‘Hunter Killer,’ helmed by director Donovan Marsh, is a 2018 action thriller following a U.S. nuclear submarine working in tandem with a SEAL team to neutralize rogue Russian elements. The Virginia-class USS Arkansas is captained by Joe Glass (Gerard Butler), a young and untested officer, while the SEAL team suffers setbacks from the onset of their operation. They discover a coup in progress as the Russian defense minister is holding the President prisoner while looking to start a war with the United States. The Arkansas comes across a friendly vessel destroyed with torpedoes and finds themselves ambushed by an Akula-class Russian submarine. The doomsday scenario painted in the film may have you wondering whether it is based on a true story or inspired by one.
Hunter Killer is Based on a Novel
‘Hunter Killer’ isn’t inspired by real events, but is based on the fiction novel ‘Firing Point’ by former US submarine commander George Wallace, co-authored by warfare historian Don Keith. The book’s name has been changed to match the film’s title following its release. The retired captain was initially inspired to write about life onboard a submarine when he returned to the civilian world and realized, there was a huge knowledge gap in public perception of a submariner’s work.
He wrote his first novel, ‘Final Bearing’, by taking his experiences and building an adventurous plot surrounding it. His intention was to inform the general public of the trials and tribulations of submarine life along with its thrills and terrors. The book became a national bestseller, and he wrote his second book, ‘Firing Point,’ with a greater focus on the plot, which succeeded to the point of attracting attention for a film. The author had been a submariner during the Cold War, and one can notice its influence on the plot as the Cold War rivals face off at a nuclear flashpoint point once again in ‘Hunter Killer.’
Despite the fictional scenarios shown in the film, the cast and crew were aligned towards creating as authentic a production as possible. To this end, the director was allowed to spend three days aboard USS Houston, a Los Angeles–class attack submarine, before filming began. He gained an appreciation for the men working in claustrophobic conditions and living life hundreds of feet below the surface. Once filming began, a few scenes were shot in a real nuclear submarine, the USS Texas. The director and his team were able to witness the classified operations of a fully-fledged nuclear submarine in action.
They made use of the two days granted to them, by filming drills of real submariners, which found their way into the movie. Additionally, the exterior of the vessel was filmed at this time with cameras attached to its sides to record submersing and nailing the one-take shot of the submarine surfacing from a helicopter. The production crew further spent a week in the Virginia-class submarine USS Hawaii, taking measurements and photographs to accurately recreate the vessel’s interiors in a London-based Ealing Studios. The scenes were therefore lent authenticity with an accurate submarine interior created in production and shots of a real submarine’s complex internal structures.
Having spent time on a real submersible, Marsh made the expensive decision to mount the entire set on a gimbal capable of rocking back and forth to imitate the movement of a submersible vessel. Interestingly, the submarine in the book was an older, Los Angeles-class model. But when the producers of ‘Hunter Killer’ talked to the Navy, they were offered to film in the newer Virginia class, which hadn’t been showcased in a film at the time. This was a great boon from a filmmaker’s perspective, as the Los Angeles-class submarines had a huge periscope on the bridge, which would have been very difficult to film around.
The Arkansas, however, has a modern command deck similar to the starship enterprise, with screens and consoles replacing older analog controls. Actor Gerard Butler was committed to realism as well and opted to film scenes involving the submarine flooding in Pearl Harbour’s wet-trainer room used by sailors to prepare for damage control scenarios. Thus, the scene of lethal flooding in the movie became incredibly realistic, with the actor immersed in the ice-cold water of the wet-trainer. ‘Hunter Killer’ bases its narrative on the book but takes certain liberties with its plot lines, action sequences, and ships used while creating a realistic experience of submarine warfare.