5 Movies That Were Surprisingly Dangerous To Film
You might think that with the extraordinary budgets, barring the occasional stunt accident and the like, movie sets are generally reasonably safe places. While, for the most part, they are, making a film is such an unpredictable process that a shoot can get surprisingly unsafe for any number of reasons.
When it does, the people involved usually have no choice but to suck it up if they want to earn your money ...
On The Total Recall Shoot, Everything Made People Sick
Filming in Mexico "weeds out the strong from the wimps," according to Schwarzenegger. He was speaking from his experience filming Total Recall on location in Mexico, where the air, water, and food on set were so bad that it was basically impossible not to get sick. Production designer William Sandell described breathing the air like, "Breathing 2 packs a day of cigarettes." That was one of the easier things to deal with. Just about everyone on the shoot fell ill, meaning one of the more important things on set was being consistently aware of how long it'd take you to run to the nearest restroom to, "Drop Quaid off at Mars."
Sometimes, people would get so worn down by the rampant disease that they'd have to be evacuated or take drastic measures to keep going. One producer -- with a reputation as one of Hollywood's toughest guys -- couldn't handle it and was flown out for treatment. Near the end, director Paul Verhoeven got so sick that he kept an ambulance on standby on the set to instantly give him fluids he needed to continue directing the movie.
Only two people didn't share this hell: Schwarzenegger and co-screenwriter Ron Shusett. Shusett was so incredibly careful about not catching anything that he'd only brush his teeth with bottled water, and he insisted on getting a B12 shot every week. Everybody made fun of him, but their laughter soon turned into anguished cries muffled by the bathroom door. On the other hand, Schwarzenegger had food flown in from Los Angeles, cooked for him by a private chef in his own trailer. Eventually, Schwarzenegger's chef got ill, so he had to eat with everyone else, which is when judgment day came back for his bowels.
Return Of The King Was Shot On A Literal Minefield
One morning on the set of Return of the King, a New Zealand army officer showed up as everyone was digging into first breakfast. He carefully explained that they might find rockets and bombs during filming, and should definitely make sure not to touch or kick them or dig any holes. It's not clear how they responded, but it's a hell of a thing to have to take in before you've even had your coffee.
The army wasn't exaggerating or just playing a prank either. Karl Urban says that sometimes when you looked down in the middle of a fight scene, you'd see something like a bomb's fins coming out of the ground. As running around and jumping up and down isn't recommended when you're on a minefield, the army would be coming in every day and cleaning up the area, removing bomb after bomb like a bunch of Jeremy Renners. At one point, some of the area was sealed off with tape, which caused Viggo Mortensen to ask if everything outside was safe -- turned out the answer was no, the area outside the tape just had fewer bombs.
In the shot where Aragorn and the others ride toward the Black Gate, Peter Jackson was particularly anxious about mines. He remembered the army outlining the zone that was cleared, and he thought that the actors might have gone a little outside that zone -- so he and the crew were just dreading the possibility of them riding onto a land mine. Luckily, it turned okay, and we didn't end up with a Fellowship Of The In Memoriam at the Oscars.
However, Jackson's concern seemed to be a one time deal as he was otherwise almost giggling with trollish delight about the fact that the movie was being shot in a place where there was a chance that you could get blown up if you took the wrong step. "Typical Pete Jackson," said Dominic Monaghan, which makes us wonder how many ghosts in The Frighteners were just spirits of crew members from his prior films. According to Viggo Mortensen, the whole thing layered a bit of tension and chaos onto what was already a very chaotic shoot.
Safety Was A Foreign Concept On The Mortal Kombat Shoot
In the jewel of '90s cinema known as Mortal Kombat, there is no fake fighting. When you see people kicking the crap out of each other through elaborate martial arts moves, you're watching people actually do that (because fights were written around the skills of the martial artists playing the characters). One of the consequences of this approach to filmmaking was that one fight could take up to two weeks to shoot. The other was that the process chipped away at actors' bodies like a very enthusiastic woodpecker.
