6 Ways Movies Subtly Distort Reality
In order to tell big, sweeping truths about the human condition, film and television productions often have to cheat a little when it comes to the small stuff. Few people talking on a phone onscreen ever say “goodbye,” because it would be tedious for an audience. Take a look at a few more examples of how Hollywood tweaks reality to fit their narratives.
1. CAR SEATS DON’T HAVE HEADRESTS.
The next time you see characters in a film going for a drive, look closely at the vehicle's features. In a lot of cases, the headrests will be missing. The adjustable cushions are there to help protect your head and neck in the event of an accident, but in fiction, they tend to get in the way of the camera when it’s trying to photograph passengers. Which is the same reason why rearview mirrors are often removed, too.
2. THE STREETS ARE USUALLY WET AT NIGHT.
As protagonists drive recklessly around town without headrests, you might notice that nighttime scenes usually feature glistening, rain-soaked streets. You can chalk it up to atmosphere, but in most cases, it’s because the director of photography mandated it: Wet pavement cuts down on diffuse reactions that will cast shadows from nearby production equipment. It can also reflect the available light to create a moodier frame.
3. SPRINKLER SYSTEMS DRENCH EVERYTHING.
A reliable distraction in movies, fire suppression sprinkler systems usually respond to a character lighting a match by setting off every sprinkler in a building. As the sprinkler industry is eager to point out, the systems don’t work this way—because no one wants to clean up multiple floors of water damage. A fire source will set off the nearest sprinkler by melting the heat-sensitive element inside of it, and only those sprinklers exposed to the heat will respond. You can also forget about pulling a fire alarm level to get the water flowing; that typically won't activate the system, either.
4. CHLOROFORM WORKS IMMEDIATELY, AND IS ESSENTIALLY HARMLESS.
A staple of operating theaters over 100 years ago, chloroform took on a second life in the movies as a quick, easy way to subdue characters who were apparently too important to be killed immediately. But unlike the rapid effect of a drug-soaked cloth wielded by a villain, real chloroform needs to be inhaled for several minutes in order to affect a person’s consciousness. It’s also incredibly dangerous to breathe in, making any detective or noir movie reenactments very ill-advised.
5. AIR DUCTS ARE A FEASIBLE WAY TO GET AROUND WITHOUT BEING DETECTED.
For heroes trapped in confined spaces, nothing beats crawling into the HVAC system and navigating a building without being seen: Think John McClane snaking his way through Nakatomi Plaza’s ducts. Unfortunately, real systems aren’t designed to support the weight of a fully-grown adult and aren’t typically big enough to fit one. The interior of a duct would also be caked with dust. Even if a protagonist somehow found a weight-bearing system, he or she would make so much noise that they'd be discovered immediately. (That being said, Die Hard is still a flawless movie.)
6. SILENCERS ELIMINATE ANY NOISE A GUN MIGHT MAKE.
When a villain wants to be as discreet as possible, he or she often screws a silencer to a firearm in order to muffle the sound of the gunshot. While movies usually depict this as something akin to a mouse fart (“pfft”), the reality is that silencers are still plenty loud—they lessen, but hardly eliminate, the crack of a shot (as MythBusters once demonstrated).