When someone asks you if you want to ride a tank while Arnold Schwarzenegger drives it, you say yes.
I don't have many hard and fast rules in life, but that's one of them. It's not a rule that I've had to put to the test many times, but last week, the moment of truth finally arrived, and so I drove down to the Lionsgate offices in Santa Monica to meet a group of fellow journalists. We all boarded a bus and then headed up to the Melody Ranch Studio in Santa Clarita.
You've seen it in a million different movies, most recently in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," where it was used as the first town that Schultz and Django ride into, where Schultz asks for the sheriff to be brought to see them in the saloon. We ended up eating lunch in that saloon later in the day, and I intentionally sat at the same table where Django and Schultz sat while drinking their beers.
The way the day started, though, was with Arnold Schwarzenegger introducing us to his tank. He bought this particular tank in the early '90s for one of the Planet Hollywood locations, but they never ended up using it there. Instead, he kept it, and one of his main purposes for it over the years has been as part of an incentives program for a foundation he runs for inner-city kids. When the kids do well during the week, one of the rewards they can enjoy is a trip to the Melody Ranch so they can ride in the tank while Arnold drives.
He went on to tell us that he drove the exact same sort of tank, an M47, during his time in the Austrian army. He talked to us about how he and his crew took all the tools out of the toolboxes built into the outside of the tank so they could carry barbells and weights and dumbbells with them for impromptu workouts every evening. At night, he would dig a trench underneath the tank and sleep there so he could stay warm.
When Arnold offered to drive the tank over us while we laid on the ground, I saw the Lionsgate publicists get pale, but what we ended up doing was still heaps of fun. Arnold climbed into the driver's seat, his head poking up out of the tank, and one person got inside with him while the rest of us climbed up onto the outside to hang on. He warned us about one particular area on the tank that would heat up enough that they used it for cooking when he was in the Army, and avoiding that, we found our footing just in time for him to take off.
He managed to get the tank up to about 35 miles per hour in the straightaway, making surprisingly smooth and graceful turns around each corner, and he seemed to take particular pleasure in driving very close to the trees and trying to scrape us off with low-hanging branches. At one point, Devin Faraci had to warn me to get down because I almost got brained.
Arnold ended up taking several different groups so everyone had a chance, and the last group to go was Ralf Moller, best known for playing Conan on the TV show, who was there with his family. Afterwards, he posed for a photo with each of us, and then we were off to eat, and Arnold took off for the beginning of a long weekend of "The Last Stand" press.
I noticed a little bit of grumbling from journalists who weren't at the event, dragging out that old chestnut about how something like this would make it impossible to give the film a fair review. While I enjoyed meeting Arnold in this context, and it was fun to hang on the tank while it sped in circles, I would simply ask this: which is more likely to influence my review of "The Last Stand"? The fact that I had to get up early, drive though 90 minutes of LA traffic to take an hour-long bus ride in each direction so I could have a five-minute tank ride and pose for a photo, or the fact that the director of "The Last Stand" has placed two of his film on my year-end ten-best lists over the last decade?
Seems pretty obvious to me. And besides, I was only following the rules. Remember that for your own reference for the future. When someone asks you if you want to ride a tank while Arnold Schwarzenegger drives it, you say yes.
It's worth it.
"The Last Stand" opens in theaters everywhere January 18th.