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Michael Giacchino is best known in the film world for his work as a blockbuster composer whose recent scores include the likes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Doctor Strange, and Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: Trilogy. After years of working alongside major directors, though, Giacchino has recently branched out into directing himself, and when Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige asked him what he might like to tackle for the MCU, there was only one answer: Werewolf by Night.
"Because it's completely unexplored territory and it's territory that I love, that I have such a deep affinity for," Giacchino told SYFY WIRE last week, the morning after Werewolf by Night debuted to instant acclaim at Austin's Fantastic Fest. "But in figuring out what we were going to do, the first thing we did was [say], 'Let's tell a contained story. That, to me, was very important. I always loved The Twilight Zone, and I love that you could just drop in, watch one thing and be like, 'Whoa, what was that? What was that story I was just told?' It didn't need to be connected or come from anything. And I wanted to do that, especially if we were going to do it in the confines of a special. It just felt like the right thing to do."
The result is Marvel Studios' first-ever Halloween special, an hour long event that arrives this week on Disney+, and opens up a whole new world of monsters and monster hunters within the MCU. At the center of it all is Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a werewolf who's been roped into a deadly game of monster hunters all competing to inherit a leadership role left vacant by one of their fallen elders. As everyone converges on a spooky, labyrinthine mansion for the contest, Jack must work to keep who he really is to himself, even if his monstrous nature might be the only thing that ultimately allows him to survive the night.
A marriage of black-and-white horror films and classic Marvel Comics monsters, Werewolf by Night thrives as an example of self-contained storytelling that's nevertheless packed with potential for future MCU stories. Nowhere is that more evident than in the character of Jack himself, which Giacchino and Bernal discussed at length while preparing the story.
"Gael and I had a lot of conversations about this, about the character of Jack in terms of, 'How old is he? I don't know. 300, 100, 400? He could be very, very old," Giacchino explained. "And I like the idea that he's lived through a lot of eras, he's been through this many, many times. This is a guy that is used to this idea that, 'Oh God, another full moon, I've got to deal with this again.' He's got a routine down of what he would do, how he handles it, how he lives. And it was Gael who was saying, 'I keep thinking about how many jobs has he had over the years? How many places has he lived?' And even to the point when we were discussing the name Jack Russell for Gael, I was like, 'How do you feel about that name?' And he goes, 'Oh, that's just one of many names I've had over the years.' And I loved that thought. I thought that was amazing. And I felt like that approach gave us a lot of leeway to do what we wanted to do in terms of style."
The style that Werewolf by Night ultimately arrived at is something that feels equal parts like an MCU adventure and a trip back to the Golden Age of horror cinema, when black and white art deco nightmares starring legends like Vincent Price frequently played out on the silver screen. For Giacchino, the look of the special gives it a timeless quality that's reflective of Jack Russell's mysterious past, while also serving as a tribute to some of his favorite films like House on Haunted Hill.
"There was never a foregone conclusion that it was going to be black and white," Giacchino said. "We shot in color, but I also had a separate monitor to show me the black and white image as well. And our [director of photography], Zoe White, is amazing, was incredible to work with. And she and I just, from the very beginning, kept secretly going, 'This has to be black and white, this has to be black and white.' But we had to shoot the thing first and get through all of that. And it wasn't until we actually had our maybe second or third screening of it in black and white with Kevin where he looked at me and he goes, 'This has to be in black and white, doesn't it?' And I was like, 'Yes, yes it does.'"
With that blend of old-school horror storytelling and new characters landing in the MCU, Werewolf by Night feels both like something entirely fresh and something that could easily branch out into a dozen other layers of Marvel Studios storytelling in the years to come. For Giacchino, that sense of potential is important, but he emphasized that just as important for him as a filmmaker was the chance to break into uncharted territory in one of the world's biggest pop culture machines.
"I felt like I want to go into the areas that no one has touched yet. I want to go into the areas that have the biggest danger of failing in terms of trying something," he said. "I felt like what they have done so far on the superhero side of things has been done so well. I don't know how to add to that. I don't know what I would bring to the table there, but this was an area where I felt like, 'I can bring something to this. This is something that I have a vested interest in.' And where it goes from here, I don't know. I mean, I want it to go somewhere. I desperately want it to go somewhere. I love these characters so much and I want to do something else with them."
Werewolf by Night premieres Oct. 7 on Disney+.