A Football Field at Sea
The massive crew shot a great deal of footage on U.S. Navy ships at sea over an
extended period of time. Amazingly, the production was afforded access to five
different destroyers during the film's production, allowing them the opportunity
to observe ships at sea and in port, as well as a glimpse into the lives of the
young men and women who serve their country.
Producer Duncan Henderson (along with his longtime colleague, co-producer TODD
ARNOW) brought a couple hundred members of the cast and crew out on the high
seas for more than a week of filming at the immediate outset of the shooting
schedule. Discussing the decision, Henderson shares: "We scouted in Australia's
Gold Coast, but we went with Hawaii. That added so much realism. We talked about
completely working in a tank because of this particular water work. But, once we
were in Hawaii, we could go out on the ocean, and that opened up the picture
because Pete would not have been able to get that look just by working in a
tank. Plus, we got amazing footage."
The scenes on the Pacific, a mile or so offshore on Oahu's leeward (or dry) side
of the island, included the crucial moment when Hopper and his crew (including
Raikes and Beast)-while manning a Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat
(RHIB)-circle a mysterious piece of floating debris to ascertain its origins.
The sequences marked more time in which the production would film on the open
seas. Indeed, their RIMPAC experience happened prior to the official start of
production, their work on USS Missouri was during production and an embedded
shoot for two days at sea on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln occurred during
Henderson and Arnow have helped create 10 feature films together during the past
two decades, with several of them stunning epics set on water (including
Poseidon, The Perfect Storm and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the
World). So, the men were hardly wet behind the ears when it came to the
challenge of filming key moments of the story that were set on ocean waters that
are several hundred feet deep. They proposed something that they had never tried
beforeā¦and it was a big ask.
That idea was to rent a massive barge that was almost the length of a football
field and sail it into the ocean. This way, Berg and cinematographer Tobias
Schliessler could stage the scenes at one end of the vessel as it faced out into
the open waters. On this side of the barge, OscarĀ®-winning special-effects
supervisor Burt Dalton-constructed a 70-ton gimbal that simulated the part of
the aliens' broken ship drifting in the ocean.
On the opposite end of the vessel, the crew was able to house the tons of
vehicles and equipment needed to facilitate the week's work. The floating
soundstage anchored offshore for the entire week, with cast and personnel
shuttled daily out to the barge via a network of boats which ran like a flotilla
of water taxis all day long.
Discussing the ingenious idea, Henderson relays: "This approach was unique
because we were using the front edge of the barge as our stage space and
everything else at the other end was there to support the shoot. There was also
a little bit of luck involved. We didn't have big ocean swells and we didn't
have rain, probably because we shot in Hawaii during the driest part of its
Once they completed their water work, the company landed at Pearl Harbor, the
historic working naval base where 12,000 sailors live and work alongside another
8,000 air force personnel at the adjoining Hickam Air Force Base. Pearl Harbor
is visited by thousands annually who pay their respects to USS Arizona (BB-39)
Memorial. One of the battleships bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the
Arizona's remains reside at the bottom of the harbor. It is also the final
resting place of the 1,177 sailors who perished on the vessel, whose attack
provoked America's entry into WWII.
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