By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 20, 2013 at 2:41PM
For this, Dod Mantle combined modern technology (the Arri Alexa Plus and Alexa Studio cameras along with the Canon EOS C300) with old lenses from the '60s and '70s (particularly the Baltar that Gordon Willis used on "The Godfather").
More than anything, though, the cinematographer created a language and lensing for personifying the cars, putting us right inside with these fearless drivers racing nine inches above the ground and at great speeds. He mounted very small helmet cams two to three centimeters from their eyes. "I wanted the audience to know what it means to put a helmet on and shut the world off; and when they're racing, what it's like inside the helmet looking out; and after an injury, when they pull that helmet back, you really feel the pain."
Dod Mantle also customized the miniature IndieCam GS2K, which isn't normally used for features, and mounted them all around the cars. He wanted the sensual feeling of color and light and moving across the framework and the struggle of the hand on the gear lever.
The Nurburgring race in Germany is riveting with a horrific crash in which Lauda nearly burned to death. The recreation went beyond accuracy in determining his car's malfunction. Dod Mantle even stepped into the wreckage with a burn suit to shoot through the flames. Yet for the cinematographer, it's all about narrative painting: a visceral, exquisite, random moment.
Now Dod Mantle is seriously at sea with the adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick's ordeal about the Whaleship Essex, which was attacked by an 80-foot sperm whale in 1820, leaving 20 sailors adrift at sea in three open boats for 93 days, compelled to become cannibals to survive.
"This strange idea that these people who were obsessed with the sea were like our astronauts now," Dod Mantle suggests. "In addition to collecting oil, they were explorers going beyond the final frontier. And what the whale symbolizes for me -- and certainly for Melville -- is that it was a signal that it was not necessarily our natural habitat. It's ironic: you have people lying in a boat and starving and there's nothing they can use or utilize out there, and an inch under the surface of their raft is a mosaic -- a labyrinth of natural habitat, beauty, resources, water, and aquatic life that human beings are not used to."
The cinematographer says it's a pretty ambitious movie for Warner Bros., a $100 million drama that's an antidote to the current glut of superhero movies (despite the presence of a CG whale by Double Negative). Like "Rush," though, you can be sure that it's all about narrative painting and will be a kindred spirit to Howard's "Apollo 13."