One still, however, encounters what one might call the “Magwitch Great Iron” paradox in popular narrative—that is, stories which trade on audience ignorance about “extreme” physical activities.
Few have scaled mountains. In the film Cliffhanger, Sylvester Stallone is shown catching with one hand the wrist of a falling companion as she hurtles down. This is, I would guess, physically impossible (even with biceps as well developed as Stallone’s). Either the grasp would slip, or the climbers’ shoulders would be wrenched from their sockets.
Ice tobogganing is another thrilling sport which only an elite of sportsmen practice, although most of us have seen it on TV. In the James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a villain dies horribly when he pitches on to a toboggan run and slides to the bottom—by which time he is hamburger. It was later pointed out to Ian Fleming that a human body on a toboggan run would not slither more than three yards before stopping.
As with mountaineering and tobogganing, few members of a film audience have first-hand experience of sky-diving. In a spectacular stunt in Eraser, Arnold Schwarzenegger overtakes as he drops from a plane the parachute which was thrown out many seconds earlier. Is this not against the laws of physics? Objects, however heavy, fall at the same rate. Although he can alter his aerodynamic configuration to go faster (by adopting a forward dive position and lessening air resistance), Arnold could never streamline himself into a narrower mass than the parachute—and he would have to spend precious seconds adjusting for the lateral distance created by the time interval between the pack’s being dropped and his jumping from the plane. Schwarzenegger would make a sizeable crater in the ground many seconds after the parachute bounced to rest on its surface, some half-a-mile away.
—John Sutherland, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?