READ INTERVIEW WITH DENZEL WASHINGTON
In The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Denzel Washington stars as New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber, whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. John Travolta stars as Ryder, the criminal mastermind who, as leader of a highly-armed gang of four, threatens to execute the train's passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages. But there's one riddle Garber can't solve: even if the thieves get the money, how can they possibly escape?
Directed by Tony Scott. Screenplay by Brian Helgeland. Based on the novel by John Godey.
ABOUT THE FILM
Director Tony Scott frames the hijacking of a subway train and the subsequent standoff between cops and crooks as a terrifying cat-and-mouse game, pitting an ordinary, overburdened train dispatcher, played by Denzel Washington, against a mercurial vengeful killer portrayed by John Travolta in the new action thriller The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
Washington says that he was attracted to the role by finding a most unusual character at the center of the action-thriller. "He's not a cop, he is a civil servant," the actor explains. "When he's confronted with Ryder's demands, he's like, 'Look, where's the hostage negotiator? This is not what I do.' Walter Garber is not a superhero. He's scared."
Similarly, John Travolta found his character, Ryder, to be loaded with possibilities. "Playing a bad guy is freeing because good guys restrain themselves," explains Travolta. "With a bad guy you can create your own moral fiber for him in varying degrees, and usually out of a wide envelope of behavior. I can be wild, calm, nutty, charming, or whatever I want."
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 began life as a bestselling novel by John Godey. The book's central puzzle kept readers guessing. Who would rob a subway train? You'd have to be crazy - the subway is a closed system. Even if you get the money, there's nowhere to escape. The novel was first adapted for the screen in 1974, starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, and today remains a cult classic.
The filmmakers approached the new adaptation - Scott, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and producers Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch, along with Scott - not as a remake of the classic film, which they felt stands on its own. Instead, they returned to the novel, retelling the story as a highly contemporary thriller and reinventing it for a modern-day New York. "It's a great story, yet unknown to new generations of filmgoers," Scott says. "The world, and New York City in particular, has changed a lot since 1974."
John Travolta says that though the new film has some of the same elements as the first adaptation, the new film is "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 on steroids - very intense, very hyped up, and very contemporary."
"I've always liked stories where people are put in extreme circumstances, and you see how they respond when things go wrong," says Helgeland, who won an Oscar® for his script for L.A. Confidential. He approached producer Todd Black, for whom Helgeland had written and directed A Knight's Tale.
"We watched the movie again and realized what a fun story it was," remembers Black, whose producing credits include The Pursuit of Happyness and Knowing. "It felt right not for a remaking, but a retelling."
That retelling would set the film apart from the earlier adaptation in crucial ways. "I was interested in developing much more of a relationship between the dispatcher and the hijacker," says Helgeland. "I felt neither the novel nor the original movie really forced Garber and Ryder to crawl under each other's skin to figure each other out."
The dispatcher, Garber, seeks to clear a stain on his reputation: a charge of bribery that resulted in his demotion from MTA administrator to dispatcher and now drives him to go head-to-head with the hijacker. "He believes if he helps the people on the train, he can make amends," Helgeland says. "Garber seeks redemption."
By contrast, Ryder seeks revenge. Travolta's Ryder is terrifyingly intelligent and red-hot manic, one moment showing mercy, then in a split second exploding in deadly fury. In his previous life, he thrived on Wall Street until imprisoned for embezzlement; now his motivations include settling a score with New York City.
The characters are as opposed as the worlds they inhabit. "Garber works for MTA NYC Transit, above ground, and when we researched it, we found it was very high-tech, like NASA," says Scott. "I took that world, the quiet and cleanliness and high tech quality of the MTA, and balanced that with the darkness and grittiness and bowels of New York in the subways."
The director believed there was only one way to achieve his vision. "Tony felt very strongly about shooting the real tunnels when we decided to make this movie," Barry Waldman, executive producer, remembers. "He wanted the sound and the fright of being in and around moving trains, for the subway to become a third character after Denzel and John."
"Usually people build sets and try to reconstruct it on a stage instead, but there's nothing like capturing reality," Waldman continues. "It's difficult, it's dirty, but it's exciting. It's a challenge, and I always love a challenge." And a challenge it was - with temperatures above ground hitting 100 degrees and below ground even hotter.
Scott ended up filming in the subway for four weeks, the longest and most extensive shoot ever in New York's subway. The production was granted access to areas NYC Transit had never before allowed a film crew, including the makers of the original Pelham.
Shooting in the tunnels can be a harrowing experience, with 400 tons of train roaring past only inches away, while the train's "third rail shoes," or electrical conductors, speed by even closer, with 600 volts of electricity coursing through them. "You don't realize how big the trains are when you're on the platform," Washington explains. "But when you're down on the tracks, those things are monsters, rolling at 40, 50 miles an hour. The wind can whip you around, so you've got to brace yourself."
