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January 9, 2007
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Luc Besson on 'Arthur And The Invisibles'
French action director tackles his first animated kids' film
By -- Toronto Sun


So what's this we hear about the CGI kid-flick Arthur And The Invisibles being the last film of Luc Besson's career?

On the other end of the line from Montreal, France's most commercial filmmaker (The Fifth Element, The Professional, La Femme Nikita) lets out a chuckle.

"Yes, I heard that too," the 47-year-old Besson says of his ostensible retirement.

"I did an interview (with Britain's The Guardian) where I mentioned that after 30 years and 10 films, I've started to get a little tired. It's a question of honesty. I love and respect the audience and I'm scared to repeat myself. There's so many examples of directors I've seen and loved, and they continue too long, and make films that are less and less good."

So the answer is -- "maybe."

He hedges his bets, however, with Arthur And The Invisibles -- a film taken from a pair of children's books he wrote with artist Patrice Garcia, about a little boy's adventures with the Minimoys, a tribe of red-haired, blue-eyed, 2 mm-tall elfin creatures from Africa.

There will likely be a sequel, based on the second book, Arthur And The Forbidden City. But Besson says it won't count as another film in his countdown to retirement.

"For me it's the same film," he says. "I've worked for five years with 700 people," he says of the CGI team he has affectionately mocked as "17-year-old nerds."

"We were a great team and we all cried when we left each other. So the idea of doing it again, see the people again and start again would be a pleasure."

"It's very strange," he says of the generational clash of cultures that came with his first CGI kid-flick. "Some of these guys are responsible for three shots in the film, and that's their lives for years. They don't care so much about the other shots.

"They were born and raised with a mouse in their hands. Not me. The computer arrived a couple of years ago for me. I was raised on the Mediterranean Sea with sun, rocks and fish," says Besson, whose parents were scuba-diving instructors employed by various resorts.

"So this is new and strange for me. But I totally understand that they were raised like this. The Internet for them is milk."

A mix of live-action scenes in the real world, and animation in the world of the Minimoys, Arthur And The Invisibles stars Freddie Highmore (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) as the title character, and Madonna as the voice of Princess Selenia, the sassy Minimoy warrior princess of his dreams. Yes, we're talking a 48-year-old Madonna and a 14-year-old Highmore deep in puppy love, but (a) animation being what it is, Madonna and Highmore never actually met, and (b) "that's an adult point of view," Besson says. "The kids don't know who Madonna is, and they don't care."

Though he has four daughters and a son from two of his three wives (Anne Parillaud and Virginie Silla -- he was also married to Milla Jovovich), Besson says he wrote Arthur with another kid in mind -- himself. "This little boy is 10 years old in the '60s and that's who I was at the time. I wanted to start with something I know -- my own souvenir ... my own dreams. It was easier for me to start with a boy and invent a perfect princess."

Rounding out the celeb English-language voices are the likes of Robert De Niro (as Selenia's father The King), Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon and David Bowie as the villainous Maltazard. Mia Farrow is around in "the real world" as Arthur's grandmother.

But that's just the English version. Arthur And The Invisibles was re-recorded with different casts in 31 languages (with some CGI tinkering of the lips) -- a process that added 10 months to the film's production. "Maltazard in Japanese was unbelievable," he says, imitating the low tones of an angry samurai.

The work paid off commercially with a film that's already dominating the box office in France and other countries where it has debuted (it opens here Friday). It's more fodder for the Cahiers Du Cinema crowd and other French purists who've always regarded Besson with some disdain for his Hollywoodish knack for putting derrieres in seats.

"I was never sensitive to the commercialism charge since I started, because in France it's only a couple hundred people who are just pretentious and never made a film, who decide they're guardians of the temple," Besson says.




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