17 December 2011

Helicopters never hover in the movies

I don't mean "never" in the literal sense; I used the word in the title to emphasize my utter frustration with scenes like the one above that opens the movie "The Thing."

I watched the movie last night and enjoyed it, but in this scene I counted I think four passes by the helicopter pilot, who swoops down on the dog - and then zooms a quarter mile past it and has to make a wide loop to turn around.  Meanwhile the passenger fires off eleven shots with a rifle at a black dog on a white background without even grazing it.  Later in the scene there are several more "swoops" and more shots, and a "thermite grenade" misses by about a hundred yards.

I "know" why the pilot doesn't hover over the dog, of course.  Kill the dog, and there's no movie.  But it is so logically inconsistent that I want to scream at the scriptwriters.  I've seen the same helicopter misuse in an old James Bond movie and I think a handful of other action/adventure movies (you guys can probably remember specific ones).

This was an excellent movie, but c'mon... I can only suspend disbelief for so long.

Addendum:  It's also true in the opening scene of A View to a Kill.


  1. Sooner or later, I'll be on a date or having dinner with friends who are convinced that I will enjoy their latest distraction and they will insist that I just watch 'one episode'.
    The latest example of this was the new Grim series. I try to be polite... and after all, it's just 15 minutes if they have a recorder that omits the commercials so...
    I wince, I sigh, and I try to be a good audience member... BUT when an officer shoots an unarmed fleeing suspect (on that suspect's private property without a warrant) 5 times in the back and there is no internal review of this whatsoever??? I stood up, thanked my host, and went home.
    It must come from being raised on television. I have to believe that these otherwise 'awake' individuals somehow just turn off reality and absorb the story without any cognitive processes...
    that cannot be healthy.
    My biggest beef is that kids are learning human behavior and how to read emotions from bad actors with bad scripts in impossible situations and then all we wonder why people cannot interact in public (unless they talk about TV) - but that is another rant entirely.

  2. I was once told, by someone who said he flew helos, that it's remarkably difficult to make a helo be perfectly still if there's any wind at all. I have no idea if it's true.

    Anyway, if it is true, it would make a much more realistic movie - you wouldn't have to make passes over an object to miss it, you could fire from a more-or-less stationary helo in a stiff breeze and still miss.

  3. Clearly the shooter graduated from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.


    Or like Chakolate pointed out, they could have made it windy. Or given the dog a field of rocks to run through. Or not expecting to have to kill a dog puts the baddies in an airplane or armed with only a pistol or shotgun. Or... Aaargh, there are so many easy ways around it! And some of those would still give you the black-dot-on-white visual image that the filmmaker seems to be so wedded to.

  4. Mel V., now you've gone and done it. I'll be wasting a few hours on tvtropes. Minnesotastan, your helicopter gets a mention at tvtropes under 'Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure'

  5. Reminds me of the scene from "The Last Action Hero" when the character played by Schwarzenegger (who is magically transformed from a movie character into real life) is astonished to learn that he really can't blow up a car just by firing one bullet into the general area of its gas tank.

  6. Thanks, jk. I thought there was a TV Tropes entry that was more directly relevant to that clip, but I couldn't remember what it was. And for the first (and probably only) time in my life I successfully resisted the urge to spend hours hunting for it.

  7. Years ago I saw a TV film called Relentless - had Will Sampson in it, the bloke who played Chief Bromden in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
    Every time I thought "Hang on, in reality they'd do (whatever)", they promptly did (whatever).
    I'd love to see it again to see whether it really was like that, but I can't find it anywhere.

  8. I lived in a not great neighborhood for a few years. Helicopter pursuits of suspects fleeing on rooftops were common. I was frequently on my building's roof to watch (I was already up there when the chase started, not going up there to get in the way!).

    I never saw any of the NYPD helicopters actually hover when tracking a suspect. Even when that suspect had stopped fleeing and was waiting for police to take him into custody (or was down, having been tackled), the helicopters did not hover, primarily they spiraled around suspects, occasionally strafing or moving forward and back.

    The only time I ever saw the NYPD copters hover was when that plane went down in the Hudson...Traffic copters seem to hover more commonly, but at a higher altitude.

  9. There is, of course, the movie _Get Smart, Again!_ which uses Hover Cover, because the Cone of Silence is out for repairs:



  10. I know this comes in late, but I just discovered your blog - and it's proving addictive!

    What bugged me more than the swooping was that, at about 1:35 in the clip, it looks like he's aiming with a double-barreled shotgun. That's from the shooter's POV. The next cut is to the dog's POV, and the shooter is clearly aiming a high-powered rifle with a large scope. So why didn't the shooter's POV shot show a scope? Yet another reason for me to not watch this movie.

    1. I believe that what you are seeing is part of the helicopter and not his gun. It looks like the pontoon. If that's what that part of the helicopter is called.

  11. Sorry for the late comment but...
    I'm thrilled to see someone comment on this, since it's bugged the hell out of me every time I've seen the start. (Yes, it's on TV now, so it's bugging me.)

    As to Chokolate's comment, they couldn't kick up snow (to indicate wind) over such a large landscape. Not with the movie technology then. Would've been nice.

    The other thing that annoys me so early in the movie is that, if someone is shooting at a dog, why do the Americans suspect the problem is with the Norwegians and not the dog? I'd assume the dog is likely infected and needs to be quarantined at a minimum, if not shot as the Norwegians clearly believed. Except for the American compulsion to dismiss those crazy Socialist Scandinavians out of hand...

    Also, what Norwegian scientist can't speak English? 90% of Norway speaks English. Close to 100% of staff members in Antarctica likely would speak English and 100% of the scientists and engineers would likely speak English.

    1. Late comments are quite welcome. And I totally agree with you.


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