"Wonder Woman" cinematographer Matthew Jensen is still trying to grasp how popular the "No Man's Land" scene is.
As “Wonder Woman” continues to be a box-office juggernaut, more people are celebrating the moments that stand out from the movie, and one favorite is the “No Man’s Land” scene.
It’s the moment when Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) reveals herself as Wonder Woman. Pinned down in the frontlines of World War I, she climbs out of a trench to single-handedly take on an entire platoon of German soldiers. Standing in the middle of “No Man’s Land,” a battlefield given the name because no man has been able to cross it before, Wonder Woman takes on all the enemy firepower, allowing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the other allied forces to sneak across the terrain and take out the German forces.
As we said at the time of the movie’s release: “If you aren't sucked into the movie by this point, you should really check to make sure you have a pulse.”
While in a piece for the LA Times, Meredith Woerner echoed the sentiments of a number of viewers when she said she cried while watching the scene:
“It felt like I was discovering something I didn’t even know I had always wanted... witnessing a woman hold the field, and the camera, for that long blew open an arguably monotonous genre. We didn’t need a computer-generated tree or a sassy raccoon to change the superhero game; what we needed was a woman.”
Director Patty Jenkins has not just made a movie that is a powerful addition to the superhero craze, but with the “No Man’s Land” scene — which she had to fight to get in the movie — she’s created a moment in cinematic history that young girls can use for inspiration to be strong-willed and driven in the real world.
But a lot of those goosebumps (and tears) you got from watching the scene are also courtesy of the movie’s cinematographer, Matthew Jensen.
Jensen is no stranger to lensing CGI-fueled projects, having shot “Game of Thrones” and “Fantastic Four” (2015). He could tell when he got to London in September of 2015 to start his 12 weeks of prep work before shooting began that there was a lot riding on the “No Man’s Land” scene.
“I remember the first week we were sitting down and taking a look at the really early previsuals of the sequence and trying to make sense of it,” Jensen recently told Business Insider. “Every week of prep we made suggestions and changes because we knew it would be such an enormous undertaking.”
Jensen said it was exciting to be in a room with Jenkins and visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer and get into how they would reveal Wonder Woman. This entailed talking about how other superheros have been revealed in past movies and how they could do it differently. This led to the idea of having Wonder Woman climb a ladder out of the trench to reveal her full costume. They felt the shot would be “emotionally impactful,” as Jensen put it, if done right.
The anxiety going into shooting any big scene, according to Jensen, is: Can you pull off what was talked about in prep?
“You’re with a whole bunch of people throwing out ideas, so you’re getting a rush from that, but it’s always tempered by this palpable sense of dread,” Jensen said. “I think, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to pull this off?’”
Added to Jensen’s trepidation was the fact that he couldn’t use his regular crew because the production was in London. So he had to work with a local crew. Shooting began in November of 2015, but luckily the “No Man’s Land” scene wasn’t going to be shot until February, so he had some time for everyone to get acclimated with one another.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle that scene early in production,” Jensen said.
The “No Man’s Land” scene was shot over two weeks on an outdoor set in London that was 300 yards in size and extremely muddy. This led to a change of the major shot in the scene.
Jensen and his crew set up wire rigs above the muddy set to hold the camera still and also give it smooth movement. In the frigid winter weather, Gadot went up the ladder for her Wonder Woman reveal numerous times as Jensen tried to get the shot right. Gadot would then go back down into the trench and be covered with coats and blankets as the camera and wire rig would take 15 minutes to reset.
“It was daunting trying to get that right,” Jensen said.
Gadot did the ladder shot close to 15 times before they finally wrapped on it. Looking back, Jensen said the wire rig wasn’t “precise enough” for what they wanted to accomplish.
So they ended up shooting Gadot on a green screen for her head-to-toe reveal as Wonder Woman as she got to the top of the ladder.
“It didn’t have the emotional impact we wanted,” Jensen said of the shots from the set. “The terrain was so tricky and getting off the ladder was tricky. It didn’t have the power we wanted it to have.”
Jensen admits that he prefers to do as much as he can in-camera, without digital effects, but in this case he has no regrets about going the CGI route.
“It was 100 percent the way to go and I’m very happy with the results we got,” Jensen said. “Sometimes it’s better to bend reality.”
In November 2016, he saw Jenkins' cut, and though the CGI and color correction weren't finished, he got goosebumps watching the scene, especially the buildup of Wonder Woman’s climb up the ladder, for which he included insert shots of her shield, boots, and lasso. But he was still nervous going into the world premiere of the movie.
“I was sitting next to my wife and I nearly squeezed the blood out of her hand throughout the whole premiere,” Jensen said. “Only in the last couple of weeks have I come to terms that people like it.”
But it's still hard for Jensen to fathom how much the “No Man’s Land” scene has affected audiences. Particularly the idea that fans and fellow DPs will be closely examining his work for years to come.
“It’s just dawning on me as you’re saying it right now,” Jensen said. “To think my work will be studied, I’ve never thought that. I thought at best I would be making movies that would be critically well-received but nobody would see them. It’s extraordinary.”