“If you’re my generation, and you make populist Hollywood movies, you are a descendant of Spielberg,” Levy tells PopcornBiz. He admits that, even with Spielberg as “Real Steel” executive producer, the film’s nostalgic elements – set in a futuristic world in which boxing matches are fought by robots, where an ex-prizefighter (Hugh Jackman) and his estranged young son (Dakota Goyo) come together in their bid to create a champ out of Atom, a ‘bot salvaged from a scrapheap – came together as much happenstance as design.
“I love sports movies, I love underdog stories and I particularly love the ‘Rocky’ series, so there’s no question that as I worked on the script with Gatens, some of those aspects crept in more dominantly,” Levy explains. “The Amblin qualities were probably baked into the DNA, because it was always about a boy from a broken domestic situation finding a creature that would be his path to redemption. That’s ‘E.T.’ And that’s ‘Real Steel.’ And yet I did not realize any of what I just said until I was there on this mountain that we built, Metal Valley, in pouring rain, a truck filled with mud and I shoot a shot of Dakota with a flashlight finding Atom. And the way the rain was falling and the way that flashlight bounced off the robot’s metal up into Dakota’s eyes – I’m like ‘Oh my God, this is a Spielberg moment.’”
After making a name for himself helming big studio, mass appeal comedies (“Cheaper By the Dozen,” “The Pink Panther,” “Date Night” and the “Night at the Museum” films) that performed admirably at the box office, Levy’s move to meld a touching father/son story and the sci-fi genre is part of a big picture plan to expand his filmmaking repertoire. With each film Levy’s grown more adept at the technical side of his craft, with “Real Steel” offering the most demanding test of his widening skill set yet. “I wanted to tell bigger and different stories, and I view technology as the thing that I have to master in order to tell those stories,” he explains. “I wasn't seeking the technical knowledge in its own right – I only sought it to tell the story.”
He’s taken that approach even further during his ongoing collaboration with director and special effects master James Cameron, developing a 21st Century take on the script and visuals for the sci-fi classic “Fantastic Voyage.” “From my very first meeting with Jim, I was like ‘I don’t want to do green screen views out of the windows of a sub. I want to build real underwater sets.’ It’s immersive, it’s tactile, it’s texture – I don’t know if it’s where cinema needs to go, but it’s where MY cinema needs to go.”
Another planned project, a refreshed “Frankenstein,” is also built on Levy’s desire to mix potent human stories with envelope-pushing effects. “When they told me ‘We’re sending you “Frankenstein,” I was like ‘What? I mean, I want to broaden, but are we kidding?’ And then I read it,” reveals Levy. “This kid Max Landis – 26, son of John, a mad, crazy, brilliant young man – wrote this script. It’s about the friendship and betrayals that go on between a young Victor Frankenstein that is just beginning to devise the science that will make him famous and his friend/assistant/minion Igor. It’s a period piece, still very much a monster movie, moody as hell and dark as hell, but really delves into these themes of creationism and monstrosity between these two young men in their 20s.”
“Hopefully 'Real Steel' kind of marks this pivot point where I can further grow and further expand,” he says, as the strong box office seems to have cleared the way for a sequel. “Like 'Night At The Museum,' there won't be a sequel that I don't direct. I love this franchise. It really came from my heart. Hugh loves it, too, and if we've done that in 'Real Steel' and if audiences respond we've got a kick-ass next chapter ready to tell.”