Friday, November 4, 2005

Special Effect-ations

Boy, that was close! -- One of a bazillion movie sidekicks right after the explosion

We were talking about some about-to-be-released big budget special effects flick, when I allowed as how I had reached my saturation level with special effects. After all, just how many massive firery explosions sending people flying through the air, projectiles whizzing visibly past someone's ear, land or sea vehicles flying through the air, vehicles that are supposed to fly skidding along the ground and bouncing off buildings, and so on. I'm sorry, but after a while, it gets redundant watching people get up from some massively destructive event, brush themselves off, and carry on as if nothing had happened. Besides, how much disbelief are we supposed to suspend? The problem is that the effects are so good that it's hard to get into a true movie fantasy frame of mind.

The old B-pictures didn't have this problem. The effects were so wonderfully hokey, the science was so ludicrous that you could overlook anything because you had to overlook everything if you were going to watch the movie without laughing yourself silly. Even so, there's always an edge to go over. Let me tell you about the most unlikely survival scene of them all. (1)

The movie, made in 1965, was Crack in the World. The plot involved a brave old scientist, dying of some mysterious disease that required that he wear white gloves and dark glasses increasingly throughout the picture. He has an incredible plan to release thermal energy into the world by shooting a rocket tipped with a nuclear device downward into a bore hole. He has a loving wife who happens to be well-built and 30 years younger than he. He has a ruggedly good-looking colleague, who also happens to be 30 years younger than he. Okay, thirty seconds into the show, we all know where that part of the plot is going.

At any rate, Rugged thinks that Old Scientist has overlooked some details in his plan. In fact, Rugged is reasonably certain that Bad Things(TM) are going to happen, so he's running around doing his Chicken Little imitation before the Board of Scientists back home trying to get them to stop the rocket.

No, I don't know who or what the Board of Scientists was, but there was a bunch of guys like this in every sci-fi B-picture ever made. The all had one thing in common: They always made the wrong decision.

Well, the rocket fires, and sure enough the baddest of Bad Things(TM) happens when a crack begins to spread that's going to go around the planet and end the world “as we know it.” Seems like it would end it as even the cockroaches know it, but I'm being picky.

To make a long story short (too late), Rugged hatches a plan to trigger another nuke to stop the crack. This turns into a good-news-bad-news situation. The good news is that the crack is no longer headed around the planet. The bad news it that it's turned around so it'll make a circle back to where it started. Old Scientist nobly decides to stay at his station while sending off Loving Wife with Rugged, because, well, he was gonna croak anyway, so why shouldn't she have some fun before the world ends?

So Rugged and Loving start up the elevator (magnitude 8 earthquakes are rumbling continuously; would you jump in an elevator?) which, of course, jams, requiring them to climb up the girders to get out of the complex. During this process, Loving's clothing is strategically torn, staying within proper B-picture limits for titillation without risking any censorship problems. After suitable struggle and strife, they make it out and climb through a fence just as the crack comes around to ground zero. There is now an explosion that actually sends a chunk of the planet into space as we watch. These people are, say, 20 feet from the explosion, and they are completely unhurt!

So there they are, looking like Flash Gordon and Dale after a bad day on Mongo, staring up at an asteroid-sized piece of earth wobbling its way into space. As if that isn't bad enough, a chipmunk crawls out from under the dirt to show that life goes on somehow. Forget about the planet-wide tsunamis, the nuclear winter that will be caused by all the soot and general muck being thrown into the atmosphere, forget about all that. Just hold the thought of two people surviving an explosion bigger than Tunguska in your mind for a moment.

Maybe the new crop of flicks aren't so bad after all. At least, nowadays people fly through the air and bounce a couple of times when the explosions go off.

(1) Okay, the most over-the-top is the guy who became the Amazing Colossal Man surviving a nuclear blast. But, there's B-pictures, and then there's just bad flicks.

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