In Michel Gondry’s exciting new 3D action comedy The Green Hornet, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the son of LA’s most prominent and respected media magnate and perfectly happy to maintain a directionless existence on the party scene – until his father (Tom Wilkinson) mysteriously dies, leaving Britt his vast media empire.
Striking an unlikely friendship with one of his father’s more industrious and inventive employees, Kato (Jay Chou), they see their chance to do something meaningful for the first time in their lives: fight crime. To get close to the criminals, they come up with the perfect cover: they’ll pose as criminals themselves. Protecting the law by breaking it, Britt becomes the vigilante The Green Hornet as he and Kato hit the streets.
Using all his ingenuity and skill, Kato builds the ultimate in advanced retro weaponry, The Black Beauty, an indestructible car equal parts firepower and horsepower.
Rolling in a mobile fortress on wheels and striking the bad guys with Kato’s clever gadgets, The Green Hornet and Kato quickly start making a name for themselves.
“As far as I’m concerned,” says producer Neal H. Moritz, “the Black Beauty is the third of the threesome. She is the superhero of the movie.”
Just like the rest of the characters in The Green Hornet, the Black Beauty had to be cast. In the casting process, several cars auditioned, and the filmmakers were not sentimental during the process.
“We really looked at making a lot of different cars,” Moritz goes on. “We had different manufacturers who wanted to build a new Black Beauty, and we considered many different cars.”
“We didn’t want it to be too futuristic,” says Gondry. “There was very little CG that would work for the car. We wanted it to feel real – a real car, with a real solid engine.”
When at last the Imperial was suggested and agreed upon, it seemed like the natural choice. “The Imperial was definitely my preference from the beginning when I first got on the project,” says picture car captain Dennis McCarthy, who had worked with Moritz on the Fast and Furious films.
“And once it was suggested, we did a quick show-and-tell for Neal, Michel, and Seth, and that pretty much sold it right there.”
Of course, in its time, the Chrysler Imperial was the top of the line, but some 40 years have passed.
During the run of the television series, the Black Beauty had custom details, including shaved-off bumpers and chrome. “We went for a little more classic look,” says McCarthy. “We left the chrome bumpers on the car, we left the chrome trim. It’s still a classic Imperial, but it has the theme of the original.”
Of course, working with a car that has been out of production for nearly fifty years can be quite a challenge – especially a car that is fully loaded with innovations and inventions that show off Kato’s bold imagination. “We definitely brought the weaponry up to date,” enthuses McCarthy. “We’ve got cool stuff, no comparison. There’s all kind of technical information and websites that show everything the car on the TV show had, and we really wanted to outdo them.”
Guns in the hood – check. Guns in the trunk – check. Guns in the doors? “That was something that was not in the TV series and was one of our biggest challenges on the whole show: the suicide doors.” McCarthy laughs.
“One of the cars that was under consideration early on was a Lincoln Continental, which had suicide doors. Michel really liked those, so he asked if we could make the doors open in reverse on the front doors of the Imperial, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s no problem at all.’ Well, it turned out to be a tremendous engineering feat to make that happen.”
But they did make it happen. Throughout the story, Kato tinkers with the Black Beauty, converting her from a classic car that perhaps made it out for the occasional Sunday spin to a fully loaded and quite suitable vehicle for the Green Hornet and his late night escapades with criminals.
“Michel decided he wanted the car in the first half of the movie to have normal doors, and then on the car’s second or third revision, it would have suicide doors. This created the need to have two separate models,” McCarthy explains.
Building off the Chysler Imperial body style, which was produced in 1964, ‘65 and ‘66, McCarthy built different Black Beauties designed to do different things. Some had working dashboards, some did not. Some were used only for stunts and were installed with safety equipment and special seats.
One of the cars sported guns which were hidden above the front bumpers and mechanically moved into position on top of the hood – this didn’t allow for an engine. And all these were doubled, a version with regular doors and another with suicide doors.
The Imperial was a popular car in its day, so McCarthy and his team were able to locate the cars they needed without much trouble. Parts, however, were more of a concern.
“They’re great cars, but you can’t get parts for them,” he explains. “You can’t buy brand new bumpers, you can’t buy brand new trim. I sent two mechanics up to Montana – there’s an Imperial graveyard there and we bought a bunch of stuff up there. We really scoured the entire United States for parts and pieces. Then, we could switch out parts between cars – for example, we could move a whole dash from one car to another in between takes.”
One of the major Black Beauty stunts is at the climax of the film: Kato drives the Black Beauty into the elevator in the lobby of the Daily Sentinel – and when the elevator door closes, the Beauty is sheered in half. When the doors open on the newsroom floor, it drives through the bullpen.
