Unstoppable: Trains, planes and automobiles

While Hollywood is reeling from the untimely passing of visionary action director Tony Scott, I fondly recall watching some of his most memorable films like Top Gun (1986), Crimson Tide (1995), Spy Game (2001), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and his most recent film, Unstoppable (2010). 

With recent films like The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and Unstoppable, Tony Scott was finding new ways to thrill his audiences by enhancing and pushing the boundaries of camera movements and quick editing. Mixing Omni-directional camera movements with rapid editing and multiple angle shots of blurring, streaking action sequences accompanied by Rock n Roll soundtracks, he gave his films a sense of wild kinetic sensations, and involved the audience in an immersive feeling of being everywhere at once while cramming in as many visual details as possible.  

Using state-of-the-art cinematic visual techniques and filming in real locations rather than sets, whether it’s an aircraft carrier in Top Gun, the New York subway system in Pelham 123 or Pennsylvania railways in Unstoppable, he made those places come alive and gave you the sense that they were characters in themselves. His visual style was clearly influenced by the time-lapse speed of the Qatsi trilogy.

In Unstoppable a rookie train conductor who has a restraining order keeping him from seeing his wife and children is partnered up with a veteran train engineer who is being forced into early retirement by the company after 28 years of service. They grudgingly become acquainted and get to know each other while confined to the cab on the engine car of a freight train. 

Elsewhere on the same track a series of mishaps causes another freight train carrying toxic chemicals to run loose unattended at full speed heading toward a derailing in a populated area unless someone can somehow board the train while it’s travelling at 70 miles per hour and manually stop it. This movie was inspired by true events and as you might imagine from the title, the runaway train proves more difficult to stop than anyone ever imagined.

This movie is to railway trains what Top Gun was to fighter planes, Days of Thunder (1990) was to formula race cars, and The Taking of Pelham 123 was to New York subways. And in true Tony Scott style this movie goes all out, being orchestrated with big bold strokes, including the dramatic story of two working class men who go beyond the call of duty to redeem themselves in the eyes of their families from being as useless as society would have them believe.

Unstoppable is pulse pounding and exhilarating to watch because we are totally invested in the characters from the beginning with convincing performances by the Oscar winning actor Denzel Washington and new comer Chris Pine who is known for his role as the young captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films by J.J. Abrams.

Action cinema today has never been more exciting. Not only has cinema become more visceral, but never has there been as much imagery packed into a film as in today’s modern action films. This is not to say that these movies are necessarily better because of it. Technically, action films today far surpass those of previous generations but a good film still needs a good story. Without a good story the technical aspect can be fun to watch but not involving enough to capture an audience. What sets Tony Scott’s films apart is that he pays just as much attention to the human story as his action sequences and Unstoppable combines a compelling story with technical excellence resulting in an emotionally satisfying film. 

The British born younger brother to the legendary director Ridley Scott, known for such iconic films as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Robin Hood (2010) and Prometheus (2012), Tony Scott co-founded with his brother the production company Scott Free and was well liked and respected by Hollywood’s biggest names, having worked with actors Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Brad Pitt, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro to name a few.

Tony Scott (1944 – 2012) RIP.  



Susan Cooper said...

He was such a great talent that will be greatly miss by his peers and the many actors who he worked with and who admired his work. However, the audiences of his many films will be the ones who will miss him the most.

Geek Girl said...

Lovely tribute. He will be missed no doubt about it.

Lubna said...

This is a great tribute to Tony. And you said the most important thing, technology can provide that extra fizz but the content of the story, the plot, matters.

JP said...

Thanks everyone. Tony was definitely an innovator in the art of film.

Sameer said...

Great article John...
Tony's films were all about style coupled with substance...