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The big issue with found-footage horror films is that after a certain point it becomes absolutely insane that the characters are still filming. Am I right, folks? Am I right? I know, you're just ecstatic that someone finally has the balls to point this out, but please hold your applause for the end.

But like most common complaints about popular art, it turns out this one doesn't have so much validity. This "found footage" crap happens in real life way more often than you'd think, and a ton of the footage is pretty damn cinematic. And no, they don't all involve GoPros -- in fact, some of them predate GoPros by about a hundred years.

Arctic Explorer Films His Ship Being Shredded by Ice

The early half of the 20th century was the heyday of people insanely giving up their comfortable lives in order to beat their faces against the wall of suffering and death that is Antarctica, and Ernest Shackleton was probably one of the coolest. He led three separate British expeditions down to Earth's Great Frozen Butthole, and in the case of the third one at least, this is how he built his crew:

"Free Wi-Fi, though."

If that sounds like the kind of adventure you'd like to be a part of without leaving the relative safety of your swivel chair, you're in luck, because Shackleton filmed the whole goddamn thing. He was described as "a warrior with his camera who would do anything to get a picture." That sounds like an unnecessarily dramatic way to describe some of the footage, like the bits that focus on cute little doggies ...

... but gets a little bit more understandable when you see this soccer game being played on an ice floe ...

"I guess that's impressive" -someone who's never left his home town before

... and seems like a massive understatement once you get to the part where he filmed his own ship being mercilessly crushed by the cruel and vengeful sea.

That's Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, succumbing to months of crushing ice pressure -- meaning it was literally punched apart by the ocean's ice-fists. Again, that's Shackleton's own ship, his home for the past two years, his only way back to civilization, and the only thing keeping him and his men alive. And when it started to break apart, he made sure to whip out his camera and set it a-rollin'.

You've gotta be a little bit crazy to set out on an expedition the way Shackleton did, and luckily for absolutely everyone in the entire world, it turns out he was crazy in all the best ways. In addition to keeping his men focused and ensuring that their morale didn't dip too low (which is the reason 25 of his 28 crew survived what should've been a complete disaster), he made sure to document it however he could, specifically so people could act unimpressed by it on the Internet a hundred years later.

Skydivers Film Midair Plane Collision

The difference between skydiving (which I've never tried) and the competitive underground Hungry Hungry Hippos scene (17-0, baby. This is my jungle) is the risk involved. When you go skydiving, you know that any number of minor technical difficulties could end with your body pancaked against the Earth like a particularly ineffective meteor, whereas the worst that's ever going to happen at a street "Triple-H" meeting is that we'll snap your pinky finger off with a tiny steel Hippo jaw. And that's probably why I don't have any back-alley board game footage on this list, but I was able to put the words "midair plane collision" in this entry's title without a glimmer of exaggeration.

These clips of GoPro footage are collectively one of the better-directed action sequences I've seen all year. Each frame builds on the one before it, continually heightening the tension. First we see the rapidly approaching second aircraft. Then comes the collision, followed by an explosion. One of the skydivers manages to maintain his grip on the damaged plane's wing for only a fraction of a second before the momentum rips him free and he goes spinning off into the sky, shrinking to a tiny dot in a matter of seconds. And even though this was really happening and filmed by dudes who were probably struggling not to shit themselves, the whole sequence is more cohesive and clear than virtually anything Michael Bay has ever shot.

And that's only the beginning, because now every one of these skydivers is free falling among the flaming bits of wreckage that used to be their own airplane.

Have you ever raced the wreckage of an airplane to the ground? No, of course not, because that's not the kind of thing you're supposed to do. But everyone involved survived -- the pilot of that first plane even managed to land. The bad news for these folks is that nothing that ever happens to them will ever be as exciting as this was. The good news is that they can say, "Hey, have I told you about the time I was exploded out of an airplane?" whenever they want, for the rest of their lives, and anyone who gets sick of that story is an asshole. NBC apparently paid $100,000 for that footage, and frankly, I think the skydivers got robbed. But that's probably why I'm not allowed to make these decisions.

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The Scuba Diver Who Found a Survivor in a Sunken Ship

There are a lot of really shitty jobs that make our lives better, and we don't even know they exist. This is probably one of the darker ones: While "guy who recovers dead bodies from sunken ships" provides an invaluable amount of solace to the family members of those lost at sea, that's one hell of a nightmare-inducing 9-to-5. Especially in moments like this, when you see a hand slowly drift out of the murky shadows ...

... only to suddenly squeeze yours, because surprise, sucker, the dead now swim the Earth!

Half the stuff floating around them is terror-poop. You can tell by the water's tint.

Obviously, the story here isn't "undersea zombies exist, and you're just reading about it now in a comedy article because you really suck at following the news." No, this story is way more unrealistic: After the tugboat Jacson 4 sank off the coast of Nigeria last year, the ship's chef survived in an air bubble 100 feet below the ocean's surface ... for three goddamn days. Then he was rescued, and we get to see it happen.

The diver returned later with equipment, brought the poor guy back to the surface, and immediately started snapping commemorative photos. Which, you can tell from the images, is exactly what this dude wants to be doing.

I don't mean to visit on anyone's intentions in this picture -- this is an amazing turn of events, and I bet everyone involved was happy that such a grim job came with such an optimistic twist. But that's an "I really don't feel like having my picture taken" smile if I ever saw one. And I have seen one -- every time I look at pictures of one of my college girlfriends when she's standing next to me. Hey-oh, self-burn.

Skydiver Drops GoPro, Captures a Perfect Story

All right, that last entry was pretty dark -- let's back off, cool down a bit, and check out something that's awesome from a purely aesthetic standpoint. There's no inspiring story here about human endurance -- I just think this turned out neat.

That video starts off with a dude dropping his GoPro while skydiving, and while there's an initial jolt of shock when you see the case dislodge itself, it quickly dissolves into several straight minutes of pure visual nonsense. That's not the good part -- you can skip that.

If you must know, it's basically this, only seizure-inducing.

Then the camera bounces into a field (and continues filming, which is something of an advertisement for GoPro all by itself) and something amazing happens: Because of the angle the camera lands in, we get a perfect shot of somebody -- some majestic skydiver of a man -- drifting slowly to safety in the distance.

Then, moments after he lands, we get this guy approaching ...

... from the exact same corner of the screen that the parachute disappeared into, inextricably linking the two figures in our minds (I have absolutely no idea if they really are the same guy, but the camera insists that they are). Then he picks up the camera and shows us his face so that we can meet him:


But this isn't just any random dude -- it turns out that he's a friend of the skydiver we met a moment ago, and, immediately recognizing the camera, brings it right to him.

I like to imagine the guy was inconsolable moments before -- like this is a gritty reboot of The Missing Piece
from the perspective of the piece.

No need to post the footage online to find the owner, no need to "meet up later" to complete the exchange, no ransom notes written with letters cut out of issues of Incredibly Serendipitous Skydiver Events Magazine -- we get the entire story, from airplane to free fall to field to back in the dude's pocket, in less than eight minutes. I've seen actual Hollywood movies with less efficiently explained plots than that.

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Prisoners of War Build Camera, Film Their Own Escape

So far, all of these videos were taken by accident -- these people meant to film one thing and ended up filming something very different, and through sheer luck it turned out kinda awesome. That's not always the case with these kinds of things: Sometimes people have an extremely insane, difficult task ahead of them, and they decide to make it more difficult by filming it -- just because. And to illustrate that fact, I present Sous Le Manteau, or "Under the Cloak," a documentary about Nazi prison camps filmed by French prisoners in a Nazi prison camp. Narrated by David Attenborough.

"Behold the majestic Nazi in its natural habitat."

The David Attenborough thing is a boldfaced lie I told just to deceive you and shatter the bond of trust we've been building together, but everything else is real: The prisoners smuggled the camera into the camp in different pieces, hidden inside sausages. Then they cut out the inside of a dictionary and hid it in there -- just like how Neo hid his hack-disks at the beginning of The Matrix. Then they escaped, filming the entire thing. We get shots explaining how they forged documents:

They used their hands.

How they hid their camera:

To be fair, it's way easier to keep stuff hidden when everything's black and white and jerky.

And even the act of digging their way out:

"Gosh, I sure hope someone wearing designer underwear writes a snarky caption about me 70 years from now."

Of the men who escaped, 126 were recaptured within a week, and only two ended up surviving back to France. But the footage remains, and it will last forever as the single most incredible thing anyone ever did just to get views on YouTube.

JF Sargent has a free sci-fi novel and a Twitter and a Facebook and a blog.

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