If you’re looking for some alternative blockbuster storytelling this summer, make sure you turn your eyes to Netflix where Guillermo del Toro has tied together his Emmy-winning animated saga, Tales of Arcadia, with the just-released original movie, Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans.
After five years of serialized storytelling across three separate series — Trollhunters, 3Below, and Wizards — the massive ensemble of characters finally stand together to fight the massive Titans as they come to Earth. Del Toro has served as an executive producer of the entire run, but the mind behind Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t the only person to have shaped the Trollhunters world.
SYFY WIRE recently got on the phone with the long-time architect of the series, writer/executive producer Marc Guggenheim. In addition to being the co-screenwriter of Rise of the Titans (alongside fellow EPs Kevin and Dan Hageman), Guggenheim has plenty of other genre credits. Guggenheim chatted with us about how his experience landing the huge Arrowverse crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, helped inform the ending to Tales of Arcadia, if there are more stories to tell in the Trollhunters world in the future, and the paths he’s personally contemplating for his own future.
Tell me about the process of designing a movie that could grandly tie together three series and a huge ensemble of characters into a satisfying ending?
We had a lot of discussions about the right way to end the trilogy. One of the items on the table was the notion of what I call an extended season of Wizards, where we would end with three or four episodes that would bring all the characters together. The idea of assembling our Avengers was always on the table, and that was always the thing we were aiming for. What really required a lot of conversation was, what's the best way to do that? Is it through a movie? Is it through the continuation of Wizards? And you might think it's obvious to end with a movie, but the trick with that is that once you embark on a different format, doing a movie instead of a series, you start to open up the questions of “can we do this in such a way that will appeal to viewers who haven't seen all three shows?” And that was definitely challenging.
What were your goals for this? Is it about having all the bells and whistles with some closure, or was it something different?
For us, it was more along the lines of how do we create the most jeopardy for the world, and the most jeopardy for our characters? And how do we get characters who didn't spend a lot of time dealing with each other in the original series to interact in this movie? At the same time, we also wanted to make sure that we were providing closure to certain relationships, or at least, if not closure, a turning point. It was a whole laundry list of things that we needed to accomplish, topping off with how do you ultimately end the franchise and the trilogy?
We talked a lot about what is an ending? Are Jim (Emile Hirsch) and Claire (Lexi Medrano) and Toby (Charlie Saxton) going to go off to college? That would be a little bit of a letdown after you save the world multiple times. And at the end of the day, Guillermo has always encouraged us — and he practices what he preaches — to just go with your gut and go with what feels right. He was always pushing us to come up with the ending that we were all satisfied with, under the thinking that we really approached this as we're the first fans of the show. So, we're satisfied, and hopefully, the fans will be satisfied as well.
How did you choose the character that would narratively take point in this movie?
I think we always knew that we wanted Jim to take point simply because he's our first hero, and it all begins with him. If it doesn't begin with him, it begins with the core trinity of him, Claire and Toby. And Toby obviously makes multiple references to that throughout the story. At the same time, the challenge of telling an ensemble story in an hour and a half worth of screen time is you've got to focus on someone. How do you focus on Jim, while at the same time giving all the other characters their moment? And also the relationship between Blinky (Kelsey Grammer) and Jim is so paramount, and that really comes full circle at the end of the story. These questions are actually the reason why we went through so many different iterations of the story before we even started writing. We really did go down just about almost every path we could think of to finally commit to the absolute best version of the story. And I will tell you that the finished movie bears little resemblance to the initial stories that we started off with.
Over the past five years, you were also working on many of the Arrowverse shows and the Crisis on Infinite Earths event for The CW. How did that interconnected universe writing inform Trollhunters, and vice versa?
There was a big overlap for me. I was working on this movie while I was writing for the Arrowverse. And the idea of how do you at the very least give everyone their moment was sort of simultaneous, so both projects were influenced. Crisis was influenced by Rise of the Titans, and Titans was influenced by Crisis.
Honestly, a lot of it is little logistical things. When you're doing a big battle sequence with a whole bunch of characters, there's a bit of a dance, or an art form, to break down that big battle into a lot of smaller little mini battles that you narratively cut from one to the other. One of the things I really enjoyed about Rise of the Titans was the way we have several storylines, and several different fights, and several different Titans all active at the same time. From all around the world, we intercut various sequences, and we trust that the audience, no matter how young, will be able to follow it. And I totally hope that they do.
A hallmark of this Trollhunters universe is the deep bench of A-list talent who voiced your characters and remained attached through all of the series. How did you get them to return for this during a pandemic?
We've been very, very, very lucky with an incredible, incredible voice cast. That was true for one show, and it's three times as true for three shows. When you see the vast majority of them all together in one big movie, it kind of blows you away. Brook Chalmers, our production supervisor, is our voice guru and the one organizing, and present for every single record. He's the one who ultimately has the headache of, in a pandemic, getting people into recording booths when they're scattered all over the world. He is incredible. He is completely unflappable and deals with all of these logistical difficulties with incredible aplomb and calm. Thank God for technology which really made it possible to get people on digital, a lot easier. I think one actor even recorded in his closet on an iPhone.
Were there any swings that you felt reluctant to do in any of the other series, but felt that you earned it in the show?
Without spoiling things, there are obviously some rather significant, permanent character changes in this movie that you wouldn't necessarily do in the series because you know that this is the last quarter of the football game and you've gotta leave it all out on the field. And that's both terrifying and also very freeing.
Is there a sense that there are stories ready for the next team to take over in this universe after this film?
I would say, the ending, while definitive, absolutely leaves open the possibility of additional stories. I think for myself and Guillermo and the Hagemans, we've told the story we set out to tell. If someone wanted to continue on with it, there are blank pages left in the book. But at a minimum, a break would be a good idea. Simply because, when you end with a momentous ending, you want to let that breathe before starting the story back up.
Going back to the Arrowverse, many of the shows are winding down but Legends of Tomorrow is still cooking. Are you going back to it?
With Legends, that show is really in the hands of Phil Klemmer and Keto Shimizu. But we don't know when the show will end. We have no idea. We always said, really more than any of the other Arrowverse shows, it could go as long as the network wants it to because you can always change out characters. It's different from Oliver Queen's story.
One of the things I've done in quarantine, I've been writing a lot of movies, and creator-owned comics. My hope is that both of those types of endeavors will create the platform for the next thing for me. It's a very interesting time for me. The Tales of Arcadia series and Arrow started in the same year. Arrow came to an end, Crisis was an ending, and now we have a third ending. It is definitely time for a new chapter for me.
Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is now streaming on Netflix.