Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Great Moments In Stuntman History

I was talking with a colleague of mine recently about all the Bible epics that get broadcast near Easter time.  We laughed a bit about their over-seriousness, but then I got to thinking about how much I love their pre-CGI grandiosity: the sets, the costumes, the "cast of thousands," the stuntmen being put in danger.  While it has become a cliche to rip on CGI and think sentimental thoughts about practical effects, there is a real insight there to be gleaned.  Watching older action movies part of the thrill one feels comes from the knowledge that actual people are putting themselves in real danger before our very eyes.  I still remember watching the second Matrix movie in the theater, and being impressed by what they could do with the computer effects, but mostly underwhelmed in the chase scenes, which lacked any sense of danger.  With that in mind, here's a list of some of my favorite stunt scenes.

Ben Hur Chariot Race

This is the king daddy of all stunt scenes.  I am still amazed that nobody died making this with all the horses flying around like crazy.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Truck Chase

This scene is all kinds of amazing, but nothing really tops the stuntman being dragged beneath the truck.

Smokey and the Bandit Bridge Jump

Back in the late 70s and early 80s our popular culture had an obsession with cars jumping stuff, which perfectly coincided with my childhood.  I reenacted this scene many times with my Matchbox cars and some plywood in the driveway.

The French Connection Car Chase

Only the chase scene in Bullitt rivals this one, but there is something about the elevated train supports whizzing by that gives it that extra feeling of danger.  I've heard that some of this footage was shot on streets that were not blocked off, and that some of the pedestrians were real people.  Both shocking and amazing.

Compilation of Hong Kong Action Stunts

Ok, this is cheating a bit, but this video is pretty freakin' amazing.  It doesn't take a lot of money to make an action movie worth watching, just people willing to do some insane stuff.  This video is so crazy I think I felt pain while watching it.  Most of the stunts come from Jackie Chan movies, which usually overcome their deficiencies with some inspiring feats of physical recklessness.


bmi said...

In high school Latin class my teacher pointed out what she said was the death of a stuntman in the Ben Hur chariot race scene. It looked like she was right, but Snopes says that the story is not true.

<^..^> said...

Jackie Chan pointed to Buster Keaton as an inspiration. Watch Buster's silent films. He was a fearless motherfucker. The house frame falling on him was a one-take deal. Two inches to the right or left would have killed him. The crew actually averted their eyes during the shot.

He broke almost every bone in his body in his pursuit of some of the most smooth and graceful comedy ever captured on film.