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It seems tree monsters have weirdly become a significant thing in Hollywood all of a sudden. This week audiences will be able to see a brand new one -- played by Liam Neeson -- in director J.A. Bayona's dramatic A Monster Calls, but it was just a couple of summers ago that James Gunn introduced his own with Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Because of the similarity, you might guess that Bayona might be a touch concerned about comparisons -- but there is a very simple explanation as to why he's not, and it all ties back to the release of The Impossible back in 2012.
The subject of A Monster Calls/Guardians of the Galaxy comparisons came up when I had the pleasure of sitting down with J.A. Bayona for a one-on-one interview late last month in Los Angeles. While discussing the look of his titular creature -- which is adapted from the book by Patrick Ness -- I asked if there was ever any hesitation about aspects of the design, but the director dismissed that notion. First noting a strange coincidence in timing between his production and the Marvel movie, Bayona told me that he learned how to get over comparisons to other projects when he released The Impossible just a couple months after Clint Eastwood's Hereafter. Said the director,
The week we started shooting, Guardians of the Galaxy came out... But you know, it's always the same. I remember when I did Impossible, Hereafter came out just months before the release. And I thought, 'Come on! It's Clint Eastwood, one of the best directors out there.' But at the end, I think that filmmaking is about storytelling and filmmaking is about the director. I think you can have the same script given to a different director and it would look like a complete different film. So, at the end you forget about these comparisons.
For those feeling a bit lost, The Impossible told the story of a family trying to survive the destruction caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; while Clint Eastwood's Hereafter also made dramatic use of a similar natural disaster. It should be noted that J.A. Bayona's quote is a bit off, as his movie actually came out more than two years after Eastwood's -- but it is worth mentioning that The Impossible started production in August 2010, which was just a couple months before Hereafter's theatrical release.
While both movies did feature climactic sequences with tsunamis, they also offered much different plots and characters for audiences, which is ultimately J.A. Bayona's point. While A Monster Calls and Guardians of the Galaxy may feature some similar design ideas, both features are also completely different (and it's even worth mentioning that the two tree creatures have entirely disparate dispositions). Some of the most interesting examples of creativity spawn from taking an established idea and doing something brand new with it.
A Monster Calls is arriving in theaters this Friday, December 23rd, and be sure to stay tuned here on Cinema Blend for more of our interviews with the cast and director! As an added bonus, head on over to Page 2 to watch Liam Neeson read the first chapter of the book: