Kwai bridge blown up

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"You have the Bridge... what's left of it."

Star Trek: Voyager, "Year of Hell"

~Set Destruction Edit

Before we delve into the fiery depths, by definition what is set destruction?  On film, a set, by definition, is a scene or iteration of scenes focused solely for the sake of visual performance requiring a considerable expenditure of finances and logistical planning to create an environment suitable to its purpose; an instance of such are miniature scale models, movie properties (i.e props), and on site (or location). The constructs, in depth, are generally physical representations or depictions that preserve similar features of the original and historical accuracy, to an extent, of all critical aspects of said ingenuities. Thus, enabling the absolute esteem of the three dimensional property to demonstrate behavior of the original on film without temperament of the genuine source. Therefore, by using an identical material, the collaborated individuals working on the cinema are able to use the mimic to fulfill its sole purpose of being destroyed, hence set destruction.

~Destructive Purpose Edit

The involvements of such constructs are short lived or receive extensive damage (a Chekov Gun) where usually the material is present in the course of the narrative before abolished for the films plot; to grant a large spectacle to the audience and glorify the authencity of that particular scene that is most notably viewed in: The Last Days of Pompeii (1913) volcanic eruption that decimates the city, Quo Vadis (1951) burning of Rome, and Ben-Hur's (1959) sea battle.

~The Last Days of Pompeii (1913) Edit

Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

Last Days of Pompei [1]

In The Last Days of Pompeii, the film captures the spectacle of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, where the concluding penultimate scene features an earthquake laying Pompeii under siege, the onset destruction is visible as the pumice, ash and collapsed buildings rain down on the people escaping. How it is approached is illustrated: 1) scientifically, a papier mache of Mount Vesuvius to recreate a volcanic eruption needing red food dye, warm water (acts as an accelerator), Bicarbonate of Soda, and Vinegar; or 2) ingenuity, using demolitions and a detonator, placing a pile of explosives underneath a mound of dirt, and thus generating a life-like visual of an erupting volcano. 3) The scene is filmed using a red lens during the destruction of Pompeii, where that set captures, in particular: breaking of trees, hay on fire, demolishen of a building, etc. recreating the intensity. Lastly, a single or series of matte paintings illustrating the volcanic eruption for the scene emphasize the destruction by creating sound, illumination, and revealing these recreations through the capturing on film of particular sets being destroyed; and depending on the choice or perspective of the directors discretion of the four previous instances.

~Quo Vadis (1951) Edit


City of Rome burning. [2]

IQuo Vadis, the scene opens with the mad Emperor Nero atop his palace accompanied by his entourage.  In the distance the city burns as Nero dances playing his lyre singing at the top of his lungs at the spectacle before him.  The court stands in awe, some in horror as realistic plumes of black smoke rise into the heavens above Rome.

To accomplish this cinematic feat on film, director LeRoy assembled a scale model of the city of Rome inside a three hundred foot square tank. To aid into the success of this scene LeRoy employed a crew of twenty men to coordinate three hundred alcohol burners were used had to be mixed and piped to various areas of the set as needed for dramatic effect to destroy the model; along with eighteen gasoline burners which sent flares as high as twenty feet into the air.¹

Truly, a “worthy...spectacle, as the spectacle is worthy of" Quo Vadis (Big Screen of Rome, pg. 21, 4th para.) revealing the fiery beauty of Rome seething in red-orange hue, a primary and concluding encounter of an on-set destruction.

~Ben-Hur (1959) Edit

Roman Ship Model from Ben-Hur 1959

Behind the Scenes of Ben-Hur sea battle. [3]

The techniques utilized during the sea-battle include model boats resembling Roman naval designs with careful attention held to traditional realistic appearance of the ships used in antiquity.  A massive three hundred foot water tank was used to depict the open ocean for the battle itself, which was filled with blue chemicals (Big Screen of Rome, pg 73).²

NMoSMaSH Ben Hur

Miniature model after the naval battle in Ben-Hur. [4]

The scale models captured the illusion of an intense sea-battle as the Roman military and Macedonian pirates engage in naval combat.  Fire-balls and ballistae are launched against the opposing factions and ships ram against one another in a fight for survival (Big Screen of Rome, pg 73).²

We find Ben-Hur (Charlton Hesston) aboard a Roman ship as a galley slave during the battle, one of the pirate ships rams the Roman galley.  The scene is a set filmed from inside the galley’s hull the bow of thepirate ship pierces the roman vessel. The camera tilts to emphasize the impact of the enemy ship, wood splinters and flies about the scene, the roman quarter masters flee as slaves attempt the save themselves from the ocean water which pours through the enormous hole in the side of the ship.

The Evolution of Set Destruction Edit

Over the proceeding years, technological advances offered new developments of reconstruction otherwise previously known for restricted limitations (i.e scale, matte painting, etc.). One such instance is illustrated in Pompeii (2014), bringing forth an ancient catastrophe to life by using a "laser remote-sensing technique to re-create the city's topography on the set";then using aerial shots of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius were digitally enhanced by using a programming computer graphics software to project the triple threat diaster (i.e volcanic eruption, earthquake, and torret of water) that laid the city under siege (Ancient Catastrophe brought to Life). In concluison, with the advancement of technology influencing the language of cinema draws forth methods with infinite possibilities, and thus an immesive height of glorified spectacles and authencity enticing both the filmmaker and audience.

~References Edit

1.AFI Catalog of Feature Films:

2.Cyrino, Monica Silveira. Big Screen Rome. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. Print.




6.Ancient Catastrophe brought to Life:

~By Shawn & Brent
~The following images are for educaitonal use only and full credit to the owners of said images.