Was the aerial stunt real, or computer-generated, in the opening sequence of “The Dark Knight Rises“?
It was real, for the most part. Director Christopher Nolan doesn’t like fake action scenes.
So, how in the heck did they film that already unforgettable six-minute scene?
This is a question for which the complete answer is probably wrapped up in that catch-all explanation: The Magic of Hollywood.
But some things are known:
The sequence was filmed in Scotland. The dark “CIA turboprop” took off from Inverness airport. The sequence was filmed over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. The lonely Cairngorms have been described as “Britain’s highest mountain range – incredibly cold, incessantly windy and one of the harshest environments” in the British Isles. Perfect, I suppose, for littering aircraft debris without hitting anyone or anything on the ground.
The stunt reportedly took three days to film in early July 2011.
Airborne, the CIA turboprop is shown being followed by a huge white cargo plane. This is a Lockheed C130 Hercules, of the type used by the United States military. The lumbering C130 an ideal vehicle for a stunt such as this, because its stall speed is as low as 96.5 knots (111 m.p.h.); so, a camera crew in a helicopter was easily able to match the speeds of the planes and record the exterior action.
For the action going on inside the CIA plane, a simulator was built at studios in Cardington, England; the director could rotate, shake and twist the fuselage while the actors inside tumbled around – almost as if they were weightless.
When the C130 is above the CIA aircraft, its rear cargo ramp is lowered and four stuntmen drop down from it, tethered to cables.
At some point here – during a sequence of quick edits – the CIA plane is replaced by a glider mockup that had been towed aloft from the Cairngorm Glider Club in nearby Feshie.
The stuntmen climb around on the glider. It tips, and the wings blow off (negative aerdynamics). A small pyrotechnic device pops the tail off.
The idea is to get the villain Bane off the CIA plane, with the help of the stuntmen on cables, before the cables are released. The remains of the glider are then cut loose and sent crashing to the ground – making it look like all onboard were killed.
The stuntmen with Bane and a kidnapped scientist (did you “get” the bit about pumping his DNA in another victim, to make it look like the scientist was killed in the crash?) then are supposedly pulled back up into the C130.
During practice takes, the stuntmen then parachuted to the ground. Look closely in the production stills and you can see the stuntmen are all wearing parachutes. But in the final take, the director said they were able to be drawn back up into the C130 with no problem.
The stunt looks pretty seamless until you pick it apart and study how it was edited.
Filmmakers did a job good of sowing “disinformation” to keep the press and onlookers confused about what was going on, during the shooting. Check out this report about the filming that ran in the News of the World, June 27, 2011, supposedly describing what the stunt would consist of:
“The movie crew desperately want to film this. It’s a key section of the film. Batman is on board a plane that is hurtling to the ground. The script says he takes control of it and lands it on the road while it’s on fire. People are going to love it. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
July 22, 2012