January 15, 2014

What's With the Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

Ben Stiller directs and stars in this new movie - Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And now, I am telling you some secrets about the film.

Ben Stiller’s reimagining of James Thurber’s original story is highly entertaining and inspiring, revolving around a man who loves to daydream, frequently retreating into an imaginary world in which he is the hero.   A photo editor at LIFE Magazine in New York, he enjoys his job but longs for passion and excitement.  As he was about to lose his job as the company shifts and downsizes, Mitty finds himself out of his office in no time.  The final issue of the prestigious magazine will soon be on newsstands, but a worried Mitty cannot find an important negative that has mysteriously gone missing.

                The picture was taken by the iconic and elusive photographer Sean O’Connell played by Sean Penn. Sean is the only one who knows where it is. But where is Sean?  

Walter takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined together with coworker (Kristen Wiig).

In 1939, when James Thurber first published “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” he brought a playful, modernist style to the story that lured readers directly into the experience of Walter Mitty’s fantasy life.  In Ben Stiller’s latest adaptation, he hoped to do something similar, using modern cinema to open the story up visually in a way that couldn’t have been imagined in Thurber’s day. He knew there were several ways to approach Mitty’s fantasizing.  But there was only way he felt that was right for what he wanted audiences to feel:  using a deftly crafted hyper-reality that merges Mitty’s inner stream of consciousness into the fabric of what’s going on in his outer world.

The constant yin and yang of dreams and reality in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” made for an extremely ambitious production – one which would take on the rigors of shooting in the middle of New York City then jet off to the other-worldly environs of Iceland, where cast and crew moved from volcanoes to helicopters to the middle of the frosty ocean. 

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                 Each location would host scenes that could not have been filmed elsewhere in the world.  In New York, Stiller had the chance to shoot the epic chase between Walter and Ted in the live-wire dynamics of a typical crowded day in the city. In Iceland, Stiller would shoot a scene that pushed him to new edges both as director and actor:  when Walter jumps into the raging waves of the North Atlantic, which Stiller simulated with his own plunge into the ocean.  “It was really important for me that we not do that scene in a tank,” he recalls.  “I felt we had to shoot in real high seas, with a real boat there, a real helicopter and real waves,” he explains. 
   “That’s when Mitty literally dives into life,” muses John Goldwyn.  “It’s the big transition moment of the movie, and it looks incredibly real, because most of it is.”   The scene turned out, just as it does for Walter Mitty, to bring a bit more reality than even Stiller anticipated. 

                “We were about a mile out at sea with seven-foot swells -- which, when you’re in the water, are really big,” admits Stiller.  “The boat with the camera in it went away to come back and do the shot, but there was this two-minute period where I was just in the North Sea with nobody around. I was in the ocean just by myself with a briefcase, floating there waiting for the camera to come back and was thinking, ‘I hope they can find me when they come back for the shot,’” he laughs.  “There was a real sense of danger and it was one of those moments when I thought, ‘oh, this is what real filmmaking is all about.’” 

                “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” opens January 22 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.