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Hollywood's Firearms Follies

posted Mar 7, 2014, 1:08 PM by Wendy Cunningham   [ updated Mar 13, 2014, 10:36 AM ]
WE HAVE ALL BEEN THERE, sitting at the Cineplex, popcorn bucket in one hand, ridiculously large pop in the other, ready to settle in for a solid two hours of serious gun play–only to be reminded that when it comes to all things firearms, Hollywood takes artistic license to new limits. Just as I’m irritated (or amused) by the fact Hollywood can’t seem to get military uniforms correct, or the fact they frequently amuse “locals” when a certain town is represented inaccurately in a movie (Wayne’s World’s depiction of Aurora, Ill. drove me nuts), they are equally as inept when it comes to firearm accuracy. I know, I know, I need to remember that I didn’t just shell out a small fortune to check every aspect of a film for authenticity and validity. I’m there to laugh, to cry, and simply to be entertained. Entertaining it is, as the firearm follies seem endless! So go grab your own popcorn (because I’m not sharing mine), and let the entertainment begin.

Sometimes I wonder how many cups of coffee the sound guy has in the morning before he starts his work. Some of the most outlandish errors in movies come from overzealous sound effects, and at the top of my list is the mysterious “CLICK.” Just about every handgun seems to “CLICK” as it is pointed at its target. How or why, I do not know. Another “CLICK, CLICK, CLICK” as the bad guy realizes he is out of rounds, again a technical mystery. And why on earth is a striker-fired Glock “CLICK”ing at all?

Next up, the infamous “KERCHUNK.” How many times do I hear the ever-intimidating pump of a shotgun only to see the firearm in question is a side-by-side? Moreover, are you telling me the shooter in question has been standing around in a potentially deadly situation without a chambered round? While he is terrifying his opponent with an audible “KERCHUNK,” the bad guy has most likely shot off a few rounds of his own, perhaps incorporating another favorite, the “TING,” “PING” and “ZING.” These frequently represent the constant and needless ricochet sounds in the much-loved Spaghetti Westerns. I never knew there was so much metal in the Old West!

Finally, let’s not forget that according to Hollywood, silenced guns make almost no sound at all. The Cohen brothers try to convince us that Javier
Bardem successfully silences a Remington 11-87 in No Country for Old Men. Although a really great concept, “silenced” guns are still loud, some reaching as high as 130 decibels. That’s louder than a clap of thunder and comparable to a military jet taking off, so if you’re looking to perhaps confuse your location, I’d say a silencer will work wonders. But if you are a budding spy hoping to covertly take out your next target, think again.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISORS must take notes from the Foley Artists when it comes to firearm creativity. We have all seen the excessive muzzle flash that screams “Hey bad guys, I’m over here,” the recoilless guns sometimes shot sideways, sometimes from the hip, and sometimes shot unusually accurately from men and women alike. We’ve also seen and heard the never-ending ammo from not only machine guns, but from Steve Buscemi’s  supposed 30-plus round Smith & Wesson in Reservoir Dogs.

But have you noticed all the magic bullets? You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The rounds that cannot penetrate a car door, a sofa, a locked bedroom door, or even a toppled over kitchen table, but somehow can kill a man under water. I’d like to see them explain that because unless your target is already doing the dead man’s float, he would have to be within about eight feet of the surface of the water, and directly below the shooter, in order for the round to blow a fatal strike. For all you Mr. Wizard fans out there, at sea level water is nearly 800 times denser than air, providing considerable protection from not only a 9mm, but also a .223 and even a .50 cal. If you don’t believe me, check out Mythbusters episode 34.

In the world of special effects, penetration power is usually followed up by some serious pyrotechnics. The exploding bullet is a close runner-up to the magic bullet as I’ve watched bullets explode everything from cars to sharks. How many of you remember the climatic scene in Jaws where Brody fires a round at a scuba tank lodged between the shark’s teeth, causing a huge explosion? It just doesn’t happen like that. Neither cars, nor sharks (and the pressurized containers in them) explode so easily, and if they did, an ordinary fender bender on a morning commute might resemble more of a Michael Bay or Tony Scott movie, providing an endless log jam of gapers and rubber-neckers.

But before the Foley Artist can tinker with the sound, and the SFX Supervisor can amp up the pyrotechnics, some direction is needed from the, well…Director. With glazed over eyes, I watch bad guys spray endless bullets out of a machine gun at the good guys, never seeming to find their target. Meanwhile, the good guy pulls out a pocket-sized snub nose, sends a single shot down a dark hallway, and somehow nails the bad guy in the chest, of course putting him permanently out of commission. By the way, the good “guy” these days is more often than not a woman…in high heels (insert eye-roll here).

THEN THERE IS THE OBSESSION with working the action of a firearm. At some point in movie history, the act and sound of a hammer being pulled back and a round chambered became synonymous with “I mean business,” but with the innovation of things like double-action pistols, the need to repeatedly cock your pistol has become obsolete. Someone forgot to tell Hollywood this, and in turn, the MacManus Brothers in Boondock Saints. In the efforts of boosting their intimidation factor, Connor and Murphy MacManus must have actually been de-cocking their pistols before shooting the bad guy in order to make the ever-dramatic clicking sound. Similarly, in Reservoir Dogs, there is so much cocking that I wonder if it was actually written into the script as the main antagonist. When there isn’t repetitive cocking, there is the unnecessary pump of a shotgun, or the superfluous pull back of the slide. All of this really makes me wonder, is Quentin Tarantino trying to convince me that not only are these men walking into a gunfight without a chambered round, but then uselessly pulling back the slide of their pistol which realistically sends unspent rounds cascading to the ground? If so, I suppose that gives need to the creation of Steve Buscemi’s thirty-plus round magazine mentioned earlier.

The icing on the cake for pure directorial fantasy though is in True Lies as Arnold Schwarzenegger hands Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Helen, a MAC-10 during one of the movie’s many intense action scenes. Helen attempts to incapacitate the bad guys but unable to control the muzzle climb, she fumbles and drops the MAC-10 down a flight of stairs. Cartwheeling off each step, the gun conveniently continues to fire (but not at her), sending several rounds into the warehouse, each miraculously finding their intended target and nearly clearing the room of all threat. Mythbusters got their mitts on this one as well and in episode 189 proves Jamie Lee Curtis’ accident as nothing more than humorous.

Unfortunately, humor is not an added benefit from all tactical flubs, especially when firearm safety is involved. To prevent negligence and promote accuracy, more often that not, technical advisors are hired in order to provide detailed information and advice to the Director. One would think Zero Dark Thirty would be exempt from foolish errors in firearm artistry, especially since the movie spent more time behind a desk than behind a gun. While trying to get over the fact the film is more about the obsession of the female agent’s quest to find bin Laden, and less about the actual mission, I quickly realize that the military advisor was either negligent or napping as some bush-league  mistakes transpire when boots hit dirt.

First and foremost, the team breaks firearm safety rule number one: always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Infrared lasers humming, (think dog whistle, not light saber) the men infiltrate the compound bin Laden is thought to be hiding at. Experiencing the mission in night vision, I watch the green dots of their lasers bouncing between empty doorways and yes, you’ve got it, the back of their teammates’ heads. Unless friendly fire is the mission, I’d say the back of your fellow soldiers’ helmet is not a safe direction. Muzzle swiping is a serious no-no. Furthermore, I watch them tightly hug walls as they round corners, forgetting the arms length rule for cover. And did the writers not consider that Al-Qaida might have access to night vision goggles as well? They have eBay too, you know! No soldier, much less a member of an elite team such as the one that took out Bin Laden, would keep their IR lasers switched on. They might as well have a target on their chest.

Whether it is the Writer, the Director, the Editor, the Foley Artist, the SFX Supervisor, or perhaps the Technical Advisor to blame, it never ceases to amaze me some of the firearm theatrics we are force-fed at the movies all for the sake of being entertained. I could keep going and discuss the many backwards magazines (please don’t use the term “banana clip” because it is neither a banana, nor is it a clip), bullet holes going the wrong way or just simply over-exaggerated, and one of my all time favorites, caliber identification from a swollen tissue puncture on a corpse, but I am about out of popcorn so I think I’ll save those for another day and savor my last few handfuls while I watch Scarface. “Say hello to my little friend.” Gotta love Hollywood.

Published in Western Shooting Journal, May 2013

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