Racing For Real - The most dangerous races ever made for film
“When you see our faces in the chariot races, that’s really us in the chariots, there’s no green screen,” explains Jack Huston when talking to The Red Bulletin about the chariot races for his new film Ben-Hur.
The English actor’s adrenaline-pumping experience makes him part of an elite area of cinematic history, where films pushed the limits of what was possible and were filmed with almost no studio trickery.
Of course, Huston had a lot to live up to. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur featured a breath-taking chariot race that featured star Charlton Heston doing most of his own racing. The chariots raced the equivalent of over 200 miles to achieve the epic sequence, one of the most expensive scenes ever made at the time. It even eclipsed the 1925 silent version, which suffered a very real fatality after a crash that was still used in the film.
Taking The Wheel
Many films have centered around the modern chariot races, motorsport, but few have captured the action for real. Steve McQueen’s 1971 cult hit Le Mans featured cars actually competing in the infamous 24-hour race, with film cameras strapped to them in one of the first examples of a racer’s point of view caught on film. While a box-office flop, the film remains one of the greatest examples of racing being depicted on film. Equally, Tom Cruise may not have been behind the wheel for much of 1990’s Days of Thunder, but much of the race footage is from actual NASCAR races that the production entered cars into.
Finally, while it wasn’t an organised race, the furious dash across the desert featured in Mad Max: Fury Road featured very few computer effects. Furthermore, all of the cars which were fully functional (even the one featuring a wall of speakers and a fire-breathing guitar!). It’s a tradition carried on from the previous films – the insane carnage of Mad Max 2 were shot for real, with special shockproof cameras and flesh-and-bone stuntmen flying through the air, occasionally with grizzly results. A dramatic ‘Behind The Scenes’ video even documented the making of stunts, which sidelined two experienced performers (one was the stunt director!)