Friday, September 28, 2012

Transcendence in Visual Effects: The Flying Bus in Speed (1994)

All too often visual effects is called upon to create the illusion of something "real" in a literal sense of that overused word. So, for example, when visual effects creates a giant robot beating the shit out of another robot, the intent of that sequence is nothing more than to show the protagonist literally hitting the bad robot with a giant metal stick, or whatever that particular action-filled moment may call for. But there are other uses of visual effects that are possible even though they are rarely used and it is our intent to showcase some of them here on this blog.

Unfortunately, these unusual and non-conformist uses of visual effects can also be misunderstood by an audience who has been fed a steady diet of literalism as we will also show.

The particular sequence we discuss in this post is the flight of the bus at a key moment in Jan DeBont's underrecognized masterpiece, Speed (1994). In this highly intellectual film, good and evil struggle for the lives of the passengers of a Los Angeles public transit vehicle, the lowly bus. These lives are held at risk and if the bus is slowed to below a certain speed, the bus will explode. At one point in this drama it appears as though there is no hope as the bus is travelling at high speed towards an uncompleted freeway, can not turn around, can not stop and hurtles towards the precipice and certain death. But our protagonist encourages the passenger / driver / love interest to accelerate as fast as she can and the bus hits the ramp at the end of the freeway and in a moment of triumph leaps over the precipice onto the continuation of the freeway beyond.

Fly, Bus! Fly!

Movie audiences were thrilled by this unexpected escape from certain death, but of course there are always those who are critical and, predictably, some small-minded critics laughed at this apparent physical impossibility. The internet forums are filled with endless discussions of mass, angles, inertia, stunt drivers, and other irrelevant matters. What completely went over their head is that the bus flying is an example of "self-transcendence" as the bus, who is of course a character in this film, strives to transcend, to leave behind, its worldly, wheels-on-the-ground existence and, wishing to fly, by using all its energy and will does so and, in doing so, defeats evil.

I suspect that it was Jan deBont's intent for all of us to be inspired by the bus's achievement and for us to also strive to transcend our daily existence and limitations just as our noble bus has.

Speed at Imdb

[NOTE: I think the shot above was done by VIFX but I am still confirming this.]

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