NYC Transit officials kept close watch to ensure safety; still, actors and crew were forewarned, as is every individual who enters the tunnels, that trains could come on any track, at any moment, and from any direction… and everyone should always assume the third rail is live at all times.
At the helm of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is Tony Scott, the-man-behind-the-mayhem of numerous action classics, including Top Gun, Crimson Tide, True Romance, Man on Fire, and Déjà Vu.
With camera movement, quick pans, saturated colors, and selected focus among his inimitable visual vocabulary, the director builds an escalating sense of suspense and dread in the thriller. "Tony is really a painter," says Black. "The way he shot the scenes in the subway completely hypnotizes you and makes you feel like you're right there."
Scott views the tunnels as a unique and separate world. "My goal was to touch that world in a way that I felt nobody has ever touched it before."
SUBWAY FUN FACTS
Say you've hijacked a subway train and you need to escape. How does one get out of a tunnel?
Ever notice those metal grates on New York City sidewalks painted bright yellow? They're exits used to evacuate tunnels during emergencies. Open up the grate from below, and you may find yourself in the middle of a busy sidewalk or in a park. One grate even opens up inside an elegant, 19th-century town house in Brooklyn. The Greek Revival, which the neighbors call "Shaft House," serves as a front to conceal a fan plant for the IRT train. At the touch of a button from a remote location, the plant can supply fresh air, or expel smoke and heat in the case of a subway fire.
Is New York's subway the longest in the world?
No, that title goes to the London Underground. Dating back to 1863, the Tube is also oldest. New York, however, can boast the largest fleet of subway cars, more than 6,400.
How many miles of track make up the subway system?
NYC Transit reports that the system has roughly 660 miles of track in "revenue service," that is, to transport passengers. Laid end to end, the subway tracks would stretch from New York City to Chicago.
Which line offers the longest ride without changing trains?
Take the A train from 207th Street in Manhattan to Far Rockaway in Queens to experience the single longest line in the world, 31 miles.
Which station is located the deepest below ground? How low does it go?
The deepest underground station is the 191st Street Station on the No. 1 line in Manhattan, located 180 feet below street level:
Why are riders called "strap hangers"?
It's an anachronistic nickname from the days when standing riders held on to straps suspended from the train's ceiling.
Where do old subway cars go to die?
From beneath the sidewalk to under the sea, they are "reefed." They are used in constructing man-made barriers to promote sea life all along the Atlantic coast.
CASTING THE FILM
At the moment that the filmmakers began to consider a new adaptation of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, they had one name in mind for their leading man. "Only an actor like Denzel Washington, with his powerful screen presence and immense talent, could make such an ordinary character in an ordinary desk job so compelling to watch," Helgeland says.
Indeed, with Garber cast, the list of actors who could hold their own opposite Washington's dynamic screen presence was short. The role of Ryder required an actor who could make the character larger than life. John Travolta fit the bill. "When you give him a truly imposing role, Travolta knows how to pump a color and energy into it that I think no other actor can," Black says. Read more
FILMING ABOVE GROUND: THE SETS AND LOCATIONS
Inside a nondescript building in a secret location in midtown Manhattan lies NYC Transit's brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art Rail Control Center, which handles the entire subway system's never-ending flow of human traffic. In The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, this is where Garber sits at his desk and wages a battle of life or death with a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like hijacker. Read more
BELOW GROUND: FILMING IN THE SUBWAY
For the uninitiated to New York City, negotiating the subway is like swimming ocean waters in January: alien, scary, exhilarating. Some five million people pass through these tunnels each day; learning to master the mysteries of a modern transport system more than a century old is a rite of passage into New York City's urban tribe. Riders try not to think about what might lurk outside the train's doors in the pitch black: the occasional trash fire, rats, the unforgiving third rail. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TONY SCOTT (Director/Producer) has created a series of landmark action films, mastering the balance of technical virtuosity with an exuberant sense of tempo. Scott, a member of the exclusive club of billion dollar-grossing directors, has been one of mainstream Hollywood's more reliable and stylish action filmmakers since the mid-1980s. With one high profile project set for release and many more in development, Scott shows no sign of slowing the pace.
Prior to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Scott directed Déjà Vu. The film marked Scott's third collaboration with Denzel Washington and his sixth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer. In 1995, he directed Crimson Tide, starring Washington and Gene Hackman and produced by Bruckheimer, which received both critical and popular acclaim. Scott went on to direct Washington again in the 2004 action thriller Man on Fire, this time alongside Dakota Fanning and Christopher Walken.
