The Taking of Pelham 123, released in 2009, is an adaptation of a novel that had previously been adapted for both the small and big screen. The filmmakers behind the project kept the story fresh by exploring how new technologies would impact the narrative.
The fact of the matter is, the characters (both the antagonists and protagonists) of the original movie did not have access to the same resources the characters would have now. Thus, the filmmakers were able to make this particular adaptation stand out on its own by depicting how the events of the story would be different if they occurred in an updated setting.
However, that’s not the only reason this film stands out. Behind-the-scenes stories indicate that the team behind this project also made a tremendous effort to ensure the film evoked a sense of realism. Although they could have cut corners to make the production simpler, they opted instead for authenticity. The result is a film that feels like it’s genuinely depicting a major criminal event on the New York City subway. Here are just a few of the ways that realism was achieved:
The Cast and Crew Were Appropriately Trained in Metro Safety
For example, early in the film’s production, all members of both the cast and crew were required to attend and complete a safety course provided by NYC’s Metro Transit Authority. However, this wasn’t merely to ensure the team understood how to convey the events in the script realistically.
There was value in making sure the actors new proper safety procedures even though the movie were made on a set. This knowledge would inform their performances and make them more authentic, but the filmmakers had other reasons for enforcing this requirement.
Quite simply, the cast and crew needed to know how to work safely around NYC subway tracks because that is precisely where much of the movie was filmed. This was no easy feat. The MTA is responsible for facilitating travel throughout a city of millions. Finding a way to shoot a major motion picture on the actual subway itself would seem too daunting for less ambitious filmmakers.
However, it did not deter this team. They strove for authenticity throughout the entire production. This is all the more surprising and impressive when one accounts for the fact that Tony Scott, the film’s director, claimed to have never been in the subway prior to making the movie.
The Filmmakers Used Abandoned Subway Stations and Tracks
Being able to make the film in actual major locations was by no means a foregone conclusion. The filmmakers first needed to ensure the MTA would cooperate with the production. Again, the MTA’s main responsibility is to provide reliable transportation for the millions of people traveling throughout New York on a daily basis.
Getting the organization to allow a major Hollywood production to take over portions of track can be a challenge. Luckily, according to interviews, officials at the MTA were willing to cooperate because they saw the film as an opportunity to depict the subway with accuracy. That said, it still took the production team about six months to find the right locations for filming.
Luckily, there are unused stations and unused portions of track that were still in decent condition. The majority of the picture was filmed in these areas. Still, getting access to them from the MTA was not something anyone involved in the project could have relied on.
Filmmakers Coordinated Closely with MTA to Film at Locations Currently in Use
It would be impressive enough to film a movie in an authentic but abandoned subway station. However, those were not the only locations the filmmakers used. They were also allowed to spend two nights filming the opening hijacking sequence on an actual subway platform in the extremely busy Grand Central Terminal. The MTA allowed the team to film on one side of the tracks during times when regular service ran along the other side.
Additionally, to ensure the train hijacked in the opening sequence matched the train described in the script, the proper train had to be routed from the Bronx, through Queens and Brooklyn, and back up to Manhattan. There was simply no way to route it to the proper track otherwise. On top of that, the filmmakers hid an actual train conductor to the side of the actors to ensure someone qualified was genuinely operating the controls.
These are all difficult steps to take. There are simpler ways to make it appear as though the movie had been filmed on location. However, the team behind The Taking of Pelham 123 was not content to deceive viewers. It was important to make a movie that felt real, immersing the audience in the world of the NYC subway. Their dedication to authenticity resulted in a thrilling movie that feels shockingly realistic.