Focus Features releases The Eagle nationwide on February 11th, 2011.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally and intellectually?
KM: Iím a believer that you can make a movie thatís fun and hopefully popular, but also makes you think a bit and leaves you with something at the end. So thatís what I hope that this film does. Itís a Roman epic in some ways, but done in a very realistic manner I hope. It has battles and fights, but it also has a dramatic element which is the relationship between two men. Whatís going on there is that youíve got someone from a dominant culture, the Roman culture, who feels that everything in his own world and own culture is superior and correct. He makes no effort to understand or empathize with this person whoís his slave. So the process of the movie is about how these two people go through this kind of hierarchal, classist relationship of master and servant and then become friends in the end. The whole movie really deals with whether or not they can trust each other.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did your prior experiences as a filmmaker enhance this particular one?
KM: I come from a documentary filmmaking background, so when I make a feature film, I always start with the simple thought, ďWhat was the place really like? What did people look like? What did they wear?Ē and actually do the research. So when I did The Last King of Scotland, I went to Uganda to film it and went to the real buildings to film what it was like in 1970ís Uganda. In The Eagle, I obviously couldnít do that, but I could take the whole cast and crew to Scotland and put them through all the hardships of the weather which was to make them feel what it mustíve been like before we had GORE-TEX. Weíre all used to seeing sort of sword-and-sandal kind of movies which, these days, is all CGI and armies of 200,000 meeting each other on a plain with Eagles soaring and clouds bursting. We all are fed up with that because we know itís not real and we know you could do anything you like like that. It can be more engaging and visceral without CGI because all of those people were thereóthey are in that water and all beating the shit out of one each other. So, itís getting back to the fundamentals of movie-making. That was the idea.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you consider to shoot the film in 3D? How do you feel about the current phase of 3D films?
KM: I never thought of doing this film in 3D because I think that 3D goes against the realist grain that I was going for. I wanted the interiors in the opening scenes to be dark and gloomy which is what they would have been because Romans only had two or three windows way up high and thereís not light coming in from down below. That comes from Mediterranean architecture where it was very hot, so they had high ceilings and windows up high, so the feelings inside those rooms were very gloomy, so I wanted to capture that. Iím not sure that 3D would really enhance that. Personally, I donít know many people who actually enjoy seeing a 3D movie. I think itís a gimmick, but I think that itís a gimmick that will become more and more accepted and become less gimmicky as time goes on. Itís probably now the way that big movies will be made, but it never crossed my mind to make this one 3D.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn an action adventure into a classic and what are some examples of those classics?
KM: This film, I suppose, is a bit like a cowboy movie. Thatís what I said to the actors. Itís a cowboy movie except youíre not in Monument Valley; youíre in 2nd century Scotland. Weíre just on horses and the landscape and dealing with different stages of a quest. The kinds of movies that I looked up when I was making this other than the obvious one like Spartacus which, of all the Roman movies, I think itís the best because it has a sense of realism in it and Stanley Kubrickís close-ups of all the peasantís faces which are stunning. My influences were cowboy movies, things like Ulzanaís Raid which is a great, brutal 70ís western with Burt Lancaster. John Fordís The Searchers was another film that influenced me. I also love The Last of the Mohicans which I think is Michael Mannís finest film for some reason. It was a very different film than this one, but it has a feeling of place and time which I really admire and try to emulate.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you have to scale down the violence/gore to get a PG-13 rating?
KM: The audience for this movie was always intended to be a kind of broad audience, but I read the book that this was based on when I was 12, and thereís an obvious appeal to young teens in this kind of story. I wanted them to be able to see it, but I also wanted to make something that grown-ups could appreciate that had artistic qualities and that had an excitement that an adult audience could expect. When I went and shot it, Focus Features, the company who paid for it, were very generous for allowing for me to do what I like. So, I did it a little more violent than what you see at the moment. When the film was finished, in Europe it was given an equivalent of a PG-13, but, in America, that same cut was given an R-rating. So, I was faced with a real dilemma. I cut out only 10 or 12 seconds of the bloody bits. Itís not something if you had any choice. I think that the rating system is crazier in America because it has all to do with the letter of the law. So you can suggest anything youíd like, but if you see a bit of blood flying through the air---they came back to me and said, ďThis is a historical film. If you made it an action film, then youíll get your rating.Ē And Iím like, ďIím sure thatís the wrong way around. If itís a historical film then surely thatís good.Ē So I had to cut a little bit out, but it was my own decision to do so because I want it to be seen by a wide audience which is what it was made for.