The Fatal Flaw in Disaster Films - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Fatal Flaw in Disaster Films

I dunno why I'm thinking of this subject now. Must be the holidays, LOL. But more likely because I've just watched The Day After Tomorrow again or The Mist or some other similiar end-of-days film.

One of my biggest pet peeves in terms of filmmaking is the apparent rule that you can't show more than a few corpses throughout any one film. This is especially true of post-apocalyptic films. You'd think that filmmakers are former game designers, taught to have corpses magically disappear in order to save processing power.

Think of disaster films in general. Whether Irwin Allen's '70s epics or Roland Emmerich's modern doomsday chronicles, audiences are hard-pressed to note a body count on more than one or two hands. Ironically, post-apocalpytic films are the worst offenders in this regard. In true planet-killing scenarios, you'd expect to find streets littered with victims.

Instead, we're shown empty neighborhoods filled with the debris of people's former lives, such as abandoned vehicles by the score, but no indication otherwise that a sudden, cataclysmic event wiped out the population. Where did everyone go? In cities of millions, whether New York in 12 Monkeys or I Am Legend, or London in 28 Days Later, for example, people simply vanished into thin air.

In such films, one could argue that everyone became infected and are in hiding. However, when they do come out such as at night, their numbers are less than impressive. And still, even infecteds would die by scores due to illness, malnutrition, fighting, etc. Yet, the only corpses to be found are usually a couple in a bed, the faithful in a church, a fresh kill or a random body.

I understand the limitations placed on productions due to budgetary constraints. That could explain the dearth of such exhibitions in films made prior to the advent and widespread use of computer graphics technology. But dummies could be used over and over in different shots to suggest the breadth of disaster these movies only hint at. And even with CG, modern movies still resist more elaborate shots.

Part of the explanation could be an interest in not entirely alienating your audience. How would an audience react to a film that more realistically shows the true scope of such horrors instead of just suggesting it? Another potential reason is that depicting a scene devoid of humanity that otherwise would be teeming with it might better suggest a character's -- and audience's -- alienation than to do otherwise.

Still, for me it comes down to suspension of disbelief. In most disaster films, especially post-apocalyptic ones, the audience is required to suspend its disbelief to a large degree. Without the corpses you'd expect to find in such scenarios, that challenge is made much more difficult. It's similar to the notion that without a body there is no crime. In the case of these films, without bodies there is no disaster.

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