Tim Blagg

Blagg: Annoying dramatic effects

What bugs you?

Are there things that just grate on your nerves or offend your common sense?

I’ve got a bunch.

Let’s take some common movie and TV conventions that really tick me off.

First of all, there’s the “cigarette lighter on the fire sprinkler” bit. How many times over the years have you seen a character in a movie or TV show stand on a chair, flick a lighter, hold it to a sprinkler head and have every sprinkler in the building begin to spray water?

It’s a cliche.

And it’s wrong.

The fact is that melting the solder joint in a sprinkler head (which takes more than a lighter, by the way) will open that valve ... and that valve only.

Sure there are some commercial systems that use sensors that might flood a larger area, but they don’t use the ordinary sort of sprinkler heads.

So, instead of, say, flooding an entire room with holy water as in the movie “Constantine” Keanu Reeves himself would have gotten wet ... and the demons from Hell would have stayed dry.

Where did that get started? It’s been going on for years, and every time I see it, it’s like fingernails on a chalk board.


And then there’s the diving in to save somebody bit. That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

Any lifesaving guide will tell you that if somebody is in trouble in the water, you:

∎ Call for help.

∎ Find something to throw to them to help keep them afloat.

∎ Only as a last resort go in the water, and then only if you are a qualified, highly proficient swimmer yourself.

And you never, ever, dive! Diving into unknown waters is an excellent way to wind up paralyzed for life.

And what about all those exploding cars? I can’t count the times I’ve seen cars explode in a ball of flames after an accident ... but only in the movies and on TV.

As it happens, I’ve been to quite a few accidents, as a cop, as an EMT and as a reporter.

And I’ve seen cars catch fire, occasionally. But I’ve never seen one explode.

And since my EMT years sometimes included climbing into cars to aid injured people, believe me, I would have noticed!

Yes, cars do sometimes explode, usually when the gas tank is ruptured and there is a source of ignition — and when the fuel/air ratio is just right.

In almost every case, the gas just burns ... usually in a pool on the ground. Left alone long enough, the entire car will be involved.

But there’s almost always enough time to calmly move people away.

The problem with the special effects (they use gasoline-soaked sawdust, blown into the air with one charge, then ignited by another) is that people get spooked around accidents. Sure that there will be an explosion (there always is, right?) they either panic and run away or drag the injured away from the car, making their injuries worse.

Treatment like that can turn a broken neck into permanent paralysis.

And lastly, let’s talk about that favorite special effect, the flying corpse.

That happens when some character cuts loose with a heavy pistol or a shotgun and the recipient of this blast goes flying backward 15 feet to land in a heap.

Sorry, guys, can’t happen. The physics just aren’t right.

I’ve treated gunshot wounds, and they’re ugly, to be sure.

But bullets or pellets, no matter how big, simply don’t have the mass to launch a grown adult in a parabola several yards. Think about it. If they did, then why wouldn’t the shooter be turning backsprings from the recoil?

Action equals reaction, right?

Most of this stuff is just silly, but some Hollywood inventions have the power to injure people.

And that’s too bad.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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