Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cinematic Rules for Helicopters

If an action movie features helicopters, at least one (and preferably all of them) should explode. This is one of the great pleasures of being a guy who loves movies: I can lay claim to a fondness for destruction – the louder and more chaotic, the better. And in expensive action flicks there's nothing better than a hellacious helicopter malfunction. There should be fire, twisted metal and a really big bang; in fact, several.

I did not drop coin on a powered subwoofer for my home theatre in order to luxuriate in the dainty percussion of Cirque du Soleil. I want to rattle windows, endanger eardrums, knock monkeys out of trees. Thor is a sissy; I am the god of thunder.

Great films with helicopter destruction, in no discernible order:

James Bond takes out a SPECTRE helicopter with spectacular results in From Russia with Love (1963). Sure, it’s a ripoff of the cropdusting sequence from North by Northwest (1959), but it’s a good ripoff. Goof Note: careful viewers of the original film and early home-video editions could see the revealing cable attached to an (offscreen) crane that lowers the exploding ‘copter more or less safely to the ground. But this was visible only on television and in the old VHS releases of the film. The safety cable used in the stunt has been digitally removed by some sly computer guy at MGM/UA for the subsequent DVD releases, of which there have been at least three (I have mixed feelings about digitally “fixing” such things decades after the fact; tends to spoil the charm). Note also the obvious stunt double for Sean Connery and the inferior rear-screen projection. No matter. It's still the best of the Bonds, 45 years on.

Apocalypse Now (1979). Fantastic helicopter explosion during the greatest sequence of choreographed mayhem in cinema history. Ultimate use of Wagner (and Robert Duvall), too. “Charlie Don’t Surf.”

Three Kings (1999) Desert Storm soldier Ice Cube throws a Hail Mary pass, lobbing a Nerf football rigged with C-4 into the windscreen of an Iraqi chopper. Mayhem ensues. This is also a terrific scene to test the sonic-boom capabilities of one’s subwoofer.

Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout (1992) pitches a fey assassin off the scaffolding at a football stadium and into the whirring blades of a helicopter rising from below; something you don't see every day. The helicopter does not explode. But the villain does: A satisfying demise for a particularly nasty bad guy. Crunch. Splat. Cool.

At the crazy climax of Darkman (1990), Liam Neeson goes for a wild ride dangling from a helicopter by a steel cable. Turning the tables on the bad guy, ol’ Liam lands on a tractor trailer and hooks the cable to the vehicle just as the driver enters a convenient tunnel, effectively dragging the chopper to an explosive finale.

Mission Impossible (1996) essentially copied this idea for the climax when Tom Cruise, riding atop the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, literally “high speed train”), tethers Jon Voight's helicopter to the train. The TGV barrels into the Chunnel, bound for Paris, dragging the helicopter inside for an improbable climax with a helicopter-cum-fireball, a flying Cruise and a squished Jon Voight. The plot is damn-near incomprehensible (featuring the work of at least four screenwriters, including Oscar-winner Robert Towne), and the climax defies half a dozen laws of physics. But that exploding 'copter cartwheeling through the Chunnel is super-cool.

Die Hard (1988) If this requires an explanation, then maybe you're reading the wrong blog. Yippie-ki-yay….

Live Free or Die Hard (2007) Yeah, it was PG-13, which is hardly in keeping with the spirit of a Die Hard film and, yes, it had some mighty silly set pieces. But that can’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of a ludicrous moment when our peeved hero John McClane (Willis, natch’) rigs an unmanned car to speed up the curved support beam of a tunnel, become airborne and collide mid-air with a helicopter loaded with bad guys toting automatic weapons. Ka-boom.

Such are guilty pleasures when the testosterone and beer are flowing freely.

Pass the popcorn.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Cinema Uprising values comments and feedback from readers. Although we cannot reply to every message, we do read comments and take your thoughts into consideration as we continuously produce fresh content.