In 1993, a breakthrough new technology, known as CRISPR,
gave scientists a path to treat incurable
diseases through genetic editing.
In 2016, due to its potential for misuse, the U.S. Intelligence Community
designated genetic editing a
“Weapon of Mass Destruction and Proliferation.”
Global icon Dwayne Johnson headlines the action adventure “Rampage,” directed by Brad Peyton.
Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye, a man who keeps people at a distance but shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent, incredibly rare albino silverback gorilla who has been in his care since he rescued the young orphan from poachers. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates this gentle ape into a raging creature of enormous size.
To make matters worse, it’s soon discovered there are other similarly altered animals. As these newly created alpha predators tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with discredited geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.
“Rampage” also stars Oscar nominee Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), Malin Akerman (TV’s “Billions”), Jake Lacy (TV’s “Girls”), Joe Manganiello (TV’s “True Blood”), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV’s “The Walking Dead”); as well as P.J. Byrne (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Marley Shelton (TV’s “Rise”), Breanne Hill (TV’s “Frontier”), Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”), Matt Gerald (TV’s “Daredevil”), Jason Liles (“Death Note”), Demetrius Grosse (TV’s “The Brave”), and Will Yun Lee (TV’s “Hawaii Five-O”).
Peyton directed from a screenplay by Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel, story by Ryan Engle.
“Rampage” was produced by Beau Flynn, John Rickard, Brad Peyton and Hiram Garcia. It marks the third collaboration between Johnson, Peyton, Flynn and Garcia, following the international blockbuster hit “San Andreas,” Warner Bros.’ highest grossing film of 2015, as well as 2012’s global smash “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Executive producers were Marcus Viscidi, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Jeff Fierson, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener and Michael Disco.
The creative team includes director of photography Jaron Presant, production designer Barry Chusid, editors Jim May and Bob Ducsay, and costume designer Melissa Bruning. The music is composed by Andrew Lockington, who created the scores for “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Serving as co-producers were Wendy Jacobson, Josh Mack and Dana Robin.
The “Rampage” creatures were brought to life by acclaimed VFX supervisor Colin Strause, with five-time Academy Award-winning visual effects company Weta Digital.
A New Line Cinema presentation, in association with ASAP Entertainment, a Wrigley Pictures / F.P.C. / 7 Bucks Entertainment production, a Brad Peyton Film, “Rampage” will be distributed in 2D and 3D in select theatres, and IMAX, by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
The Story Of Rampage
With Hollywood tentpole films, it’s a given that size matters. So, when New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures proclaim that “Big Meets Bigger” in their April release Rampage, they’re promising a massive film on every level – from global icon and superstar Dwayne Johnson (the Big), to genetically-modified, supersized creatures (Bigger), and the spectacle of those monsters laying waste to a major city (Biggest?).
That big/bigger dynamic also applies to Third Rail Studios, a former GM assembly plant turned purpose-built film and television production studio that stretches across seven acres in the northeast corner of Atlanta, Georgia, and was home to the Rampage team for several months. But the facility’s size takes a back seat to the wonders experienced in a nondescript, smallish office the film’s producers have dubbed the “War Room,” and which houses a dazzling gallery of photos, concept art and sketches. A giant crocodile’s burning gaze and gaping maw bear down on us; an enormous wolf rampages through Chicago; an ape the size of a house, whom we later learn is named George, swings the remnants of a tower like a club; the three beasts joining forces to tear apart a city.
It’s a lot of “big” and “bigger” to take in. Fortunately, Rampage producers Beau Flynn, John Rickard and Hiram Garcia place the startling imagery in context and serve as guides through the film’s world, narrative and characters. Though they’ve undoubtedly reviewed the artwork countless times, the three filmmakers’ energy and enthusiasm make it seem like it’s also their first immersion in Rampage.
Flynn kicks things off, proclaiming that, “If anyone can stop three rampaging monsters, it’s Dwayne Johnson, right?” before sharing that he was a fan of the original Rampage video arcade game, and has always wanted to make a massive monster movie. “So, I’m thrilled to be in production on Rampage, which combines the two.”
But it’s not all monsters and spectacle. Garcia says the film has an unexpected emotional core: the friendship between Johnson’s Davis and George, an extraordinarily intelligent silverback gorilla who’s been in Davis’ care since he was rescued from poachers years earlier. “They’re like family and their relationship gives the movie a lot of heart.”