“That car was actually built by John Frazier’s special effects crew,” explains McCarthy. “It’s a Cadillac Eldorado from the 1970s, front wheel drive. It had a rudder with a wheel in the back so the stunt driver could make sharp turns if needed to get through the set.”
To pull off the stunt, McCarthy needed three cars. “First, the car drives into the elevator and gets knocked off. Then, there’s a stagnant piece of car that is in the elevator, and then there’s another chunk of car that was the hero break-off piece. Watching the movie, you think, ‘Oh, they just cut the car in half and drove away,’ but there were three complete cars to make that one gag.”
All the stunt cars, for instance, were drivable and “were basically built from scratch. We completely gutted the drive train and put in a late model 500-horse-power General Motors engine, different brakes, different suspension, different axle, complete wiring, everything.”
Those stunt cars went through rigorous testing at the local racetrack, Hollywood Park. “We did about five weeks on these cars,” McCarthy explains. “Stunts would come out and set up a course and would have guys do different maneuvers. It was great for us to really have a chance to thoroughly test these cars and see every weak link.”
Even the actors got into the mix. “The most fun we had,” he recalls, “was when Seth came down one day and just got crazy. He was in the car, there put a camera guy in the backseat, and he burned rubber and did donuts for hours. He loved it. He did great.”
Jay Chou had the same pleasure, and even Cameron Diaz, who doesn’t drive in the film, came out and did “burnouts, flies and spins. Out of all our cast, she was probably the best driver,” McCarthy grins.
Stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong says, “It’s a 20 foot long car with a 27 foot normal turning circle, but with the aid of trick front breaks, we can turn the car around in 18 1/2 feet – it’s spinning less than its own length. We jumped the car, we landed it in boxes. It’s a better developed stunt car than anything I’ve ever built or have had built in any show.”
BLACK BEAUTY SPECS
1964-66 Chrysler Imperial
GM Performance ZZ454 500hp Crate Motor
Race Trans Turbo 400 Manual Valve Body Transmission
Moser Ford 9-inch Rear Differential w/4.56 Gears & Detroit Locker
4-Wheel 12-Inch Disc Brakes, Twin Calipers in Rear for Stunts
Speedway Engineering Front & Rear Sway Bars
Art Carr Shifter
Coyes 20×10 Rear Wheels, 20×9 Front
Off-Road Unlimited Rear Drop Springs
Tubular Panhard Bar and Traction Bars
Rebuilt Factor Front Suspension, Dropped 3 Inches
12-Gallon Jaz Fuel Cell
Demon 750CFM Carburetor
K&N Air Cleaner
MSD Distributor and 6AL Box
Be-Cool Aluminum Radiator
Twin Optima Batteries
Grant Steering Wheel
Tommy Lee Steering Box
March Engine Accessory Drive System
Earls Transmission Cooler
Paint and Body Work by Jack’s Auto Body
Clear Glass from Allen Auto Glass
Interior by Reubens Auto Upholstery
BLACK BEAUTY WEAPONS
Two .30-Caliber M1919 Browning Machine Guns – cartridge-fed, hood-mounted, retractable
Eight FIM-92A Stinger Missiles – front bumper loaded
Four FIM-92A Stinger Missiles – rear bumper loaded
One M2 Grill mounted Flamethrower – modified
Two Benelli M2 20 Gauge Shotguns loaded with non-lethal, kinetic impact munitions rifles (rubber bullets / beanbags) – mounted in the light bezels
Six AR-15 12-Gauge modified door guns – inset 3 per front suicide door
Two Retractable front wheel anti-riot spikes
One .30-Caliber M1919A6 Browning Machine Gun on tripod mount – trunk
Passenger glove box weapons control with vector graphics
Steering wheel d-pad targeting and fire controls
BLACK BEAUTY ACCESSORIES
Front-end suicide doors
Front facing Green HID lamps with Somatosensory Amplification – 6,000,000 candlepower
Cataclysmic event front ejector seat system
Sony NV-U94T GPS receiver
Possio Greta GSM Mobile Fax Machine
Sony PS-LX250H belt-driven turntable
Danby DIM1524W Ice Maker
Rear door child safety locks
BLACK BEAUTY ARMOR
Threat level NIJ III A Armoring
Windscreen and Side Windows in Transparent Ballistic-Certified Multilayer Industrial Polycarbonate Glass
Roof, Floor, Front & Rear Panels, Side Panels & Doors Protected with 4.6mm ARMOX Ballistic Steel, Plasma Cut and Welded to Avoid Rust and Penetration
Hood & Rear Upper Panel Protected with 12mm KEVLAR plates
Overlap Protection on Windows Upper Perimeter and Critical Areas Against Angle Shot
Run Flat Inserts on Wheels with Tire Pressure Defensive Regulation System
Source – Article text and photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment