So I was watching Star Trek Into the Darkness and wondering why I was wasting my money on unmitigated pap and also musing on plenty of other things whilst waiting for the infinite implausibility generated by the film to subside. One of which is the way death is portrayed at the cinema. Now you used to be able to rely on Star Trek to not only kill people with a flashy light but also erase them from the screen with a kitsch special effect. No more it seems, Star Trek now has laser battles that look derivative of, well, most other SF films.
When I was young the instant death format in films was generally done via a knife across the throat. Brave Tommies behind enemy lines would perform this magical manoeuvre and we didn’t really care that there was no spurt of blood or the fact that Jerry would instantly fall to the floor dead, when the reality would be substantially different. This has been replaced fairly recently with the old twist the head to snap the neck trick.
You actually have to be very strong and somehow prevent the body from moving to actually pull this off, but it is indeed possible. It is a fairly brutal, but oddly clean way to kill someone on screen and if you immediately drop the instantly dead body and don’t follow it with the camera you don’t even need special effects. Mind you the lack of blood is possibly not a driving factor, there are plenty of TV shows and films where people are shot or stabbed without bleeding. I’m guessing that a snapped neck, unless it severs the spinal cord, would cause a sudden paraplegism and agonised screams rather than instadeath.
Anyway that’s actually preferable to the ridiculous head squeeze death used in the latest Star Trek film. Wonder how many psi of pressure it would take to crush someone’s skull? Apparently according to that ever reliable internet thingy it’s about 1400 psi. However I bet that’s with something that isn’t spreading the pressure over the surface of something as large as a palm, which is what Khan used in STITD to kill someone. He squishes someone’s head with the palms of his hands on either side of the head. This is without breaking the skin or the eyeballs being squished out to fly across the screen a la Evil Dead. No blood is split, another clean instadeath achieved at the same time as giving us a shorthand for a) Khan is an Evil Motherfucker and b)ooo isn’t he strong
Is there a general acceptance of these silly methods of dealing death because they are bloodless, because they are “plausible enough” or is it that we’re all just fine with this lazy shorthand for then person x killed person y but because this is an action film we don’t want to dwell on that?
A few years ago I used to work on electrical equipment as a radio engineer for one of the big mobile phone firms. We had to attend an electrical safety course and the person who ran it had a line in snuff films, with the excuse that they were “educational”. One of which has stuck with me (as it would to anyone who saw it I feel) of a man in some foreign country where safety standards are probably a bit lax who is on top of a train, with plenty of other folk, which is stopped at a station. He idly reaches up and grabs hold of an overhead cable and FRAP he’d dead. One second a walking talking human being with family and friends, a second later a crispy smoking corpse. Instant death is possible but it really isn’t pleasant to watch. Perhaps we’re better off with clean instadeath?
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