August 5, 2010, brought the world a shocking yet inspiring story about 33 miners trapped in the San-José mine near Copiapó, Chile. They were working down deep within the mines when a huge rock collapsed and blocked their only way out, resulting in the workers being stuck underground for approximately 69 days before finally getting rescued.
Almost five years after the accident, director Patricia Riggen decided to transcend this miraculous story into a motion picture. But with just three other films she has directed in her career (“Under the Same Moon”, “Lemonade Mouth”, and “Girl in Progress”), does she have the skill and heart to tell this unique story for her most ambitious project yet?
“The 33” tells the story of these miners with confidence and sincerity. Riggen said in the Q&A session after the screening that the accuracy was about “95% true,” which proves very attractive to most viewers. It shows that she truly wanted to tell the story as it was and not have to rely on typical Hollywood style formulas. Riggen even got to meet with all of the miners trapped underground, getting to know them all and really trying to give this movie the service it deserves.
With 33 miners in the movie, it probably would have been very difficult to concentrate on every individual, so it’s understandable that some get more attention than others. Mario "Super Mario" Sepúlveda (played by Antonio Banderas) is the leader of the miners; and while he was very enjoyable to watch, he came off as almost too perfect to be relatable.
In the story, he is somehow able to help everyone with their problems and be the only one to have truly shown any faith for them. Mario just seemed a bit unrealistic, because there was never a moment where he wasn’t acting like a role model. He also gives up a huge opportunity to earn a large sum of money to help support his family, but turns it down for the miners (even though Mario is the only one really putting effort into creating positive outcomes).
That was insane. But Riggen later explained that most of the characters were “composite characters” and had some added elements in their personality that were not originally there with the real miners; well, except for Mario and how he truly made the best out of every situation. With this in mind after the screening, it was easier to understand and respect the character more.
For the first 20 minutes, the film was honestly difficult to get into. The beginning felt pretty rushed with trying to introduce everyone within 10 minutes. The part where they get trapped under the mines was when the film honestly starts to pick up.
The tone was also a bit off at times. I understand that these men are trapped and can ultimately die, but I still don’t see the need for multiple characters to cry nearly every other scene. There probably could have been other ways of displaying the struggle like perhaps instead of a character tearing up, they could talk to another character about what they miss on the surface or what the first thing they will do when they get out of the mines. It would be like if Matt Damon, and everyone else from “The Martian,” started crying every time something goes downhill -- a bit repetitive eventually.
While there are an abundance of crying scenes, there are also some scenes that really captured the mood of what the miners were going through. There’s this wonderful scene where all of the miners are sitting at the table imagining them being with their loved ones with food and everyone having a great time. That was a perfect scene to truly capture the mood of how much they miss their families and food because it shows them all being happy inside the mines; but it’s also tragic, because in the end, they are just illusions.
The production value of this film was very impressive, even with its limited budget. Riggen said in an interview, “it was like shooting two movies.” She shot the miners in an actual mine in Columbia, and not a traditional film set. For the surface sections of the film, like the drilling area, the scenes were shot in Chile.
“It was really interesting to shoot two movies, and never knowing how they were going to connect with each other, so there was a lot of exploration in the editing,” said Riggen.
With the lower budget for this project as opposed to Hollywood films being made with double the amount, there were plenty of production limitations. Riggen stated that there were many scenes where they only had one shot in taking it because they didn’t have enough film on hand. This makes me look back at the film with more value because some scenes only had a single take (like the rock collapsing in the mine scene). But somehow, it never shows as though it was the first attempt.
One of the highlight qualities for this film was that, despite the subject matter, it was directed by a female director. Based on her previous films, a movie about 33 men being trapped deep below surface in a mine doesn’t seem like the type of film Riggens would direct; but she excelled in her delivery and shattered expectations. She was able to capture the drama and use emotional elements effectively. Riggens was clearly passionate and determined to see this project through. The audience gave a thunderous cheer for her after the screening and much of the crowd were complimenting her on being a female director in such an inspiring film.
I have only seen one of her other films, “Lemonade Mouth” (a Disney Channel movie), and the transition from watching that to this movie really shows how flexible she is in different types of films. When asked how her past three films helped her prepare for this project, she responded,
“Nothing prepared me for this. I think in every movie you learn, you become more experienced. But what I went through in this movie was beyond words. And it made me very strong.”
“The 33” is definitely a film that I recommend to watch due to its tactful directing and passion. With her insightful interview and Q&A session, she was able to share with the audience how she truly felt about her biggest project yet. Each scene and person working on it puts their heart into it all, and while there are a few flaws, it doesn’t contract from the true purpose of the film.
To those aspiring to be filmmakers themselves, Riggen had this advice to share:
“Just do it. Once you decide to go out and do it, that is when you will start going places. So just do it!”
November 13, 2015 is the wider release date for this movie, and I would definitely recommend everyone to go see it merely for its passionate team.