This summer, director James Gunn led Marvel Studios onto a new path with the cinematic gamble Guardians of the Galaxy. That gamble paid off, making the film the highest domestic grosser of 2014 and introducing the world to bizarre characters like a talking tree and an outlaw raccoon.
Gunn, who is best known for his work in low-budget filmmaking after getting his start in Troma films, took some time to watch his blockbuster film for the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film.
Looking ahead to both The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the 2017 release of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Gunn dissects his movie with stories from the set and how things changed from the film’s inception to the final cut.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Commentator: James Gunn (co-writer/director)
1. While developing the script, one of the first things Gunn focused on regarding Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) emotional attachment to Earth was the Sony Walkman. He also made the now-iconic soundtrack to represent Quill’s mother and her influence on him.
2. Both Gregg Henry (as Quill’s grandfather) and Michael Rooker (as Yondu) have been in all of Gunn’s films.
3. Laura Haddock, who plays Quill’s mother, has a small part in Captain America: The First Avenger as a fan wanting his autograph. However, Gunn claims there is no connection between the characters.
4. In the comic books, Quill’s father is J’son. However, Gunn does not like the name J’son, so he suggests his father is someone else, which he won’t name publicly because that’s being saved for the sequel.
5. The doctor who rushes into Meredith Quill’s room as she flatlines is named Dr. Fitzgibbon. Gunn always has a character in his films with that name in honor of his friend Larry Fitzgibbon.
6. Originally, the film cut directly from young Peter Quill getting abducted to Morag years later. However, test audiences found that to be particularly jarring. Marvel’s Kevin Feige suggested to drop in the Marvel Studios logo between those scenes to help offset the break in tone.
7. The map device that Quill uses to find the orb was actually given to him by The Broker (Christopher Fairbank). This was explained in dialogue that was later cut, as was the explanation that Morag was an ancient planet with an advanced civilization that was destroyed when global warming raised its sea level. The seas receded every 300 years, which is when Quill took the opportunity to steal the orb.
8. The dog in the hologram is Dr. Wesley Von Spears, owned by Gunn.
9. Gunn wanted to create a bright and colorful space opera that reminded him of the fun movies he watched as a kid – like The Empire Strikes Back – before a lot of the color was taken out of space films.
10. Quill’s confrontation with Korath (Djimon Hounsou) was the first dialogue scene shot.
11. Gunn and his assistant Simon Hatt performed the voices for most of the Sakaaran guards.
12. The scene in which Quill’s ship almost crashes into the water on Morag was the scene Gunn storyboarded for his pitch to Marvel to be the director. It was shot almost exactly as it was originally conceived.
13. Gunn often casts his friends in bit parts of his films. In this movie, most of his personal friends ended up as the Ravagers in Yondu’s posse.
14. Gunn wrote the character of Yondu with Michael Rooker in mind.
15. The chase scene on Xandar was shot in London while the temperature was close to 100 degrees for several days. By the third day of shooting, most of the extras stripped down to their underwear in order to stay cool between shots.
16. Gunn and Peter Serafinowicz followed each other on Twitter before doing this movie together.
17. Quill winding up his middle finger while being processed in prison was improvised by Pratt, and Gunn gave him the suggestion to sarcastically explain how sorry he was that it happened.
18. During their walk into the prison, Quill originally sings “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” to Rocket when he says he’s the only one of his kind.
19. Because Pratt is 6’2” tall, it was hard to find actors to play opposite him who were physically imposing.
20. Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman, who gave Gunn his first film job by paying him $150 to write Tromeo and Juliet, is seen in the background when the Guardians are marched into the prison. Gunn’s assistant Simon Hatt is standing next to him.
21. Nathan Fillion plays the voice of the large blue alien that attacks Quill when he walks through the prison common area.
22. Quill sleeping in a pile of prisoners was inspired by the show Locked Up Abroad, one of Gunn’s favorites, in which he notices that prisoners outside of the U.S. are often not given their own cell and bunk.
23. The mush-faced rocket is based on Gunn’s dog Dr. Wesley Von Spears, who often gets mush-faced when he sleeps.
24. Zoe Saldana had trouble pronouncing “Thanos” and had to be prompted by Gunn in most of her scenes.
25. There were more A’askavariian jokes in the movie, and Gunn cut them for timing. However, he regrets this because Rocket got so distracted by the fact that Quill would sleep with an A’askavariian.
26. The part of Thanos was motion-captured from Josh Brolin’s performance. Gunn suggests the character is shoehorned into the movie, but he acknowledges that this is setting up a bigger story.
27. Neither Rocket nor Groot were actually mo-capped, because Rocket’s face is very different from a human’s face. Instead, they are animated. Sean Gunn, his brother who also plays Kraglin, performed Rocket’s actions which was motion-referenced for the effects. Animators also used Bradley Cooper’s actions while in the sound booth as a reference.
28. To afford to make the massive steel set of the Kyln, they had to melt it down and sell the steel back. This justified the cost of the materials.
29. Gunn and Pratt collaborated on the Jackson Pollack comment as a joke, never expecting such a risqué reference to make it into the final film. However, Gunn convinced Kevin Feige to let him include it during a test screening, and it got the biggest laugh in the whole movie.
