wouldn’t look right if it had been filmed in cheaper areas like Detroit or Louisiana, the film underwent the rigorous editing process – and, naturally, the 3D conversion.
Now, after endless cast and director switches, numerous release date pushes and a scorching trailer, The Green Hornet finally roars into cinemas on 14 January. Critics have so far been divided – some celebrating its ambition, others finding its split-hair storyline difficult to enjoy. One thing’s for sure – if a Green Hornet Strikes Back sequel is to ever get made, it surely won’t take as long as this first movie.