All good things must come to an end, and this weekend, the "Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy" finally melts with the debut of apocalyptic robo-comedy "The World's End." Beginning with 2004's romantic zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead" and continuing with 2007's buddy comedy send-up "Hot Fuzz," the loose trilogy and the films within are wild, visually stunning homages to very specific genres, all of them directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. (Pegg also co-wrote all three.) Wright, Pegg and Frost all return for "The World's End," which dramatizes what happens when several childhood friends return to their hometown to find things are different. Like really different (minor plot spoilers ahead).
In "The World's End," Pegg plays Gary King, an alcoholic with some grating personality issues, who recruits his old group of friends (including Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine) to return to their hometown of Newton Haven. It's there that they encounter an old crush (played by future "Gone Girl" Rosamund Pike) and a horrifying town secret that killer robots have replaced most of the town's population (they bleed blue ink). The whole thing takes on a kind of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or "The Thing" vibe, if everyone in those movies was really drunk and loud and the soundtrack was filled with classic Britpop jams from the late '80s and early '90s.
"The World's End" is very much in keeping with the other films in the loose trilogy; it's deeply hilarious and gorgeously photographed. But like all things that reach their conclusion, it's also a little bit more bittersweet and emotional than we were anticipating. To poorly paraphrase "The Dark Knight," it might not be the finale you were expecting, but it's the one you probably deserve. We got a chance to talk to Wright about his inspirations for "The World's End" and how difficult it was to assemble the expansive soundtrack, as well as offer updates on Disney's "Night Stalker" with Johnny Depp, his mysterious "Collider" project with J.J. Abrams, the idea he has for a horror movie, and, of course, "Ant-Man." Also: little spoilers are littered throughout, so tread lightly, please (or bookmark for after you've seen the movie).
What inspired you to this tackle this sort of story of nostalgia and globalization? Where did that come from?
I think just a number of things I’ve been obsessing about. I think the nostalgia thing is something…I think it sort of bothers me more than it bothers Simon. In a way, I think Simon and Nick look for it a lot and I have a tendency to think back to my school years quite a lot and I wonder why, and it kind of amuses me as much as it obsesses me. I’m pretty happy with my life and career and I’m always bothered by the fact that I wanted to go back and do school better and go on dates. So I think there’s a part of Gary King and the recreation of the special night that I can definitely sympathize with.
I think it's okay to get nostalgic over music or movies from your youth, but this film is about the dangers of trying to recreate former glories. Gary King is stuck in the past, which is bad enough, but when he actively tries to regress his friends through alcohol, all hell breaks lose. The cautionary tale in the movie should be that you should never, ever want to go back because the past is a disaster.
But at the end he sort of is able to reclaim that in an interesting way.
Yes, without giving too much away the idea at the ending is that in a strange way everybody gets exactly what they want although it took a mess to get that. We had the idea for the ending in a similar way to "Shaun of the Dead," we knew what the final image was going to be before we exactly had everything locked down in the screenplay. We always knew where we were going with it and what the end of his eventual arc was going to be. I think there are definitely positives of the nostalgia and I think music is the most positive form of nostalgia but I think it's like Rosamund Pike says in the movie, "You have to go forwards, not backwards." You can’t rest on your laurels and you can’t relive your teenage years forever; it’s ridiculous
"You can never go home" also seems it speaks to the writers of this movie.
I have had bittersweet homecomings to the town I grew up in and the feeling of having had no impact on your town is something that I felt as a younger man; returning home to find that former schoolmates didn't recognize me, publicans didn't recognize me, not even the school bully gave me a second look, it's an odd feeling that we wanted to give an otherworldly twist. If anything, the invasion in the movie is a coping strategy for dealing with the inevitable downer that you are getting old, time marches on and your hometown wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
There's a sense of wrestling with nostalgia—loving that romantic idea of looking back, but knowing you must ultimately move forward.
I definitely wanted to make a movie about time travel without the MacGuffin of a DeLorean, police box or even a hot tub. I thought there was rich potential in the idea of a man so in love with the past he tries to recreate an epic night. Of course, this is disaster and really Gary needs to looks forwards and not backwards.
What are your take on old friendships vs. new friendships? What's your take on friendship period, as that's an integral theme of this film: the nature of friendships and whether they can stand the test of time.
I think I feel guilt over losing contact with friends at times. I tried to alleviate that by making this movie glorifying our teenage years. And then I invited my old friends to the premiere, which was a trip. But like many of us, we have friends in our life that we've had to cut out because of various problems and it's a tough thing to do. This movie is about two friends trying to repair an age-old rift, even if it takes the end of the world to repair it.
How does the globalization-themed ending tie into the rest of the movie's themes of nostalgia, friendship, the past and home in your mind?
When I returned to my hometown to shoot "Hot Fuzz," I was bemused to find a sparkling new Starbucks in the center of the high street. I ended up digitally erasing it from the movie. I'd built up this romanticized image of my birthplace and yet it was no different from London, the same chains, the identical pubs. So the movie is about the realization that you cannot stop progress and in fact the "villains" of the piece see themselves as benevolent and efficient, wanted to improve the planet and lose the rough edges. So we draw a line in the sand, do you want to be perfect like "'them" or do you want to be a flawed like "us." Are you a robot or are you human?
You could easily set your next movie in that post-apocalyptic world and not even choose to follow the same characters if you wanted.
Maybe, but the joy of the ending to me is to see a whole new world for five minutes and hint at future adventures that will never happen. All three of the movies could lead to sequels, but those are best left to people's imagination.
I was going to ask you about the soundtrack. There’s like a million pop songs on that but it never seemed overwhelming. How do you find that balance?
There are a couple things. One, this is how we wrote the movie. It’s funny, a few nights ago I did a double bill of "American Graffiti" and "Dazed and Confused" at the New Beverly and whenever I watch both movies, especially "American Graffiti" I’m staggered at the amount of tracks in that film; it’s incredible. There must be 30 rock 'n' roll classics in there. In a way, even though it’s set in 2013, Gary King has a mixed tape which is kind of like his security blanket. So the first thing we did when we were writing it was make this playlist…it was like 200 tracks long and it was mostly 1988 to 1993, which is the period where I was in college. They were all like touchstones of a particular time and a lot of the songs I remember being a gateway to more alternative music; it was the period where I stopped listening to pop music and oldies. It really informed me to write the movie. When we wrote "Hot Fuzz," for instance, we just listened to action scores, and when we wrote "Shaun of the Dead" we listened to horror scores, but here we just listened to this music and very quickly those songs became instrumental to it. They start to rise to the top and actually become structurally important as well.
Did you run into any licensing issues on any of the songs?
Just at the last second, actually, to try to afford The Doors, as you would imagine. Nick Angel is our music supervisor, the "Hot Fuzz" character is based on him, and to his credit he did say at the very first script read, “Oh, the Doors are going to be expensive.” When it finally came down to it there were two other tracks I changed to make room for The Doors. We had this long playlist and we always had B and C options. I think at one time we had The Pixies in there; we had “Stormy Weather” by The Pixies but it was too expensive getting it. I’m really happy with what’s in there and in fact, whenever I watch the end credits of the film and the music credits come up I go "Holy shit!" There’s just so many artists, and so diverse to have everything from Blur to The Stone Roses. It’s great.
In the second half of our interview, Edgar also discusses "Ant-Man," the J.J Abrams collaboration "Collider" and many more future projects on the horizon as well as more about "The World's End."