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ESCAPE PLAN

Inside The Tomb
When Ray Breslin awakens in The Tomb for the first time, he faces an awe-inspiring and terrifying view. Trapped in a tiny glass cell, Ray is surrounded by a maze of identical clear boxes extending as far as he can see, each containing a single man. He and the other inmates are surrounded by an army of black clad, masked thugs in a vast warehouse without windows or clocks.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited quite a few prisons during his stint as governor of California, describes his stay in The Tomb like this: "You are under observation 24 hours a day. You're watched when you eat, when you go to the bathroom, when you brush your teeth, when you lie in bed. There's absolutely no privacy, because the prison cell is entirely made of glass. You're always on display, which means nothing can be hidden. That's what makes it almost impossible to break out."

A stunning visualization of a hellish new kind of incarceration, the interior of The Tomb had its genesis in the mind of Mikael Hafstrom. "If The Tomb existed, I felt it would be unlike anything we've ever seen," the director says. "So the sky was really the limit when we were thinking how to design this environment. It's not a science-fiction film, but the set takes us right to the verge of a new era."

Determined to refine his vision for the prison as soon as possible, Hafstrom began working with a team of storyboard artists before pre-production even started. "He has been an incredible creative partner," says Emmett. "He could see The Tomb in his head and he wanted everyone else to see it as well. When we got the pictures, they were spectacular. This prison is on the cusp of the future. It's the most advanced high-tech prison in the world. And the set he conceived was massive, bigger than anything I had ever worked on before."

Finding the space needed to realize the elaborate interior Hafstrom envisioned for The Tomb took some ingenuity as well. Location manager Elston Howard, whose credits include Jonah Hex, Green Lantern and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, found a unique solution to the filmmakers' conundrum in an unexpected place: the Vertical Assembly Base (or VAB) at the Michoud NASA Facility in New Orleans.

"We built the interior of The Tomb in the VAB," Howard said. "It's where the external fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle were built. Since the Space Program is in a temporary holding pattern while they design a new rocket, we were able to move production in there. The VAB is 263 feet high and encompasses about 170,000 square feet. The scale of it begs to be used for film production."

None of the filmmakers had ever visited a NASA facility before -- or seen a soundstage of such unprecedented size. "You could put five space shuttles in the place we were shooting," Emmett says. "I thought we were going to be in a traditional stage, with traditional sets. When I showed up, all I could think to say was, 'who's paying for this?'"

Being able to shoot at the NASA facility in New Orleans elevated the look of the film beyond even Hafstrom's wildest expectations. "It is an amazing place," the director says. "We did our best to take full advantage of the scale with 80-foot crane shots that really show off the vastness of the space."

The director contrasted the seemingly limitless glass cellblocks and mess halls with a smaller, claustrophobic and especially punishing version of solitary confinement known as the hot box. Confined to a tiny airless room, prisoners are subjected to blinding light and extreme temperatures until they are reduced to sobbing wrecks." The hot box takes solitary to a new level," says King-Templeton. "There's no specific amount of time you're in there. You could die there. There's no government agency saying OK, he's had enough. If they want to keep you there, they'll keep you there. It's terrifying."

Stallone's vision to reinvigorate the genre that made him a legend spawned a scene that is sure to be a fan favorite. The explosive showdown between Breslin and Rottmayer wasn't even in the original script, but when casting finalized, it became all but inevitable. Stallone and Schwarzenegger face off in the first hand-to-hand fight sequence between the two masters of the action genre. "The fight scene is pretty monumental," says Emmett. "To see these two icons go at it is like nothing you have seen before."

Stallone says that having Rottmayer and Breslin go head to head was a no-brainer. "For Arnold and me to be in a movie like this together and not get a chance to go at it would be a tremendous disappointment for the audience. I've already gone up against everyone from Mr. T. to Dolph Lundgren to Apollo Creed to Hulk Hogan. I thought the fight with Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Expendables was going to be the last one, but then there was Arnold. The fans will be expecting fireworks and they will get them."

Adds Schwarzenegger: "We all agreed that that it would be cheating the audience to have us both in a movie and not have some kind of a confrontation. It's a major fight scene in the movie, and it gets wild with the fists and the bodies and the throwing each other around and all of that. The fans will be very pleased."

Stunt coordinator Noon Orsatti oversaw this clash of the Titans. "Knowing that I was going to be working on a fight between Sly and Arnold was really exciting," he recalls. "Our fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio and I were champing at the bit. We wanted it to be extremely aggressive, so it went through a lot of evolution. When we showed up on the set, the director had his own thoughts, Sly had his own take on it and Arnold had his as well. It became quite collaborative. They incorporated quite a bit of levity into it that we hadn't thought of."

A third-generation stunt coordinator, Orsatti thought he had seen everything, "But when you see these two icons, one with a stranglehold on the other, it's something else," he says. "It's a great fight and the audience is going to be fully satisfied by it. Arnold and Sly brought everything they have in them to the table. I don't get excited about walking on the set with too many people. But this was special."

Reducing his charges to ciphers is part of the way Warden Hobbes maintains order in his domain and costume designer Lizz Wolf created the prisoners' uniforms with that in mind. "This is a prison that we've never seen before and hopefully never will see," she says. "I did some research on so-called 'black sites,' the kinds of places you hear whispered about. The inhabitants are referred to as 'ghost detainees.' I wanted to take all the color and the texture away to dehumanize these people and reduce them to nothing."

In stark contrast, the ominous black uniforms worn by The Tomb's guards add to the fear these brutal jailers incite in their charges. Glossy black masks render them featureless, reflecting the prisoners' own faces back at them. "I really wanted to give them an expressionless face that was completely terrifying," says Wolf. "They say that the soul is in the eyes, but with these masks, you can't see anything underneath. When Ray Breslin tries to look in to the eyes of a guard, all he can see is himself. And ultimately, he has to find what he needs inside himself, because there is no one else."

Those kinds of creative insights are part of what makes Escape Plan such an exhilarating adventure for Stallone. "This film is totally original," he says. "That's why I wanted to be involved. It's extremely hard to come across something that covers new ground, but this does. Perhaps there will be a preconceived notion out there that it's going to be wall-to-wall muscles and machine guns, but what the audience is actually going to experience will be a complete surprise."

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