Top 10 Deus Ex Machina moments
Ah, the deus ex machina. To our intense delight, Greek theatre’s fall from grace as the last word in popular culture means that this phrase tends not to literally refer to a god being lowered onto the stage with a crane to thwart the baddies and generally sort things out. Having said that, some of the more stultifying descendants of this most lazy plot device would give any mechanically-manipulated deity a run for its money. Here they are: our Top Ten Deus Ex Machina moments!
#10: Bill and Ted’s booby traps – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Yes, we know that Bill and Ted’s first screen outing was a deliberate send-up of the time-travelly sci-fi movies which flooded out of Hollywood in the late eighties. We know that. But how could we leave out such an absurd conceit as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan managing to manifest a set of keys simply by exercising interdimensional willpower over his future self? We were particularly impressed by him having the foresight to write ‘Wyld Stallyns Rules’ on the bin which drops on his father’s head – that’s class, in bin terms.
#9: PowerBook 5300 – Independence Day
In 1996, Apple had been long established as the discerning geek’s computer company of choice, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Jeff Goldblum’s earnest techie character in Independence Day should be a Mac user. It’s spectacularly unfortunate, however, that the Mac he owns is the infamous PowerBook 5300, which is widely acknowledged to be the worst Apple product of all time – and deeply frustrating that even a crappy Mac would be able to PLUG INTO A BLOODY ALIEN SPACESHIP. Fuck you, Steve Jobs.
#8: Iocane powder – The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is a glorious film, and the iconic ‘battle of wits’ scene between Vizzini and the Man in Black takes some beating, overflowing as it is with bons mots and hyperdramatised gestures. However, no amount of lines as good as “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia’…” could atone for the absurd moment when Cary Elwes’ hitherto unmentioned immunity to iocane powder is revealed. The jammy, moustachioed, beautiful git.
#7: Ark of the Covenant – Raiders of the Lost Ark
In one of the most explicit examples of a deus ex machina (or should that be deus ex cista? Eh, Latin fans? Eh?) to have appeared in modern film, the day is resoundingly saved for Indy and Co. by… well, by God. Himself. Zooming around a cave and melting Nazis with incredibly badly animated lightning. In fairness, this moment is foreshadowed a little bit, but since that’s in the Bible I think we can be justified in ignoring it. Harrison Ford’s cool, fine, but must we believe that even YHWH is a fan?
#6: Green Kryptonian crystal – Superman II
So, Superman, you’ve decided to expose yourself to the irreversible effects of red Kryptonian sunlight in order to relinquish your superpowers and live a normal life? That’s incredibly shortsighted and selfish of you, particularly when General ‘kneel before’ Zod and his cronies are on their way to Earth to cause a big pile of trouble. Oh, so now it turns out that there’s a green crystal which can handily reverse the transformation? And it’ll suddenly give you the power of ‘amnesia kissing’? Gosh, that’s convenient.
#5: Great Eagles – Lord of the Rings
Now, I’m not saying that taking a Great Eagle from my lavish townhouse to Best For Film Towers every day wouldn’t be pretty shit hot, because it clearly would. I just happen to think that there’s something rather silly about the repeated contrivance of creating LotR plot arcs which end up with people trapped on roofs/floating on rivers of lava/anywhere else which might require the sudden appearance of a massive bloody bird. Why didn’t the Fellowship just fly to Mordor and have done with it?
#4: Sword of Godric Gryffindor – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
You may never have tried to choose the single most ridiculous example of a deus ex machina from the entire Harry Potter canon. If you never have, all I can suggest is that you keep things that way. Almost every one of J K Rowling’s write-by-numbers stories ends with some absurd secret abruptly changing things in Harry’s favour, but surely there is nothing to match the moment when Harry is saved from certain death by a PHOENIX with MAGIC TEARS bringing him a SWORD. A SWORD HIDDEN IN A HAT.
#3: Alien spacecraft – The Life of Brian
Monty Python classic The Life of Brian includes one of the most deliciously, dizzyingly over the top introductions of a deus ex machina (navis ex caelum) in cinematic history – it didn’t make it to number one because it’s so obviously tongue in cheek, but it had to make it into the top three. In case you haven’t seen the film, 1) you’re an idiot. and 2) the hapless Brian falls from a tower, only to be caught by a passing alien spacecraft which subsequently drops him off and plays no further role in the film. It’s genius.
#2: King Richard – Disney’s Robin Hood
The penultimate scene in Robin Hood ends with Prince John’s castle aflame and the Prince himself belabouring his unfortunate courtier Sir Hiss. This shot fades out to the following dialogue, immediately before the soppy denouement of Robin and Marian’s wedding: “You know, I thought we’d never get rid of those two rascals – but lucky for us folks, King Richard returned and, well, he just straightened everything out.” That’s it. The only time we even see the King, he’s inexplicably slapping an ecclesiastical badger.
I know, I know. It’s hard to imagine an example of the deus ex machina’s arcane powers more ridiculous than any of the above, but believe me – such a monstrosity does exist, and it came into being at the hands of an author who really should have known better. Brace yourself for our #1 most absurd deus ex machina moment…
#1: Bacteria – War of the Worlds
For sheer frustration value, this has to take the biscuit. Earth is being steadily annihilated by frankly badass Martian war machines who can effortlessly sweep our puny military from their path (and, in the 2005 film, inexplicably vaporise people whilst leaving their clothes intact) in much the same way as we have always battered any culture less advanced than us. Then all the Martians get colds and die because there are no germs on Mars. That’s it. End of story. Cheers, H G Wells… more like H G Dickhead.
Have we missed out your favourite deus ex machina moment? Let us know below!