A rogue genetic editing experiment known as Project Rampage has been weaponized and mutates the gentle giant George into a towering, raging monster. The same pathogen has also mutated a wolf and crocodile. The three apex predators tear across North America, destroying everything in their path. Davis reluctantly teams up with a genetic engineer, Kate Caldwell, played by Academy Award nominee Naomie Harris, to stop a global catastrophe and save George.
Almost an entire wall in the War Room is devoted to the creatures, each of which is evolving to varying degrees, based on the level of their exposure to the pathogen. The experiment isn’t pure fiction. The science is based on a revolutionary technology called CRISPR, that has the potential to treat incurable diseases through specific genetic editing. But it’s a double-edged sword, as Rickard explains: “Although it has the power to do a lot of great things, in the wrong hands it could have the opposite effect. Due to its potential for misuse, the U.S. Intelligence community designated genetic editing as a weapon of mass destruction. With the help of a little creative license, we take that idea to a whole other level.”
The conversation returns to the film’s two-legged star, Johnson, as we gaze at some production photos of him interacting with Harris. “Dwayne is always the biggest guy in the room,” Rickard shares, “but he also has the personality and charm that allows him to immediately connect at a personal level. I think audiences can feel that and that’s why they’re so drawn to him. He’s larger than life, but he’s also relatable and hits all the emotional chords. He checks all the boxes of a movie icon.”
Another “big” aspect of the production is a C-17 Globemaster military transport plane the filmmakers have constructed on a giant soundstage. A quick tour of the C-17 reveals that its interior walls have some flexibility, a necessity because all of its passengers, including Johnson, Harris and Walking Dead uber-villain Jeffrey Dean Morgan, are about to be flung around the cavernous set. A hole the size of an SUV is blasted in the side of the C-17. The remnants of an oversized cage provide us with a clue to the cause of the melee – as does a giant cardboard cutout of George.
After director Peyton, stunt coordinator Allan Poppleton, and visual effects supervisor Colin Strause huddle in “video village,” a crew member switches on giant, deafening fans that generate winds of over 100 miles per hour, simulating the plane’s explosive decompression. Johnson, doing his own stunts, is hanging onto a cargo net, parallel to the floor as the gale threatens to hurl him out of the plane. A stunt person, doubling for Harris, and wired to an elaborate pulley system, is pulled out of the C-17.
After the take, Strause provides additional details and context to the scene. “George is rampaging at 30,000 feet and Dwayne and Naomie escape out of the back of the plane, wearing parachutes. It’s a complicated scene because our actors and stunt crew are on crazy wire rigs as winds tear through the plane. Those fans are the biggest I’ve ever seen.”
Dealing with those “winds” has to be physically taxing, but, for Johnson, it’s just another day at the office. According to Flynn, that speaks to the actor’s “incredible and insane work ethic.” Flynn should know; Rampage marks their fifth collaboration, following such films as San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – both directed by Peyton.
After the scene has wrapped, Johnson comes over to chat. He positions himself underneath a large painting that has his character, Davis, in the foreground. Behind Davis looms George.
Months later, this painting would inspire Rampage’s first official one-sheet, but tonight Johnson tells us it helped sell him on the film. “It reflects the Rampage game, in which you played as monsters and rampaged through cities, crushing everything in your way,” he explains, flashing his signature megawatt smile. “But just as important was the story’s heart, which sparked my interest because it spoke to the relationship between Davis and George. The heart makes Rampage a little more special.
“Don’t get me wrong – this is a big movie,” he continues. “But it’s great when you can anchor the action and spectacle with emotion.”
When asked if he researched gorillas prior to beginning work on Rampage, Johnson says, “The first thing I learned – and it surprised me – was that you can’t have much contact with gorillas. When we started prepping the film, I thought, well, I’ll go to the San Diego Zoo and spend time with the gorillas there. There was respect, though no direct contact.”
Instead, Johnson was inspired by a relationship that is a little closer to home and heart – with his dog, Hobbs, aka Bruce Wee. “He’s my best friend, and we have a bond that’s special and awesome.” To underscore the point, Johnson pulls out his smartphone and plays some home videos of him romping with Hobbs, adding commentary made up of equal parts pride, mischief and joy. “Here we go…we sass each other…it’s the same relationship Davis has with George…Hobbs loves to grab me by my toes, which are pretty strong, so I can hold onto him with them…we really love each other.” (Since Hobbs was unavailable to stand in for George, the filmmakers turned to actor Jason Liles to portray the lovable gorilla turned marauding monster.)
