Tuesday 30 August 2011

Lawnmower Man 2

“I’m still a little unclear as to how all this fits together,” asks one of the characters in this utterly baffling sequel. The confused viewer will no doubt sympathise. 

Subtitled ‘Beyond Cyberspace’, it would be more accurate to have called it ‘Beyond All Sense’. 

Never let it be said, that Exploding Helicopter doesn’t like a challenge. From the fragments we are intermittently offered by writer/director Farhad Mann we were able to discern the following about Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996).

Jobe (Matt Frewer), the gardener turned mad genius who was killed off in the first film, has been revived (explanation impossible). The megalomaniac loon is now trying to create a chip that will allow him to control the world’s computers.

Meanwhile some street kid computer hackers stumble on what Jobe is up to. They seek out Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin), a retired virtual reality whiz, who is the only man who can stop the dastardly scheme.

Realising who is working against him, Jobe makes numerous attempts to kill Bergin (who spends the whole film dressed like he’s in an extra in Dances With Wolves) and his team of unlovable street urchins.

One of these efforts involves attacking Bergin’s mountain hideaway. Using the ‘power of the internet’, Jobe takes control of a helicopter that happens to be flying nearby.

He steers the aircraft on a crash course towards Bergin’s wooden cabin, but the tell-tell ‘thwacka thwacka’ of the rotor blades alerts the occupants. The helicopter crashes into shack as Bergin and the pesky scamps flee to safety. 

But wait! The danger isn’t over. The chopper’s momentum takes it skidding through the hut which becomes stuck to the fuselage. Now resembling a burning sleigh, the wrecked copter slides towards the heroes who dive into a ditch to avoid being mown down. 

Artistic merit

Surprisingly good. Despite the film’s low budget the films special effects in this sequence are actually a pretty good combination of model work and CGI. 

You might justifiably have higher expectations given that the Lawnmower Man was widely praised on its release for its special effects. But given that Lawnmower Man 2 is a cheap cash-in, with a budget notable by its absence, it should be judged on its merits.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s a nice idea to turn the burning chopper wreckage into a skidding sleigh that pursues the heroes. 

Relevance to plot

Shaky. Let’s just say it’s mightily convenient that the helicopter was nearby and could be turned into a remote controlled kamikaze chopper.

Interesting fact

Intriguingly for a film about computer generated realities Jobe is played by Matt Frewer who was the face behind 80s video jock Max Headroom. Director Farhad Mann directed an episode of the series which presumably led to his casting here.

In the first film Jobe was played by Jeff Fahey. He like Pierce Brosnan wisely decided not to return for this piece of celluloid drivel. Austin O'Brien is the only person to feature in both films.

Thursday 25 August 2011

The Thing

Too many films are given the epithet of ‘classic’ epithet, but John Carpenter’s The Thing is one film that justifies the hype. 

With its characters marooned in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, the horror supremo superbly conveys the paranoia and fear that infects the group as they try to tackle the monster hiding in their midst. 
The tension is complemented by an understated Morricone score, great ensemble acting and the mind-blowing special effects courtesy of Rob Bottin. 

Still, the effects wizardry we’re most interested in is the exploding helicopter. This occurs near the start of the film. We see a sniper perched in a Norwegian helicopter try and fail to shoot a dog they’re chasing across the frozen snowy wastes. 

They land at the American’s base to finish off the job. The sniper attempts to throw a Thermite grenade at the dog but comically loses his grip and lets it slip out of his hand. We see him desperately scrabble about in the snow to retrieve it while the pilot legs it. The grenade goes off followed a split second later by the helicopter.

Artistic merit

Whilst the film is a tour-de-force from its stark beginnings to its nihilistic denouement, the helicopter explosion is decidedly lacklustre. The special effects fireball is about as impressive as a lit fart.

Exploding helicopter innovation

A stationary helicopter is blown up in the snow. Poorly. The end.

Do passengers survive?

The idiot who cack-handily drops the Thermite deservedly ends up in a million fiery pieces. The pilot who is outside of blast range lives a few minutes more until he is shot through the eye by Garry (Donald Moffat) who thinks the shooting and grenade throwing is an understandable danger to the camp. 

If only someone spoke Norwegian, and they would have heard the sniper shout: "Get the hell away! It's not a dog! It's a thing! It's imitating a dog! It's not real! Get away you idiots."


The scene is great even though the explosion is not. The helicopter chase across the frozen wastelands sets us for the isolated paranoia that is to follow.


As Kurt Russell’s character picks through the mangled remains of the chopper he spots at least 15 tanks of kerosene in the wreckage that could have made this a monster fireball yet the explosion we see is pathetic. John Carpenter may be a legend, but he fumbles the ball on this one.

Favourite quote

After the disembodied head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) drops off the table, sprouts legs and attempts to crawl it’s was out of the room Palmer (Dave Clennon) utters the immortal line

“You’ve got to be f*****g kidding!”

Interesting fact

At the end of the film Macready (Kurt Russell) sits in the blazing remains of the burnt out camp with Childs (Keith Davids) both of whom unsure if the other is a shape-shifter and know that when the fires go out they will probably freeze to death.

Due to its macabre ending film editor Todd C. Ramsay suggested filming a happy conclusion for test audiences that sees Macready rescued and given a blood test proving he was human. The scene was shot but Carpenter didn’t like it and it has never seen the light of day.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine in this X-Men franchise prequel. Looking uncannily like Amos from Emmerdale Jackman goes in search of revenge for the death of his girlfriend.

In order to exact said vengeance, Wolverine signs up for the Weapons X programme and allows himself to be transformed into a hairy metal alloy. Jackman expresses his character's pain, confusion and inner turmoil by keeping his brow furrowed throughout the entire film.

When Wolfy learns that he's about to be double-crossed he escapes from the clutches of the Weapon X's evil mastermind Stryker (Danny Huston).

A naked Wolverine takes refuge on the farm of an elderly couple. Fortunately the implausibly generous old folks are used to finding unclothed men hiding in their barn and quickly invite the hairy human hybrid in for dinner.  

Meanwhile Stryker despatches Agent Zero (David Henney) to hunt down and kill Wolverine with a couple of hummers and a helicopter. Having established themselves as kindly pensioners the couple are swiftly despatched by Agent Zero, providing Wolverine with the excuse he needs to exact some merciless revenge.

Making good his escape on a motorbike, Wolverine makes short work of the first hummer and swings onto the top of the second. With Wolverine in his sights the chopper pilot decides to take out both Jackman and his poor colleagues in the hummer and comes in low to fire a rocket the vehicle.

With milliseconds to spare Wolverine jumps from the top of the hummer straight at the chopper as it makes its low pass. With his claws he cuts off a rotor blade and the stabilising wing of the helicopter causing it to plummet towards the ground. With another precipitously timed leap Wolverine is able to avoid the crash and explosion as the chopper smacks into the ground rolling over several times.

Miraculously Agent Zero has not been killed by the crash or explosion. Wolverine wanders over to the helicopter wreckage and uses his radio to banter with Stryker, before strolling off. Unfortunately Agent Zero can't help but bait Wolverine after being lectured about his evil ways.

Without looking back Wolverine clinks his metallic claws against the stony ground creating a spark which ignites aviation fuel which has spilled from the chopper. It ignites in a huge fireball perfectly silhouetting Wolverine as he walks away from the explosion in slow motion.


Hero back lit by the exploding helicopter as he walks in slow motion towards the camera, that‘s a text book chopper fireball if ever there was one.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known helicopter to be destroyed by a half wolf, half alloy, half human mutant.

Do passengers survive?

Agent Zero survives the initial crash and explosion but talks himself into an early grave by reminding us that no-one likes a smart aleck.


Whilst little new ground is broken it’s enough sometimes to see a good job done well. Director Gavin Hood doesn’t flunk his lines.


You have to ask why on earth the helicopter’s attack run was so low thus allowing Wolverine to leap on to it. It’s a error which many helicopter pilots have made to their eternal cost.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on X Men Origins: Wolverine. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher, YourListen or Acast.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

As the title suggests, this is the much-anticipated prequel to the science fiction classic Planet of the Apes.  

It stars James Franco as the scientist with questionable ethics, Freida Pinto as the girlfriend of the scientist with questionable ethics, and John Lithgow as father of the scientist with questionable ethics.  

Franco's character works at a San Francisco laboratory called Gen Sys trying to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Adding urgency to his research is the fact that Franco’s father is slowly losing his mind to the condition.  

Unfortunately for Franco, ethical approval for the promising new drug he’s developed becomes problematic when a chimpanzee he’s tested it on runs amok during a board meeting considering its safety.  

Ordered to shutdown his project, Franco instead smuggles the drug and a test chimp called Caesar out of the lab and disappears off the grid. Fast forward a couple of months and Caesar steals some of the experimental drug to turn other captured primates into super-intelligent brainiacs.  

After making their escape, the marauding monkeys go on a PETA-esque rampage through the lab, and head for the Golden Gate bridge. 

The film’s villain (David Oyelowo) secures a helicopter and heads to the bridge to kill Caesar. After machine-gunning down a few apes, it looks like Oyelowo is about to succeed. But as he moves in for the kill, an enormous gorilla hurls himself at the helicopter – which is now flying at a foolishly low altitude.  

The chopper loses control before spinning into the bridge, resulting in a partial explosion with several pieces of helicopter strewn on the road. Another ape kicks the charred remains of the helicopter off the bridge and into San Francisco Bay. 

