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WELCOME TO FANTASY ISLAND
For more on the heroine, get Entertainment Weekly’s The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman, featuring the cast and creators of the new film and the character’s long history, on sale now.
The term “mythology” gets tossed around a lot these days in reference to the elaborate backstories underpinning some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. But unlike most superhero movies, Wonder Woman is steeped in literal mythology. Princess Diana is born and raised in the gorgeous confines of the island utopia Themyscira, a reference to the home of the Amazons of Greek tradition. Bonetto and director Patty Jenkins took inspiration from the original name Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston gave to this utopia: Paradise Island. “We decided to make a mix of landscapes,” she explains, “to build, in a way, our paradise island.” That meant com- bining elements of the Greek isles with mountain ranges drawn from the Chinese landscape — and adding waterfalls. Lots of waterfalls. “We really wanted to have water everywhere,” Bonetto explains. “The water in Themyscira was really feminine, a kind of energy that’s across this island.”
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Like any other society, Themyscira’s is built from a history of accumulated paradoxes. They have a queen, but she’s been democratically elected. And this throne room reflects a mixture of cultured intelligence and pristine naturalism. “What could have happened if women lived alone in a place?” Bonetto muses. “How would they build their architecture?” Reflecting the openness of Amazonian society, the throne room has no walls or doors and appears to be built into a rock cavity, implying harmony with nature. That harmony extends to the spiral throne. “The spiral, it’s a really primitive element,” Bonetto explains. “It’s a shape that you can find a lot in nature, in perfect things: in ferns when they grow and in the Nautilus shell.” But the throne room also teases at the society’s artisan evolution. “On the stairs, I have introduced a really dedicated golden pattern that looks a little bit art deco,” Bonetto says.
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BATTLE ON THE BEACH
“It’s gun against arrow!” the production designer says. In a sequence pitting the Amazons against invaders from the outside world, the clash of cultures becomes a literal conflict. Finding the right location for this pivotal fight proved difficult. “We looked around the world to find the right beach to be able to shoot this kind of thing,” Bonetto says. “We needed a big beach, and we wanted a big rock thing. But of course, when you have that in nature, it means a lot of tide. Half of the day you have no beach.” The main battle scenes were filmed on location in southern Italy; the rock cliff in the background was added in postproduction with special effects. “We’ve been quite lucky with the weather,” Bonetto says. “When I arrived [on location], the weather was so bad, quite cold and gray. And when we shot the scene, the sky was so blue and beautiful, and the sea was calm. I think God loves movies!”
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Diana’s journey takes her from something like paradise to the modern Inferno: Europe engulfed by the first global war. “She has left her island and suddenly arrived in London. She finds, of course, it’s a big contrast,” Bonetto says. “She knew only natural landscapes... You can imagine the fog, the really gray sky, the rain. Everything is a big shock!” With boats, trains, automobiles and distant observation balloons lingering on the horizon, Diana’s witnessing the moment when the scientific advances of the Industrial Revolution became violently manifest. “It was the beginning of industrialization,” Bonetto says.
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“We are coming to England in the first World War,” Bonetto explains. “It’s a pub. There is a really important meeting between the protagonists. And suddenly Diana is discovering another kind of world, with another palette of color.” The grayness of the modern era contrasts with the natural beauty of Themyscira, but there’s also a warmth to the sequence — appropriate, since it marks Diana’s introduction to allies Sameer, Chief and Charlie. When conceiving their aesthetic for Wonder Woman’s war scenes, Jenkins and Bonetto were inspired by artists of the period including John Sloan and John Singer Sargent. “A lot of our references were Impressionist painters,” Bonetto explains. “I remember a painting of John Sloan’s, really dark, just the light coming on some people in a bar.
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AN EVENING AT THE VILLAGE
Bonetto studied World War I for her Oscar-nominated work on the 2004 French film A Very Long Engagement. Still, further research was required for the scope of Wonder Woman’s adventure. “This is a village in Belgium, in a really bad time of the war,” she says, noting that inspiration for this set came from pictures of the besieged Belgian landscape. But there’s more at work in this sequence than terror. “This is a magical moment,” Bonetto says, “a really magical point in a really terrible period.”
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Doctor Poison was one of the earliest additions to Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery, first appearing way back in 1942. Here, her laboratory has period-specific details and a slightly tilted color scheme. “I like working with a palette of color that is monochromatic,” Bonetto explains. “This set is quite dark, but also, as you can see in this picture, the costume of the scientist is quite green. It was important she would be the strongest point of color in this set. She’s working day and night, trying to find a terrible thing. You have to give the feeling that every tool, every bottle, is something on the way to create something more dangerous. You can only go further and further. They had to push me out of this set.”
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One of the lingering horrors of World War I was the advancement of chemical warfare with toxic gas. This bomb factory was designed to be historically accurate, though there’s an edge of true fear as the gas- masked women go about their work. “There is something a little bit surrealist. The smoke is a little bit orange. Seeing all these gas masks, you understand how terrible it is for the people working there.” There’s an irony in this image, too, a darkly appropriate subtext for such a female-centric blockbuster adventure. Bonetto recalls being inspired by a World War I photograph of women working in a huge bomb factory. That’s because, with so many young men abroad fighting, women were allowed out of the domestic sphere and into the industrial workforce. “The amazing thing is to think that, for the women to get their freedom, in a way, we need to wait for some war,” she says. “That’s so crazy!”
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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WONDER WOMAN
For more on the heroine, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman, featuring the cast and creators of the new film and the character’s long history, on sale now.