Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Making Movies Better: The Reeling Fall

Amy and I started watching Hellboy (the director's cut) today at lunch, since she's never seen it before and we are planning on seeing Hellboy 2 soon. As I watched Hellboy get knocked and go flying through a series of museum display cases, I was reminded of a pet-peeve of mine: the anti-gravity fall. It occurs when a character is punched, kicked, or blasted enough force to send them flying 20 feet or more, and that flight-path is an unnaturally slow and straight line.

The flight and fall look horribly fake because the character travels in a straight line for those 20 feet before suddenly dropping to the floor and sliding. Everyone knows how objects look when they are thrown: there is an arc as gravity overcomes the force of the push. If the director's intention is to communicate that the force was so great that the character actually flew 20 straight feet, than that force needs to be shown. The characters should fly with much greater speed and hit a wall really hard. If the intention is just "a pretty good kick," then show an arc to the landing.

From memory, I know I've seen it in Hellboy, X-Men, and The Matrix. The specific scene I'm thinking of in The Matrix is when Neo kicks Agent Smith down the hallway. He travels straight back at a constant height above the floor before finally dropping at the end. He waves his arms as he flies, and the camera follows him on his straight path. Rather than selling a supreme and forceful kick, it reminds you that a stunt team was dragging him in a harness and an effects team erased the wires. Why otherwise competent action directors keep making this mistake is beyond me.


Brian Miller said...

Man that irks me too. I watched the first hellboy a few days ago and I actually cringed at all those wire-stunts. They looked atrocious.

I'll be interested to see what you think of hellboy 2. I saw it on saturday.

Ryan said...

I've heard mixed things about Hellboy 2. The most frequent comment is that it is visually spectacular, but the story was a bit weak. What did you think?

Brian Miller said...

You know - my answer today is different from what it was yesterday.

Yesterday I would have said the story is ok - nothing stellar - but fairly 'typical'.

But after seeing the new batman - wow. Batman sets the benchmark for how things should be done - and by that standard, hellboy 2 can't hold a candle too it.

Visually Hellboy 2 was interesting. I've only seen clips of Pans Labyrinth but from what I remember seeing, it looks just like that.

I think my overall beef with the movie was the waves of thoughts that would hit me - thoughts like "wow I'm watching a movie about a demon right now." Or "he's talking to a demonic figure asking for help". Just made it hard to watch (which isn't a problem with the movie - but with the whole concept to begin with).

My love for Mignola stops with his art and pacing. His concepts are too dark for me.

Nobody said...

I've always hated the anti-grav fall too, though my suspension of disbelief rationalizes it as the kung-fu equivalent of a split-finger fastball.

The first time I saw X-Men in the theater I distinctly remember beginning to dismiss the movie or slotting it into the "amateurish" category during Logan's first confrontation with Sabertooth in the snow and later at the train station when Storm's lightning bolt sends Sabertooth into a horizontal anti-gravity fall (though the shot is from below him which hides the lack of arc a little).

Agent Smith's anti-grav fall--one of the most obvious and extreme instances--I always excused (1) because it was within the Matrix where the rules of physics can be bent if not broken, and furthermore (2) because Neo had become the One and could now manipulate the Matrix with ease anyway.

Ryan said...

Those are the exact falls I was thinking of in X-Men. The one where Wolverine gets hit isn't as bad because he flies upwards, but he still flys very slowly. The Sabretooth one is bad, though, and shot going overhead doesn't help it for me.

Your rationalization for the Matrix fall works from an apologist's point of view, but it doesn't make the scene any more enjoyable for me. Sometimes I can suspend disbelief and still enjoy scenes like that, but X-Men and The Matrix (and the Hellboy scene) still make me cringe.

Nobody said...

I just popped in X-Men to see how bad my memory is, and the one of Logan in the snow isn't as bad as I remembered because, like you said, he is flying upwards like a baseball two successive times. But I do remember noting it the first time I saw it, so it must have been because, as you say, it was so slow.