Same as movie fans around the globe, Rampage director Brad Peyton likes to see megastar Dwayne Johnson in nail-biting, suspenseful and larger-than-life scenarios that require all his skill, strength and satirical wit to overcome.
Peyton has already placed Johnson beneath an active volcano on a sinking island (Journey 2: The Mystical Island) and dropped him headfirst into the epicenter of a magnitude-9 earthquake in L.A. (San Andreas). For their third collaboration, Peyton has upped the ante by pitting the action hero against an antagonist that’s even bigger than he is: The other star of Rampage, George, is a genetically mutated silverback gorilla completely out of control and on a collision course with the civilians of Chicago.
Rampage, based on the popular classic videogame, brings a trio of mega-monsters to the big screen. The panic surrounding the discovery of George is escalated by the appearance of two other transformed creatures. There is a titanic timber wolf that can become airborne at will, and a colossal crocodile that spans the length of a football field. The mysterious pathogen makes the animals grow in size and aggression by the moment. As they continue to evolve, they head toward Chicago.
“It’s weird that my comfort zone is destruction,” said Peyton at the Rampage press day in Hollywood. “I got to the end of the movie, and I was like, ‘Let’s give Dwayne a rocket launcher and let’s blow a bunch of shit up!’ Personally, I feel very lucky that I grew up on movies of the late 80s to the mid-90s.”
When asked who his influences are, Peyton replied, “Cameron, Spielberg, those guys. Tonally I can’t help but be influenced by that. When I go to make a movie, I don’t look at other movies because I’ve seen them all, they’re in my DNA, I’m such a huge movie fan, gamer fan boy, like, total nerd. I know that exists in me so I try to just focus on what I’m doing, but to me the biggest influence was honestly Terminator 2. I look at Terminator 2 and I’m like, ‘This is the coolest shit ever!’ [It seems absurd] There’s a robot with an Austrian accent, from the future, whose gonna come and talk to a kid that doesn’t act, and there’s gonna be the thumbs up at the end and you’re gonna cry, and you’d be like – ‘James Cameron, you’re nuts!’ But I watched that movie and I’m like ‘YES!’ And I cheer at the end and the thumbs up is awesome – you buy all of it. And so when I get a script and I talk to these guys, I’m like, ‘There’s some heart here, I could make this work, I get the tone of this.’ So influence-wise, I think it’s just growing up on those movies, loving them, coming from a place of passion and really relating those movies.”
The wolf and the crocodile are 100% computer-generated, while George’s performance is made up of an amalgam of motion-capture performance by an actor and CGI. While it took a massive production and post-production team to bring Rampage together so seamlessly, Peyton revealed, “The movie was shot really fast. It was done in 55 days which is 20 days less than San Andreas, and then we had six weeks less in post. So for me, I was doing visual effects, the mix, the music, all at the same time, which is not normal.
“I don’t prefer doing everything all at once [like that], but I’ve learned from Dwayne [it’s good to be] working a lot and so I’d like to get as much done in my lifetime as possible. It was interesting because at the end of this movie, there was a lot of green screens and [action involving Dwayne and the creatures] but it came together so quickly that even I [was impressed]. Even though I drew it all and storyboarded it, I had moments of like, ‘Holy god, this is big.’ Like it’s so big, it kept growing and again, the post was so rapid. Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s company, came in and did so much great stuff, even the person that planned it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is crazy! This is better than I pictured.’ So even for me, I was like, ‘Wow, this is huge!’”
When asked what brings him back to working with Johnson again and again, Peyton said, “Honestly, I had the great fortune to work with Dwayne on my second movie. I quickly realized he was a great human being. A very wise person who had had a lot of success in a lot of different fields. I’m ambitious and I’ve learnt so much from him and I continue to learn from him, both as a person and a business person. But ultimately what draws me is that he takes big swings. What I learnt ultimately from him was when you get up to the plate, grand slam, otherwise why else would you get up to the plate. I love that. As a Canadian I don’t know that I was trained to think like that, but this gigantic Hawaiian dude knows really how to do this right. Ultimately, it’s that kind of thing that he brings to the table and creatively, every single time we get together and talk about things, work on things, it always adds up to something greater than I could have imagined on my own and I hope I do that for him as well. From all this comes an accumulation of passion, drive, just raw creativity, and as a filmmaker, visual artist, whatever, that’s what gets you up at 6:00 a.m., when you really just want to sleep because you haven’t slept in like, four months. And that’s ultimately what it is. I love collaborating with someone that’s that passionate, driven, creative, and he brings it every single time. It’s just an awesome experience.”
Peyton said an awful lot of backstory had to be created, since the videogames are quite simple. But he did notice, at the World Premiere (which took place the night before our interview), that there were eruptions of applause at just the right moments which nod to Rampage and Wreck-It Ralph. “Everybody was excited when [Malin Akerman’s character, Claire] died – it was just a cool, cool, cause of death. The B side to that is, it was our big homage to the videogame. Famously, as the monsters go on their total destruction, there’s a lady in a red dress, who sometimes she gets away and sometimes she gets eaten – and last night was the homage.”