Liam Neeson reunited with his Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night director Jaume Collet-Serra for The Commuter. Neeson plays a man on his last trip home from work after being fired when a mystery woman (Vera Farmiga) tasks him with finding a passenger. Read our review here.
The director told Monsters and Critics how he created a fake train for The Commuter’s purposes. But first, one of the supporting characters has a name fans will recognize. Patrick Wilson plays Neeson’s former partner on the force, Alex Murphy. Alex Murphy was also the name of the officer who became Robocop.
“It was just put in there so you would ask me this question,” Collet-Serra joked. “Nobody’s going to notice except you. I obviously knew immediately that that was the same as Robocop but why change it?”
In order to craft an entire movie on a train, a real train wouldn’t do. So The Commuter built one car. It was multi-purpose.
“We had one car that we kept redressing to make it look like the other cars, and change the people around,” Collet-Serra said. “It was a very confusing movie for everybody.”
The train wasn’t the only thing that was movie magic.
“All of it, even the stations,” Collet-Serra said. “Everything was in studio. We never went outside. We had no train. When you see a platform, like the montage at the beginning, that was a real station but the train was not there because we’re in a different country.”
At various points in the plot, Neeson looks out the window. Whatever happened on the street, Collet-Serra filmed separately.
“It’s all blue screen with various sophisticated lighting rigs, with LEDs that match the actual environment of Hudson River at the times we went,” Collet-Serra said. “The DP went and shot video footage of that river or that line, the Hudson line and then interpreted the lighting through a computer. Then the LEDs gave us that lighting through the train. Then when we shot the plates, they matched perfectly.”
In another scene revealed in the trailers, a passenger gets pushed in front of a bus to punish Neeson’s character.
“That’s basically Liam over the shoulder on a stage, and me on top of a cherry picker in New York getting that perspective,” Collet-Serra said. “We shot on the street in New York but there was no train there. There was no overpass. There was nothing. Just a crane and the camera.”
The Commuter is seamless as Neeson moves from compartment to compartment, sometimes under the train and jumping between disembodied sections.
“We have a lot of little tricks that were very helpful,” Collet-Serra said. “We had the dolly built into the train and it was in the ceiling. It was remote controlled so we had a camera that would go around the passengers and Liam, so we didn’t need to bring the operators and AC and everybody. We could just do a full 360 inside very cleanly. That gave it a lot of energy. We had a lot of little tricks but it was one carriage.”
The Commuter opens tomorrow, Januay 12. More with Jaume Collet-Serra tomorrow on Monsters and Critics.