Today marks the 16th anniversary of The Prestige, the acclaimed Christopher Nolan movie that dared to ask: what if Wolverine and Batman were old-timey magicians who hated each other’s guts? As we’ve argued before, The Prestige works as a sort of personal treatise on Nolan’s own artistic mindset, specifically his passion for old-school cinematic effects and dislike of fancy-pants computer technology. Time after time, Nolan has gone to absolutely bonkers lengths to make his movies – although not quite as bonkers as hiding a secret twin brother from your wife and child – and they almost always paid off, such as how …

Nolan Commissioned A Fully-Functional Batmobile Based On A Lump Of Play-Doh

When it came time to make Batman Begins, instead of just throwing some fins and a perilously flaming exhaust port on a pre-existing car, Nolan had some radical ideas for the iconic vehicle. Nolan envisioned a tank-like Batmobile, his vision for which was first realized in the form of a … gross lump of pink Play-Doh. There’s a reason why Memento was a movie and not a series of sculptures.

Warner Bros.

After hiring people to further design the car using materials that weren’t children’s modeling toys, Nolan then had his team “produce the car full-size.” While the classic 1989 Batmobile was built on a pre-existing Chevy Impala frame, Nolan’s wacky design forced them to “build it up from nothing,” creating a “real car, not just a car that looked pretty but didn’t actually function.” Which meant first constructing a working chassis –

Warner Bros.

And eventually, a full car capable of fighting crime/callously destroying much of Gotham City. All of which is a lot of work to put into something that immediately became not cool as soon as Jay Leno got behind the wheel.

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Interstellar – Nolan Grew Acres Of Real Corn (Then Sold It For A Profit)

 

Interstellar has a lot of impressive visual effects, from the futuristic space station to the trippy black hole to whatever technology was used to make that random supporting actor look exactly like Matt Damon. One of the most impressive behind-the-scenes accomplishments, though, is the film’s … corn? You know, the crop seen on Matthew McConaughey’s farm – although, in retrospect, the hardest thing to swallow about this whole damn movie is the premise that Matthew McConaughey’s crop of choice would be corn. 

Reportedly, Nolan decided to grow the corn for real, an idea he got from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – yes, the movie that featured Russell Crowe zipping through an alien planet on a giant CGI dragonfly took the realism of its corn crops very seriously. So Nolan “looked into it” and decided to build a farmhouse in Alberta and grow a bunch of real corn next to it. Not one to let good food go to waste, Nolan apparently “actually made money on” the sales of the corn. Which is a nice side hustle; It’s a wonder that Nolan didn’t decide to make Tenet about a guy who manufactures iPhones that they could quietly unload after filming. And speaking of Tenet

Nolan Crashed A Real 747 For Tenet Because It Was Cheaper Than Faking It

Nolan’s recent Tenet tells the story of a protagonist (fittingly named “The Protagonist”) living in a world where it’s possible to reverse the flow of time like a VCR (and also where most things people say are completely inaudible, presumably due to these manipulations of the space-time continuum). In one memorable scene, a dude drives a plane straight into an airplane hanger as part of the heroes’ elaborate scheme that we totally remember all the details of, even though we won’t go into them right now.

To accomplish the illusion that a 747 was blowing up, they … blew up a 747. Originally Nolan planned to shoot the sequence using miniatures “and a combination of visual effects.” But when they were scouting locations, the production team “discovered a massive array of old planes,” presumably just begging to be blown to smithereens. Nolan and his crew opted to use the real plane, not just because it would look more impressive but because they “started to run the numbers” and realized that “it would actually be more efficient to buy a real plane … rather than build miniatures or go the CG route.”

Filming the scene wasn’t easy since, as producer Emma Thomas pointed out: “We were shooting at a working airport, and they’re not traditionally … in the business of crashing planes for real.” Co-star Robert Pattinson called the stunt “so bold to the point of ridiculousness,” questioning, “‘How many more times is this even going to be happening in a film at all?” While the real-life explosion made for a memorable scene in the film, you have to imagine that it made any actor working on the upcoming Oppenheimer pretty damn nervous.

Dunkirk Took Historical Authenticity To The Extreme (And Almost Had No Script)

2017’s Dunkirk is the epic recreation of the famous evacuation of more than 338,000 Allied soldiers during World War II; a film that is both a bold testament to the power of everyday heroism and an excuse to put Tom Hardy in yet another movie where he has a giant mask over his face the entire time.

Perhaps not surprisingly coming from the guy who went to painstaking lengths to make the story of a dude dressed as a bat fighting a clown seem as realistic as possible, Nolan went nuts making Dunkirk as historically accurate as possible, even using “vintage wool” for the uniforms belonging to “1,400 extras.” 

Even more onerously, the story required a staggering amount of WWII-era planes and boats – and rather than CGI them in like common X-Wings or walkie-talkies, Nolan’s production “went searching for as many vintage boats and planes as they could find”; they imported “fleets of antique Spitfires” from collections in France and the U.S., “re-dressed” an “old steamer from Norway”' to make it look British, and a “retired French destroyer” was even “towed out of a museum.” And using these ancient props wasn’t without major hurdles; attaching giant IMAX cameras to the wings of the super-old airplanes was “more difficult than anyone anticipated.” And “bad weather” wreaked havoc on the boats, with conditions changing “really rapidly.”

Warner Bros.

Not to mention that Nolan opted not to use digital extras and instead filled the background with tons of cardboard cut-outs of soldiers, so they could “do it like they would've done it before the technology existed.” And while the film was originally going to film in England, at one point, Nolan “changed his mind” and decided to shoot at the real Dunkirk, which involved dealing with a lot of “red tape” from the French government. At least Nolan walked back his original plan for the shoot the movie without a script after his wife and producer, Emma Thomas, looked at him like he was “a bit crazy” for suggesting such a thing. 

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