Dear Hollywood,

Hi! Long-time fan, and frequent critic of everything you do. Sorry, it’s the internet. You know how that goes.

Anyway, I just watched Unknown, that Liam Neeson movie where he thinks his identity’s been stolen/erased, and I liked it for what it was. Sure, there were a couple of big-ass plot holes, but you don’t watch a movie like that and think, “Man, I hope this is strictly devoted to realism.”

And hey, you didn’t go with the “doppelganger from another universe” twist, so good for you!

But more and more, I see that you’re working overtime to cut costs on the big-budget action flicks you’re (somewhat paradoxically) happy to produce, and I think I’ve come up with a solution you’ll really like:

Cool it with the car-chase scenes. 

Now, I’m not saying don’t HAVE them. They’re fun enough to watch – WITHIN REASON. Just…easy does it, fella. Because there are two problems with car chases, the first leading into the second.

1. They’re Pointless.

Despite the frenetic pace, squealing tires, and insane stunt-driving moves pulled off by people we’re often supposed to accept as “normal folks” caught up in a crazy caper, there’s actually no real dramatic tension inherent in them.

See, they generally follow a particular moment in the script: Hero discovers [insert plot-shifting revelation here] and has to race off to a destination to [prevent/hasten] [insert narrative requirement here]; meanwhile, antagonist discovers hero has learned [plot point they wished keep hidden] and has to [kill/interrogate/interrogate-then-kill] him before he fulfills that narrative requirement.

But even the dimmest audience member knows that if the hero doesn’t get to his destination in order to fulfill the next plot requirement, the movie’s over. So unless the audience is TOTALLY PUMPED to just see some cars smash into innocent bystander cars*, there’s usually no in-story need for the sequence.

In the meantime, you’ve been spending millions of dollars cordoning off streets for filming, insuring your actors and stuntpeople, and destroying perfectly good cars.

Not to mention that, from a simple character standpoint, unless the hero has a previously-stated history of being the most road-reckless yet pedestrian-wary driver who ever spun a wheel**, a car-chase puts the hero in the position of endangering SO MANY PEOPLE, and…that’s not cool. That’s not cool at all.

Safe driving is cool. Buckle up, kids. For safety. It’s what Jason Bourne would do.***

Now then: Less importantly than the “let’s make sure our hero doesn’t come off as a maniac” point of view, but still important…

2. It will tighten up your run-time.

Scientists estimate that about 80% of movies could be 15 to 20 minutes shorter.**** I don’t know when two hours became the “proper” runtime for a film, but you should really be shooting for a 95-100-minute film. Do you know how many movies I have seen in a theater and wished were LONGER? One. One single film.

BATMAN BEGINS. That’s it. That’s the only situation where I ever sat through a theatrical release, and when the credits rolled, thought, “Damn, I would watch a whole ‘nother hour of that.” (Fortunately, patience is a virtue and I can now watch a Batman Begins/Dark Knight marathon whenever I please.)*****

So there you go, Hollywood. In one post, I have saved you $50 bajillion (in insurance fees for Liam Neeson alone!). No need to pay me. Just let me take a pass at that Flash script (which, in my draft, would actually be about 50% chase scenes, though ironically, very few cars involved) and we all walk away friends.

*And yes, I can see how the popularity of the Transformers franchise might make you think otherwise, but that’s a special case because the chase-cars are also the main characters.

**The exception here being Jason Statham’s Transporter series, but those movies actually DO paint his character as the most anal-retentive stunt-driver in the world, so please make a note.

***The Bourne Supremacy has one of the few examples I can remember for narratively-useful car-chase scenes. That’s because 1) it’s actually the first action sequence and so doesn’t feel like it’s padding things out, and 2) it ends with a significant shift in the narrative. I’m really trying to think of other meaningful chase-scenes, but this is the only one that’s ringing any bells. Please offer more examples, Dear Readers.

****Actual scientists who are in my mind.

*****So really, I guess any movies where the chase sequence involves a Batmobile requires their own set of rules.

******No, you didn’t miss any stars, I just thought of something else and couldn’t make it fit: the new James Bond movies. In Casino Royale, the car-chase scene actually DOES matter: Bond flips the car rather than run over Vesper, which results in his capture. So we can create a good rule: Car chases are fine as long as they directly impact the narrative.

