By any standard, Princess Diana of Themyscira (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) may be one of the most intriguing female superheroes in pop culture history. William Moulton Marston’s sublime creation, who first began her earthly adventures in the pages of DC’s All Star Comics in December 1941, has been a consistently popular character. Although die-hard fans have been hungry for a live-action feature adaptation for many years, animation aficionados are patiently awaiting the arrival of a new Warner Bros. / DC Universe movie on DVD and Blu-ray (and On Demand and Pay-Per-View) slated for March 3.
Based on a script by Michael Jelenic (The Batman, Legion of Super Heroes) and exec produced by the legendary Bruce Timm, the feature is directed by Lauren Montgomery, who co-directed last year’s Superman Doomsday. Wonder Woman explores the origins of the character and charts her development from a Greek heroine to the iconic character we all recognize in comicbooks and the campy ’70s TV show starring Lynda Carter. ‘We had to hit certain elements that are part of Wonder Woman’s myth, and my job was to answer what sort of ramifications her origins would have on her character during her journey to becoming a hero,’ notes Jelenic. ‘It’s basically trying to boil down essential Wonder Woman elements into one story. We looked at the stuff that the fans had to see and then tried to put a twist on them. We’ve seen the lasso and the invisible jet before, so what’s another way we could use them? I wanted to incorporate all these iconic Wonder Woman moments into the larger overall story.’
For Montgomery, directing a project about a female superhero was quite a welcome treat. ‘I definitely prefer female leads because I feel they’re just easier to direct in their acting,’ she notes. ‘They’re allowed to show a much wider range of emotions. A woman can be feminine and tomboyish, and she can hit all the same poses that a man can hit. But if you start putting a man in a feminine pose, especially a superhero man, it doesn’t fly. So when you’re dealing with the male superheroes, you have a much, much more restricted range of acting. Plus, on a personal level, I think it’s good to give girl fans more options. When I was a girl, I would watch Thundercats and all I really had to choose from was Cheetara. I always wanted more female heroes to choose from and I never really got them. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore more of them in these DVDs.’
According to Montgomery, the designs for the project were kept simple enough for the animation, but there was a general feeling that they needed to be more detailed and less cartoony to suit the PG-13 content of the production. ‘Wonder Woman went through a lot of different versions,’ she says. ‘Gradually, and for the betterment of the film, we determined that she should look strong and athletic without being manly. She’s an Amazon, so I wanted her to be able to be taken seriously. We wanted her to look like she worked out, and not just make her a curvy, busty pinup. So I tried to give her slightly slimmer hips versus the hourglass figure, and I think it makes her more believable and engaging in a lot of action.’
Montgomery says the color palette for the film is slightly different from previous DC Universe adventures. ‘Our color stylist, Craig Cuqro, used colored filters to set the characters into their backgrounds, and our overseas studio Moi added a lot of diffusion, which gives the characters a really nice kind of glowing look especially during the scenes in Themyscira. The soft diffusion throughout the scenes in Themyscira makes everything seem much nicer, like a paradise.’
The director also praises Jelenic’s entertaining script for hitting two key goals: offering fans a healthy dose of action as well as delivering lighter moments. ‘Seeing his first drafts really inspired me because there was a lot of action that showed her true strength,’ says Montgomery. ‘He told a story that captivated me the entire way. Beyond the action, Michael is good at interjecting a lot of humor’Steve Trevor’s [the love interest] sense of humor echoes Michael’s in many ways. He also likes to write a lot of directorembellished action scenes, which didn’t always make it easier on me. That’s the one thing I’d like to punch him for. But otherwise, he did a great job!’
To prepare for the assignment, Jelenic buried his nose in lots of Greek mythology books and brushed up on his knowledge of character histories such as Ares, Hades, Hera and Zeus. He also had to work hard to create a superheroine fit for 2009 audiences. ‘Diana had to represent all the feminine ideals and virtues, the things that make women great,’ he points out. ‘At the same time, she’s a very strong female character in terms of both her physical prowess and her personality. So we tried to find a balance to create a character that doesn’t lose her femininity by being a strong action hero. If there is a message to the film, it’s basically that men and women are not perfect. Men have their problems. Women have their problems. And when they interact, these problems often grow. But at the end of the day, men and women are actually stronger and better when they work together to overcome these problems.’
Teaming Up with Timm
Of course, working with Warner Bros. Animation guru Bruce Timm was quite a special honor for both Jelenic and Montgomery.’Working with Bruce is extremely interesting, and not in a bad way,’ says Montgomery, laughing. ‘This is going to greatly understate it, but he knows what he’s doing. It’s always a really good learning experience just to sit back and watch him, to see how he works, because Bruce definitely has his own way of doing things. Pretty much all the calls he makes are the right calls’it’s obvious in the body of work that he’s produced. When he makes a call, even if I don’t 100 percent agree with it, I usually just let it go because I know the film is going to be better for it.’
She also believes that Timm has an amazing ability to edit and rearrange scenes to improve a project. ‘I’m still kind of focused on the storyboards, planning everything out so it plays the way I want it. I don’t really think about cutting or rearranging scenes because I already did that in the storyboards. But Bruce can look at that footage and know immediately how to rearrange the scenes to make things that much better and that much smoother. That’s what I’m trying to learn from him now.’
Influenced at an early age by Disney features, Montgomery says she was always more of a fan of animation than comics. Her love of superheroes didn’t really kick in until Batman: The Animated Series, which offered serious stories and eventually led her to jobs on the Superman and Justice League series. ‘[Working with Bruce Timm] was surreal at first, but now it’s just another day of work,’ she admits. ‘I’ve kind of adapted to it. But every once in a while when I sit back and think about it, it’s like, ‘Here I am doing what I’ve been waiting my whole life to do.’ And that’s cool. Even on the days where it’s hectic and there’s intense schedules and the deadlines are looming, and I might be pulling my hair out, I know there’s no other job that I would be happier doing.’
Warner Bros. Animation’s Wonder Woman will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and Pay-Per-View/On Deman on March 3.