The actors just kept powering through it all. During training for her big fight scene, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Sonya) dislocated her shoulder. Instead of, you know, going to a hospital, she just popped it back in and continued filming. Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage) had to take Advil like crazy and, after one fight, complained, "I've never been in so much pain in my life." For his fight with Scorpion, he initially wanted a stunt double, but Robin Shou (Liu Kang) convinced him he could totally do it himself, and totally should do it himself so that the scene looked more believable. "Yes, you're getting beat up. You're bruised, but at the end you are going to look fantastic," Shou told him, like a jackass, and Ashby believed him, like a dumbass. In that fight, Ashby ended up taking a hard kick to the kidneys that made him pee blood for a while.
Robin Shou didn't just tell others to get the crap kicked out of them -- he definitely practiced what he preached. He'd rate each fight on a scale from one to three, corresponding to how many ribs he'd bruised in it. In his fight with Keith Cooke (Reptile), he even fractured two ribs -- Cooke threw Shou at a pillar in a way that made him land at a nasty angle. Shou didn't breathe a word about it to the crew, though, since he didn't want to risk losing the role. He just told Cooke that he got hurt on the right side of his ribcage and asked him not to hit there and, when the fight was wrapped up, he went to the hospital. We assume Bridgette Wilson-Sampras immediately called him a baby and told him to pop them back in.
Michelle Pfeiffer Had To Hold A Live Bird In Her Mouth In Batman Returns
That scene when Catwoman and the Penguin are talking, and she swallows a live bird is a pretty spectacular special effects feat for a 1992 movie, right?
Without CGI, how did they even do that -- did the whole thing involve props and clever editing? Was the bird sedated? The answer is no. Michelle Pfeiffer just swallowed a live bird.
Basically, what you see on screen is precisely what happened -- she held it in her mouth for about five or six seconds and then opened it for it to fly out. It was all done in one take, too (that part might not be so surprising, as we wonder what the process of forcing a bird into somebody's mouth two dozen times would look like). And she didn't even stop to think about what could happen.
Looking back today, she wonders what she was thinking -- and, yeah, the more you think about it, the dumber it seems. The bird could have, say, gotten scared and pooped in her mouth, or it could have started pecking at her tongue and cheeks, or it could have gotten stuck and flapped around while trying to get out, accidentally biting her, or-- well, you get the idea. It's a spectacularly ridiculous thing to even try.
This is probably why Tim Burton says that he doesn't think he's "ever been so impressed" as he was by that. It's just one of the funny physical things she did that helped make the role great, he says -- just like, say, how her eyes nearly flutter in the scene where she comes back to life. All that might be a nice way to dress up what's basically elaborate trolling, though -- Pfeiffer says she thinks Tim likes to torture her a bit, like a mischievous little brother. One with all the resources of a film studio at his disposal, apparently.
In Thunderball, Sean Connery Was Pursued By A Real Shark
For the Thunderball shark tank scene, Sean Connery was understandably not too eager to get into a pool with a real shark. The solution? A plexiglass corridor in the tank that would separate Connery from the shark without showing up on camera. To ease Connery's mind, he was assured that the only way sharks could actually get near him with that barrier in place was if they could leap up like dolphins. He responded with, "Well, how do I know sharks can't?" He was promised that they couldn't, and eventually, the barrier was put in.
There was just one problem: They didn't have enough plexiglass. An 8' by 4' panel was missing, leaving a four-foot gap in the barrier. Nobody told Connery, though, and he couldn't see a thing underwater (plus, well, it's hard to see plexiglass), so he had no idea a panel was missing. So when he dove underwater and tried to go past the shark, the shark somehow swam right where the gap was and then went after Connery.
The result? Connery backed away from the shark's grey mass in pure existential terror. That's not a fanciful description -- you can see what happened if you watch Thunderball because that's the shot they used in the movie. The look of genuine surprise and visceral horror is there because Sean Connery really thought the shark could bite him any second.
The crew was watching the whole thing from above and told him to get out as quickly as possible. He got out so fast that, he says, he thinks he "was dry when he touched the side." It is kind of miraculous if you think about it -- in the scene, the shark was so close that Connery could have karate chopped it on the nose. Which means the movie really should have been called Thunderballs, in honor of Connery's testicles.
Top image: New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures