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A Year of Scary Travel at the Movies

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 12, 2012 at 4:25PM

Are you thinking of taking a vacation this Christmas? The movies kindly suggest you reconsider.
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"Flight."
"Flight."
Are you thinking of using your Christmas vacation to take a trip somewhere?

I wouldn't.

That's because I watch a lot of movies. And in 2012, many of them have been about one thing: how uncomfortable, horrifying, or downright deadly travel can be. It's hard to say a year at the movies is about any single thing -- we're talking about hundreds of films produced by thousands of artists and craftsmen, each with their own agendas and perspectives. That said, an awful lot of artists and craftsmen put their talents in service of stories about the terrors of travel this year. No matter where you want to go -- or how you want to get there -- there's probably a 2012 movie about why it's a terrible idea.

A backpacking trip through the gorgeous mountains of Georgia? Not unless you want your happy relationship with your fiancé tested and potentially ruined forever. How about a getaway at a posh resort in Thailand? I wouldn't; that's where they had the worst tsunami in the history of human civilization. Maybe just a short visit to New York City? That depends; do you want to learn a horrific secret about your grandfather or are you a Middle Eastern dictator looking to visit the United Nations (and get kidnapped, deposed, and replaced in the process)?  Going to the Middle East is no picnic either; there are suicide bombings and terrifying airport security checkpoints, to say nothing of the armed revolutions and hostage situations. 

Istanbul sounds like a nice alternative, but there you'd have to contend with vengeful criminals, plus Maggie Grace randomly throwing grenades all over the place. The Vatican's supposed to be lovely -- unless you're visiting your demon-possessed mother; then you and everyone you know stands a decent chance of winding up dead before you make it home. You probably wouldn't want to visit Chernobyl anyway, but that place is totally infested with mutants. Mutants!

I know one couple that's going on a long road trip through the South; hopefully they don't wind up followed by a mysterious masked woman who breaks into their hotel room while they sleep. The Alaskan wilderness seems peaceful -- unless you're a super spy on a training mission; then you'll probably get killed by a CIA drone attack. Or you might get eaten by wolves after a plane crash

Planes; those things will kill you! Even if you get a one-in-a-million pilot (and even if he's drunk and high on cocaine) odds are at least a few people on the flight will die in a crash. Boats aren't much better. Those things capsize in the open ocean all the time -- take one of those and you're liable to be stranded in a lifeboat for hundreds of days with a tiger. 

Even fictional modes of transportation are unsafe, their destinations equally perilous. You can't take a long-distance space flight to the planet that birthed all life on earth, unless you're jonesing to be eaten alive by phallic, wormy parasites. Travel back in time? No way; your younger self will try to kill you. Closer to home, caving has its perils too: going in the wrong one might just get you zapped all the way to Mars, where you'll have adventures, fall in love, get sent home without your space wife, and then nearly destroy a vaunted film studio.

I could go on -- no, seriously, I could; I haven't even mentioned smaller indies like "The Color Wheel," "King Kelly," and "Cosmopolis" yet -- but I think you get the point. Fear of travel, vacations gone wrong; these are classic movie themes, but that's still a lot of examples for a single year. There aren't many counter-examples, either. Searching for 2012 movies that celebrate the pleasure of travel, I found just a few -- the couple in "Hope Springs" reconnect during a trip to Maine; the family in "Journey 2 the Mysterious Island" grow closer as they run away from assorted wildlife terrors; and the titular hero of "Wreck-It Ralph" ends several miserable decades trapped in his own video game by venturing out into other ones. I haven't seen "The Hobbit" yet, but I imagine that's a relatively positive portrayal of an unexpected journey, although there's quite a bit of danger involved there as well -- not to mention the perils of High Frame Rate.

Why are the movies so opposed to travel right now? I'm not sure. Maybe they're worried about the competition. Money is tight these days and people don't have a lot of disposable income. If you're running through Eastern Europe throwing grenades, you're not spending your money on popcorn, soda, and 3-D glasses. 

In that sense, these movies about travel-gone-wrong are actually kind of reassuring. If you can't afford a vacation right now, guess what? According to these films, you're not missing anything, except maybe an untimely death. Just stay home. Keep watching. Keep eating that popcorn. And whatever you do, do not agree to take a vacation at a cabin in the woods.


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