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Long before he was governor, the biggest action star in the world, or even named Mr. Universe for the first time Arnold Schwarzenegger served a year in the Austrian army. Part of a mandatory one-year commitment that all 18-year-old Austrian men have to serve, the future movie star served in a platoon with an M47 Patton tank. But the giant green monster was more than just a just a war machine and a transport. They would fry steak and eggs on the hot plates above the engine, they’d dig trenches and sleep beneath it for protection at night from wild boar, and Schwarzenegger, a workout buff even then, dumped out the department containing the tool case so that he would have a place to store all of his dumbbells and weightlifting equipment. There was a bond there.
So it only makes sense that years later, once he became the biggest action star in the world, he shipped over the exact same kind of tank to have as his own and drive around. And last week at Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall, California a group of my esteemed colleagues and me were given the ridiculous and amazing opportunity to ride in that personal tank.
But even before getting near the machine it was a special experience simply because of where we were. First established in 1915, Melody Ranch is one of the most legendary western shooting locations in Los Angeles and in years past had legends like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Roy Rogers filming scenes roaming its sets. And it certainly didn’t hurt that it had most recently been used for the filming of the saloon scene at the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (which we actually ended up eating lunch in).
The day began with Schwarzenegger coming down to greet the group and introduce himself to everyone before going into an explanation about his history of the tank and how it ended up in America (he was at one time planning a Planet Hollywood-type restaurant with a military vehicles theme) He also took a few minutes to talk about The Last Stand - the reason why we had been invited for the fun press day – and what it was like to go back to starring in a movie again after nearly a decade and working with Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon.
“It’s the first movie that I’m starring in again since I’m back from politics. This is the first starring role and it’s with Kim Jee-woon, who has been a terrific director who has his own style of filming. And he’s a big action director, a big star in Asia. And even though he spoke very little English we had extraordinary communication. He had two interpreters there at all times but after a week of directing I didn’t even need the interpreters anymore because I knew exactly what he was talking about…Now the trick is, as always with everything, the people need to know about it. And that’s where you come in!”
Then the massive engine began to unleash its deafening roar and as I watched the tank speed away with a crew of journalists clinging on for dear life the first thought that went through my head was, “Nothing that big should move that fast.” And that thought stuck with me throughout the rest of the day as Schwarzenegger peeled through the lot at Melody Ranch. More importantly, however, was the surprising amount of grace the machine had with the actor at the joystick. Without axels you’d think a tank would have troubles around curves and shimmy, but the hulk never deviated from course.
And then it was my turn to ride the great beast. While I climbed up the ladder I made sure to avoid the area that Schwarznegger noted could be used as a skillet and attempted to hold on to the tank with one my left hand and shoot video with my right. As the tank picked up speed I learned that this was an awful idea and almost instantaneously turned off my camera, placed it in my pocket, and put on my white knuckles instead.
And a quick tip to any of you who might someday find yourself riding on a tank with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm: make sure you’re paying attention to low-hanging tree branches because you can be damn sure he’s not paying attention for you.
And what would the day be without a grand finale 80s action movie style? While I had noticed the white Mercedes-Benz sitting out in the middle of the tank tracks, I didn’t pay it much mind until Schwarzenegger announced that he was going to crush it with his 48.6 ton death vehicle.
And once more, with feeling.
But I’m not through yet. Below you will find a totally stacked gallery that not only features images from our tank rides with Arnold, but also the amazing western sets of Melody Ranch!
The Last Stand hits theaters on January 18th and you can see more from the film in our Blend Film Database.