30. In order to communicate with the actors during production, Gunn installed a “God mic” which would broadcast his voice to the set. He did this because he felt he lost too much set time having to run from the video village tent to the huge set to communicate directly to the actors.
31. Gunn hated the long scene in which Gamora and Quill have a moment on the balcony, so on the day of shooting, he changed the dialogue to make it work faster.
32. The Footloose jokes on the balcony originated from Pratt suggesting during pre-production that Quill not only loves Footloose but considers it a legend.
33. Drax and Groot are fighting in Knowhere because Rocket was making fun of Drax’s tattoos, which honor his family.
34. Gunn’s set PA was a girl named Brittany, who is the daughter of one of the members of Iron Maiden. On set, Benecio Del Toro was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt, and Gunn pointed out their relationship. Del Toro then asked to take some photos with her.
35. Chris Pratt actually dropped the orb accidentally when he handed it to The Collector.
36. In addition to Marvel characters Howard the Duck and Cosmo the Dog, the worms from Slither are seen in the Collector’s collection.
37. Gunn says it’s unlikely that Cosmo the Dog will be a Guardian in further films because a real dog with real fur would present a challenge when sharing the screen with a CGI raccoon with CGI fur.
38. Gunn addresses the science of the scene where Quill catches Gamora while they are both exposed to the vacuum of space. They consulted with NASA for this and determined that a person could survive this exposure and would not actually blow up, which is confirmed here as well.
39. When Groot pierces Drax’s lung, which Gunn calls “the grossest 3D shot in the film,” they let the yellow vomit spurt up past the frame so it looks even more like it’s going in your face.
40. Joss Whedon read Gunn’s first draft of the screenplay and told him it needed “more James Gunn,” meaning to add more humor.
41. The “12% scene” had 11 1/2 hours of raw footage.
42. The screens in the Ravagers’ ship seen when the Guardians are planning their assault on Ronan are the same colors used on the screens in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
43. Gunn based the ending battle on films like Top Gun and The Right Stuff rather than Star Wars because it takes place in the atmosphere rather than in space.
44. Bereet (Melia Kreiling), the alien girl in Quill’s ship in the beginning of the film, can be seen saving a little girl from being killed during the film’s final battle.
45. The ships shooting down the dive-bombing pilots was inspired by the video game Space Invaders.
46. Gunn refers to the shot of Rocket’s hand reaching up to grab Drax’s hand during the Infinity Stone maelstrom as “the Michelangelo shot.”
47. Gunn suggests that Yondu knows that Quill switched out the orb when he walks away but that he just doesn’t want to have to kill Quill.
48. The voice-over of Quill’s mother was recorded in the back of a car so Pratt could hear it when he was on set.
49. The dancing baby Groot – which was motion-referenced to Gunn dancing – was originally meant to be the ending tag, but they loved it so much that they put it right at the beginning of the credits.
50. Gunn originally did not like Chris Pratt for the role of Peter Quill because he thought of him as “the chubby guy from Parks & Rec.” He was convinced by casting director Sarah Finn to let him audition. It worked out well.
51. All the songs in the film were the first choice of Gunn’s, which were included in early drafts of his script. He did not have to compromise on any of them.
52. In the end tag, Benecio Del Toro did not know that he was going to look over to see Howard the Duck, who is voiced by Seth Green.
Best in Commentary
- “I often say that, you know, there’s a lot of oddballs in this movie, and this is a movie about oddballs. And it’s about oddballs who become a family, and all of us became a pretty close family over the course of this movie.”
- “Peter Quill doesn’t have any super powers, but I did say often while filming, if he had a super power it was the fact that he was able to screw up completely and get messed up and trip and fall, and then regain his composure, you know, quickly, to do something sort of heroic, which is what he’s doing here.”
- “Here, we have one of my favorite moments in the movie, where we really get what we want, a raccoon with a big machine gun shooting robots.”
- “This is a sweet moment with Groot and this little child. Groot’s flower, it is probably inspired by Frankenstein, the James Whale film, and that sort of sweetness that Frankenstein has. But Groot doesn’t throw the child in a river afterwards and murder her. That’s something we chose not to do.”
- “And that doesn’t mean that there’s gonna be a Howard the Duck movie. Although I know you’re hopeful.”
Hands-down, Gunn gives one of the best commentaries I’ve heard in a long time. He strikes a strong balance between telling humorous stories from the set and dissecting the background and development of the film itself.
There are moments where we find him explaining the more obvious parts of the film, particularly the characters’ motivations, but that will be found in a lot of commentary tracks. Overall, Gunn’s stories are almost always entertaining, even if they don’t have a lot of relevance to the film itself. (One example of this is when Gunn explains how he cast one of his friends in a bit part as a prison guard, recalling how they met on a blind double-date with their respective roommates.)
Probably one of the most inspiring elements to this commentary track is knowing Gunn’s humble cinematic roots, along with the mainstream disappointment of his excellent but low-grossing film Slither. It’s nice to see someone emerge from independent film and not only get a chance to do something huge like this, but to knock it out of the park as he did.
Fans of the film as well as fans of Gunn’s work should enjoy this commentary, which brings the family nature of the production to a greater light.