In addition to action, spectacle and heart, there are two other key ingredients to Rampage: humor and a sprinkling of science. “I’m cracking up on the set all the time; I’ll give you an idea of the fun tone we have,” Johnson tells us. “The city of Chicago is going down, thanks to the rampaging creatures. Kate and Davis get in a helicopter, he starts flipping the switches but nothing’s happening – Davis is a little rusty at this. So, Kate asks, ‘You sure you know how to fly this thing?’ Davis replies, ‘It’s coming back to me….’”
As for the science, the central question was, what would happen if CRISPR fell into the wrong hands?
“THIS is what happens,” Johnson says, pointing to the artwork, specifically, to the supersized George.
Two of Johnson’s co-stars also seem to draw energy from the vivid imagery surrounding them. Harris even credits the artwork with drawing her to the project. “Seeing it has made me so much more excited about the movie,” she enthuses. “And the sets continue to just blow my mind!”
Although she’s appeared as Moneypenny in three James Bond movies, Harris tells us Rampage was far from an obvious match for her. “I’m more of an indie film person. However, I absolutely loved the script and George. It’s rare to see a film like this infused with so much heart.” Another draw was director Peyton, whose “infectious energy and passion made me want to be a part of Rampage even more.”
A short time later, Morgan joins us – while sneaking peeks at the concept art. Despite juggling Rampage with his busy schedule on The Walking Dead, he is obviously enjoying himself. “For one scene, I’m firing four clips of machine gun fire into a giant monster, and Brad [Peyton] yells cut and walks up to me and says, ‘Can you stop smiling?’ – because I’m having such a good time with Rampage!”
Asked what it felt like being bounced around in the gimbal-ized C-17 set, Morgan laughs and says, “I used to love doing stunts, but after I was done fighting a 40-foot gorilla, I woke up feeling every one of those hits.”
That gorilla, of course, is George, and our next stop is to meet the actor helping create the creature. Jason Liles’ lean, 6’ 9” frame is poured into what his castmates jokingly call “spandex pajamas” – Liles’ performance capture suit – and he’s also sporting a black skull cap and a face pockmarked with white dots.
Liles shares stories about his intense prep for the role, which included a crash course in movement study with noted performance capture artist Terry Notary (the Planet of the Apes films, Kong: Skull Island) and spending countless hours practicing walking with his fists and specially made arm extenders. Liles then worked closely with Peyton for several weeks to shape and fine-tune his performance as George.
The actor provides a brief demonstration, instantly transitioning into “George”-mode and gliding effortlessly across the stage, taking long strides, trotting and then running. He makes it look easy, but when a few visitors try some George-like moves, they look more like those of a child learning to walk than a majestic primate’s gait.
Outside the massive soundstages, the Third Rail Studios backlot has been transformed into Chicago’s renowned Federal Plaza, or rather into the ruins of that urban square – the aftermath of the three genetically-enhanced creatures’ rampage through the Windy City. The spring sunshine radiates a burning light on the tableaux of mass destruction and desolation surrounding us. The scattered islands of debris include remnants of an office building; a downed helicopter that lies buried deep in the rubble; an abandoned school bus; and smashed traffic lights and lamp posts.
A short distance from these ruins rests the rooftop set of a Chicago landmark. This, too, has fallen to the wrath of the three monsters; it’s a labyrinthian entanglement of wires, crushed metal, and bent steel girders.
The filmmaker orchestrating this spectacle – Brad Peyton – is today more interested in sharing his thoughts about Rampage’s heart and the relationship between Davis and George. “The film’s central theme is friendship,” he insists. “There’s no bull between them because Davis is, in many ways, George, and George is Davis. Both have a sense of humor – and they’re both the biggest guy in any room.”
Asked about his three collaborations with Johnson, Peyton reflects before replying, “The only thing I want from Dwayne is his best performance, and he never fails to give it.” The filmmaker is equally pleased about landing Harris. “I wanted someone to convey Kate Caldwell’s passion for the science behind this gene-modifying technology, which she envisioned as a tool for good, and not as the weapon it’s become.”
Peyton is being called back to the set, but a final question about what he hopes audiences experience when they see Rampage seems to hit home for him. “I grew up in a very small town in Canada, and there were not a lot of things to do. Going to the movies was, for me, an emotional escape. It was somewhere to go to feel empowered and all the things you want to feel from these big movies. I think you are going to really enjoy yourself with Rampage, but you’re also going to ride an emotional rollercoaster. That’s what I want in a movie, too.”
Rampage tears into theatres worldwide beginning April 13th.
Read the SAMDB review of Rampage.
Story of Rampage courtesy of Warner Brothers