CATEGORIES Movie NewsIf you drive about four hours north of Toronto to the city of North Bay, Ontario, you can come across the coolest movie set ever. You may scoff, but we're talking about a Cold War-era NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) facility, in essence a nuclear fallout vault, located 60 storeys underground. Nicknamed "The Hole," the base is barely visible from the surface, but the multiple warning signs and fences with electrified barbed wire give away its significance.
It's shocking that this place hasn't been used for a movie shoot before. "The Colony," a science-fiction suspense thriller starring Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton and Kevin Zegers, and directed by Jeff Renroe ("Seven Deadly Sins," "Anvil! The Story Of Anvil"), is the first-ever (and most likely the last) to shoot down here. After going through several security checks, we're driven down "the tunnel" into the facility -- away from any trace of sunlight -- and it's like taking a time machine to the 1960s.
The basic plot of "The Colony" falls in line with the original function of the NORAD base, which was constructed in the event that the Russians (the Soviets at the time) nuked North America. Essentially, in "The Colony," a new Ice Age has engulfed the planet, and a rag-tag group of survivors are forced to live underground; of course, the unforeseeable happens and a vile species of something is on the loose, terrorizing the remaining population down in the vault. It truly becomes survival of the fittest, but to the extreme.
Moviefone was invited to the set -- and boy, do we have some awesome stuff to share with you. Here are the top 9 "coolest" things we learned (pun intended).
1. The History Of "The Hole" Adds To The Mystique A star attraction during the Cold War era, "The Hole" used to give tours to civilians. It's certainly impressive once you get down there, which is no easy feat. You have to be driven down a very long, small tunnel to access it. Once you're on your feet, you have to have a helmet on at all times. You pass decontamination areas, 19-ton steel vault doors and enter a complex the size of a shopping center. The NORAD facility is built to withstand a 4-megaton bomb (just to put it in context, that's 270 times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb), and man, it certainly feels like it!
2. The Screenplay Was Altered To Adapt To "The Hole" There weren't any earth-shattering changes made to the script, but Renroe and his writers made some adjustments based on the base. "The Hole" is basically an already-built world, so the team just took in their surroundings and went with it. The solid rock walls of the tunnels and caves below-ground have natural staining that has occurred over time, for example. "This place is made for my movie!" exclaims Renroe.
3. This Isn't A Zombie Movie Renroe and his team also emphasize that this is not a zombie movie. Despite the fact that the plot and underground space lend themselves to a post-apocalyptic zombie tale, the director didn't want to go in that direction. Instead, the movie focuses on what happens to humans when the typical societal structures are absent, or wiped away altogether. He also hints that there is some sort of creature involved in the plot, but wouldn't go into detail, and unfortunately we can't give away anything further.
4. "The Road," "28 Days Later" Were Big Influences Along that same vein, Renroe and the writers were heavily influenced by these two apocalyptic movies. In particular, "The Colony" uses the aspects of societal breakdown and the struggle to survive as its two main themes. Both Paxton and Zegers emphasized these points in their interviews. Producer Paul Barkin is especially proud of the movie, saying "You've never seen a Canadian movie like this."
5. There Will Be No Explosive Pyrotechnics Or Gunplay In "The Colony." In Fact, There Can't Be The entire underground facility is one big fire hazard. Since it's located so far underground, and since it's so difficult to physically get there, if a fire ever happened, it would be impossible to get emergency crews down there fast enough, if at all. As a result, nearly every single thing on set is fireproofed. Old-school "Asbestos Warning!" signs are everywhere, and since the inception of the base, every employee has been offered advanced firefighting training, just in case. It's one of the most fireproof buildings in Ontario. Don't expect any explosive pyrotechnics or gunplay in "The Colony"!
6. We Are Some Of The Last Civilians To Be Down Here As mentioned earlier, there used to be tours of the facility, but those ended quite some time ago. By the 1990s, the Soviet threat had (obviously) subsided, and the facility was very expensive to maintain, so the authorities moved most of the operational equipment above-ground. Since officially opening in October of 1963, the facility has operated 24/7; it has never been shut down in 43 years of service. The future of the NORAD base has yet to be determined. (May we suggest more movies?)
7. This Is The Deepest Movie Set In The World At sixty storeys deep, it's hands-down the deepest movie set ever. The main installation of the facility is a three-storey building resting on short steel beams. You can actually walk under it. The beams are meant to absorb the shock of a nuclear strike. How effective is it? On New Year's morning in the year 2000, there was a 5.2 earthquake centred in North Bay, and not a single employee felt a thing down in base. 8. There Are Major Hazards At Every Turn You name it, "The Hole" has it: falling rocks, potential asbestos exposure, structures containing mercury, mold, lead-based paint and PCBs, high drops, and even sound pressure levels above 87 dBA. From the beginning of the tour, we were told to stay on the path and not stray. These various harmful things and warnings were enough to get us to obey.
9. The Government Didn't Interfere With The Script You'd think, with such a massive military presence in the building (they were tailing us at every turn, some even snapping pictures), that the US and Canadian governments would have some say in the script, but they didn't interfere at all. Besides the restrictions of no pyrotechnics and gunplay -- strictly for safety reasons -- Renroe and his team were given the go-ahead for everything else. If the underground base was still operational, we have a feeling things might have been different.
Expect to see "The Colony" hit theaters in 2013 -- and come back to Moviefone for our eventual interview with star Laurence Fishburne.