In ‘Thirteen Lives,’ Ron Howard Leads Thai Cave Rescue | Health, Medicine and Fitness

By LINDSEY BAHR – AP Film Writer

It may be common etiquette not to spoil a movie’s ending, but Ron Howard learned years ago on “Apollo 13” that knowing the outcome of a story is different from knowing the story itself. And while the rescue of the Thai men’s soccer team and its coach in 2018 is considerably fresher in our collective memories, Howard saw a similar opportunity in him.

“You may know from the headlines that things went well, but you don’t know what kind of personal struggles may be in store for the key characters,” Howard said. “Through the dramatization, through good performances, scenes and filmmaking, you start to emotionally connect with the characters in a way that you can’t with a straight documentary or news coverage.”

The story was somehow custom made for a hollywood movie with its happy ending and simple acts of heroism. The saga of the 18 days has already inspired a great documentary”, The rescue, and several other projects. But the reality of making “Thirteen Lives,” now playing in theaters in select cities and available on Prime Video Friday, was a hugely complex and sometimes harrowing task. Even Howard said that ranks in the “top quadrant” of his most challenging films.

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And it wasn’t just about the difficulties of filming dangerous cave diving in the narrow underwater corridors of Tham Luang Lang Non, which were recreated for the film by production designer Molly Hughes, but about telling the stories of all the people who they helped. make mission impossible succeed. As everyone would quickly realize, there were quite a few people worthy of being targeted by the camera. There were the British divers and the Thai Navy SEALS, of course, but also the parents, the children and the coach in the cave, the civil servants managing the crisis and the thousands of foreign and local volunteers who contributed in a big and small.

“I felt a bit like a driver,” Howard said. “Logistically it was very complicated. And I felt a deeper responsibility to get this right on behalf of those involved than probably any movie I’ve ever made based on true events.”

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, most of the filming took place in Queensland, Australia, with additional photography in Thailand that Howard had to direct remotely. It was a hurdle for him because the most important thing was to make sure the story was as authentically Thai as possible. He recruited a team of Thai artists and producers to help out, including the great cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Call Me By Your Name”).

“I knew that was not only the right thing to do, but I felt like it would be terrible if we were wrong,” Howard said.

Another was producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was tasked with infusing William Nicholson’s (“Gladiator”) script with details and nuances of northern Thai culture, from the proper way to style a visiting Burmese monk to the use of prayers. and regional accents.

“Much of the film is in Thai, which is quite unusual for a Hollywood film,” Phathanavirangoon said. “We tried painstakingly to get the accents right. Even in Thai cinema, you rarely hear people speak with a northern accent.”

Naturally, however, there is a focus on the British divers who swam the boys and the coach out of the cave one by one. The roles attracted the likes of Viggo Mortensen (as Rick Stanton), Colin Farrell (as John Volanthen), and Joel Edgerton (as Dr. Harris), who developed close relationships with their real-life counterparts.

“What they do as a hobby is beyond my comprehension,” Farrell said. “They really are underground explorers. And speaking with them, I guess the most amazing thing was the normality they exude. They are not adrenaline junkies.”

Going in, the plan was for the actors to do part of the cave diving and supplement it with double duty. There would be a dive supervisor in Andrew Allen and an underwater director of photography in Simon Christidis. But at some point in the intense three-week training, the decision was made that the actors would do most of the cave scenes themselves.

“I blame Viggo,” Farrell laughed. “He was the one who insisted that we do it. But I was expecting a penny, a pound.”

Stanton and Jason Mallinson (played by Paul Gleeson on film) were also on set and often in the water with the actors who trained them during the process. And it was scary at times, especially for Farrell, who said he’s not the strongest swimmer.

“It was as safe and controlled as it could be. But there were a couple of times that it was quite stressful,” Farrell said. “A full-scale panic attack was maybe not exactly what I had, but there were moments of anxiety, very real anxiety. I guess I’m describing a kind of panic attack, albeit a mild one.”

But everyone was also well aware that their experience was only a tiny fraction of the life and death stakes in the actual mission. It wasn’t a set, Mortensen said, where people were complaining about breakfast burritos, coffee or the weather, especially with real divers nearby.

“There was a lot of demand. It was tough,” said Tom Bateman, who plays diver Chris Jewell. “But we’re just holding the candle to some amazing people. No one ever complained.”

And on “Thirteen Lives,” everyone had a shared sense of purpose. It is, after all, a rare real-life example of global selflessness and collaboration that didn’t have to be dramatized at all.

“I am very happy to be in it not only because it is Ron Howard and it is a great adventure story and also very entertaining. But it’s an important story,” Mortensen said. “It’s an important example of people doing the right thing together and a lot of people selflessly volunteering for the right reasons, for the greater good, and that’s remarkable these days.”

“It should be more commonplace rather than selfish, greedy, power hog, competitive and dishonest behavior, which is exemplified by many leaders around the world. When you see people not doing that, you say, ‘Oh yeah, humans are capable of that. It’s possible.’ Why not have more of that? It’s not just a Hollywood movie. It’s like, ‘Oh, this really happened. These people did that together,’” she added. “That’s the best of us.”

Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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