It’s a common practice to not ruin the ending of a movie, but Ron Howard learned years ago in “Apollo 13” that knowing the ending of a story is distinct from knowing the actual story. Even though the 2018 saving of the Thai soccer team for boys along with their trainer is more recent in our collective memory, Howard saw in it the same opportunity.
“You might know from the headlines that everything went well but you’re not sure what personal issues could be ahead for the characters in the film,” Howard said. “Through the dramatization process, with good acting, and through scenes and filmmaking you are able to connect emotionally to these characters on a level isn’t possible through a documentary, or even reports.”
The tale was in a few ways made to be a Hollywood film, thanks to its sweet conclusion and simple heroic acts. The story’s 18 days of the saga have led to a wonderful documentary called ” The Rescue, ” along with a host of other projects. However, the process of creating “Thirteen Lives,” which is currently showing in select theatres and streaming for streaming on Prime Video Friday was a hugely complicated and often gruelling process. Even Howard admitted that it is within an “upper four corners” among his more difficult films.
It wasn’t just about the challenges in filming the hazardous cave diving within the narrow underground corridors that are Tham Luang Lang Non, which were recreated in the film by the production designer Molly Hughes, but of telling the tales of the many individuals who contributed to making the mission impossible. It was clear that as everyone came to realise that there was quite a handful of people worthy of the camera’s attention. The list included the British divers as well as SEALS from the Thai Navy SEALS, of course, and those with parents, kids and the trainer in the cave and the public servants handling the crisis, as well as the countless local and foreign volunteers who helped in large and in small ways.
“I was feeling a little like a conductor,” Howard said. “Logistically it was extremely complex. It was also a greater obligation to get this right on behalf of the people who were affected than perhaps any other film I’ve made that is based on actual incidents.”
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, most of the filming was done within Queensland, Australia, with further filming in Thailand which Howard was required to manage from a distance. It was a major challenge for him, as his top priority on his list was to ensure that the film is as true to Thai as possible. He recruited a group of Thai producers and artists to assist and assist, including cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Call Me By Your Name”).
“I realized that this was not just the right option however I knew that it would be you know, a disaster If we did it wrong,” Howard said.
Another producer was Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was charged with blending the William Nicholson (“Gladiator”) screenplay with the nuances and details in Northern Thai culture, from how to dress the visiting Burmese Monk and the use of prayers and local accents.
“A significant portion of the film was in Thai and Thai, which is unusual for a Hollywood movie,” Phathanavirangoon said. “We have worked hard to get the accent right. Even in Thai film, you will rarely have people speaking in an accent that resembles a Northern Accent.”
Naturally, however, there is an emphasis upon those British divers who took the divers and their coach from the cave, one at a time. The role was a hit with actors such as Viggo Mortensen (as Rick Stanton), Colin Farrell (as John Volanthen) and Joel Edgerton (as Dr Harris) and they formed close bonds with their actual actors.
“What they do for an activity is out of my understanding,” said Farrell. “They really are subterranean explorations. When I spoke with them, I would say the most remarkable aspect was the ease they radiate. They’re not adrenaline junkies.”
The plan was to have the actors perform some cave diving and to complement the diving with stunt double work. There would be a diving director with Andrew Allen and an underwater director of photography Simon Christidis. In the course of the three-week training, the choice was taken that the actors should perform all of the cave scenes themselves.
“I somewhat blame Viggo,” Farrell laughed. “He was one of us who demanded that we take it on. However, I was only paying a cent, out for one penny.”
Stanton as well as Jason Mallinson (played in the film by Paul Gleeson) were also in the film and were frequently in the water with the actors as they guided them through the procedure. It was a bit frightening at times, particularly for Farrell who admitted that he’s not the best swimmer.
“It was as secure and well-controlled as it can be. However, there were some instances when it could be nerve-wracking,” Farrell said. “Full-size panic attacks weren’t what I was experiencing however there were times of fear, a real fear. It’s possible that I’m describing some kind of panic attack but a mild one.”
However, everyone was aware that what they experienced was only a part of the death and life risks that the mission actually had. There wasn’t any set, Mortensen said, where there was a lot of complaining about breakfast burritos or coffee, or the weather, particularly with the actual divers right next to them.
“It was in high demand. It was a challenge,” said Tom Bateman who is the diver Chris Jewell. “But we’re trying to hold the torch before some remarkable people. There was never a single complaint.”
In “Thirteen Lives” everyone was united in a belief in the same goal. This is in fact a rare example of selflessness and collaboration across the globe that didn’t need to be overly dramatized.
“I’m extremely happy to be part of this story, but not only due to the fact this is Ron Howard and it’s an excellent adventure but it’s also very enjoyable. It’s a significant tale,” Mortensen said. “It’s an excellent example of good people doing good work together and an enormous number of people volunteering their time for good reasons to serve the greater good It’s a remarkable thing to see today.”
“It should be more prevalent rather than greedy, selfish and power-grabbing and dishonest behaviour, which is the case for many leaders from around the world. If you notice people who do not do that, you think”Humans have the capacity to do this. It’s possible. Why don’t we have more of it? It’s not just a Hollywood film. It’s like, ‘Oh! this actually occurred. This group of people actually did that” He added. “That is the most wonderful thing about us.”