Prime Video’s ‘Thirteen Lives’: How Ron Howard Made His Thai Cave Rescue Film

Prime Video’s ‘Thirteen Lives’: How Ron Howard Made His Thai Cave Rescue Film

Published August 5, 2022
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Ron Howard knows his way around a rescue mission. In his new film Thirteen Lives (now streaming on Prime Video), just as in his 1995 classic Apollo 13, potential disaster once again lurks in an environment where the usual laws of breathing and gravity do not apply. But instead of launching into space, this time he’s diving underwater.

The breathlessly tense Thirteen Lives dramatizes the real-life Tham Luang cave-rescue mission from the summer of 2018, when a dozen Thai soccer players, aged between 11 and 16, and their coach were trapped in a flooded, terrifyingly elaborate cave system. An international rescue effort of more than 10,000 people resulted in every one of them being delivered to safety after over two weeks of careful, tricky planning—though not without lives lost along the way.

Previously adapted into the acclaimed documentary The Rescue as well as a nonfiction PBS series, the true story now gets the full Hollywood treatment, with Howard’s cinematic mastery of tension fitting neatly with his penchant for telling stories of great heroism and sacrifice. In this version, the drama within the caves unfolds at a hair-raising clip as British divers John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Richard “Rick” Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) map out the extremely risky, but necessary, way of saving the boys and coach. Then, equal time is dedicated to life just outside the cave, as the efforts of locals—from family members to government officials to spirited volunteers—prove vital in the mission’s success.

All in all, the film’s crew creates a convincing, pulse-pounding, incredibly detailed recreation of a remarkable global event. We went in-depth with Howard and more key players on how they did it—and why.