The Big Screen Chase Scene

This is a blog in honour of the Oscars, although I’ll admit I’ve not seen a single one of the nominated films. I have a three-year-old and an under one. It’s not conducive to going to the cinema. So I’m not qualified to write about the current crop of movies. I’m qualified to write about transport.

Transport plays a big role in movies. From Taxi to Airplane! to the bus in Speed, transport vehicles can be the stars of the show. From the loyal, tireless horses of the old Westerns carrying rugged gunslingers across plains and mountains to the motorcycles, cars, vans and trucks of the last hundred years, there are few features of a film that can better date the plot or characterise the protagonists than the vehicle (or animal) they drive. Anyone would be jarred by a 1980’s Japanese hatchback appearing in an American movie set in the 1950’s. Even the automobile-ignorant can usually tell from the model of the getaway car whether the criminal is a true threat or a loser.

But there’s another role that transport plays in movies. A role that must require quite a lot of transport planning, yet it’s not something I’ve ever come across in my professional life: The Big Screen Chase Scene. The scene or scenes that make it worth going to the cinema rather than waiting until the movie’s available on DVD or aired on the telly.

Most chase scenes are by car, although many begin on foot. If in harsh terrain, such as jungles or city roofs, some are vehicle-free. Some movies offer more unusual modes. Sci-Fi often boasts various airborne private vehicles, like flying motorcycles or cars. James Bond movies included chase scenes on boats and even skis. Some of my favourite chase scenes are from the Indiana Jones series. These scenes include running, cars, trucks, boats, horses, tanks, trains, planes and mining carts.

And yet, in all these brilliant, classic chase scenes, there are few which employ more than two modes per chase. There’s no interchange. Perhaps that is because the movie industry has never hired a transport planner to develop their chase scenes. If they did, maybe I could offer a sequence like this:

HERO runs from VILLAIN and BAD GUY through narrow, darkened corridors between laboratories into the early evening bustle of an urban street. She grabs a bicycle left unlocked against iron railings.

VILLAIN follows, whilst BAD GUY ducks out of shot. As HERO leaves VILLAIN behind, BAD GUY appears at end of street on a motorcycle, motor revving.

HERO turns sharply down a narrow service road before she reaches the junction where BAD GUY is waiting. He is right on her tail as she chances a look behind her, weaving from one side of the road to the other as he gains on her. She maintains her central position in the alley.

BAD GUY begins to come alongside when HERO shoots out onto a busy main road and turns into a bus lane, just in front of a bus slowing at a stop. She ditches the bicycle and hops on between an old lady and a mum with a buggy, tapping her travelcard with barely a pause as she heads towards the back of the bus.

The motorcycle has turned into the traffic lane outside the bus and pulls ahead. BAD GUY stops at a red light and looks in his rearview mirror. He cannot see HERO on bicycle.

The bus pulls away. A bus signal turns green. The bus pulls ahead of general traffic, including BAD GUY, whose eyes follow the brightly lit rear window of the bus…

You didn’t think I’d finish the chase scene in this blog, did you? These things always need a cliff-hanger, although in this case, it’s not a literal cliff. I’ve seen chase scenes that end like that too!

1 thought on “The Big Screen Chase Scene

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