Artistic merit 

The explosion was not huge, but this is perhaps reflective of the small altitude/speed to ground atio. The bridge would almost certainly need repainting in the area around the explosion though. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

First helicopter explosion caused by a motion-captured super-intelligent gorilla. 

Do the passengers survive? 

Oyelowo is certainly still alive and potentially could be saved. His hopes of survival (and those of the remaining passengers) are quickly dashed by one of Oyelowo's apes from the lab, who carefully considers the situation before kicking the helicopter to its watery doom. 


Gorilla vs helicopter is a match-up film-goers have been crying out for. 


When Sarah Palin shoots wolves from a helicopter in Alaska, it's unlikely that even she is stupid enough to shoot from an altitude that a vengeful wolf could jump up to. The same cannot be said of Oyelowo and his pilot. 

Favourite quote not in the film 

Helicopter pilot: “Get your stinking paws off my helicopter, you damned dirty ape” 

Interesting fact 

At the time of the apes' escape, news coverage is focusing on the launch of a manned flight to Mars. As the film is supposed to be set in the present day, this appears to have been set in an alternate universe where NASA has not recently had its funding cut. 

Review by: Joseph Clift

Monday 15 August 2011

From Russia With Love

Sean Connery’s second outing as 007 is considered by Bond aficionados to be the best film in the series. And given that there are many excellent critiques of From Russia With Love already out there on the interweb, Exploding Helicopter will instead focus its attention on the chopper fireball action.   

We pick up the action with Connery trying make his escape pursuing SPECTRE agents in a lumbering truck. Unfortunately, the villains pick up his trail and start to buzz the truck in a small Hiller UK-12 helicopter. They try to kill Bond by dropping grenades on the truck but succeed only in disabling it. 

Grabbing a rifle, Bond takes cover behind some rocks and begins taking pot shots at the copter. Big Tam shoots the co-pilot in the shoulder causing him to fumble a grenade he’s about to drop. The clumsy co-pilot scrabbles around the cockpit for the grenade, but he’s too slow. The grenade explodes blowing up the helicopter in a delicious orangey fireball. 

The flaming whirlybird plummets from sky before crashing into the ground where it explodes twice more. As Connery scuttles back over to the truck the helicopter explodes again nicely silhouetting our hero against the inferno.  

Artist merit 

A humdinger of a helicopter explosion. You must salute director Terence Young and the special effects team for their gusto with which they set about destroying this helicopter. Have Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay ever blown up the same helicopter four times? No sir, they have not. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

Nothing particularly innovative, but the sequence does help establish the trope where the occupants of an exploding helicopter realise their fate moments before consumed in a conflagration.  

Sadly, as these are Russian agents no-one says: “What the?….” before being immolated. Unless of course they’re muttering it in Russian. 

Do passengers survive? 

They really should have if the klutz in the co-pilot hadn’t spent so long fumbling about for the grenade in the cockpit. 


I doubt any fictional character has been responsible for as many exploding helicopters as 007 and Connery gets Bond off the mark in fine style. 


None. A faultless exploding helicopter sequence. 

Friday 12 August 2011


“It’s easy to pick apart bad acting, short-sighted directing and a purely moronic stringing together of words that many of the studios term as prose,” says John Travolta in the pompous monologue that opens the film. 

The trouble with Hollywood, he goes on to inform us, is the absence of realism: “It’s not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision.” 

Well, if ever there was ever a film to remind us of the point it’s Swordfish (2001). 

The ‘Volta’ plays a super-criminal plotting to rob the US Government of $9bn dollars. Only he’s not really a thief, but a patriot who heads up a secret society dedicated to exacting revenge on America’s enemies. (Although given Uncle Sam’s enthusiasm for public retribution it’s hard to understand why such an organisation is needed). 

Along the way there are object lessons in cinema verite such as the scene where Hugh Jackman’s character receives a blow job whilst hacking into US Government at gun point. And the scene where a school bus carrying Travolta and his team is scooped up by a transport helicopter and landed on top of a skyscraper.  

Yes, you can safely file Swordfish in your film collection somewhere between your Ken Loach and Dogme box sets. 

But anyway, enough on the dribbling nonsense that constitutes the plot. Let’s talk about the exploding helicopter.  

The climax of the film has its scientology bothering star and his assembled henchmen atop the skyscraper ready to make their escape in their backup chopper. But, to make good their getaway, they need to blow up the one they arrived in.  

Fortunately, the presence of a rocket launcher has been established earlier with some needlessly graphic expository dialogue: “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if that rocket launcher was a suppository would that bad man stick it up my ass?” 

As Travolta and his team jump aboard the waiting helicopter, Jackman (who’s meant to be computer geek) grabs the rocket launcher and shoots down the chopper. 

Despite being part pf film’s climax, the explosion is underwhelming. All the viewer gets is a brief CGI fireball before the camera cuts away. Rubbish. 

