The Best Stuntwork of 2014

Need for Speed open

by Gabriel Valdez

Let’s talk about stunts, the forgotten category long left hanging in the wind by an Academy that has failed to award an element of filmmaking as old as film itself. And then they wonder why people think the Oscars are boring.

There will be a separate article for best choreography of the year, but I want to focus on stunt work for the time being. This is an article awarding the most singular achievements in stunt coordination this year.

Stunts can include everything from someone sent flying out of a building to being lit on fire, from precision driving to retraining an actor how to move like a different species. Stunt teams do some of the most difficult work on film, often to little or no credit.

I’ll be avoiding CG stunts. A performance can be aided by CG, motion captured, even take place in a set created through visual effects, but a stunt still has to be a performance. I won’t list anything here that’s entirely created through visual effects.

3. FURY

Hayley Saywell, stunt department coordinator
Ben Cooke, stunt coordinator

Fury, aside from being one of the most egregious awards show oversights, pulled off a rare trick. For a mid-movie tank battle, it employed a real German Tiger tank. It was the first time since 1946 that one was used on a film set. Mock-ups were used to develop the battle choreography. On lend from the Bovington Tank Museum for exactly one day of shooting opposite the American M4A2 Sherman tank that played the film’s namesake, the crew had to practice the sequence to the point where they knew what every member was doing every second of each shot. They had to recreate in their mock-up the exact control scheme and sense of response a Tiger tank has so that there were no surprises in the choreography once they were shooting.

It’s the rare mechanical stunt whose complexity won’t be realized by most viewers. On top of all that preparation, the sequence required the crew pave unseen paths in a muddy field, keep to a tight schedule, and keep an eye on mechanical issues.

Fury is filled with other stunts as well, but this tank battle – the above clip only represents a brief moment in the entire sequence – is the showpiece that demonstrates one of the best displays of coordinating a battle scene in recent memory.

(Read the review)

2. NEED FOR SPEED

Pamela Croydon, precision driving team coordinator
Lance Gilbert, stunt coordinator

That clip is all practical. None of the stunts in it are CG. Look, Need for Speed is a very average movie, but the sheer amount of stunt driving crammed into it is pretty audacious.

In an age when Fast and Furious is making money hand over fist with ridiculously CG driving sequences, Need for Speed focused on making everything practical. To do so, it employed no less than 38 stunt and precision drivers. It shows in the end result. Whatever else one says about this film, what you’re really paying to see – the chase and race sequences – are second to none.

(Read the review)

1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Charles Croughwell, Marny Eng, Terry Notary, stunt coordinators

This doesn’t look like it involves much stuntwork. It’s just a bunch of CG, right? Not exactly. When you watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and realize that each of those CG apes spilling out of the woods is being played by an actor: climbing rigging, leaping, and bounding across sets in coordination with each other (often using prosthetic extensions to do so), it becomes one of the most overwhelming stunt accomplishments in recent history.

Motion capture has to have an actor performing the role in order to work. To coordinate dozens upon dozens of actors playing apes requires extensive movement training, complex staging, climbing coordinated between dozens at a time, and a brand new and unique fight choreography based on another species. The list of accomplishments here is stunning. It begins to blur the lines between stunt work, acting, movement training, motion capture, and fight choreography, and it does so to brilliant and moving effect.

(Read the review)

In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’ve named several Best of 2014 Awards, with a special focus on some categories the Oscars don’t include:

The Best 3-D of 2014

The Best Diversity of 2014

The Best Original Score of 2014

The Best Soundtrack of 2014

The Most Thankless Role of 2014

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