Thursday 21 July 2011

Sudden Death

Ever wanted to see 'Die Hard in an ice rink'? Well, you need to watch Sudden Death (1995)/ 

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a security guard who works at an ice hockey stadium. During an important game, terrorists led by Powers Boothe take the US Vice President hostage and threaten to blow-up the stadium unless he’s given a billion dollars.

Unfortunately for the villains Van Damme’s security guard happens to be an expert in bomb disposal, a whizz at building improvised weapons, and - even more improbably - a semi-pro hockey player.

This allows 'Van Dammage' to disarm the bombs, kill the heavily armed terrorists with an increasingly inventive arsenal of makeshift weapons, and make a game-changing save in the Stanley Cup ice hockey final. Who on Earth writes this stuff?

Exploding helicopter action

In a bid to free the Vice President, the Secret Service orders in two helicopters to sneak some special forces inside the stadium. However, Boothe - the poor man's Tommy Lee Jones - has anticipated this move, and has a comrade equipped with a rocket launcher handily stashed on the top of nearby building.

The baddie fires on the chopper. Perhaps due to budget constraints, we don’t actually see the helicopter explode. We only see some flaming wreckage on the ground and the body of a special forces soldier who had been hanging on to a rope and dangling from the helicopter.

The climax of the film involves some excellent helicopter based action. With his scheme in tatters Powers Boothe attempts to make his getaway while disguised in a comedy wig and moustache. He hoofs it up to the roof where a helicopter is waiting to fly him away.

After brawling with Van Damme, Boothe boards the chopper which begins to fly away. But with uncanny precision, the Muscles from Brussels shoots the pilot through the bottom of the helicopter. The pilot slumps back which makes the nose of the helicopter point directly upwards. As the rotor blades are no longer able to generate any lift, the helicopter plunges downward into the ice rink.

We get to see lots of close ups of Powers Boothe – still in comedy wig and moustache desperately try to regain control of the chopper. To draw out the drama of the climax the chopper’s crash to the ground takes an impossibly long time, as we see the helicopter travel the same short distance from multiple angles.

The helicopter appears to glide past Van Damme at glacial pace, allowing JCVD and Boothe to exchange some heavy looks. The gravity of this moment being undermined by Boothe’s comedy wig and moustache.

Number of exploding helicopters

2. Probably. The shonky direction makes it hard to be definitive.

Exploding helicopter innovation

I’ve never seen a helicopter fall “arse first” – for lack of a better description – out of the sky before. The descent is handled a bit like the chopper was a falling elevator allowing those moody looks between Booth and Van Damme.

Artistic merit

The first helicopter explosion is a bit of a cheat as it’s not shown on screen fully. The climatic helicopter explosion is filmed gloriously as we get to enjoy multiple angles as it makes its gravity defying slow descent towards the ice rink and it’s inevitable immolation. The explosion is somewhat conventional. The fireball looks a bit watery. It lacks those deep, luxurious, oranges and reds that the best explosions have.

Do passengers survive?

My favourite outcome, everyone dies.


Whilst it might be bordering on daft, director Peter Hyams (Outland, Timecop) wrings every last drop of dramatic tension from the sequence. The repeated extended close-ups of Powers Boothe face as he plummets to his death are great. The pain of knowing his final moments on camera in this film are are going to be whilst wearing a ridiculous wig and moustache are writ large across his face.


There’s no getting away from the fact that the first helicopter explosion was a fluffed opportunity to show a big, bright, burning chopper fireball.

Review by: Jafo

You can also listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Sudden Death on iTunes, Stitcher, Podomatic and YourListen


  1. In this performance it seems JCVD is vying to beat Steven Seagal in Under Siege to the award for the most ridiculous skill set for a civilian.

  2. Just Finished watching Great way for a villian to die though really liked the ending