The Big Train Crash In Skyfall Was Not CGI And Cost More Than $2 Million

"Skyfall" celebrates its 10th anniversary this week (counting from its U.S. release anyway) and it was a pivotal moment in the "James Bond" franchise. It cemented Daniel Craig as a 007 for the ages and rebounded in glorious fashion from the disappointment that was "Quantum of Solace." There are many reasons for that, but the action set pieces in this movie are truly top-notch and are truly tough to argue against. One of the most memorable action sequences is the train crashing in the underground tunnels in London after Silva (Javier Bardem) detonates a bomb. And, believe it or not, that was not accomplished using CGI.

I recently dug through the film's commentary track with director Sam Mendes in honor of the movie's big birthday. During the scene in question, which takes place just ahead of the third act, Mendes revealed how they put that sequence together, and the great expense that the production incurred to do it through practical means.

"This set, which is again constructed on the 007 stage [at Pinewood Studios] – there was one set after another going up on that stage. It was built around a real catacomb that was found on one of our locations in North London, it's a replica of it. Because, of course, we had to do this to it. We had to drive two seven-ton train carriages that we had built through, and into, this set. Destroy it. What you see is a real stunt, ladies and gentlemen. Real. Not a visual effect. Because a number of people have said 'That's a brilliant visual effect.' And I want to say to them, 'It's £2,000,000 worth of set being destroyed, shot by 11 cameras.' If it hadn't worked, we'd probably still be shooting."

Money well spent

Mendes, in his bigger films, has always demonstrated an understanding of how to use CGI to enhance real-world effects. "1917" is another fantastic example of using CGI to seamlessly create something that looks and feels real. But "Skyfall" may well be his crowning achievement in this department, and this train crash is a testament to his commitment to go real first wherever possible. To that end, you can see an image below from behind-the-scenes of them actually building the train cars necessary to pull this off. And mind you, this crash takes up mere seconds of the movie's final runtime, which is well over two hours. It's damn impressive.

It's also worth noting that the figure he cites would be nearly $2.3 million by today's exchange rates, just for the record. The movie had a reported $200 million budget, meaning that was a mere fraction of the overall cost, but it's still a whole lot to spend on such a small amount of screen time. But it's all of these big bets and dedication to thrill that make this movie one of the best mainstream blockbusters of the 2000s — if not ever.

In the end, "Skyfall" became the highest-grossing "James Bond" movie in history and remains the only one in the series to cross the $1 billion mark globally. It is truly tough to argue with results in this case. If that means building an underground train station to destroy it for real, so be it.