“Fitzcarraldo”: A Boat Movie Way More Epic Than “Noah”

And surprisingly, it doesn’t involve Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s been loads of controversy surrounding the upcoming Darren Aronofsky film Noah, a tale about a man who built the biggest boat ever, then spent the next 40 days and 40 nights frantically shoveling animal shit. Did it really happen? Kirk Cameron says yes, so probably. But for all you skeptics who aren’t so impressed, we found an epic story about a man and a boat that’s twice as epic and twice as much of a thing that actually happened.

The movie was called Fitzcarraldo, and it was directed by Werner Herzog. Who is Werner Herzog? He’s an seemingly emotionless German filmmaker who’s almost as brilliant as he is terrifying. Here is a video of him getting shot and barely reacting.


Now you know. 

Anyway, Fitzcarraldo is set in South America and loosely based on a true story. It’s about a man who desperately needs to move a steamship from one river to another. He teams up with local natives and decides to literally drag the 300 ton ship over a mountain with a system of pulleys. It’s a visual metaphor for man’s inner need to do things the stupid way for the sake of saving time.

Now, here’s the really crazy part. This movie was made in 1982, and special effects weren’t as available as they are today (which is why we were denied the gift of Jar Jar Binks in the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as all other movies in history). Well, for Herzog this presented a problem because he happened to be making a movie centered around an amazing visual feat. It was decided the only way to make this movie work was to actually drag a 300 ton ship over a real mountain and just film it without any tricks.

Cut to hundreds of extras, many of whom were actual local tribesman, working their asses off over several weeks to create a real pulley system around an actual giant fucking boat. The entire process was basically just filmed almost as a documentary. On account of this being the most insane idea ever, people started to doubt the film would ever be completed. The director actually had to travel back and forth from the jungle to convince investors to keep funding the movie, presumably by terrifying them with his terrifying German accent.

There were huge problems with the cast as well. The lead actor got sick with dysentery, and his replacement, Klaus Kinski, was such an unbearable prick that one of the tribesmen actually offered to murder him. Herzog recalled the offer, saying, “I needed Kinski for a few more shots, so I turned them down. I have always regretted that I lost that opportunity.” 

The delays also caused problems for musician Mick Jagger (yes, Mick-fucking-Jagger was in this movie), who had already shot key scenes but had to leave to go back on tour with the Rolling Stones. This led to Herzog destroying all the footage of the rock legend and reshooting all the scenes he was in – which, surprisingly, is the least ridiculous fact about this movie.

Miraculously, through the hard work of the crew, tribesmen, and a single bulldozer, this lunatic actually managed to drag a 300 ton ship over a mountain, and successfully capture it on film. In the end it was a critical hit, and all the making-of insanity was later revealed in the documentary Burden of Dreams. Your move, Old Testament!