Settings in movies tend to be places the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time in, be it a beach in the South of France, or in outer space, or elsewhere. The exotic nature of a particular scene stimulates the imagination, and pulls the viewer in deeper. Our interest perks up when the characters on-screen find themselves in strange locales; and one of these locales is the dreaded, beloved, and mysterious elevator shaft.
Found almost exclusively in the action/thriller genres, scenes involving elevator shafts take us into the forbidden area above and below the cars we generally ride in when traveling tall buildings. While it’s true that the concept of a mechanical lift has been around for centuries, modern elevators (and the dangers associated with them) sparked the imaginations of filmmakers since the days of black and white. And although the typical elevator shaft is not a grandiose space that would allow for such dramatics as Hollywood would like us to think, many timeless classics have portrayed them as such. Let’s take a look at some.
Death by Shaft
In John Farrow’s classic, The Big Clock, Charles Laughton’s character Janoth plummets to his death when he steps into an open shaft; this is after killing his accuser, so it’s justified. Things don’t end up so satisfying for Emilio Estevez’s character in Mission Impossible‘s opening sequence, as the car he’s hiding atop takes him to the top of the shaft, where he meets a steely, gruesome end.
There’s even a horror movie starring Naomi Watts about a killer, evil, possessed elevator called The Shaft: YouTube Link
Surviving the Danger
Detective John McClane is pretty well-versed in dispatching the villains he encounters via elevator shaft. Whether he’s dropping C-4 down the Nakatomi Plaza’s well, or battling a henchwoman in a power station’s, he definitely “dies hard” in a hostile environment.
The opening of Speed features a breathtaking rescue effort as a group of office workers are held hostage in an elevator car, Dennis Hopper’s madman ready to blow the cables at a moment’s notice. Enter Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels, who go into the shaft above the imperiled car and save lives in a most excellent fashion. Director Jan de Bont was the cinematographer for Die Hard, and the influence shows in this taut sequence.
Narrow escapes are plentiful in each movie about an unstoppable cyborg trying to kill the Connors, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day includes many, including this scene where the T-1000, having just missed the elevator going down with his prey aboard, deftly opens the doors and jumps down onto the top of the car. Multiple stabbing attempts later, he oozes into the elevator after failing to kill his quarry… again.
Other examples of surviving the danger include Backdraft, and I assume Salt. In the former, a firefighter is rescued from a burning shaft, and the latter ostensibly has Angelina Jolie eluding her pursuers in some acrobatic way. What can I say, I haven’t seen it.
Use it or Lose it
Some films have a scene in an elevator shaft for utilitarian purposes. There’s not a lot of danger, and nobody dies. The characters just need to use the shaft in order to do something.
And finally, a scene involving an elevator shaft unlike any other.
Without giving too much away, this scene from Inception is hands down the most creative use of an elevator shaft I can think of. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s Arthur puts the shaft, the car, and the cables into a cinematic spin that completely makes sense… once you’ve seen the movie a couple of times.
Okay, here’s where I turn it over to you, reader. What did I miss? Sound off in the comments.
Hold onto your fridge, it looks like Dr. Jones is going on another adventure soon. No obnoxiously long title yet, but it’s been leaked that the new script will take him (and Mutt) to the Bermuda Triangle, and George Lucas/Steven Spielberg will helm the fifth entry in the series. Reports say that this will be the final installment, and it will “stay true to the series’ roots, and won’t contain lots of state-of-the-art special effects.” Maybe.
That’s what they said last time. Then they opened the film with CGI groundhogs.
My hope is this will actually be pretty darned good, a triumphant return to greatness, like what happened when The Last Crusade successfully washed the taste of Temple of Doom from our brains.
UPDATE: Producer Frank Marshall tweets:
The rumor about INDY 5 is completely false. Nothing has changed, we are not shooting next year and still in the research phase…
Hmm. Well, if it’s “completely” false, why does he indicate the intention? If anything, this is more good news; they’re taking their time to write a good script.
If you like Alien/Aliens, and you like Predator/Predators, but felt let down by the Hollywood merging of the two in AVP… just hit play and full screen. In just over 20 minutes you’ll get what you wanted in the form of a fan-film created, filmed, touched up, and edited by one guy, Alex Popov. He claims he spent $500 and two years of his life on this.
Yeah, it’s a long video, but I swear it will be the best fanfilm you’ve ever seen, and worth the time. (via NeatoGeek)
This clip features William Friedkin being interviewed by AFI about the making of The French Connection, particularly the iconic, frenetic, and wonderfully edited chase scene. I had heard that they filmed it on location in New York without telling anyone, but Friedkin has a hilarious story about the elevated train, and how they pulled off filming on it for an hour.
And now, the fruit of their efforts.
The opening sequence in Top Gun features Maverick and Goose buddied up with Cougar and Merlin. They are tasked with dealing with a couple of bullying Russian MiGs threatening to breach the personal space of an aircraft carrier. Maverick achieves missile lock on one, and the MiG breaks off, headed “home.” Unfortunately, the situation is opposite for wingman Cougar (John Stockton).
Even though he broke right and high, to “see if he’s alone or not,” and looked like he had a good vantage point to see that there were two planes, right next to each other, passing Maverick, he somehow got one of them on his six; now he’s got a missile lock on him. Maverick flips his plane (and the bird), Goose takes a Polaroid, and they head back to the boat because they’re on fumes. But Cougar freezes.
As Maverick flies 150 miles away, gets everything perfect about his landing, bolts at the last millisecond, and flies 150 miles back to Cougar, we see a man petrified with fear. Did he really think the MiG pilot was serious? He seems overcome with adrenaline as he rips his oxygen mask away, but frozen into non-action.
So, Maverick manages to talk him into a landing pattern, and after some stock footage of F-14 Tomcats dipping their wings haphazardly, he lands. Cut to the Commander sitting at his desk as Cougar enters, and turns in his wings. He says he doesn’t want to orphan his son before he even has a chance to meet him, says he’s lost his edge. Apparently the missile lock put the fear of death into him.
Run that by me again?
This is the guy who would have gotten into Top Gun ahead of Maverick, and while I can understand the “holding on too tight” to family thing completely, here’s where the whole reasoning fails. If he was afraid he was in danger of dying, having just been spooked, but nonetheless freaked out by it, wouldn’t he just want to land the plane? Yeah. He’d be the first to turn that thing around and beat Maverick back to the safety of the ship, where he could get out of the deathtrap that threatens his current existence. As much as I’ve always liked Mr. Stockton (he was also in Losin’ It with Cruise) and Tony Scott, this is a lame, failed mini-character arc.
But at least there’s this tribute:
Get to the chopper, get down, and get ready for some major NSFW language as the man from Austria tells a tale.
First of all, this one’s for you, Charles. I wouldn’t have had a year’s advance notice about The Expendables without you, and your love for old school Planet Hollywood. Second of all, I’ve always admired the guy for doing what he does without any conceit, and look forward to his cameo alongside Bruce Willis in Stallone’s brilliant film idea.