When Tom Cruise who plays Ethan Hunt in the new movie Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, is seen hanging from the side of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, he’s really doing his own stunts. The Burj Khalifa tower is the tallest building in the world and it took a production effort almost as big to orchestrate the signature stunt.
In the movie, Ethan and crew must make their way to a higher floor – and do that from the outside of the building. To scale the glass building, Ethan is outfitted with electronic gloves but it’s all Tom Cruise doing the climbing. For the scene and film, which was shot in IMAX, the cast and crew planned for months:
“The Studio Will Never Allow That.”
Stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz was responsible for overseeing all of the stunts, “People are going to think it’s CG [computer-generated], but it’s not. You have to see it to believe it. When we were in meetings, they said, “Tom’s not going to climb that building. The studio will never allow that.” I said, “Tom’s going to climb the building, I guarantee it.”
For the shot, special mounts had to be made for the 65-millimeter Imax cameras and extreme safety precautions were put in place to ensure nothing fell from the building while shooting.
Even production personnel had to be harnessed to the building – since they had to work in open windows 2,723 feet above the ground. For the actors and crew they were so high above the ground, they felt like they were in an airplane.
“We spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out, how are we going to climb this glass and make it look real. In Prague, we had a [replica] section of the building brought over from Dubai and built it on stage. We knew the temperature of the glass and where the sun was going to be on the day of our filming, and we put 50-foot-tall lights on a rheostat so we could adjust them so it was like the sun.” said Smrz.
Even Tom Cruise, who refused to let stunt doubles take his place, had personal issues dealing with the extreme conditions, “It can get so hot up there that it could burn me, so we had to really play with different kinds of rubber, different kinds of materials with the wardrobe. A sequence like this — even for training as we’re trying to figure how we’re going to do it, it’s pretty intense.”
Rigging the Shot
Tom Peitzman is the co-producer and visual effects producer for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, explains the Hollywood visual effects work done on the stunt, “The visual effects work we had to do was painting out rigging because Tom was really climbing the building. But there were so many very large cables on Tom, we would actually be replacing the building pieces individually — instead of just painting out the cables.”
Peitzman also explained why the height of the building wasn’t the only problem: “With a mirrored-surface building, it created a reflections nightmare. We had helicopters in our shots, we had crew in our shots, we had all kinds of rigging. There were many times where we would see six reflections of Tom. So if he has four cables on him, we have 24 cables we have to remove.”
Real Stunts, Real Bruises
In an age of digital filmmaking and visual effects dominating movies, it’s refreshing to see action on film done in-camera. The final shots are breathtaking, and not just for the actors, the onscreen action is amplified by IMAX. All the stunts including one sequence where the actor falls two stories, were all done by Tom. In a climbing harness for literally ten-plus hours a day, the actor never complained.
“I can send you out, but once you’re out, you’re coming back just as hard. [Tom] would impact the building pretty hard.” says Smrz, “I can only imagine how sore he was. But he never complained. He would hang up there for hours. He climbed, I want to say, five days in a row? As far as bruised ribs, there’s just no way around it.”
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, opens Dec. 21.
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