‘Source Code’: Five Hidden Pop-Culture Influences

Director Duncan Jones was inspired by everything from 'Grand Theft Auto' to 'Quantum Leap.'

“Moon” wasn’t some slick Hollywood production. Director Duncan Jones didn’t have a studio’s deep pockets to dip into for “Avatar”-level visual effects. Instead, he built a miniature replica of a lunar base on which star Sam Rockwell got up to his strange activities.

And it worked. The movie was a sci-fi stunner. So it’s no surprise Jones eyed a similar approach for his next feature, the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring “Source Code.” “We talked about using model miniatures for ‘Source Code,’ but the time frame was working against us,” Jones said, citing his star’s schedule. “So we used a lot of CGI.”

Thus all those train explosions in the film — and there are a dizzying number — were created in a computer rather than in the real world. That’s rather fitting, after all, based on what the film is all about. “Moon,” though, is just one of the pop-culture influences on “Source Code” that Jones alerted us to in a recent chat. Read on for four more (and check back Monday for five secrets about the production that were simply too spoiler-filled to reveal before opening weekend).

The Michel Gondry Connection
Gyllenhaal plays a helicopter pilot named Captain Colter Stevens who’s part of an ultra-secret government program that sends him into the past — in another man’s body, eight minutes before a terrorist detonates a bomb onboard a commuter train, to be precise — again and again in an effort to discover the bomber’s identity and prevent the next attack. As a practical matter, that means the story revisits the same eight-minute sequence over and over and over. Jones’ challenge was to make this recurring event never seemed repetitious. For inspiration, he turned to Michel Gondry.

“I remember hearing about how Gondry used to do music videos — he did Daft Punk and stuff like that,” Jones said. “He used to graph everything out and had these intricate diagrams of how to do things. So I took a shot at it that way and lifted out all of the repetitions that occur in the film, and then created a camera map about how I can revisit this event in a different way each time. That was the technical level.

“Then on a narrative level,” he added. “I ensured new characters were introduced for each one. You never see the same thing twice.”

The “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Connection
The “Source Code” link to Gondry doesn’t end with music videos. Jones also tapped Louis Morin, the visual-effects supervisor on “Eternal Sunshine,” to oversee the CG work on the new movie — in particular, those recurring train explosions.

“He’s got that beautiful blend of being a real technical expert and also an artist,” Jones said. “We worked out how to make each of the explosions have its own personality and be visceral and scary. In the storyboards, we made sure the camera angles made the explosions feel up close and personal to the scale of the effect. Then in the animatic phase, where the objects are moving, you start to get a sense of textures and how much dirt is thrown in the air. You start to tweak it and get the visceral impact.”

The “Grand Theft Auto” Connection
For all the high-intensity train explosions, perhaps the film’s single-most astonishing shot is one of Gyllenhaal jumping off a moving train. Simple enough. But what makes it extraordinary is that the camera never cuts away and you see Gyllenhaal tumble and spin and wind up bloodied and bruised on the pavement.

“It’s a tribute to ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ” Jones explained. “When you’re driving around at high speed in that computer game and you open the door and jump out of the car, the camera doesn’t cut away; it stays with you as you roll. I wanted to do that shot because I’d never seen it in a movie before.

“That was some cutting-edge post-production effects,” he continued. “We played a game of chicken with the technology to make sure it was capable of doing that by the time we were ready to do the effect. Fortunately, things meshed at just the right time.”

The “Quantum Leap” Connection
Of all the sci-fi productions to come before it, “Source Code” might put viewers most in the mind of “Quantum Leap.” Jones, too, immediately thought of that NBC series when he read the script. Ever the playful auteur, the director decided to recruit the show’s star to get what he called “a little tip of the hat in there.”

“I don’t know if you noticed, but Scott Bakula does a little cameo,” he revealed. “He’s the voice of Colter’s father. He even says, ‘Oh boy,’ in the middle of their phone conversation, as a little clue!”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Source Code.”

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