Uncharted sends its heroes all over the world. But even after a few brushes with death in Spain, Nathan Drake’s most harrowing adventure in the movie takes place on a boat ... sort of. The movie’s climactic third-act chase takes place somewhere pretty unlikely, and to pulling it off wasn’t all CGI trickery.
In a Zoom interview with Polygon, Uncharted director Ruben Fleischer revealed how his team made the movie’s last act happen, and how they tried to make a ridiculous situation feel as real as possible.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Uncharted.]
Uncharted’s final act sends Nate, Sully, Braddock, and the movie’s army of villainous henchmen to a remote cave in the Philippines where they discover the remains of two of Ferdinand Magellan’s ships. To get them out of the cave, Braddock decides to pick each ship up with its own helicopter and fly them out, with Nate, Sully, and plenty of bad guys on board. And that’s when the flying pirate ship battle starts.
“When I read the script I was completely blown away,” Fleischer told Polygon. “You know, pirates, the film franchise, was a definite kind of tonal reference for our movie. And that sense of adventure and all those pirate ship battles. [...] We’ve all seen a million pirate ship battles, but we’ve never seen one in midair.”
Of course, the Uncharted video game series has always included its big and absurd set piece — including the falling train that opens the second game, or the mid-air chase that opens both Uncharted 3 and the movie.
“I think the fact that it’s a video game adaptation gave us the license to kind of heighten the reality a little bit,” said Fleischer, but he stressed that this didn’t mean they could abandon reality completely. “We wanted it to at all times feel grounded, but certainly that tests the laws of physics a little bit.”
What this meant was filling in the digital-heavy background with practical effects where possible. And that included building a significant portion of the boat that most of the fighting took place on.
“We never built an entire boat. Because of the size of it we built different pieces for the different parts of the sequence,” Fleischer said. “The boat was actually built in like five different pieces and we shot what we needed on each piece. [...] We had a unique set pieces, actual set pieces, for all of it.”
Ultimately, the boat’s deck, where most of the action happens, the steps leading up to the bow, the side of the boat, the underbelly were all built for the film and used during the action scene. The team also built the front of the boat — which Fleischer pointed out is called the “bow sprit” — that Tom Holland really had to climb up before jumping into a helicopter parked on a riser above.
Of course, once the actual set was built things didn’t get much easier.
“It was a juggling act between first unit, second unit, stunt actors, actors, everybody,” Fleischer explained. “It was just a real puzzle, putting it all together.” And that’s all before visual effects were involved at all.