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The flow of the story is quicker in action films, and so the film needs to be reflective of that. The main antagonist in the film Unstoppable is Train 777, an unmanned train barreling down the track at eighty miles an hour. Not only is it destroying everything in its path, but it poses a serious risk -- it's carrying three carloads of an explosive, unstable liquid. It's a difficult task to make an inanimate object into a villain, but Scott does it through the use of combined real and filmed shots, close and quick cuts, and shaky camera usage. The scene that best reflects this in the film comes from the first attempt that the train authorities make to try and stop the train. In the scene, another train pulls in front of 777 and tries to slow down by breaking. Once 777 has slowed, a chopper is intended to lower a man onto the train, who will then go to the cab and manually stop the train. Unfortunately this plan does not work. Through the clever filming and editing done with combined real and filmed shots, close and quick cuts, and shaky camera usage the scene is quick and suspenseful.
Many filmmakers have combined types of filming to add authenticity to the film. Scott does the same thing by combining live television broadcasts with personal shots of the train itself. Doing this makes the viewer not only connect to the film personally, but also to the television broadcasts. The viewers have seen from the beginning the makings of this incident, this disaster. They have a personal connection to it. By seeing it as a film, they can make connections to their lives. But by seeing it as a film within a film, which the live broadcasts provide, the viewer also sees the story as an outsider would. The viewer knows from the start that this plan is not going to work. But seeing the story through the live broadcasts offers the viewer a position of authority. The viewer has already seen the damage the train has caused, unlike those broadcasting. When these two types of filming are combined, the viewer is not only personally invested in the outcome but is almost interactive with it. The viewer knows something that the artificial viewer, the viewer of the news broadcasts, does not. That connection with the viewer solidifies the story and keeps the involvement of the viewer with the story.
The use of quick and close shots in the sequence allows the viewer to feel the panic and speed not only of the train, but of the events that are happening. Quick events are not filmed in one long shot. The simple reason is that the long shot would make the quick thing feel longer than it is. Through quick shots, the viewer stays engaged in the story and in turn, the story feels faster. Using close shots, the viewer is brought as close to the action as possible without actually being there. How the audience sees the film is how they experience it. Very rarely does the audience experience the train from a safe distance away. They experience it from the rail line, see the wheels churning, and see how far the drop is from the chopper to the roof of the train. The viewers see the train from the bottom, as if rolling over them. All of these close shots keep the viewer engaged while the speed of the shots keep the story moving, making the events seem quicker.
Finally, in order to emulate the suspense of the film effectively, Scott uses shaky camera shots on purpose to intentionally put the viewer off balance. Whenever the camera zooms into the man hanging from the chopper ready to drop onto the train, the camera is unsteady, allowing the viewer to feel the unease and movement that the soldier must be experiencing. The camera shakes whenever it captures a shot of the speedometer or the train's console, allowing the viewer to feel the speed and unpredictability of the train. A further example comes from watching Judd, the man whose train has been placed in front of 777 with the intent to slow it down. At the beginning of the plan, most of Judd's shots are quick but stable. The viewer sees Judd clearly, and there is little shaking. It gives the viewer the false sense that maybe this man might be of help. But as soon as the soldier's part of the plan fails, the camera's portrayals of Judd are now shaky, as if to suggest that the whole plan is about to come apart. A few minutes later it does come apart, and we are left to wonder what will happen to Train 777.
Action films are meant to keep the audience engaged at all times, not only through the story's movement but the movement of the characters. As a result, action films often emulate the emotions that they want the audience members to feel. They use varying types of filming (which in this case was both real-action and television broadcast). They use quick and close cuts to emulate the movement and speed of the story. Finally, they use shaky filming techniques to keep the viewer in suspense of the events happening. It is a combination of all three things that not only keeps the viewer engaged, but also keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace action movies are known for and loved.
Unstoppable. Dir. Tony Scott. Perf. Denzel Washington. 20th Century Fox, 2010. DVD.