Atlanta is never mentioned in Cartoon Network’s latest live-action film “Ben 10: Alien Swarm,” but anyone who lives here will have no trouble picking out the skyline.
The characters ride sleek motorcycles up I-75/85, get chased by monsters through the Krog Street tunnel and beat back zombies at the former General Motors plant. The film was shot in metro Atlanta over five weeks earlier this year.
Beefed up state tax incentives have been drawing numerous films into Georgia the past year, including Sandra Bullock’s “The Blind Side,” and Woody Harrelson’s “Zombieland,” both recent box office successes.
“I chose Atlanta specifically,” said director Alex Winter, who film fans might know best as Bill in the “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” film two decades ago opposite Keanu Reeves. “I’m from St. Louis. I know Atlanta, been going there since I was a little kid. I wanted it to be an urban story. We wanted a winter environment and a cool skyline I hadn’t seen a trillion times. A lot of major cities have been overexposed.”
He especially liked Atlanta’s blend of old and new architecture and the variety of vistas and cool industrial spots such as Pullman Yard in Kirkwood. Plus, he couldn’t resist filming a car chase through the graffiti-filled Krog Street tunnel.
Then again, Winter admitted, it didn’t hurt that Cartoon Network was based here, too. Turner’s special effects specialists were right in town. “It was helpful for morale,” he said. “People got excited. These movies are hard to do. It’s helpful to have happy people around.”
Cartoon Network is riding the popularity of the “Ben 10″ animated series, plus a successful 2007 “Ben 10″ live-action film. And the series is not only big in the United States but overseas as well. (The network recently flew the cast to London for a red-carpet screening and will open the film in 166 countries over the next two weeks.)
This brisk 69-minute film, which debuts on the network Wednesday at 7 p.m., is a sequel but ages the characters from pre-teens to teenagers. While the first film targeted 6 to 9 year olds, this one is expected to draw 8 to 12 year olds.
This change allowed the characters to ride motorcycles and engage with adults and each other in a more mature manner. But don’t expect gore, particularly horrific zombies or anything more than mild romantic tension.
“I purposely created a story that wasn’t going to be too scary,” Winter said. “It’s not pretending to be ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘Dark Knight.’ ”
The film is slick, packed with special effects. The primary gimmick is Ben’s alien watch the Omnitrix, which allows him to morph into different creatures. “I put on that leather jacket and watch and felt like a kid in a candy store,” said Ryan Kelley, who plays Ben in his first lead movie role. (At age 23, he can still pass for 16 with the proper haircut.)
In the movie, Ben breaks from his crew of alien-battling buddies to help out a childhood friend Elena. The problem: her dad may have been involved in some alien technology that turns people into zombies. Ben’s uncle Max, played by veteran actor Barry Corbin, feels betrayed by Elena’s dad and tells Ben to back off.
Stuart Snyder, president of Turner’s animation division, said it’s too early to say if another sequel is coming, but he’s encouraged by the reaction so far to the film. A screening in Mexico City, he said, drew a whopping 15,000 people.
“This is our most successful global franchise,” he said.
Locations you might recognize in the film include:
- The Krog Street tunnel during a car chase
- The former General Moors assembly plant doubling as a Ship-It hub
- The Atlanta Life Building on Auburn Ave. as an abandoned city hall
- The Georgia Aquarium as headquarters for the Plumbers crew
- City Hall East as Max’s office
- Pullman Yard in Atlanta for an abandoned steel mill
- Main Street in Conyers for Bellwood’s main drag
Here’s the film trailer: