Friday, February 10, 2012

Film Friday: Unstoppable (2010)

Directed by Ridley Scott’s brother Tony, Unstoppable stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as two guys who need to stop a runaway train. This film is based on a real life incident where a train got away from an engineer who hopped out of his cab to manually flip a switch. In some ways, this film is completely brilliant and I absolutely recommend it. Indeed, it’s an enjoyable, exciting film which will keep you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately, it also pushes its brilliance too far and becomes a parody of itself.

** spoiler alert **

The Challenge: Before we discuss what Tony Scott did so brilliantly (and so unbrilliantly), let me point out that making this film exciting was a much harder challenge than people may realize. At first blush, a runaway train seems exciting. Trains are ultra-powerful and can do immense damage when they derail. Add in an explosive cargo and you’ve got the makings of a real disaster. BUT don’t forget, trains are highly predictable. Even a runaway train will move at a constant rate of speed down a set path, meaning you know exactly where it will be, you can clear out the area of impact, and you can even knock it off the rails at a point of your choosing. Thus, in practice, a runaway train isn’t as exciting as it seems in the abstract.

So how do you make a runaway train more exciting? Scott found three ways to inject a lot of tension into the film. Unfortunately, he also pushed each solution too far.

Solution 1: Frenetic Direction. Scott has an eye for color and scenery, and manages to get the most out of each shot by filling each scene with lots of action, e.g. people and cars running all over the place, and using quick edits and some shaky-cam moments to create a sense of frenetic motion which makes everything feel urgent.

Unfortunately, the shaky-cam annoys the heck out of people, me included. The problem with the shaky-cam is that it makes some people motion sick and will cause them to turn their eyes away from the screen and takes them out of the movie. And even if it doesn’t make you sick, it still wears you out because the shaky-cam is the visual equivalent of being blasted by high decibel music. This eventually makes you numb to the movie.

Further, there is a longer term problem with the shaky-cam: desensitization. As people get used to the shaky-cam, it will require ever increasing visual-stimulation to get the same level of excitement. Films that rely on this visual trickery to generate interest will soon seem boring and outdated. In effect, films shot like this are giving themselves a limited shelf-life, and I suspect this is one of those films.

Solution No. 2: Aggressive Acting. Scott also added large amounts of tension into each scene by apparently telling his actors to fight with each other constantly. These characters don’t talk to each other, they shout at each other. They challenge each other and violate each other’s orders. He even has characters throw phones at each other. This gives the film a sense of tension and makes it feel like high stakes are being played out in each moment, even though they are all just waiting for the derailment.

But there’s a problem with this. Telling the actors to be as angry with each other as possible creates believability issues, which some of these actors aren’t able to overcome. Denzel Washington can. He’s angry about the way the company treats him and he’s angry at Chris Pine being an indifferent idiot. But Washington is a great actor, probably one of the best of our time. He’s got amazing screen presence and has never turned in a bad performance, and he absolutely has what it takes to carry off this character as angry, but not so angry that we doubt that he would do what he is doing in this film.

Chris Pine, however, lacks the skill to play the role. He’s not capable of convincing us that deep down this angry jerk would care enough to go on a suicide mission. Rosario Dawson also isn’t believable as the dispatcher because she’s so angry at her boss that she would have been fired long before, especially as her boss (Kevin Dunn, who plays a generic corporate villain) is equally angry in return and would never allow a dispatcher to be that disrespectful to him. Their relationship feels Hollywood-fake. And ultimately, all of this anger becomes too much and this constant fighting for the sake of fighting starts to feel like a parody of itself. And that brings me to the real issue in this film.

Solution No. 3: Insane Writing. Dear God. As someone who loves good writing, this film appalls me. . . and I’m sort of laughing when I say that, but not really. The modern school of screenwriting says that each scene should involve conflict and should increase the stakes in some way. You should avoid scenes that don’t push the plot to a higher level of tension. Unstoppable takes that advice far too literally and becomes absurd.

To give you a sense of what I mean, here’s how this film comes across (assume each ellipse marks a new scene about a minute apart): we just learned there’s a runaway train! ...and it’s speeding up! ....and it’s heading for a populated area! ....and it’s packed with explosives! ....and uranium! ....and nerve gas! ....and it’s going to derail in the middle of town! ....and the phone lines are down so we can’t reach the town! ....and there’s a daycare center where it will derail! ....and every kid in town is at the daycare center today to receive an award from the mayor! ....and the Pope is a surprise guest! ....and the kids all brought puppies! of the puppies holds the key to fighting cancer! ....and your wife just called, she’s pregnant! ....she’s calling from the daycare center! ....and there’s another identical train coming from the other direction! Ahhhh!

See the point? The first couple add to the tension nicely. But at some point, the writer goes too far and this takes on the feel of parody. The problem I had with Unstoppable was that every minute, they added some new complication and after a while this became a distraction. Rather than making the plot more interesting, it began to feel like the writer was showing off. Indeed, I found myself wondering whether the title, Unstoppable, wasn’t meant as a reference to the writer’s view of their ability to keep ratcheting up the drama rather than the train.

The best way to describe what happened here is that Tony Scott was absolutely brilliant at finding ways to make a rather dull story -- two guys chase down a train to apply the brakes -- into something exciting. But he lacked the feel his brother has for taking his foot off the throttle to reset the audience. It’s hard to keep the audience red-lined for 98 minutes no matter how many things you throw at them, and maybe it’s not a good idea to try?


Anonymous said...

I liked the movie but it's really just perfectly forgettable fun. Easily digested and on to the next one.

I'm thankful Tony Scott managed to reign in his directorial style, albeit just slightly. Domino was the worst in that regard and Man on Fire, despite being kinda awesome, was also pretty bad, as was that completely unnecessary Pelham 1-2-3 remake.

I miss the Tony Scott who gave us Top Gun and Crimson Tide. Hell, the films mentioned above make Enemy of the State (a favorite of mine) look like 2001! I don't know why this happened but as you chart his career, there is definitely a change in the middle of the last decade.

Re: the aggression, I think this is yet another example of underestimating the audience. A runaway train isn't enough so we need every character to have their own dilemma, whether it's realistic or not? The Airport movies had conflict but nothing quite like this. And they never involved the CEO of the airline - it was always George Kennedy and one other guy. :-)

I think the writer(s) of this film thought it was necessary because there's no traditional villain. I guarantee that, had there been a saboteur aboard the train, everything else would've been ratcheted down a notch.

tryanmax said...

Sounds like this could have been the Airplane! of runaway train movies if they had played it for laughs. Now that I'd watch.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - thanks for a solid review. This looks like a good blu-ray purchase. As Scott points out, this looks like perfectly forgettable fun which is fine with me. Because I happen to own a theater, I have lots of movie parties for friends and neighbors, and good old fashion action movies that border on being parodies of themselves are just fine for that. Denzel and Chris Pine are both actors I like a lot. Hey, even if runaway train has been done a million times, it still can be solid fun and doesn't have to be more.

LawHawkRFD said...

I agree with ScottDS. I think my expectations were low and I figured the special effects and surround sound would make it an enjoyable one-time view. Everything you said about the film is true, but I still had fun with it. Most of it was preposterous, and there was some wild overacting (but with no panache).

Oddly, the movie might have been better without Denzel Washington. He truly is a great actor. My problem is that whenever he is featured in a movie, my first thought is "it's going to be another Denzel Washington saves the world movie." Even when he's played as a bad guy, he's still the focus of the movie, and emerges as the hero (or the anti-hero, or the admirable villain). A good example of that is Training Day, pitting the strength and charisma of Denzel Washington against the weak, oatmeal actor Ethan Hawke. Washington conveys more evil with a single look than Hawke can portray chewing up the scenery and sporting "tough-guy" tattoos.

Chris Pine has potential, but he had to try so hard to keep up with Washington that he seemed downright hysterical at times.

Joel Farnham said...

This is one of those movies that I didn't bother to interpret. I just liked it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Don't get me wrong, it's not a funny movie nor was it meant to be funny. It is a very enjoyable film. And I suspect the vast majority of people won't even notice what I noticed. The reason this became so obvious to me was that I'm a bit of fan of writing and it became very obvious what they were doing and it started to get laughable to me as they just kept piling on more and more nonsense.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Despite the criticism above, I wholeheartedly recommend this film. It was gripping, exciting and never ever dull. Denzel was great (as always). It was beautifully shot. And all around a very good time.

I don't know that I would want to watch it again, but I wouldn't rule that out.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, as an aside, they shot this film along the Ohio River right where I lived for several years and let me say for the record that they did a heck of a job of making a one of the most decrepit and decayed parts of the country actually look rather nice. That alone deserves some credit!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You make a really good point about Pine v. Denzel -- Denzel as always just dominated the screen. He was the guy you wanted to see at all times. Chris Pine just struggled for attention. He may or may not be a good actor, but he's so far out of Denzel's league charisma-wise that he might as well have been made of cardboard.

I'll tell you one interesting thing about Denzel this time, was that this was the first time I'd ever seen him play "bitter." Even when he's a bad guy he almost always plays with a great deal of joy. Not this time. This guy was bitter. But he pulled it off.

Individualist said...


I saw the film and I liked it. As to the angst escalations and anger management issues I can see you point in part.

In tony Scott's defence at least he did not cast Samuel Jackson and had snakes on the train......

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I didn't plan on it either, except that I read a site called "Scriptshadow" -- in the links. And this film does EVERYTHING they talk about all the time. Indeed, this is like a maximum effort of everything they say a script should do.

So in theory, this is the perfect script. But in practice, it turned out to be too much. It shows something they haven't really discussed over there -- the idea that scrips need pauses.

In fact, it explains very clearly why all the great works in history do seem to have these sudden pauses before the climaxes. In other words, these pauses don't just happen to be part of the plots, they're there specifically to manage the audience's excitement level so they don't burn out before the climax.

This strikes me as an interesting lesson in writing.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That would have made this a full-on parody and I don't think Scott was thinking parody at all -- though this would be an EASY film to parody.

By the way, see my response to Joel as for why I wrote the review. I see this film as a fascinating example of why writers included pauses in their scripts -- something I always wondered about as a kid, i.e. "why include this scene, it just slows things down?

tryanmax said...

Either way, the runaway-train movie parody is long overdue. Unless you count Snakes on a Train which was just...*sigh* No. Just-- No.

I'm think the title should be Derailed!. I also thought of Off the Tracks but that seems heavy-handed.

tryanmax said...

Indie, didn't see your post before I made mine. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I can see all of that being part of the thought process. I think even more, however, this is a classic example of modern scriptwriting thought.

If you spend time at Scriptshadow (which I know you do -- thanks for telling me about the site in fact), you will see in article after article and comment after comment, the idea that every single scene needs maximum stakes and maximum conflict. That's the new thinking. Non-conflict scenes are bad and must be avoided at all cost.

This film really reaches a zenith in that regard and shows what happens when you follow that rule to its logical conclusion -- every scene maximized.

And the result is that the film burns you out before the climax. Indeed, by the time the train is finally set to be saved or derail, I really didn't care anymore because I'd already wasted all my intensity earlier.

So I see this as a lesson in screenwriting. I see this as a lesson which says that you need those pauses, those scenes which seem like they suddenly make a movie drag, to let the audience catch a breath, recharge and regain their balance before you try to take them on another ride.

In terms of Scott, his career does seem to have changed, though I wonder if that's more a matter of him just following current styles?

FYI, I'm a huge of the 1970s disaster films. They weren't great, but they are compelling.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Rail Serpent! LOL!

I'll tell you, this movie would be SO easy to parody because it's already there.

1. You start with people fighting about everything, like fighting over photocopies and coffee before the whole thing even starts.

2. The guy gets out of his train because he sees a hot woman on the tracks... starting a subplot as he chases the woman all over town and eventually ends up in front of the train.

3. Every time you show the train, you need to make it seem random, like it's tipping off the rails or could head into town or something like -- anything to exaggerate the motion and make the train seem like it's not on tracks. I would even have the character talk a lot about how the train could be anywhere (as if they didn't know that the train can't leave the tracks). Even let the train stop at one point to catch its breath.

4. Keep upping the stakes in every scene as I've mentioned. Soon you've got a puppies and orphans conventions that you can't reach for some reason -- everyone turned off their cell phones.

Meanwhile the two guys on the Denzel train are doing something completely unrelated to the regular plot, like spitting philosophy at each other or something.

This could actually be a funny film. We should write a script to see if Hollywood would buy it?

ScyFyterry said...

This was fun but forgettable, like Scott said. I see your point and I think you're right. This movie fun, but it became too much.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, That's my point. This article really is about scripts more than anything. The film was fun, but I think they proved that "too much of a good thing is not a good thing."

tryanmax said...

Andrew, LOL! I'm laughing so hard at the notion that the dispatch can't find the train.

"There's no telling where that train could be by now. It could be anywhere."

"Actually, sir--" Points to a tracking map which clearly indicates the train's location.

"Anywhere! I just hope we can find it before it's too late... Where's my damned coffee!?" Wildly waves the cup of coffee in his hand, splashing scalding coffee in his assistant.


At some point, the snakes should abandon the train. Commentarama Productions, here we come!

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

It's the theory of "peaks and valleys" - every good script needs, in addition to scenes that advance the plot, scenes that also allow the audience to breathe.

Comedies are the same way, but that often leads to comedies with hilarious set pieces loosely connected by unfunny "filler." The Naked Gun does this very well - even the scenes that aren't big comedic or action set pieces are still funny. On the DVD commentary, even the producer says something like, "This is the scene where the audience can go out for more popcorn."

Anonymous said...

tryamnax -

In this parody, all of the covered bridges and tunnels in town should be painted the same color as the train so when we see a live satellite image of the town, all they see are train-like objects!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, LOL! Excellent dialog! "there's no telling where that train could be!" ROFLMAO!

I hate to say this, but I am seriously thinking we should put together a script. This would be pretty entertaining and I would bet you Hollywood would buy it.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, True. I also think that's where a lot of films fail -- in the valleys. I think the key is to use the valleys wisely and many of the best films do, for example to make you care about the characters and advance the relationships. But bad films just slow them down with unneeded subplots.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Nice touch! Plus, there should be dozens of other identical trains all over the place so they keep finding the wrong train. :P

AndrewPrice said...

Two thoughts:

1. You open by panning past a train with cargo marked: "gasoline, radioactive waste, nerve gas." As you do this, a voice over guy tells the audience how dangerous a derailment can be.

Then you move past this train to another that has cargo marked: "dirty diapers, dirty diapers, hot sauce."

That second one becomes our train.

2. Near the end of the film, they need to suddenly realize the train is heading right for the dispatcher's office. :)

tryanmax said...

This almost writes itself! Two more thoughts: The running gag should be that the dispatcher misplaces everything--he can't find the coffee in his hand, the glasses on his head, or his car in the parking lot (Hint: it's in the spot closest to the door, marked "Head Dispatcher")

The other thing is that, for the closing credits, we need to commission modern covers for the songs "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum and "Crazy Train" by Ozzy.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Excellent additions!

I can total see a shot where there is ominous music as the dispatcher reveals that he can't find his car, and then the camera pans to the spot where it's sitting in a clearly marked spot!

I wonder if this is how Airplane got started?

DUQ said...

How about calling your film "Run Away Train!"

See what I did there? ;D

tryanmax said...

I would lay dollars to donuts this is almost exactly how it did. Would it be to "in" to have Hercule Poirot appear in the background from time-to-time?

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Airplane! was mainly inspired by Zero Hour! and many scenes from the former were lifted directly from the latter. I think I've mentioned this before. It's a tricky line to walk. So much of Airplane! is played completely straight.

One of the tanker cars should be carrying lava for no reason at all!

There should be a scene where another train is running on a parallel track (briefly) and the newscasters treat it like it's a horse race.

Maybe there can be a "truther" type of character who thinks it's all an inside job. "It's the CIA, man!" Of course, he's proven wrong. :-)

There should also be an idiot "expert" interviewed by the media, like this guy.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I do see what you did there! LOL! How about Escaped Train?

Scott, That is a brilliant addition -- a truther! His ridiculous investigation could be what we keep cutting to to give the train stuff a brief rest! He would, for example, not be subject to the same timeline, so he could read through books, spend hours in the library and trying to gather information trying to figure out "what is the government hiding!" while the train is cruising along.

(That also lets us bring in all the conspiracy cliches... "he has a clearance above the President" etc.)

I like the parallel train bit too, especially if the tracks then diverge and there is never any danger whatsoever from the two running side-by-side!

Love the expert and the lava idea too. LOL!

tryanmax, I don't get the reference?

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Here's the title:

Go Away, Train! :-)

As for the truther, we need a scene where he meets with a man named X, just like the brilliant Donald Sutherland scene in JFK. We find out that the train conspiracy goes all the way back to the Kennedy assassination, moon landings, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.

We need to show a TV ad for the made-for-TV Lifetime movie (the joke being it was shot very fast!).

Vendors can be on the side of the tracks selling t-shirts, train models, etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, All excellent ideas. I particularly like the idea that this train incident goes back to the JFK administration and linking it to a fake moon landing!

How about: Run Away, Train!

Although, I do kind of like the simplicity of tryanmax's Derailed.

Maybe "Run away, train!" can be the tag line?

T-Rav said...

Good review, Andrew. I actually saw this one in theaters (which I don't generally do), and I liked it pretty well. Also, I noticed looking at the accompanying pics that this film had much more color in it than most do nowadays, which I'm sure is another plus for you. ;-)

That said, it is kind of weak. The dialogue and the characters get me more than anything. Outside of Washington and Pine, who I thought did a good job interacting with each other, everyone else seemed kind of bland and unnecessary. Also, the melodrama becomes noticeable at times, especially when they're interviewing local residents and so on. I get the feeling Scott told the extras there "Just act really, really scared." It's a good movie, but it can get you rolling your eyes a few times.

T-Rav said...

Incidentally, Denzel was on Leno last night and reminded me how much I like him as a person and an actor. He seems like a genuinely nice, straight-laced guy in real life. Also, I read that for this new spy movie of his he actually let himself be waterboarded before filming. His reaction (to paraphrase): "Hey, it works! What you tell them may not be the exact truth, but you will be telling them something!"

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Two thoughts about your last two ideas.

1. I love the idea of people selling memorabilia along the side of the track, especially as the dispatcher keep saying "no one knows where this train is". Also, I love the idea of seeing them get in their cars once the train passes and then showing up at a later crossing, meaning they keep getting ahead of the train.

2. The Lifetime ad is a great idea and it can use actual lines the characters have said and will say. For example, they can show the dispatcher saying "It's coming right for us!" in an identical way you will see later in the film.

I have to say, I'm really thinking we should do this!

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Melodrama is a good word for it. This film gets to the point that it stops being drama and does become melodrama because everything is SO overdone. It's fun, but weak -- as you note.

On the colors, yep, that me. I like strong colors. I hate the washed out, monochrome stuff. Having only one color is like having only one note in music... bland and annoying.

On Denzel, I like him a lot for the same reason -- he just seems like a great guy. If there was an actor in Hollywood I'd want to meet, he's the one.

I've seen the waterboarding thing and I like that he didn't make a liberal political statement about it (or a conservative one). I like that he just avoids political controversy. I know nothing about his politics and that's the way it should be. He really reminds me of how actors used to be in the Golden Era and I appreciate that very much.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I saw the Run Away, Train! title above but I like mine, too. :-)

There can be a subtle "runaway" theme throughout the film. I just came back from 7-11 where I got a Slurpee (which I need like a hole in the head). Anyway, the cup almost overflowed and I started thinking, that can be a recurring thing: a pen that rolls off a desk, a cup of coffee that overflows, etc. All runaway objects!

I also thought that it'd be funny if, as they're trying to figure out a solution to the problem, they come across an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine on TV where those characters are dealing with a similar problem... so our heroes do the same thing, all thanks to Thomas and his friends.

Yeah, that might be too out there.

As for Denzel, hey, who doesn't like him?! :-)

Though BH and other sites give actors they like too much credit sometimes. The waterboarding scene is apolitical but it isn't that way because Denzel is in it. (The inverse is true - the terrorist in Source Code may be a white American but I doubt Jake Gyllenhaal had anything to do with that.)

tryanmax said...

Well, that answers the Poirot question.

What if the conspiracy has something to do with running a train line to the moon? Maybe Newt Gingrich is in on it? You can just let the absurdity hang out there and treat as though it's completely plausible.

Dana Scully/Olivia Dunham type character: "They're running trains to the moon? How is that even possible?"

Fox Mulder/Peter Bishop type character: "Well, technically it's not. But we're dealing with a top-secret government plot hidden by cover-up, tucked inside a conspiracy, and wrapped in a flour tortilla then deep-fried, smothered with melted cheese, and served with a side of beans and rice."

"Is that the conspiracy, or was that your lunch?"