Like Travolta, all that’s left to do is wonder at the state of modern American cinema. 

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Oh, dear. This is a lurching Frankenstein of a movie, made from successful bits of other films clumsily cut out and stitched back together.

Look! There’s District 9’s spaceship. Wow. There’s Independence Day’s stirring speech to the troops. Hey. Isn’t that the big Hummer from Aliens driving through a confined, tunnel-like structure and mowing down all the, er, aliens?

The film lumbers from scene to stolen scene, each one only reminding the viewer how much better the originals were. Even Aaron Eckhart seems aware something’s not right, and he kept a straight face all through The Core.

And in a movie that lifts so shamelessly from its betters, the odds that each helicopter was going to thrum-thrum its way safely through to the final credits were always narrow.

How we reach the pivotal scene is thus: a small band of marines is, for no good reason whatsoever, sent deep into alien-held LA territory to rescue some people from a police station. (Note for military fans: the latest marine-enemy-incursion technique is to walk full stride down the centre of enemy-occupied streets talking loudly about relationships.)

The aliens – a spectacular piece of filching: essentially District 9 prawns with Predator heads – pretty much let the marines walk to the police station, then lay siege to it (just like in Assault on Precinct 13). Before long, the heroes also catch a live alien and experiment on it (Independence Day again) and escape in a runaway bus (Speed).

Having established its cut-and-paste credentials so confidently, by the time a ‘rescue’ helicopter lands next to the station the only real question is how it’s going to be despatched. Now, I don’t want to spoil all the fun, so I’ll just lay out the bare facts and see if you can guess.

The helicopter lands and is loaded full of injured marines – several of whom have been given hastily constructed ‘backstory’ in the opening scenes (pregnant wife, something to prove etc) so we care about them. At the very last moment, Aaron Eckhart runs out of the station holding two young children, but is JUST TOO LATE to get the adorable young scamps aboard the unquestionably safe airborne vehicle before it takes off.

As to what happens next? Well, I was as shocked as you’ll be. The helicopter is barely 50 feet in the air when a District 9-lite spaceship either shoots or goes straight through it. (I’ve rewound three times and still don’t know. The CGI is terrible and the editing so fast-cut that Michael Bay reportedly wrote in to complain.)

The explosion itself is prime computer-generated-tat. Tonnes of burning shards of unconvincingly rendered metal and rotor blades crash down all around the marines and kids. However, given that such a quick death would afford no opportunity for a final ‘Give this to my wife’ / ‘Marines. Ra-hoo!’ emotive speech, no-one is even scratched.

Not that you’re interested, but that woman from Girlfight – here making her turn in Avatar look like Sophie’s Choice – works out that if they can just destroy this one, hard to reach silo then the whole baddie infrastructure will come toppling down (Star Wars, anyone?). By the final scene, I felt like toppling over myself.

This is a deeply unnecessary film.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Under Siege

Steven Seagal stars as Casey Ryback, a Navy SEAL turned cook, who single-handedly takes down an entire ship full of crazed terrorists out to hijack its cache of nuclear weapons.

It may have been made in 1992, but director Andrew Davis must be given credit for including every Eighties action cliché imaginable. Gratuitous nudity (thank you Erika Eleniak)? Check. A boisterous frat boy party atmosphere with a blues rock soundtrack? Check. Important military types sat at an enormous table barking one-liners? Check.

All this may make Under Siege sound like a terrible film, especially as it’s star – the stony-faced Seagal - has the emotional range of an Easter Island statue. Yet, despite its supposed flaws the film is a rollicking entertainment that can be enjoyed with embarrassment.

Exploding helicopter action

So, to the exploding helicopter action, and there are two examples of the art to enjoy.

After the villains take control of the ship, Seagal and Eleniak sneak on to the deck of the battleship on which the action takes place. Big Steve spots a huge twin rotor Kawasaki/Vertol KV107.

After liberally splashing the helicopter with paint thinner, Old Totem Face sets alight the fuel which causes the chopper to explode. Seagal only escapes the blast by jumping over the side of the ship.

Later in the film, a team of Navy Seals is called in to retake the ship. However, if Seagal was worried that a chopper full of kick-ass action stars were about to come aboard and steal his thunder, he needn't have been.

Tommy Lee Jones uses the battleship’s defence systems to knock the helicopter out of the sky with a flick of a switch. Seagal's presence as the biggest action star on the ship is secured.

Artistic merit

The scene where Seagal blows up the deck-bound chopper was nominated for the MTV award for best action sequence, losing out to the freeway scene in Terminator 2. There can be no higher accolade than that. Well, almost no higher accolade.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It is rare thing to see a stationary helicopter being used purely as an explosive diversion rather than a fiery tomb for its occupants.

Number of exploding helicopters


Favourite quote

Seagal: “What is this babbling bullshit?”

Review by: Neon Messiah