Saturday 23 July 2011


Big Sly’s hi-rise caper was a classic of its kind and spawned many pale imitations (least notably Vertical Limit with bland auto-moppet Chris O’Donnell, whose career soon joined him over the edge of a cliff).
From the outset, the potential for helicopter mayhem is almost palpable. But for the first 90 minutes we have to make do with the CGI-seeming spectacle of Sly’s biceps, looking worth every dollar of those human growth hormone (HGH) injections.
And so to the final scene. Let’s not dwell on how Sly finds himself trading blows with John Lithgow atop an upside down helicopter hooked precariously on a steel ladder 500 feet up the side of a cliff-face. It’s enough that we’re there. The scriptwriters on this film didn’t waste any time on the plot, so I don’t see why we should.
Closely following the strictly laid out convention of Hollywood climactic fights, Sly goes unconvincingly from a dominant fighting position to hanging one-armed off the edge of the helicopter in five seconds flat, with Lithgow enthusiastically stamping on his fingers.
Again, I can only guess that Sly’s HGH injections have been working their magic because, rather than let go as every bone in his hand cracks, he instead executes a balletic swing, kick and vault manoeuvre that sees him back on the helicopter pummelling Lithgow’s face into a mess of ketchupy, 90s vintage ‘blood’.
Suddenly, the helicopter comes loose (I know, what were the odds?) and Sly somehow jumps – JUST IN TIME – onto the ladder as Lithgow, trapped in his metallic airborne coffin, falls to the ground for a mighty explosion. Ka-boom..
Exploding helicopter innovation
A helicopter shell? Upside down? Hanging off a cliff-face like a snuff version of a WWF ring? It would be churlish to say innovation isn’t at work here.
Do the passengers survive?
Sly does (Sly always does). Lithgow is toast.
There are several snatched close-ups of Lithgow’s screaming face as the helicopter descends. But he doesn’t actually seem the least bit scared if you look closely, and all the red stuff around his lips lends him the aspect of a panto dame.
Worth pressing pause to get a proper look at his ‘looking scared’ method.
The sequence of the fight is strictly by the book and the final shots of the explosion aren’t quite as lingering or p*rn*graphic as explosion aficionados might like.
Favourite quote
As Sly delivers the final punches and throws Lithgow into the helicopter, he shouts out, staccato-like: ‘Will-all-passengers-keep-their-arms-and-legs-inside-the-vehicle-at-all-times!’ It’s a performance that would make Schwarzenegger blush and turn away from the screen, saying: ‘Woww. That iss some baaad act-ing.’
Interesting fact
What you see is, in fact, a genuine metal object exploding. They constructed a huge, sixth scale model for the climactic scene. Extra brownie points for not being a lazy, CGI-based piece of crap.

Review by: Chopper

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Cliffhanger. Find it on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Acast and Stitcher.

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