Every great action movie has that scene, the moment where the movie becomes the most ideal version of itself in a microcosm of badassery. We’re talking about the airplane hangar chase in Face-Off, the zero-gravity hallway fight in Inception, the big truck chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that moment when Bruce Willis walks on glass in Die Hard. These scenes make an audience member want to say “holy shit!” or “hell ya!” And Director Rawson Marshall Thurber filmed such an instant classic scene for his new film Skyscraper. Here’s how.
(Mild spoilers ahead for Skyscraper, turn back if you haven’t seen it!)
In the absolute best scene in the movie, Will Sawyer (Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson), the movie’s one-legged protagonist, has to run across a crane that is hundreds of feet in the air and then freaking jump off of the crane to get into a burning building where his family are being held hostage. It’s an amazing scene, not only because it looks great, but because it means something, too.
“It’s an important moment in the movie,” Thurber tells Fatherly. “That was the literal jumping off point for the movie because that’s when everything changed. When he finds this insane way to get into the building to save his family, you realize there is nothing this guy won’t do to protect his wife and kids. So we took it very seriously.”
Of course, making a scene like that look and feel real is tough. But how much of it is real and how much of it is fake? Did The Rock jump off of a crane? “It was a combination of a practical shoot and special effects,” Rawson reveals. “First, we built the super-crane structure itself that Dwayne runs down. We shot it on a stage and he is on a gimbal wire and he jumps off the end and is sort of marionetted into the air.”
But to really complete the scene, there needs to be a building and Thurber told us about the special effects process that his team went through to make it look like The Rock really was jumping into the world’s tallest building.
“Industrial Light and Magic [ILM] added the background from what we filmed in Hong Kong and then they use CGI to add the building into the skyline,” Thurber explains. “It’s sort of like putting a mosaic together piece by piece. And if it’s done right, it’s seamless. We set out to make a movie about a building on fire and we didn’t have a building or a fire. So it was a challenge.”
It might seem like a lot of work for just one sequence but given how utterly excellent The Rock’s death-defying jump looks on the big screen, it’s clear all that hard work paid off. For Thurber, this scene wasn’t just a fun way to entertain audiences. When Johnson makes that jump, he’s bringing the entire audience with him, assuring that they are fully onboard for the rest of the movie.
“Action movies, at their best, blur the lines of reality,” Thurber insists. “You want the spectacle but you don’t want to break any semblance of reality for the viewer. And setting that tone is the million dollar question. You want it to feel improbable but not impossible. Insane but not stupid.”
– Skyscraper is out in wide release from Universal Pictures now.-