Issue 11: Article—Transport-Related Films

Each issue, RSL offers up that perennial internet favourite: the themed list. This issue, to tie in with our analysis of Bicycle Thieves and also the recent releases of The Walk and Walk in the Woods, we take a broad look at some fact-based films that feature transport…

A Night to Remember (1958)

Night to RememberWith all the attention heaped on to James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), it’s easy to forget there were other cinematic accounts of the ill-fated 1912 transatlantic voyage. This is among the best.

Rather than pad out the story with a wet romance, this focuses on the facts (as then known) about the sinking from the point-of-view of 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller (Kenneth More), the most senior Deck Officer to survive the disaster. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the screenplay was adapted from Walter Lord’s book by Eric Ambler.

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

FitzWerner Herzog’s film is an oddity that’s become a true cult classic. The eccentric Klaus Kinski stars as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an opera-lover obsessed with building an opera house in the jungle. A key part of the plan involved hauling a river boat over a mountain. So that’s what the filmmakers did for real – moved a 340-tonne steamship over the mountain with a bulldozer.

This is one of those instances where the ‘making of’ story is at least as interesting as the movie itself, with, among other things, Kinski allegedly wreaking all kinds of havoc on set. Fitzgerald is loosely based on Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, a Peruvian rubber baron, who developed the Madre de Dios basin by portaging a ship overland.

Open Water (2003)

Open WaterSimple, but effective. This claustrophobic chiller tells the true story of two scuba divers on a Caribbean boat trip who get left behind in shark-infested waters. Using real sharks who were handled by a wrangler and placing the actors (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) actually in the water, this is fact-based film at its most literal.

While it got short-shrift from horror fans expecting a shark-tastic gore-fest, the film is more subtle, placing ordinary people in extreme jeopardy and watching how they react. Written and directed by Chris Kentis, Open Water is loosely based on a 1998 incident in which an American couple went out on a scuba-diving trip and were accidentally abandoned at sea.

Alive (1993)

AliveThis tells the story of the Uruguayan rugby team, whose plane crashed in the Andes on Friday the 13th of October 1972, forcing them to go to extreme lengths to survive. Adapted from Piers Paul Read’s book by John Patrick Shanley, the film was directed by Frank Marshall. The real Nando Parrado (who’s portrayed in the film by Ethan Hawke) was a technical advisor.

This isn’t the only screen incarnation of the story. A much-maligned Mexican effort was released – Survive! (1976) – and there was also a 2007 documentary, Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains, which features the survivors telling their harrowing stories.

Wild (2014)

WildReece Witherspoon goes for a life-affirming stroll in this recent biopic. She portrays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who, following personal tragedy, undertook a 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. The film was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and the script was adapted by Nick Hornby from Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Witherspoon reportedly snapped up the rights to the book before it was even published and used it to launch her production company. Strayed had sent an advanced copy to Witherspoon in the hopes she would want to play her in the film. Turned out she did. One of those instances where the right material found the right A-lister and the project took off. See, it does happen…

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

F&FYes, you read that right. The Hollywood blockbuster that’s spawned (to date) six sequels was actually originally (partially) based on a magazine article. The fictional story tells of an undercover police officer (played by the late Paul Walker) who gets caught up in the world of street racing he’s been assigned to infiltrate.

Partly based on Ken Li’s Vibe magazine article, ‘Racer X’, about New York City street racing, the script was written by Gary Scott Thompson and Erik Bergquist. The film was directed by Rob Cohen. The seventh F&F was released earlier in the year, following Walker’s untimely death in a car crash.

Issue 12 of RSL is out on 30 November.