Slow Explosions

MV5BMjA4MDQwODg2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTc5ODc2OA@@__V1_SX214_I went to the gym this morning. That’s not the news. I go to the gym two or three times a week. I do things that hurt and make me sweat not because I want to get “ripped” or “shredded” but simply to counter-act the gradual decay my aging body is subject to. You know what I mean.

While I was there I went on the treadmill – you’ve seen one even if you haven’t been on one, that endless belt thing that you trudge along and never get anywhere. I was looking at the TV built into it and there was a promo of a new movie coming out soon. Part of the promo was a shot of the two protagonists dressed in black, walking in slo-mo towards the camera, while behind them is an explosion, also in slo-mo. The classic “hero walks away from endless destruction and certain death” shot. All special effects, of course.

I wasn’t going to give the name of the movie, but it might be better if I did. Hansel and Gretel. I haven’t seen it yet – probably won’t, either. The promo put me off. And I want to explain why.

I don’t have a problem with the re-make of the traditional Hansel and Gretel story. It actually sounds kind of fun. If modern audiences want to see our two little lost waifs all grown up and wielding crossbows and guns and blowing up the bad guys, that’s fine. It’s all fantasy anyway. It’s not like it actually happened.

I don’t have a problem with the violence, either. It’s not like the bad guys are real. They are evil fantasy creatures who don’t exist in the actual world. So, again, it’s all just make-believe.

I don’t have a problem with the horror. Prosthetics are getting really good these days and I like to watch something like this just to admire the make-up work and try to guess which bits are CGI and which are an actor in a mask. It takes a lot of entrails and oozing faces and bulging eyes to get me scared.

What I do have a problem with is that “slow explosion” shot.

I can’t actually remember how many times I’ve seen it before, in how many movies. There is a variation, where the hero leaps towards the camera as the explosion goes off behind him. But this one has them walking away, not even looking back at the huge fireball behind them, smirking at the camera with an “I’m too cool to run” attitude.
It’s a cliché.

Another part of the promo had Hansel dodging an arrow by bending backwards in the classic “defying gravity” way made famous by that other over-the-top cliché extravaganza, The Matrix. Seen that trick before, too. Too many times.

Do the producers have a meeting before they start shooting to think of how many over-used “tough guy” clichés they can jam into the picture? “Well, folks, I think we should do the slow explosion trick and then have them do that Matrix gimmick and then how about some buddy humour and of course we must make sure that every gun never needs reloading and that the bad guys can’t hit the side of a barn door if it was falling on them. That ought to make our film unique!”

How about something new? I don’t mind that the actual explosion is mostly gasoline catching alight, as that looks better on screen than a real explosion does. I don’t mind that if it was real the characters would lose their hearing and be thrown to the ground (if not ripped apart) by the shockwave. It’s pretend, it’s all good fun. I can suspend disbelief as much as anyone.

What I do mind is that this particular thing makes the movie the same as every other movie of the same genre. That’s all. Another good idea made banal by not trying.

So I don’t think I will watch Hansel and Gretel – a pity, really, as it looks like fun.

Oswald and I

As I’m writing this, the rain is still falling, the wind still howling. The gruesome weather started on Australia Day, 26 January 2013, and it is still going three days later.

I live in Brisbane, Australia, and we’ve had the experience of meeting Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald. He’s been a naughty boy, dropping rain along the whole of the Queensland coast. And now he’s moving down to give New South Wales a taste of it.

Of course, we have been lucky here. Bundaberg, a few hundred kilometres to the North, copped five tornados yesterday. Five in one day. That’s not what’s supposed to happen here in Australia. My thoughts go out, also, to the people in Brisbane who are getting flooded by the water coming down the Brisbane River. Normally sedate and calm, the river (which is about a hundred metres from where I live), is rushing along and showing white-topped waves. It’s the wind and the vast amount of water coming down the river that’s doing it.

But I confess to being a little selfish this morning. Don’t think I’m sitting here totally dry and safe. We have a heritage-listed wall in our basement. It was built by convicts way back when, and being heritage-listed means we can’t do anything to it. It’s full of holes and water has been seeping (and trickling, and in one instance, spurting) into our basement. I’ve been up in the night trying to plug leaks in a wall that I’m not actually allowed to touch. Thank heavens for those plastic shopping bags we aren’t supposed to use.

But while my night wasn’t exactly restful, this morning something changed in my attitude to Ex-Cyclone Oswald. I decided at 5.30am to walk down to the petrol station on the corner to buy a newspaper. It was raining really hard, but I thought it would be a good idea to see what was happening in the street after the wild night. Besides, I get the paper every day, its a habit. I like doing the crossword over my morning coffee.

So I fearlessly donned my Mont Hydronaute Pro™ rain jacket (can I do a plug here?) and overpants and walked the six hundred metres to the shop and back.

It was not the same world that I usually see on these walks. In summer, the humidity of Brisbane makes it a sticky and damp experience even at 5.30am. In winter, of course, I walk in the dark and the cold and feel the crisp air in my lungs. Today, the rain made it a whole new experience, and one that was just as interesting as every other time, but in a totally different way.

I didn’t get wet, apart from my face and hands. My rain jacket cost a lot of money, but its absolutely superb, and it was doing exactly what it was designed for. But it was like being in a space suit. I could hear every drop that hit the hood, thumping down hard, and very loud.

The world was amazing. The gutters running over, of course; no birds (usually at this time of year the magpies are swooping at me in defence of their nests); a blocked drain that couldn’t cope with the flow, so that water was gradually filling the road; every tree dripping; the wind tugging at me, even managing to make me stagger a couple of times.

I felt wonderfully alive. Nature was throwing herself at me. I had deliberately put myself into her path, stepped outside my flat to take her on face to face. It was a great start to my day.

The man behind the counter at the petrol station recognised me, which was no mean feat given I was literally bundled up to the nose in my rain jacket.

“How are you today?” he asked.

“Wet,” I said. Succinct, if a little obvious.

I paid for the paper, which I bundled into a special waterproof pocket (I love my rain jacket!) and walked home, having left a large pool of water on the petrol station floor. The walk back was into the wind, which added another dimension to the experience. Not any more uncomfortable, but certainly a new level of sensation.

So that was my morning expedition. The wind has just gusted again, the rain is still thumping down, and it will continue all day today, according to the weather bureau. The river is flooding (high tide due in a couple of hours), and I know a lot of people are going to be flooded. I am sorry for them.

But today I saw the world in a different way, through touch and sound as much as sight. It awakened me. It’s an amazing world we live in: not always good to us, but it does us good every so often to see it in a bad mood. That keeps us alert, and inspired, and awe-struck. We only live once. For that, I am grateful.