With the live-action reboot of Disney's 1992 animated classic Aladdin topping the box office, the film is already defying some critics' expectations that it couldn't be done. A lot of that is down to the assured hands of Guy Ritchie. No stranger to large productions, from the two Sherlock Holmes films he directed in 2009 and 2011 to the sweeping fantasy epic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in 2017, the British filmmaker is a pro when it comes to bringing classic stories to the big screen.
Speaking to The National from the Jordanian capital, Amman, he takes us through his experience shooting Aladdin in the country and why he chose Will Smith to play the Genie.
Your frenetic signature visual style is all over Aladdin. Was it a challenge to infuse that into a film with so much history?
A You know, as a filmmaker, it's very hard for a creative individual to be objective about how they work or the influence they have upon the tapestry in whatever manifestation it comes in. It's inevitable in that if you have a voice – and filmmaking is ultimately the director's medium – that there is going to be some imprint that you leave upon the narrative. And you are going to put things in there that tickle you, and entertain you. So my principal job was to fuse two worlds together, which was the nostalgic old world and give it a new voice that felt worthwhile and fresh.
You kept the Arabian flavours in Agrabah as authentic as possible. How important was that for you?
It was important because you don't want to be clumsy about it. And I think Disney doesn't want to be clumsy and I want to be authentic and fluent in the effort of representing the greater region as a whole. Obviously, our Agrabah is a sort of multicultural, modern interpretation of a fantasy city.
How crucial was it for you to get the right actor, in this case Will Smith, to play the Genie?
Once the Genie is out of the bottle, the Genie is out of the bottle. I do notice the difference once the Genie appears on screen – there is a shift. The Genie is an endless cornucopia of creativity, fun and generosity. So, I couldn't think of anyone other than Will Smith, actually, when the idea of the Genie came to mind. And my job is principally to make Will Smith be more Will Smith, if you will.
Jordan as a film location has beguiled many directors over the years. How was your experience shooting in the kingdom’s Wadi Rum?
It was wonderful. In fact there are actually a couple of shots in the movie, which we styled like-for-like from Lawrence of Arabia, as an homage, if you will. It was very easy shooting here. The people were very warm and inviting. The Royal Film Commission facilitated our mission and, all in all, creatively ticked all my boxes. So we had a wonderful time.
With pulsating soundtracks a hallmark of your films, does shooting a live-action musical seem like a natural progression?
Yes, but this territory is a bit more familiar to me than you might think. I've got five kids, which means that the last 19 years I've been up to my eyeballs in family entertainment, particularly Disney and particularly Disney princesses. My wife is a Disneyphile. So I am familiar with the world of Disney and obviously I'm familiar with the world of Aladdin, in the sense that he's a street hustler trying to crack on. So, it was a question of fusing two worlds.
Aladdin is in cinemas across the UAE now