July 29, 2012

Action Breakdown #1: Car Chases

Note: This will be a recurring series of blogs where I analyze and break down key elements to what makes a great action movie. It will range from the smallest details like camera angles to the biggies like heroes and villains. So let’s get started with one of my favorite parts of an action movie: the car chase.

Car chases are some of the pre-requisites for an action movie. You have shootouts, fight scenes, the climax with the villain, and the car chase. Car chases often provides that much needed adrenaline rush to get you excited as to what will happen next. It is akin to a rollercoaster ride. Just pure excitement at every turn and in turn can become a great action scene.

Vehicles: The cars have to be fast and sleek. You don’t see old pick-up trucks for nothing. Movies like The Transporter series and Ronin take advantage of the look of the car. You want to make it seem like your car can actually outrun or keep up against your rival. Add the fact that it looks great and you have a winning formula. Although sleekness isn’t everything. It can be a hand-crafted monstrosity like in Death Race (remake) or The Road Warrior and the same effect is given. Much like watching a monster truck show. You just don’t want to screw with a car that can kill you in multiple ways.

Obstacles: A great car chase scene has to have multiple obstacles to make it exhillirating. One great example of this topic is the ultimate car chase movie Speed. It is literally a movie dedicated to a bus that can’t stop and has to deal with pedestrians, other vehicles, and a fucking highway gap. Obstacles provide tension and a golden opportunity for more destruction and chaos. True Lies provides jets and missiles to its car chase scene. Bad Boys 2 literally throws cars towards our heroes amongst other vehicles. The Rock has Sean Connery dodging cars and ferries. Death Proof one ups the danger by having one of the characters strapped on the hood of her car while being rammed by Stuntman Mike leading to many close encounters.

Location: Location is another important tool to work with in regards to a great car chase. Whether it is a crowded highway, a construction site, a suburb, or even just an alleyway, different locations can provide numerous chances for great action. Whether it’s the streets of San Francisco or a bridge in Florida, a good location with numerous obstacles and vehicles can definitely improve on a car chase.

Realism: A car chase HAS to be realistic. Once CGI is introduced, you immediately know that it isn’t real and therefore not as invested as to what happens next. Bullitt is the best example of pure practical stunts. Every inch of this chase scene is crafted perfectly and without any CG enhancements. It is all real and it never loses the tension and excitement. That’s one of the reasons why I can’t be bothered to care for any car chase in Transformers. Is it filled with explosions and action? Yes. Is it real? No and the tension goes right out the window although building real giant robots would take a lot of money. If you are a fan of realism in your car chases, then you should definitely check out some 70’s action films like Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds, The French Connection, and Dirty Marry, Crazy Larry.

Music: Music can be a necessity in a car chase to provide some extra excitement to it. Once again, Speed does this to perfection as all the action is accompanied by Mark Mancina’s excellent score. However, a car chase with no music is just as effective and twice as real. Bullitt is once again a great example of a car chase that does not need a soundtrack to make it exciting.

I guess that wraps it up for this edition of The Action Breakdown. Come back tomorrow for some more dissecting of the genre. Don’t get caught speeding.

About the Author

My name is Omar and I love action movies. I grew up loving action films thanks in part to my father who would deliver a healthy dose of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Seagal in my movie diet. Ever since then, I continue to love the genre more and more and go along perfectly with my love for the horror genre. What other movie genre can specialize in giving you pure adrenaline and excitement in every turn?



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