In our interview Vincenzo Natali – director of „Splice” – talks about many aspects of his latest movie, the ethic side of genetic manipulation and some of his future projects.
Isn’t Dren a contemporary version of the Frankenstein’s monster? (Because it cannot be a coincidence that your heros are named 'Elsa’ and 'Clive’.)
Yes, absolutely. I was very influenced by James Whale’s Frankenstein films. Clive is named after Colin Clive and Elsa after Elsa Lancaster. But I felt that it was imperative to update the Frankenstein myth and make a 21st century version of it. Splice distinguishes itself as a mother daughter story. And Elsa is the protagonist.
Science-fiction usually comments on contemporary issues, hopes and fears for the future – is it true that 'Splice’ was inspired by experiments of Craig Venter?
I was thinking of Craig Venter as I was writing Splice because he much like Clive and Elsa, is a kind of 'rock and roll geneticist’ who is pushing the technical and ethical boundaries of the science. It was amazing to discover that he has created the first artificial lifeform using a technique very similar to the one Clive and Elsa use to program DNA in the hard drive of a computer. He announced this two weeks before Splice was released here in the States. I’ve found continually in the process of making Splice that truth trumped my fiction.
Do you think that the ethic side of genetic experimentation will be eventually pushed aside?
I think the ethical debates will always be very tightly woven into the science. Genetic engineering is much like nuclear power in that it is a very powerful new science which has the potential for great things but in the wrong hands could yield catastrophic results. And of course it delves into issues of the sanctity of life and creation. Personally, I believe we were designed to do this kind or work. It’s in our DNA to splice DNA, as it were. But it must be approached with great caution.
Even though “Splice” seems to be a kind of a “down to Earth” s-f story, it contains a lot of different ideas and gizmos that are pure fantasy (for now). Did You consult the scientific part of the movie with actual specialists, in terms of technology and genetic engineering?
Yes, Splice was written and filmed in consultation with real geneticists. I felt a certain responsibility to get the science right because in fact the things that Clive and Elsa are doing in their lab are not so far from what is currently possible. There was no need to be too 'fantastical’ in the approach. So as much as I could I tried to keep the lab environments and the splicing techniques as plausible as I could.
Was the concept of Dren a result of such consultations or just a straight creature of imagination?
Dren is very much from my imagination and the imagination of the many talented artists who designed her. But our prime directive was always to make a creature that is biologically plausible. We were therefore very subtractive in our design. I tried to pull things away from the human form rather than add on to it. And I tried to make those alterations subtle with the assumption that small changes are more shocking than big ones when dealing with human anatomy. The net result is a creature that is scaled down to a human-sized level, not a larger than life movie monster. Dren is a delicate thing and a beautiful creature who is as much a player in the drama as the scientists.
I felt that the main theme of “Splice” was a harsh conclusion that life is quite deterministic and we are slaves of our legacy (and to be more specific: our genes). Was that Your intention to deliver that kind of a premise?
I think that is a valid interpretation. In my mind, Splice is an example of how we are often victims of our own involuntary impulses. Clive and Elsa are smart people but their decisions are really driven by emotional need. Elsa for instance makes Dren because of her own latent maternal impulses. And Clive is a victim of his sexual impulses. It seems to me that humans have an unending capacity to justify their behavior, but often what really drives us are deep psychological and behavioral issues that have nothing to do with our intellect.
The mainstream audience here in Poland found “Splice” a little bit too thoroughgoing and rough. On the other side, hardcore scifi fans like the movie a lot, they are amused by little inside jokes and quotes. Two of the most obvious references are “Fly” and “Species” – were they intentional all the way?
I’m a student of creature films and I think Splice owes a debt to many such films of the past. But with a few small exceptions (Clive and Elsa’s names for instance), I didn’t intentionally make a lot of references. I think those little homages come out subconsciously by osmosis. There’s no question that there is some David Cronenberg DNA in there for example.
Can you tell us a little bit about Your future plans? “Swamp Thing”, “Necromancer”, “High Rise” and “Tunells”. You were connected at some point to all of these projects but what’s their current status? Which one is the most likely to be your first choice?
Swamp Thing is trapped in a swamp of legal problems related to the film rights, so sadly that won’t be happening any time soon. Neuromancer is a brilliant William Gibson novel that I am currently adapting into a screenplay. High-Rise is a JG Ballard novel that I have been working on for a long time and I am actively trying to raise financing for. And Tunnels is a young adult fantasy book series which I have just delivered the script for. They are all amazing projects and I am extremely fortunate to be involved with them. However, none are financed yet. Which one goes first will simply be determined by who writes the cheque first!
Are there any movies You’re waiting for especially?
I’m dying to see Inception and Scott Pilgrim VS the World. They are at the top of my summer movie list.
Thanks for the interview.