Given the wealth of remakes, adaptations and updates on studio release schedules these days, movies made from original screenplays have become a rare commodity, at least for folks disinterested in Alvin and the Chipmunks. The Book of Eli was written by Gary Whitta, a newcomer with only one other credit to his IMDB resume – the forthcoming live-action version of Akira – and as directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, it promises to be more than the exception that proves the rule. Starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman, the film follows a lone warrior (Washington) as he navigates a dusty, violent, post-apocalyptic landscape, and Collider was recently invited to check out its fantastic, futuristic, and most of all dusty landscape.
The film was shot in New Mexico, the production location for several other recent blockbusters including Observe and Report and Terminator Salvation. The set we visited was a short distance from the Albuquerque airport, but by the time we arrived at the razed landfill where shooting was to take place, virtually all remnants of civilization were forgotten: tumbleweed (seriously) and dusty plains were the only sights for miles in every direction. Except, of course, for the set itself – a dilapidated house built especially for a big action set piece, some of which we hoped to watch as it was shot.
Arriving on set, we were greeted by a friendly unit publicist, and soon thereafter, Allen and Albert Hughes, each of whom offered different details about the conception, design, and shooting of the film. The Hughes brothers described the sequence that they were currently shooting: Gary Oldman, playing another no doubt soon-to-be-iconic villain, wages a massive assault on the rickety house where the film’s heroes have taken refuge. Most interestingly, the Hugheses talked excitedly about how much of the scene will play out in one shot, albeit one constructed from a variety of different camera setups in order to look like one massive seamless Children of Men – style showdown.
As exciting as all of this sounds, most of our time was spent in a small tent which protected us from the elements and prevented a direct view of shooting – that is, when it was visible. Other than Gary Oldman’s quick peek into the tent to snap a shot of the shivering, dust-covered press, we mostly sat in anticipation of action to come, bracing ourselves for one wave of landfill dust after another. New Mexico in April is both cold and extremely windy, so as the day progressed it only got more frigid and inhospitable; in between hunkering down for warmth and brushing layers of silt from our bodies, we looked on in amazement as Oldman and his on-screen henchman, Ray Stevenson, stood outside unaffected as shots were choreographed outside the house.
After about four or five hours of ingesting dust, we were perhaps unsurprisingly ready for a break, so we returned to base camp at Albuquerque’s biggest studio. Sadly, however, the lunch tent was set up outside, so even though it was suitably strapped down, the wind and dirt pounded in from outside, making eating – and later, interviewing – an increasingly difficult challenge. After most of the cast and crew finished their meals, we spoke briefly with Oldman, Kunis, and Stevenson, who again seemed somewhat oblivious to the 40- and 50-mile an hour winds that howled around us. Imagine having a conversation with Dorothy about two minutes before the twister in Wizard of Oz uprooted her house and that’s a bit what the experience felt like.
Realizing that we wouldn’t get Washington for a few days, and then via telephone, we gratefully agreed to leave our interview tent for the comparative safety of a production office, where several pounds of dust was brushed off, wrung out or coughed up. Heading to the airport, we wondered whether we’d look like a phalanx of Pig Pens as we trucked through the terminal, or worried about repulsing travel companions as we settled into our seats on the plane. Despite our physical discomfort, however, it was not only one of the most unique set visits we’d ever been on, but unquestionably the most immersive.
After all, how often do even all-access press get to share the same air – and the same dust – with the stars of a real-deal, post-apocalyptic epic? If nothing else, the experience was truly and undeniably original – which not only makes it a benchmark for the folks lucky (or maybe unlucky) enough to attend this set visit, but suggests that by accident or design, there’s nothing like it, whether you’re actually living it, writing about it, or just watching it.