"Urp. Y'know, I'm not really sure. Have you got a Tums?"

T-Rav said...

Yay! tryanmax made a Fringe reference. I--wait, are you making fun of it?

AndrewPrice said...

How about "ancient aliens built the rail-lines?" for the conspiracy and the government is covering it up.

Then we could even have grain photos of alien workmen!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I like the idea of things constantly getting away from people throughout the day.

Especially early on, before the train escapes, you can have the dispatcher going to work talking about having a premonition as he walks past people whose dogs have gotten away from them, a pizza guy chasing his car, a pen rolling off a desk, etc. Then he can say something (condescending) like, "sometimes the universe is trying to tell you something, but only those who are willing to pay attention can see what it is. I'm one of those people..." but he of course misses ALL the signs.

That might be a funny way to end it, with someone watching a cartoon and they just happen to look up and right as the cartoon character solves the problem... then they look at each other and say. "That just might work.... and no one ever mentions where we got this idea."

Walter Bishop said...

Has anyone seen my pants?

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, RE: FRINGE--after imitation, parody is the sincerest form of flattery.

AndrewPrice said...

Walter, Uh... have you looked at

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I thought parody was the insincerest form of flattery? ;)

AndrewPrice said...

BY THE WAY, this just in: my Politics of Star Trek series is starting tomorrow at BH, so if you want to see how the crowd over there handles the articles, please feel free to drop by. Also, feel free to throw in your two cents again. :)

Ed said...

Nice review Andrew, very thoughtful!

On the film idea, I think you guys should do it. I think you've hit on something here that would make for a fun movie and I can absolutely see it being made.

Individualist said...

Tyranmax and Andrew

With the Orphans and Puppies you should have some person who used to be a safety instructor for the railroad. The individual keeps giving lectures on train safety and how you should not play on the tracks. From time to time they ignore this and every time they do the train comes swooping in out of no where to try to run them over.

In the end the instructor gets so hysterical about going on the tracks the they do so and wala gets run over by the train.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Just remember. This would have to be played completely straight for it to work. Yes, the characters will say and do funny things on occasion but they can't know any of it's funny.

The characters can't be stupid either. Airplane! had one stupid over-the-top character and that was Johnny ("There's a sale at Penney's!"). We're allowed one - everyone else has to be cool under pressure, like Charlton Heston or Lloyd Bridges. :-)

I also had a bizarre idea that, during the train's run, various other objects and vehicles latch onto it so by the time the train stops, it's gotten longer. Obviously, the tracks would be cleared but I'm reminded of an idea Chuck Jones (!) came up with for Spielberg's 1941, that of a runaway torpedo that wouldn't stop - it would pick up various objects and even people on its way. Unfortunately, the filmmakers couldn't find a way to make it work.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Absolutely, they'd have to play it straight! I think the key to parody is that the actors can't be in on the joke.

Indi, I think a better approach would be to have a government safety inspector who has come to lecture the kids on the dangers of automobiles and pimp high speed trains (cough cough Obama). And the whole time, this train is bearing down on them. The irony would be hilarious! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. I think we should as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm biased because I like trains and subways, etc. (though I like them better when they're not complete boondoggles!).

I think the government safety inspector (if there is one) should point out all of the various safety features and redundancies and that "the only way they can all fail is if X happens. But there's a million in one chance of X happening."

In the next scene, X happens. :-)

(And I don't think anyone should get killed. That might be too serious for something like this. Slapped around like the lady in Airplane!... sure!)

The inspector should come from a fictional agency with a funny acronym.

AndrewPrice said...

I agree, no one should die.

I like the idea of a silly department name, like "DOOM" or something. But he shouldn't say "I'm from Dblah Oblah Oblah Mblah DOOM." He should just have DOOM written on his badge or something. I think parodies make a mistake when they try to highlight everything. Leave something for the audience to figure out on their own and talk about later.

He could definitely do a "train failures are impossible" speech like you've suggested. In fact, we could go back to him periodically every time we want to explain what is about to happen... like a running gag.

Q. "Could a train runaway?"
A. "No, of course not, unless...."

Then it happens. And so on. He could be like the voice of doom. Every time you see the guy something gets worse.

Anonymous said...

Doom! Ha! I was trying to think of something more profane but I doubt you could get a PG-13 when a character has the F-word (or worse) emblazoned on his shirt. ;-)

Also: the Unstoppable page over at TV Tropes.

