True Lies Had Just One Take To Capture The Bridge Explosion

James Cameron made cinema history before departing for Pandora (where he still does great work). Some of his productions remain amongst the most ambitious in history of cinema. He immersed his cast and crew in 30-plus feet of water to accurately represent the high-pressure environment of "The Abyss," conducted reckless vehicular stunts for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" - one so dangerous his cameraman refused to shoot it), and convinced 20th Century Fox to build a studio in Mexico for reconstruction of Titanic vessel for "Titanic." While pioneering computer generated visual effects during this timeframe, Spielberg also loved practical spectacle; evidenced by box office returns on most films (save for "The Abyss"). Audiences shared this enthusiasm at least as shown by box office returns for most movies (save for "Titanic").
Cameron excels with action films such as 1994's "True Lies". Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an undercover agent who gets involved with illicit activities after wrongly suspecting his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) may be having an affair, the film features some of Cameron's signature set pieces - horse versus motorcycle chase sequence in a hotel is pure madness; Harrier jet finale feels as if Schwarzenegger were piloting it (at least it did at its release time!).

And then there was the Florida Keys' Seven Mile Bridge pursuit scene, with its realistic-looking demolition. Although Cameron didn't actually blow up an actual stretch of bridge, something did blow up. For this to work successfully required meticulous preparation because crew only had one chance at pulling off this stunt successfully.

As reported by Befores & Afters, an article discussing how Marines fired four missiles onto a miniature bridge to shoot out trucks transporting stolen nuclear warheads was shot in two locations: Florida Keys for actual stunt work while miniature explosion was created for filming the bridge explosion; one miniature used was massive.

Key to the sequence was creating an impactful explosion scene - it must look absolutely dazzling with flames and debris filling up the screen and filling every frame of footage.

Per Ekker: How can one properly demolish a bridge?

"...When creating roadways like this one, plaster is usually used. However, too much pyro will quickly change this into dust if overloaded pyro is loaded into that plaster - meaning one frame could feature your model, while in another you have only puffs of smoke left after it all dissipated; therefore the explosion must occur at just the right moment to see particles and chunks flying off while guardrails bend and fly and splashes of liquid fall onto water rather than just disappearing into thin air..."
Before James Cameron took off to Pandora (where he is still doing amazing work), he led some of cinema history's most audacious productions. Submerging his cast and crew under 30-plus feet of water to recreate the high-pressure environment of "The Abyss," performing dangerous vehicular stunts for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" - some so dangerous their cameraman refused to film - as well as convincing 20th Century Fox to build a studio in Mexico for "Titanic." Although pioneering computer generated visual effects at this point in his career, Cameron preferred practical spectacle - and this passion resonated with audiences; their box office success aside for "The Abyss".

And then there was Cameron's brilliantly staged pursuit on Florida Keys' Seven Mile Bridge, culminating with an almost-realistic-looking demolition of part of it. Naturally, Cameron didn't actually destroy an actual stretch of road -- rather something was destroyed -- so this required careful preparation from all those involved since there would only ever be one chance at accomplishing such an impossible task successfully. How to demolish miniature bridges massively
20th Century Fox's sequence where Marines fire four missiles against a bridge to stop stolen nuclear warhead trucks was shot virtually simultaneously at two locations: actual stunt work was conducted in Florida Keys while miniature explosion footage for the bridge itself was shot using miniature cameras; one massive miniature was even employed!

Key to the sequence was orchestrating an impressive explosion, complete with flames and debris filling up the screen.

How can one safely blow up a bridge? Per Ekker:

"...When building roadways like these, we typically use plaster. If we overfill it with too much pyro, all that remains are puffs of dust that quickly vanish after each frame - creating the appearance that particles and chunks have disintegrated over time before completely disappearing into nothingness without visible guardrail bends and flying guardrail pieces or falling objects splashing onto water - instead of simply dissipating."

More miniatures and less computer generated graphics would be appreciated.

Explosion was captured over seven shots and it drew the biggest response when I saw the film theatrically back in 1994. Ekker did an outstanding job (which should come as no surprise when working for someone like Cameron who only accepts A+ work!).

Now, 25 years later, this scene stands as something to enjoy because, nowadays, that moment would likely only exist as pixels and zeroes - and while Cameron might produce photorealistic CGI effects like they did for "1941," your eyes would know otherwise; there's simply no substitute for an expertly crafted miniature sequence like Spielberg filmed for 1941 or Cameron doing in "True Lies," even though both directors likely wouldn't shut down major Floridian expressways for months on end if not years!

Unfortunately, that kind of movie magic is increasingly rare these days.



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