Adrian Hieatt here, reporting from London at the Kapow! Comic-Con 2011.
Joe Cornish, as one half of comedy duo Adam and Joe, is a bit of a cult legend to many British people in their 20s and 30s. Through TV, radio and podcasts he has been entertaining us with his wit for years. It turns out though that what he really always wanted to do is to make films. And that's what he's done.
The result is Attack the Block, which premiered at SXSW, and has been getting people excited both sides of the Atlantic. It tells the story of a gang of youths, the kind you might try to avoid bumping into in an alleyway late at night, who have to spring into action when the block of flats in which they live in South London is attacked by invading aliens.
Tonight at Kapow! Comic-Con here in London, Joe Cornish hosted a panel Q&A on the movie, along with two of its stars, Luke Treadaway and John Boyega. They also showed us three clips from the film, at least two of which haven't been seen before. I don't want to give a massive amount away, but I can reveal that the alien monsters are furry and have big glow-in-the-dark blue teeth.
Sometimes it's hard to pin down the appeal of a movie like this, but Cornish explained that he had a very idea of what he was trying to achieve from the start. He said that while E.T. really captured what family life was like at the time, and what it was like to be a kid in those years, he wanted this to do the same for kids living in council estates in South London. And it was the whole reality of the real South London that influenced everything he did - the architecture of buildings in Stockwell and Brixton even inspired him - he commented on how, although they're ugly by today's standards, they were built in an incredibly optimistic post-war period, and he wanted to use that element of what was, at the time, a very futuristic design.
Anyway, to get back to the movie, the writer/director calls it 'La Haine meets Aliens' - he says it's fun and escapist. John, who plays the character Moses, says that when he first heard the concept of aliens landing in a poor estate tower block, he though "what kind of bullshit is this?" - but that all changed when he read the script.
Of course, one of the big talking points about this film so far has been the language and accents used by the main characters. Some people in the UK might have trouble understanding every word uttered by the gang, and there's even been talk of subtitling it for the US release (which has now been secured by the way, by Sony Screen Gems). Cornish says that he was aware of this problem from the start, and limited the number of phrases and slang words used, so that even though the audience might noty understdan at first, they'll naturally figure out what words mean, and before long will be understanding everything. He compared it to 'A CLockwork Organe', which of course makes little sense at first, but when the context is applied, it all becomes clear. However, Joe also said that if small things were going to be changed so that the film could be understood (and seen!) by more people, he's be fine with that. He says it happened with the first part of Trainspotting for a US release, apparently.
What's more, all the dialogue is as real as it gets. Cornish revealed that he actually took large storyboards of key moments in the film, and pictures of the aliens, around to youth groups in South London, and asked them straight what their reactions would be if this happened in real life. He compiled 'two large binders' worth of research and language, which he used to write the script. When asked what his favourite slang word in the whole movie is, he said it is the word 'bare', meaning very.
A large number of young unknown actors were also auditioned for the film - Cornish says that there was a wealth of talent to choose from, and that "all that Simon Cowell shit on the TV has definitely taught kids about the audition process - and about rejection too."
I really hope this film is a big hit - it would be great for a high concept British genre film like this to take off right round the world, and what's more Cornish says he already has an idea for a sequel, though he wouldn't want to do it as his next project. He says that all the best sci-fi is actually about someone other than what you think it's about. Referring to E.T. again, which Kathleen Kennedy admitted to Cornish is really about divorce, as we all know. He wants this to have a clear element of social commentary too - he says like Precinct 13, in which things are said without being said explicitly. Tackling the issue head on of whether he's glamorising gang violence in making these kids into alien-fighting heroes, Cornish explained that he wanted to be mindful of that in producing the movie. He says that in the film, he tries to explain how and why they have done the things they do (the first scene shows them mugging a woman in the street), and also says that he took the adjectives often used to describe kids like these ones - 'feral', 'bestial', 'agressive', 'unfeeling - and made them into the monster. So, in a way, the kids are fighting the worst parts of themselves...
One last thing about Attack the block - don't go expecting a Nick Frost movie - yes, he's in the trailer, and on the poster, but he's actually only in it for 10 minutes, apparently.
Away from the movie, Cornish was also asked about his work in writing the Ant-Man story for a potential new film. He revealed that a new script was delivered two days ago - he doesn't know if it will ever get made, but says he's excited. He also said that it won't be based on the Robert Kirkman run of comics.