AndrewPrice said...

Department Of Occupational M....

Easy and describes his role perfectly as the voice of DOOM!

Sometimes they go way overboard on calling things tropes. I would say this film had a few, but 90% of what they list aren't really tropes per say.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I'm really starting to think this is something that could really work. Everybody's got such great ideas.

tryanmax said...

Now I'm thinking that at the point where the train is supposed to derail, rather than managing to stop it, it just passes through town without incident.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I'm actually thinking this is a great idea. I think we've come up with an interesting film.

On the derailing, I would say this.

1. They think it's going to tip over and hit the orphans/puppies.

2. The heroes get there to stop it in time, but at the last second, something goes wrong (right at the seeming climax).

3. So the train will now derail and there is nothing they can do to stop it.

4. The train doesn't derail.

5. The "expert" who said it would derail looks at the others and says, "I guess I forgot to carry the one?"

6. Then they realize the train is headed right for them at the station, and we head into the real climax.


tryanmax said...


Future Big Hollywood Posts said...

OMG!!! This guy doesn't know what he's talking about! Star Trek had an episode about the crew accepting hippies, so obviously they're a bunch of lefties!

AndrewPrice said...

Thank you, what can only be T-Rav. LOL!

I actually expect to get a lot of that. There was a guy at another site who went off on Star Trek arguing that it promoted some ancient Turkish mysticism. He seemed quite incensed and I didn't even bother trying to snap him back to reality.

My Ninth Gate review was worse. There people were arguing that I was an idiot because I'd missed the fact Polanski was arguing against some obscure point of 12th/13th Century Catholic doctrine blah blah take the square root of Satan blah blah carry the one blah blah... and it's all so obvious!!! How could I the fool miss that and not realize what Polanski was really doing? Uh huh.

The world is full of idiots.

Individualist said...


The Square root of 666 is an irrational number.

Perhaps this fact will give you some insight as to how the poster who is demeaning your insight is arriving at his conclusions.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I kid you not, it was a full on five page comment going into detail of how Polanski intentionally mixed various theories offered by different theologians from the Middle Ages to come up with a criticism of Christianity and (of course) America. It was utter nonsense on every level. But this guy was absolutely serious that I was idiot because I had missed this his whole thesis and that I had no rights to spew my stupidity. Yeah, ok.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent analysis Andrew!

I liked this film but the constant crescendo did take away from it while I was watching.

Not only that but I simply have no desire to watch it again anytime soon and not because I know the ending.

Films do need lulls in the action but they don't have to be boring.
In fact, the "quiet" moments can be quite entertaining (sometimes even more so than the action itself) if done right.

Those are great moments to develop characters and have good discussions.

Most of the discussions between Washington and Pike were unbelievable to me and certainly didn't develope their characters much.

That's a critical part that Enemy Of The State and The Rock (for instance) got right.
I enjoyed the quiet moments of those films a lot.

Unstoppable never got near that level of smart writing but it's well worth watching at least once, IMO.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding parody ideas, lol!

Is this a good time to submit my idea: Snakes On A Blog?

Perhaps on the caboose of the train there can be bumper stickers.

My Other Train Is The Chatanooga Choo Choo.


If You Can Read This You're On The Wrong Track

If You Can't Read This You're On The Right Track.

How Am I Driving? Call 1-800-Bad Train

Student Engineer Onboard (Just Kidding)

Also, we can have someone (maybe Stallone?) appear that tries to take over and solve all the crises.

Dispatcher: "Why should we listen to you? What experience do you have?"

Stallone: "I was a conductor for thirty years sweetheart. I've dealt with these situations before."

Dispatcher: "Oh, I'm sorry. Where at?"

Stallone: "The Phillydelphia Philharmonic."

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Very true, the lulls don't need to be boring. To borrow a Marine quote, you shouldn't retreat, you should just be exciting in a different direction. :)

I think you're right about Enemy of the State and The Rock, those were films that kept taking little breaks between the peaks and the breaks weren't long and dull, they are just little pauses to move the story along. They were interesting and often quite funny. And that made the exciting parts that much more exciting.

"Snakes on a Blog"! That's hilarious!

A bumpersticker! LOL! yeah, we'll have to think about a good bumpersticker.

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