Behind the Camera

BEHIND THE CAMERA: ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ traded Bruce Willis for George Clooney (and his keg of Guinness), missed out on Bill Murray and made stars of the Bellagio fountains

Vegas personified? Ocean’s Eleven. Simple as that.

Vegas purists will, naturally, always prefer the 1960 Rat Packer original — with the numeral in the title instead of spelled out — which remains a milestone in our pop-culture canon, as much for the Pack’s legendary Strip night-crawling as for the flick itself.

‘Ocean’s Eleven’ airs on Freeform
Aug. 9 @ 3 p.m., PST
Yet this 2001, next-gen reboot with Steven Soderbergh directing an all-star cast — toplined by George Clooney and Brad Pitt filling the hipster shoes of Frank and Dino — was a cinematic Vegas love letter 41 years later.

Aiming his cameras all around town, Soderbergh employed locations including Bellagio, McCarran International Airport, Caesars Palace and MGM Grand, updating our big-screen look from Classic Vegas of the 20th century to Megaresort Vegas of the 21st century.

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Warner Bros.

During five weeks of filming at Bellagio, where most of the location work was done, the resort was exceptionally accommodating, allow the shutting down of the fountains, the closure of the conservatory and adding a fake wall in front of Le Cirque restaurant. Oh, and suspending valet parking for several days, forcing high rollers to use the parking garage. Gasp! Poor (rich) babies.

Ocean’s Eleven stars were put up individually at Bellagio’s 7,000-square-foot villas. … Yes, that’s seven and three zeroes. No word on whether they took chauffeured limos from the bedroom to the pool.

What about when they had to leave their villas and idle in their smaller on-set dressing rooms? Clooney consoled himself by having it stocked with a keg of Guinness. Also, no word on whether he had an industrial drum of it back at the villa.

Bellagio’s hospitality knew no bounds as the hotel also green-lit the film crew to access its security system to get authentic casino surveillance footage. Notice to gamblers: Peekaboo, the entire movie-going world sees you!

On your next Bellagio visit, don’t look for the cashier’s cage on the casino floor, the “Mirador Suite,” the “eye in the sky” surveillance room or the vault. They were built on sets. And that grand staircase Julia Roberts descends? Real — but since removed. Oh, and the supposed Vegas home of Elliott Gould’s character, Reuben Tishkoff? That’s in Palm Springs, Calif.   

When the Bellagio fountains won the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award for top U.S. landmark in 2013, the resort credited Ocean’s Eleven. The power of filming in Vegas, in a nutshell.  

Film writer Tony Reeves observed of this particular remake that Soderbergh “wisely obeys the golden rule of remakes — don’t pick a classic, pick a near miss.” You dissing Frank and the boys? Then he summoned the audacity to refer to the remake’s shot of the “wonderfully kitschy dancing waters.” Watch yer mouth (or your keyboard), Tony. Outta-town writers. Sheesh!

Bill Murray was originally tapped to play a Vegas lounge singer but the role was eliminated when Murray had scheduling conflicts while filming The Royal Tenenbaums. Shame. Just what a Vegas heist film needed was Saturday Night Live’s Nick the Lounge Singer performing — more like oozing — the theme to Star Wars

Cameo alert: That’s Siegfried & Roy sitting beside Wayne Newton during the boxing match scene. Does anyone else think that scene would have been even better if instead, Siegfried & Roy had boxed The Wayner?

What to do in Vegas when not filming a movie? Gambling at the tables. Ocean’s Eleven’s chief money-risker was Clooney — who lost 25 hands of blackjack in a row. We’re guessing his paycheck offset the losses. And then-some.

Karmic Synergy, Part One: Thanks to Ocean’s Eleven’s soundtrack, a remixed version of Elvis Presley’s 1968 tune, “A Little Less Conversation,” became a radio hit. Two years later, it surfaced again as the theme to the NBC series, Las Vegas, starring James Caan, whose son, Scott Caan, appears in Ocean’s Eleven.   

Karmic synergy, Part Deux: Sammy Davis Jr., who co-starred in the original Ocean’s 11, was portrayed in the HBO movie The Rat Pack by Ocean’s Eleven’s Don Cheadle.

Strangely, Cheadle doesn’t appear in the movie’s credits, due to his demand that he share above-the-title billing with Clooney, Pitt and Matt Damon. When he didn’t get it, he declined being credited at all. Cheadle lost that battle but won the war, scoring that billing in the sequels Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen.

Clooney wasn’t the original choice to play Danny Ocean. Bruce Willis was, but had scheduling conflicts. Ultimately, yippee ki-yay became yippee ki-nay.  

During Vegas filming, the cast, led by Clooney — a notorious prankster — left 5 a.m. wakeup calls for Julia Roberts, who wasn’t needed on set until noon.

One scene, in which Brad Pitt’s character is munching from a shrimp cocktail, required numerous takes. Total number of shrimp consumed by Pitt: 40. Total amount of Pepto-Bismol required later: Unknown.

Empire magazine ranked Ocean’s Eleven on its “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” list at No. … 500. We’re certain it would rank much higher on any list of Greatest Consumption of Shrimp by an Actor. 

Reaction? Overall, reviewers were rapturous, with only an occasional Grumpy Gus among the critics:

Entertainment Weekly: “It’s a scrumptious and dizzy-spirited lark, a what-the-hell-let’s-rob-the-casino flick made with so much wit and brains and dazzle and virtuosity that the sheer speed and cleverness of the caper hits you like a shot of pure oxygen.” (Wow—gush much?)

Rolling Stone: “The coolest damn thing around.”

Chicago Reader: “A pretty good caper comedy for 11-year-old boys.” (Wow — grump much?)

The New York Times: “A seismic jolt of enthusiasm … an elating blaze of flair and pride.”  (Did they crib off Entertainment Weekly’s notes at the press screening?)

Charlotte Observer: “Worked in a love story that’s as superfluous as elevator shoes on Shaquille O’Neal.” (So what? We’ll take Julia Roberts every time, in all Her Sexy Superfluousness.) 

Roger Ebert: “Serious pianists sometimes pound out a little honky-tonk. That’s like what Steven Soderbergh is doing in Ocean’s Eleven.

In that spirit: Play it again, Vegas.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire