Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Making Movies Better: Breaking Scenery

I was watching The Matrix: Reloaded last night, and was reminded of another annoying action-movie trope that should be corrected.

Throughout the movie (and the rest of the trilogy) there are a lot of kung-fu fights, and lots of statues are broken, walls caved in, and benches splintered. The effect is supposed to sell how powerful these guys are and how dangerous the fight is. But because everything is shattering so easily with little to no effect on the body that's shattering it, the effect is, instead, of a guy flying through a weak prop. When Neo gets slammed into a wall for the billionth time, I'm not thinking, "Wow, what a strong hit!" Rather, the thought is, "Boy, what weak walls!"

The only time a fall ever looked like it really hurt was in the first one when Neo falls on the floor of the subway station (near the tracks). The floor doesn't give at all, so you know he fell on real concrete. So much more effective than if the floor had cracked or buckled! In the same scene he's slammed into one of the walls, and he slams Smith into the ceiling. Neither of those looked like they hurt, because the walls gave way like it was 1/4" dry-wall over soft isulation.

The solution is to sell these hits better. If someone hits a prop, it should give far less than it usually does in these movie. If he punches a wall, maybe MAYBE show a little crack; don't let his hand pass right through 6" of concrete. Showing the prop stop the hand will be a lot more effective in selling the reality of the prop. If a guy gets thrown into a statue, don't have the statue completely give way and break into a million pieces. Everyone will think it's made out of styrofoam. Have him bounce off, or knock it over. Same for a tree: he should bounce off, not snap the tree in half. And, if you have to have the prop shatter (bench break, wall crumble, log snap), show the effect of it on the actor! Don't have the actor just fly through the bench like it's dust! Maybe only a leg of the table breaks, and you show the actor bounce off the rest, hurting his back. Something like that will tell me, "Dang! That was a real hit! It must have hurt!" It broke the table leg, but you could see that it was "real" by the way the actor's body interacted physically with it.

This is a companion to this post, Making Movies Better: The Reeling Fall.

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