No matter how elaborate the world of special effects becomes, there’s one gimmick that never seems to go out of style: Slow Motion. It draws attention, heightens emotion and allows a director to be master of the universe. And it’s cheaper than 3D! See what you think of these examples.
Let’s start with the ultimate, thinking man’s use of slow motion. There are MULTIPLE layers of it in Christopher Nolan’s modern sci-fi classic. Frankly, it’s so challenging to keep up with the various stories-within-stories (the plot has to do with dreams you can create and insert into someone’s subconscious mind) that you almost need the slow motion as a tiny respite. Cool beans.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Director Stanley Kubrick will be mentioned more than once on this List. In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he expertly lets slow motion convey a sense of the vast, impenetrable nature of both space and time. I think we’re still waiting for that animal bone the man-ape threw in the air to come down.
Rarely, if ever, has slo-mo been more badass than in “The Matrix.” Come on! That dude, Neo, limbos his way out of the path of bullets without so much as adjusting his sunglasses! On a related note, I can’t reach back to grab my TV remote without spraining something.
Thanks to the advent of slow motion replays in televised sports, fans everywhere can judge for themselves how bad the umpires are. Unfortunately, it also means we occasionally have to endure Tim McCarver or some other knucklehead repeat the phrase, “He missed the tag!” about eight zillion times.
THELMA AND LOUISE
The slow motion ending of “Thelma and Louise” driving off a cliff was so perfect, I’m surprised more movies don’t use the device. Who knows? “Battleship” might have made some money if they’d steered the boat off a cliff.
BONNIE AND CLYDE
This was some cutting-edge, slow motion violence. In 1967, audiences were stunned by the stylized way Arthur Penn had “Bonnie and Clyde” meet their demise.
I believe “Brian’s Song” was what they call a “male weepie.” Man, that sounds bad. Anyway, Billy Dee Williams and James Caan starred in this 1971 TV movie about about real-life Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. There’s friendship, there’s loss – and there’s slow motion to wring out every last ounce of emotion.
Oh, but the opening of “Zombieland” is a bit of gory genius. With snazzy graphic elements and a witty voice-over, a series of zombies chase down dinner in slow motion to illustrate the rules of staying out of their hungry clutches.
Kubrick again creates an iconic image in slow motion for 1980’s “The Shining.” Something yucky and unexpected is about to issue forth from this elevator, and it takes its sweet time.
Sports and slow motion are a natural combination. It’s all about savoring certain moments, such as the big shot in the big game of the big tournament. Everyone has his or her favorite, and mine is the old-fashioned, high school basketball saga, “Hoosiers.” What makes it particularly nice is that the slow motion here is incredibly subtle.
Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” series very effectively speeds up and slows down the action as a way to illustrate the hero’s brilliant, lightning fast mind. You get to experience what Holmes thinks will happen, then see if it actually transpires.
Slow motion accentuates the sex appeal of Bo Derek in “10,” showing her running along a beach as Dudley Moore gapes admiringly. This is a device often used to indicate physical beauty or desire.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
Or it can stand in for basic sentimentality and reverie. In “Chariots of Fire,” you have slow motion as an ode to the pure joy of pursuing a personal quest for God and country.
“The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner, featured an elaborate scene in which a gangster pushes a baby carriage down a flight of steps in order to escape the law. It’s grand, operatic – and based on a scene from the 1925 silent film, “Battleship Potemkin.”
THE WILD BUNCH
Nobody did masculine, gritty violence quite like director Sam Peckinpah. For “The Wild Bunch,” which deals with a band of aging mercenaries, Peckinpah decided to slow the camera each time one of his geezers bit the dust at the end of the film.
THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN
Back in the 1970s, pretty much every wisenheimer worth his bell-bottoms did a stupid impression of Lee Majors in slow motion, as bionic agent Steve Austin in “The Six Million Dollar Man.” There was a silly sound effect to go along with it. Thanks, slow motion!
And now comes the part where I encourage you to add to The List. No rush. Take … your … time.