Scott made his feature debut in 1983 with the modern vampire story The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. The movie was adapted as a trilogy for Showtime in 1998, in which Scott directed one episode starring Giovanni Ribisi and David Bowie. In 1986, Scott directed Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in the mega-blockbuster Top Gun; the film's stunning aerial sequences helped make it a global success. Scott confirmed his place as one of Hollywood's premiere action directors the following year with Beverly Hills Cop II, starring Eddie Murphy.
Scott's ability to mine box office gold from a deft blending of material and talent was evident in Touchstone Pictures' Enemy of the State. Reuniting Scott with Gene Hackman and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the political thriller starring Will Smith, became one of the biggest hits of 1998. In 2001, Scott directed Universal's Spy Game, a taut, ambitious thriller that reunited screen giants Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. In 2005, after years of development, Scott finally brought his beloved project Domino to the screen with an all-star cast lead by Kiera Knightley portraying real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey.
Scott's Additional film credits include: Revenge (1988), with Kevin Costner and Anthony Quinn; Days of Thunder (1990), starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall; The Last Boy Scout (1991), with Bruce Willis; the critically acclaimed True Romance (1993), starring Christian Slater, Roseanna Arquette and Christopher Walken, with a script by Quentin Tarantino; and The Fan (1996), starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes.
Born in Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, England, Scott attended the Sunderland Art School, where he received a fine arts degree in painting. While completing a yearlong post-graduate study at Leeds College, he developed an interest in cinematography and made One of the Missing, a half hour film financed by the British Film Institute and based on an Ambrose Bierce short story. He then went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts degree at the Royal College of Arts, completing another film for the British Film Institute, Loving Memory, from an original script financed by Albert Finney.
In 1973, Scott partnered with brother Ridley to form the London-based commercial production company, RSA. Over the next decade, Scott created some of the world's most entertaining and memorable commercials, honing his film vocabulary and picking up every major honor in the field, including: a number of Clio awards, several Silver and Gold Lion Awards from the Cannes International Television/Cinema Commercials Festival, and London's prestigious Designers & Art Directors Award. While working as a commercial director, Scott also made three movies for television: two documentaries and a one-hour special entitled "Author of Beltraffio" from the story by Henry James. In 2002, under the RSA banner, Scott produced a series of stylish short film adver-tainments for automaker BMW starring Clive Owen. Scott himself directed one of these shorts entitled Beat the Devil that featured Owen, James Brown and Gary Oldman.
In 1995, the two brothers went on to form the film and television production company Scott Free. With offices in Los Angeles and London, the Scott's have produced such films as In Her Shoes, Tristan + Isolde, and the Academy Award®-nominated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt. They also executive produce the hit CBS series "Numbers", currently in its fifth season.
Academy Award-winner BRIAN HELGELAND (Screenplay) re-teams with director Tony Scott, after having penned Scott's Man on Fire, starring Denzel Washington, in 2004.
Helgeland has written or co-written sixteen feature films, including L.A. Confidential, for which he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, and Mystic River, for which he was nominated for the best adapted screenplay Oscar.
Helgeland wrote the original screenplay for Conspiracy Theory, starring Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson, and also wrote and directed the films A Knight's Tale, starring Heath Ledger, and Payback, starring Mel Gibson. Helgeland is also the screenwriter on the upcoming Green Zone starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass.
JOHN GODEY (Book by), the pen name of Morton Freedgood, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1912. A graduate of City College, Godey had several articles and short stories published in Cosmopolitan, Collier's, Esquire, and other magazines while working full time in the motion picture industry in New York in the 1940s. Godey held publicity posts for such studios as United Artists, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount, before he decided to focus on his writing, while continuing to work part-time for the movie business.
His first novel The Wall-to-Wall Trap was published under his own name in 1957. Later, Freedgood decided to use the pen name John Godey, borrowed from the title of a 19th-century women's publication, to differentiate his crime novels from his more literary writing.
As John Godey, he achieved commercial success with the books A Thrill a Minute With Jack Albany, Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can Kill Today and The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, his novel about the hijacking of a New York City subway train, was a best seller in 1973 and was made into a hit movie starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Hector Elizondo, in 1974.
Other feature adaptations of Godey's books include Never a Dull Moment (1968), starring Dick Van Dyke and Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Handsome (1989), starring Ellen Barkin, Mickey Rourke, and Elizabeth McGovern. Television adaptations of his novels include Never a Dull Moment for Disneyland and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1998) with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Godey went on to write four other thrillers: The Talisman, published in 1976, The Snake (1978), Nella (1981), and Fatal Beauty (1984). Godey's thrillers were translated into many languages, including Bengali, Catalan, Spanish, French, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Maylayan, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish.
He died April 16, 2006 in his home in West New York, New Jersey.
THE ART OF ADAPTATION