ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Thirteen Lives director Ron Howard and producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon about properly portraying the true events that the film is based around. The movie is now available for streaming through Prime Video.
“Thirteen Lives recounts the incredible true story of the tremendous global effort to rescue a Thai soccer team who become trapped in the Tham Luang cave during an unexpected rainstorm,” says the synopsis. “Faced with insurmountable odds, a team of the world’s most skilled and experienced divers – uniquely able to navigate the maze of flooded, narrow cave tunnels – join with Thai forces and more than 10,000 volunteers to attempt a harrowing rescue of the twelve boys and their coach. With impossibly high stakes and the entire world watching, the group embarks on their most challenging dive yet, showcasing the limitlessness of the human spirit in the process.”
Tyler Treese: Ron, some filmmakers would’ve just focused on the kids and the divers, but instead, you give this amazing overall look. We see the rescue work that the volunteers did, and the involvement of the government. Can you speak to that decision? Because I thought it really paid off.
Ron Howard: Early on, after I read the screenplay by Bill Nicholson, I thought, “What an amazing story, what great movie moments.” I then followed up with my own research just to make sure that stuff really happened, and it really, really did, but I began to learn more and more, and I literally jotted down on my script cover, that very first draft that I read, I said, “Anatomy of a Miracle. I began to feel that, while we certainly wanted to do the divers events, and that’s the epicenter of the action and the suspense, and the real life and death stuff, but I recognize so many other brands of heroism and courage on display, and I thought that you mustn’t overlook that. They can’t be in that cave if there isn’t food. They can’t be in that cave if there isn’t the water pumping system that’s underway if there’s the medical group.
I felt like it was important to sort of say, “This is what it looks like, folks.” If you want to achieve something great. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just somebody rides to the rescue, it’s a group of people getting into this mindset of, this might be a long shot, but we’re going to take the time we have right now, the resources we have right now, we’re not going to look anywhere else. We’re just going to look to ourselves and give what we can and try to make it happen. And I really hope that that’s a takeaway for people who see the movie.
Beautifully put, and Raymond, this is just such an amazing story. Like we’re on set of thousands of people coming together to save the lives of these boys. How fulfilling is it knowing that you are really helping honor the heroics of these people that really sacrificed a lot?
Raymond Phathanavirangoon: I mean, you know, I’m just a small wheel in the cog of everything, but my real duty is to really honor what Ron had actually told me about, which is…when we started, he was saying, “Look, we’ve been going through this pandemic, the world is kind of fractured in fraud, socially, politically. And there’s this real-life story that actually gives so much hope because it shows that when people come together without all these barriers among each other, we can actually achieve something truly great. And isn’t that such an important message that we have to the world today? Where there is a lot of division going on.” And I thought that was so right, because yes, of course, it’s a story that took place in Thailand involving Thai kids and required the whole nation to come together. But bigger than that and one country, it’s really about humanity overall. I think that is a message that we just truly need right now.
Ron Howard: I did realize that there was a lot of fascination, freshness, and entertainment value in Thai culture. Because we see it in movies, but generally, it’s kind of action stuff, it’s maybe crime based, and it’s cool. But it’s mostly Bangkok. And as I began to understand this story, there was this whole other aspect to Thai culture that’s very unique, very powerful, and had a huge impact on this story, including the spirituality of that Northern region of Thailand that factored into it, and even the European divers who came in not knowing anything about it, many of them told me that there, they felt something, that there was kind of something about the spiritual energy of the place that was palpable.