It's been two years since we showed you the trailer for Empires of the Deep, the legendary $130 million epic about mermaids that was geared to be China's answer to Avatar. The movie actually filmed back in 2010. Will we ever see it? Hard to say. Update: We heard from one of the film's directors.
More behind-the-scenes info has been coming out about Empires lately. In particular, back in July, an extra who played a bunch of roles in the film released his filming diary, in which he talks about playing a quasi-Spartan soldier, a villager who gets captured by pirates, and a merman. Part one is here and part two is here, but the gist of it is that filming was chaotic and went on for months, with the extra having to show up for makeup at 4 AM and then report on set at 9 AM, only to find that filming didn't start until 4 PM because none of the crew had shown up — and then they were losing light.
Part two of the filming diary for Empires also contains a pretty good rundown of the behind-the-scenes chaos on the film, which was bankrolled by a wealthy real estate investor named Jon Jiang. The original director was Pitof (who directed Halle Berry's Catwoman) and Irvin Kershner was reportedly on board in some kind of producing role. Pitof and Kershner left, and the director's chair was taken over by Jonathan Lawrence. Lawrence, in turn, walked off set after five months of filming. He was replaced by two directors, Michael French and Scott Miller. Meanwhile, the lead mermaid role was reportedly being filled by Sharon Stone and Monica Bellucci at various times, but then went to Olga Kurylenko.
Here's the trailer, in case you missed it before:
There's also a huge behind-the-scenes feature about the making of this movie from 2010 over at Undead Backbrain, which includes a ton of photos of the production. My favorite bit is the part where they talk abou thow they tried to use colored wigs for the mermaids, but they didn't look that great, so they ended up with bathing caps instead:
Writing in Undead Backbrain, Robert Hood notes:
When asked about this, Jonathan Lawrence commented: "Not really sure when the corn-row thing got approved. The wigs they tried were awful. They looked like reject, trailer-trash Barbies. Some discussion went into using [the actresses'] real hair and the last I heard that was what they were going to do, then all of a sudden the actresses came to a costume fitting and I was told the rubber headpieces were the only solution…"
Back in 2010, one source on the set told Undead Backbrain, "It's a fucking awesome concept. And so even if it sucks big time, it'll suck in a really cool, never-before-seen-in-China way."
As of now, this movie has apparently never been released, in China or elsewhere. Last year, DenofGeek tried to reach the film's producers and couldn't get a response. One of the writers who worked on the film, Randall Frakes, told DenofGeek that the movie may have been put on hold after a series of dismal test screenings.
Update: We managed to get in touch with Jonathan Lawrence, who was the main director on this film, and he told us why he dropped out after five months:
I left the film because my contract was up and [the] production was out of money. They could not accommodate my deal. Also by that time it was evident that my hands were tied creatively. I had developed a very good relationship with the crew and department heads and lead cast. But morale was falling apart for everyone and when personal safety of the actors was being ignored daily I reached the end of my tolerance. This may be the way they do things in China, it was not my place to question their culture, but I wont stand for the cast I brought from the US being but into potentially life threatening environments. As much as the crew tried to accommodate safety - some locations were too dangerous to get to in poor whether conditions.
We asked Lawrence whether the film would ever be released in China or elsewhere, and he responded:
I have heard from inside sources that the movie is complete and due for release in China very soon. I have no idea if it will play anywhere else. I have many of the dailies on DVD — some of the footage looks quite good. Unless they have done extensive work on the digital FX since the last trailer I saw, it will look like a mid range video game. I hope this is not the case, because the animators are amazingly talented artists.
Here are two more behind-the-scenes images — more at Undead Backbrain: