Di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis has stepped out into the ca­reer un­known be­fore, but noth­ing com­pares to his latest stun­ning feat

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD - PETER MITCHELL

Hol­ly­wood film­maker Robert Ze­meckis has made movie magic for 40 years. He blended ac­tors with an­i­mated char­ac­ters in Who Framed Roger Rab­bit, took us back in time in Back To The Fu­ture, moved us with For­rest Gump and, with just Tom Hanks and a vol­ley­ball named Wil­son, he cap­ti­vated au­di­ences for 150 min­utes in Cast Away. Ze­meckis also led the way with live-ac­tion per­for­mance cap­ture films Po­lar Ex­press, Be­owulf and A Christ­mas Carol.

It was the ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery more than a decade ago of an il­lus­trated chil­dren’s book called The Man Who Walked Be­tween The Tow­ers that stirred Ze­meckis’ cre­ative juices for his latest tech­ni­cal feat, The Walk.

“I was look­ing at the chil­dren’s book and said, ‘Is this a real story?’,” the be­spec­ta­cled Chicago-born di­rec­tor, 65, says. The story is true.

In 1974 a quirky French­man, Philippe Petit, did what should be im­pos­si­ble.

He walked on a high­wire be­tween Man­hat­tan’s 110 storey-high World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers.

It wasn’t a staged event like many made-for-TV stunts or il­lu­sions cre­ated by mod­ern day pub­lic­ity seek­ers spon­sored by energy drink com­pa­nies. Petit per­formed the walk by stealth.

He re­cruited a band of friends to help him break into both land­mark build­ings, and with a 200kg, 61m-long steel ca­ble, they worked se­cretly in the dark­ness through­out the night to con­nect the two build­ings.

They had to avoid po­lice, se­cu­rity and con­struc­tion work­ers still fin­ish­ing the tow­ers.

Then at first light Petit, af­ter plenty of drama, at­tempted his high­wire walk above Man­hat­tan with­out safety ropes. There was wind and the tow­ers, de­signed to sway in the wind, meant the ca­ble was al­ways mov­ing.

“The thing that strikes me most about Philippe is his op­ti­mism,” Joseph Gor­donLe­vitt, who plays Petit, says.

“He’s such a pos­i­tive thinker and that’s what al­lows him to do some­thing like this.

“To have this idea to hang a high­wire be­tween these two tow­ers and, of course, hear ev­ery voice in the world say, ‘That’s im­pos­si­ble. You shouldn’t even try’ but he’s such an op­ti­mist he said, ‘I will. I’m go­ing to do it’.” Petit’s feat was re­told in the 2008 Os­car­win­ning doc­u­men­tary Man On Wire.

Ze­meckis, al­ways push­ing the bound­aries of film­mak­ing, thought the doc­u­men­tary was mag­nif­i­cent, but con­tin­ued his decade-long jour­ney to make the movie know­ing he could show view­ers a new per­spec­tive. He also wanted to make a movie that chil­dren and adults could watch.

Petit also per­formed a high­wire walk across the two north py­lons of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge in 1973, but while that walk was video­taped, the World Trade Cen­ter feat wasn’t so. There’s only photos.

Ze­meckis used cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to re-cre­ate the walk in IMAX 3-D, trans­port­ing white-knuck­led au­di­ences to 1974 Man­hat­tan. “We knew that it was im­por­tant to recre­ate the World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers to be ex­actly the way they looked in 1974,” Ze­meckis says.

“We spent a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of re­search to make sure we got that ab­so­lutely right.” Petit fell in love with New York and to­day, at the age of 66, he still lives in the city and spent time with Gor­don-Le­vitt while pre­par­ing to shoot the movie.

Ac­tor Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt, left, and film di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis pose atop the Em­pire Tower in Moscow.

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