On the other side of the equation is the opening to Quantum of Solace, where there’s a car-chase scene before the opening credits actually roll. This is also acceptable, because it follows the Bond tradition of an action-sequence before the credits – this just happens to be a very loud and expensive example of that tradition.

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Comments
  1. Daniel says:

    Two words: Raiders.

  2. a second raptor in the bushes says:

    I resent your attempts to erase the Dukes of Hazard from history.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    Hm. Fair enough.

    I should probably specify that I’m really talking about car chases as they’ve evolved over the last decade or so, where they feel more like ads for Chevy or Audi (and yes, I know, they are) than anything that needs to be in the movie.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    @a second raptor …Holy crap, you just gave me some nutso ideas for DoH fan-fic.

  5. Aaron says:

    The Road Warrior movies, of course, since the whole point of the movies is car chase scenes. They solved most of your problems by being out in the desert using cobbled-together cars.

  6. Aaron says:

    I really like the actual scientists in your mind. I might have to get me some of them as well. After all, scientists tell us that 83.7% of people respond better to what you say if it includes scientifically derived statistics.

  7. braak says:

    Good good! Fewer car chases, MORE SEX SCENES!

  8. Carl says:

    The only worthwhile thing that MATRIX: RELOADED contributed to its form was a highway chase scene to end all highway chase scenes. For one hot second of that overblown yawnfest I was completely riveted, and I remember thinking “well, that’ll do it. Never need to see another car chase again.” Because as you point out, Jeff, they’re really about spectacle (which is about all the second and third MATRIX movies had to offer). Further analysis into why the sequence is so ridiculously bad-ass is probably in order here, but suffice it to say that for my money, that was really the capstone to this particular movie device. (I liked the DARK KNIGHT chase scene and all, but I actually thought it undermined the narrative in a film that was otherwise very strong on story. There’s simply no good reason for the entire police force of the biggest city in the world to be outgunned and out-driven on their own freeway turf– it makes no sense. It’s the one circumstance in which the Joker’s creative use of comparably limited means shouldn’t afford him the tactical advantage against ‘the schemers’.)

  9. Gabe Valdez says:

    Agree with you on general principle, but…

    You’ve only watched one movie you wanted to be longer? Jeez. I watch one a month I wish was longer. “Captain America” could’ve used a middle-action scene rather than the knocking-Nazis-out-of-trees montage. That’s a movie that would’ve benefited from another 10 or 15 minutes. I get a bit tired of cutting to the quick all the time and not inhabiting the spaces of a movie, of not investigating the environs. That said, car chases are not the way to inhabit a world.

    I’m a huge fan of foot chases, though. The last fifteen minutes of “Green Zone” is essentially a 3-way, plot-heavy foot chase. “The Kingdom,” “Casino Royale” and “Bourne Ultimatum” also had brilliant foot chases. The best chases are the ones that become architectural or geographical, that give you a sense of and understanding about a place. That’s why “Ultimatum” worked so successfully – that foot chase was all about architecture. The “Casino Royale” parkour chase was an introduction to how a character looked at the world around him. You rarely learn about a character inside a car chase, and you certainly can’t get a sense of geography by it.

    Speaking of Liam Neeson, the end of “Taken” featured a nice chase on foot of a car and then a boat that was much better than its mid-movie car chase.

  10. Daniel says:

    Agree with Gabe about Captain America. Ironically, most other films would be improved by a knocking-Nazis-out-of-trees montage. It’s the one thing missing from Never Let Me Go.

  11. John Jackson says:

    1) Car chase scenes in Children of Men are both great and useful.
    2) Captain America did need more than just one scene and a montage with his special task force. Though they played the montage well by NewsReeling it.
    3) The QoS car chase scene was also deadly. Either one of the stunt drivers or someone who was driving the car to the location drove off a cliff. (Transformers 3: The Legend of Curly’s Gold also had a near fatal stunt sequence.)
    4) Unknown isn’t a Hollywood film. *edit* Hmm… I thought it was Europa. Turns out it’s Dark Castle, which is Joel Silver and Zemeckis–and supposedly for horror films. It was heavily European with Studio Canal. Also, it doesn’t look like the creative teams were Hollywood based either. But Warner only distributed it, they probably didn’t even have a say in final cut.

