Director(s): Steven Spielberg
Writer(s): Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson
Release Date(s)Jun 18, 2004 - Wide
“America is closed.”
That’s the fate waiting for Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) in Steven Spielberg’s film, The Terminal.
When a bloody revolution closes the borders of his country, Viktor Navorski finds himself a man without a country. Unable to return home, Viktor is also unable to enter New York City, as he can’t be granted a visa until the United States recognizes his country. Stuck in diplomatic limbo, Viktor must live in JFK’s international terminal until the situation can be resolved. While people arrive and leave around him, Viktor has to build a life in the reality of the terminal.
Producer Walter F. Parkes remarks, “If you are going to be stuck somewhere, an airport can actually be a fascinating place to be. They are places of high emotion-people are either saying goodbye or saying hello. There are intense reunions or the anticipation of absence. You get to see a cross-section of humanity parading through, and if you look at it that way, it’s not the worst place to spend a few hours.”
Of course, Viktor’s situation stretches his days into weeks and he begins to have a life with the people who work in the airport. Parkes says, “This is one of those stories that is really about the smallest moments of human interaction, and Sacha [Gervasi]‘s script kept the story very intimate. It’s about a man encountering a handful of people in a very closed environment, and yet there’s this impression that, in a way, he’s meeting what America is in this place. I think that makes the story truly interesting.”
Screenwriter Gervasi adds, “It seemed to be both incredibly profound and ironic that a man who may never be able to walk onto American soil would still be able to experience what life in America is like…to live the American dream in the terminal.” Tom Hanks, who plays Viktor, agrees, adding, “What Viktor goes through is a crash course in the American melting pot.”
The realities of today’s high security world made it impossible to shoot in a real airport, yet Spielberg and his team knew they had to capture the scope and feel of a real terminal. Production designer Alex McDowell was given the monumental task of creating a realistic terminal.
According to Spielberg, “The only marching order I gave Alex was to say, ‘Look, the star of this movie is Viktor Navorski. It’s a character piece, but the name of the movie is ‘The Terminal,’ so the setting the character is in has to look like a modern international terminal.’”
McDowell took those orders in stride and started working on the set, which was first designed on computer and then made as a scale model so Spielberg could plan his shots. Finally, the set itself was built in a massive hanger located in Palmdale, California. The construction work took about 20 weeks and involved over 200 craftspeople. McDowell made sure the set was a perfect shooting environment by working closely with Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Says McDowell, “As much as anything, the stage is a giant light box, so it was extremely important to build the lighting design into the set from the very beginning. This wasn’t a case of the set being built and the director of photography coming in and saying, ‘I want light here, here and here.’ Janusz was involved in integrating the lighting into the set design from its inception.”
With the set out of the way, Spielberg assembled a fine cast to populate the story. Catherine Zeta-Jones joins Hanks as Amelia, an unlucky in love flight attendant.
Says Zeta-Jones, “I think Amelia’s vulnerability is what attracted me to the part. I love the trust she puts in people; even when she gets hurt, she has a tiny iota of faith that it’s going to work out. She is also very open-she wears her emotions on her sleeve-so when she meets Viktor, she has no trouble expressing what’s going on in her life. She wants terribly to have someone who will just listen to her, and she finds that person in Viktor. It’s a wonderful coming together of two lonely characters that turns into a charming relationship.”
Stanley Tucci also joined the cast as Frank Dixon, the immigration official who places Viktor into the limbo and then desperately tries to rid himself of this nuisance that could affect an upcoming promotion. Tucci was eager to join the cast. “I had always wanted to work with Steven, and working with Tom for the second time after ‘Road to Perdition’ was very exciting. Also the character of Dixon was very well written; it’s a really wonderful role. He’s a complex character, which always appeals to me.”
Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Kumar Pallana, Barry Shabaka Henley and Zoë Saldana round out the cast with great supporting performances.