Random Factoid #398

30 08 2010

Are you keeping track of how your favorite movie characters are dying?  Daniel Engber at Slate is.  In an impeccably well researched article “Terra Infirma,” he charts the decline in the use of quicksand in movies for the past few decades.  Really, the only movie I can remember that employed the natural phenomena is “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

I feel like quicksand has become, in a way, an antiquated cinematic device.  It was something simple to replicate, and people just expect more for their money with an army of computer graphics engineers available.  If you have the time, I highly recommend you read the article (confession: I’ve only skimmed because I have so little time).  Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

The fourth-graders were unanimous: Quicksand doesn’t scare them, not one bit. If you’re a 9- or 10-year-old at the P.S. 29 elementary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., you’ve got more pressing concerns: Dragons. Monsters. Big waves at the beach that might separate a girl from her mother. Thirty years ago, quicksand might have sprung up at recess, in pools of discolored asphalt or the dusty corners of the sandbox—step in the wrong place, and you’d die. But not anymore, a boy named Zayd tells me. “I think people used to be afraid of it,” he says. His classmates nod. “It was before we were born,” explains Owen. “Maybe it will come back one day.”

For now, quicksand has all but evaporated from American entertainment—rejected even by the genre directors who once found it indispensable. There isn’t any in this summer’s fantasy blockbuster “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time”or in last year’s animated jungle romp “Up.” You won’t find quicksand in “The Last Airbender” or “Avatar,” either. Giant scorpions emerge from the sand in “Clash of the Titans,” but no one gets sucked under. And what about “Lost”—a tropical-island adventure series replete with mud ponds and dangling vines? That show, which ended in May, spanned six seasons and roughly 85 hours of television airtime—all without a single step into quicksand. “We were a little bit concerned that it would just be cheesy,” says the show’s Emmy-winning writer and executive producer, Carlton Cuse. “It felt too clichéd. It felt old-fashioned.”

Engber may have hit on this, but here are my conclusions on the sucking dry of quicksand in cinema.  First, Americans want blood.  They want bloody satisfaction, something that can only be delivered in the form of a body.  Quicksand robs us of that joy by sucking the victims under the surface of the earth.  Second, there’s no way to vitalize the quicksand escape.  There’s no creativity involved; you either pull yourself out, have someone help you get out, or you die.  Pretty simple stuff.

But going even farther beyond quicksand, looking at the chart of the decline of quicksand made me realize how little I actually remember movies, particularly action movies.  They just all run together.  I can barely remember “The A-Team” from two months ago; anything around five years ago is a muddled mess.  So in my mind, does it really matter that the art of death by quicksand is dying?  Is anyone lamenting this?


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