    -aspiringexpatriate

  12. braak says:

    I loved the Children of Men car chase scenes, because they revealed a hero that was tough and dangerous by virtue of his cleverness and willingness to just mess a guy up.

    I also agree that Captain America should have been longer, especially in the Nazi-trouncing scenes. Of course, any movie can be improved by a Nazi-fighting montage, but since Captain America was already ABOUT Nazi-fighting, they really needed to up the stakes.

    It’s actually a bit like, having figured out in great and loving detail the beginning half and the last quarter of the movie, they kind of never actually got around to figuring out, “Hey…just what IS the Red Skull’s plan, here?”

  13. John Jackson says:

    I thought his plan was to blow up the world with city vaporizing God Bombs. Piloted by humans…

  14. braak says:

    Okay, so what did he need all of those facilities all around Europe for? What I mean is, what was his plan such that a series of hit-and-run harassment tactics by Captain America was a useful strategy?

  15. Carl says:

    Absolutely agreed on the effectiveness of CHILDREN OF MEN, in those scenes and throughout, though in the strictest sense, and in two different regards, those weren’t ‘car-chase scenes’ (unless I am forgetting something).

    First, there wasn’t a set of cars involved (there was but one car being pursued by antagonists on foot: terrorists at the safehouse, and then the ambush mob of, uh, Reevers essentially?). As such, these were really foot-chase scene in which one party has an advantage of speed. In that way, they’re no different from, say, the foot-chase scene in MEN IN BLACK where Will Smith tries to take down that alien parkour-style. Secondly, in advancing the story rather than delaying it, they are explicitly NOT car-chase scenes as traditionally employed. I’m thinking now that the explicit function of the car-chase scene is to delay the unfolding of plot by use of a vehicular relationship to create a temporary, artificial, power-equilibrium between characters that would otherwise not exist. So long as both the pursuer and the pursuee are both in cars, the police have nothing over Bourne, the Twins have nothing over Morpheus, etc., We can watch stuff blow up for a while while we await the end of the chase and the re-establishment of the genuine power dynamic between the protagonist and the antagonist.

  16. John Jackson says:

    The minivan vs dirtbike was an automobile chase sequence. But it didn’t feel much like one because we didn’t see it from the outside. But the other, yes, it was a foot chase sequence that involved a car.

    And good point about Hydra. I mean, maybe if they had found an unfinished bomb in one of the other facilities, that could’ve helped it. But I guess not that much. And if they can take out facilities at will, why was there a need to board the high speed train? Bah! Stupid thinking.

  17. RichterCa says:

    This is a late comment, but I think there’s a factor that no one has brought up, namely a car chase where the hero is the chaser not the chasee. Although, to be fair, I can’t think of a movie off the top of my head where the hero is chasing someone else in cars. “Bullitt” maybe? I was going to say “French Connection”, but the bad guy was on the El, wasn’t he?

    But in theory, if the hero cop is chasing the criminal in a car chase, you have two factors that negate your major problems. 1) We don’t know the outcome. Maybe the hero will catch the guy, maybe not. The plot is impacted either way. 2) The criminal can be as reckless as he wants, and the hero has to follow him while still doing less harm to people/environment.

    Also, I’m just going to say two words: “Blues Brothers”

  18. braak says:

    That is a pretty good point, Richter. I’m trying to think of a car chase like that now, too.

    The chase in The Dark Knight kind of was, maybe? There’s a chase in Ronin like that, too, I think.

  19. Jeff Holland says:

    Excellent points. GrumblerumbleGrumble now I’m gonna have to come up with a whole set of rules for “hero is the chaser.”

    OK! I have one rule: It has to clock in under two minutes. That’s just being kind to the audience. If the movie doesn’t have the words “fast,” “furious,” and/or “transporter” in the title, they probably didn’t pay eleven bucks just to watch cars drive around.

    They can watch “Top Gear” any day of the week for that!

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