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72 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just got back from Avatar on IMAX, and while the explosions and effects were beautiful, it reminded me what bothers me about most movie explosions.

When they say "hit 'em with high explosive rounds" I want to see shockwaves and high velocity shrapnel. Instead, we see a missile hit a gyrocopter or whatever, and it is engulfed in fireballs and boringly falls apart.

If something is hit with explosives, you don't need to coat them with napalm, it's more satisfying (to me) to see the flash and the pieces flying in all directions.

It seems they think it will look better if they just dump lots of flammables into the mix, even though they neglect the the importance of motion physics.

Why do you think they never seem to make the attempt at realism, even though the computer power is definitely here?

Senior Shackster
792 Posts
No. Movies aren't realistic, they are an optical illusion. Even in conventional
narratives gunshots, explosions and punches are exagerated. A real punch in the
face would be a dull thud but audiences wouldn't accept that. Part of 'film grammer'
is to exagerate certain things and they've become conventions over the decades.
A real gun shot is too tinny sounding if you recorded it live on set so they use artificial
ones to make them more effective. Explosions are usually filmed at a high speed (60 or 80
frames per second) so that when shown at 24 frames per second the slow motion makes
them seem more impressive. The level of exageration is where the artistry comes
in. In a Peckinpah movie the blood squibs and explosions are way over the top to
create a 'ballet of blood' as critics called it back in 1969. In a Sergio Leone Western
the sound effects are much louder than in a regular movie. In both cases that's part
of their style. 3-D movies use extreme depth in their compositions along with 'off
screen effects' to make it appear as if something is coming out of the screen. Widescreen
movies use the width for location atmosphere or huge crowd scenes.

The same applies to cinematography in general. In live action movies, the actual film stock
doesn't photograph what the eye sees. It has a exposes a different color spectrum which is
why you need to use a polarizing filter to see blue skies. Each lens has a different focal length
whereas our eyes see everything in focus from the foreground to the background.

So another way of looking at your topic is if the film-maker used artificial explosions effectively
within the context of the story or were they too artificial for the narrative and distracted from
the drama.

72 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Very interesting read. You remind me of my favorite gun battle on film... the firefight in Heat. The drawbacks of utilizing an actual recording are evident, but for someone who has experienced such things, it's much more immersing to hear the reverberation of an urban environment... even if it is "less cool" as far as audio quality is concerned.

I also understand the exaggeration concept, but I have to points to ponder.

Why can't we have a huge fireball AND a shockwave/high velocity shrapnel. If you have seen Avatar (my easiest guess is yes), then you might remember the one I'm referring to. When Trudy attacks the Colonel's gunship and then he finishes her with a missile, its a fiery explosion, but it doesn't "blast" the ship apart with any sort of violence.

Another point is that I think there are a enough of us who appreciate things like the Heat soundtrack, and are more impressed with something that feels gritty and realistic. It just seems you would find at least a few directors out there with the ambition to have effects like that.
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