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Unimpressive Progress Reveal

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"Please tell me I'm almost there. Does the air seem a bit thin to you up here?"
Sometimes a character has a task to accomplish. They may have to climb some insane cliffs, reach the top of a long stairway, or cross a street. After a moment of preparation, they launch themselves to the task, usually shown as a Travel Montage. They give it their all. They sweat, gasp for breath, and struggle to push themselves for what seems like hours to complete the task.
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Except, as we see when the camera pans out, they've only made a tiny amount of progress in the overall goal. Almost always Played for Laughs. They may or may not continue on with their task, but if they do continue, the rest of the task is usually not seen and the characters seem O.K. at the end, giving the impression that it was only the very start that was that difficult.

See also Not So Dire and Stop Drowning and Stand Up. Compare Not So Remote. Subtrope of Reveal Shot.


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Examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • In an early strip, Garfield decides to take up jogging. He jumps out of bed and spends two panels running and panting. In the final panel, we see that he has reached his food bowl, all of two feet away.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Frozen when Anna and Kristoff reach the North Mountain. Anna begins scaling the rock wall as Kristoff teases her for her inability to climb. After a few shots, the camera pans out and we see Anna about 5 feet up the side of the cliff.
  • In Kung Fu Panda, Po starts climbing the stairs to the temple. The scene cuts to several hours later and Po falls to the ground out of breath, then the camera zooms out and reveals he's only made it up about five steps.
  • In Up, Carl attempts to make Russell climb up to his house by the garden hose tethering it. After Russell climbs out of frame, Carl listens to him grunting in effort for a while, then asks him if he's reached the porch yet before looking up. Pan out on Russell clinging to the hose two feet above Carl's head before sliding down, exhausted.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played for Drama in Armageddon. After landing on the killer asteroid, Harry Stamper and his team have exactly eight hours to drill a shaft eight hundred feet deep to plant a bomb before it crosses "zero barrier" and cannot be deflected away from Earth. After a Hard-Work Montage that lasts two and a half hours in-universe, Colonel Sharp demands an update and is less than pleased when Stamper admits they're only at fifty-seven feet.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when young Willy Wonka decides that he will go out and explore the world, we're treated to a Montage of flags, to symbolize the countries he has visited. Then a museum guard tells him it's time to close and we see that he had been walking through the museum's "Flags of the World" exhibit.
  • In the Garfield film, Garfield sets out to rescue Odie from Happy Chapman, only to initially not even have the energy to leave the driveway. He then goes back inside to refuel on junk food before trying again.
  • The Jerk: Navin leaves home to seek his fortune, and starts by trying to hitch a ride. That evening, his family wonders how he's doing, so they call out the window and ask. He hasn't been picked up yet. Then a car picks him up and carries him about 25 feet, dropping him off barely at the edge of his family's farmhouse property.
    Trucker: How far are you going?
    Navin: St. Louis. How far are you going?
    Trucker: To the end of this fence.
    Navin: OK.
  • In Kenan & Kel TV Movie "Two Heads Are Better Than None", Kenan's family and Kel get stranded in the desert and Kenan volunteers himself and Kel to search for help, we get a time skip of Kel almost passing out of walking while begging for water, and Kenan just turning around asking his family for a water bottle.
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    Literature 
  • In Witch Week, Nan is continuously humiliated by her inability to do a Gym Class Rope Climb. Once, she tries climbing with her eyes closed so she can concentrate without seeing the laughing faces of her classmates. After several minutes of strenuous effort, she opens her eyes to check how high she's got and finds that she hasn't made any significant progress at all.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A dialogue-based example occurs in Spaced: Daisy decides to write up a house-cleaning rota for the flat. Cue Daisy typing to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1, with shots of various house-hold implements overlaid, all set up to suggest that it's a grand, massive undertaking on par with writing an epic novel. When she gets to the end, she promptly passes out on her typewriter from exhaustion. Tim then awakens her, and reveals when asked that she'd only been typing for two-and-a-half minutes.
  • In the Top Gear Bolivia special, the team are dropped off somewhere on the banks of the Amazon in the middle of the rainforest. After taking a full day to unload their cars from the barge, they camp out and start to head into the jungle the next morning. Cue montage of machete use, undergrowth falling, gratuitous shots of pouring water over their own heads to cool down, the cars driving through the cleared path, and other "great adventure"-type shots. Then Jeremy notices he's forgotten his phone on the shore, and he'll have to go back for it. The other two roll their eyes and wish him luck as he heads off, then about fifteen seconds later he calls to check whether he left it on the rock or by the log.

    Video Games 
  • In the intro of Left 4 Dead, the survivors fight their way through a horde of bloodthirsty Infected (including the deadly Special Infected) and just barely escape with their lives. The following Wham Line hammers home just how desperate their situation is:
    Louis: We made it... I can't believe we made it!
    Bill: Son, we just crossed the street. Let's not throw a party until we're out of the city.

    Web Comics 
  • One Housepets! comic shows Maxwell deciding he's gotten buff enough to impress Grape after not really trying. According to his chosen trainer, Kevin, he only completed half-a-rep. The comic shows the minuscule change in his arm-flex. Grape even throws a lampshade on it while simultaneously humoring him.
    Grape: Oh Maxie, I'd think you were pathetic if you weren't so adorable.
    Maxwell: Careful babe, Geneva declared possession of these guns a war crime.
  • One Pixie and Brutus comic has Pixie determinedly climbing a tree, but then she looks down and gets to scared to continue climbing and asks Brutus for help. He carefully lifts her down, and she remarks that she must have been really close to the top. The view pans out to show that she was, at most, three feet off the ground, but Brutus decides to just humor her and agree that yes, she was.

    Western Animation 
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks. In "The Greatest Show-Offs on Earth" Theodore attempts tightrope walking for Uncle Ben's Celebrity Circus; we see he makes it halfway across the rope (though, just barely), and appears very proud of his achievement, then we see the camera pan out to reveal he's only six inches from the ground. Eleanor even points this out when Jeanette applauds Theodore for his feat.
  • CatDog has the title character spend the whole day climbing Mount Nearburg to try and get a head-start from Mindy Wonderful. Unfortunately, by the time tomorrow comes around, they only managed to climb a small elevated ledge from ground height, and could have walked around instead.
  • In the Ducktales (2017) episode The Great Dime Chase, a broken elevator forces Louie to climb the stairs to the 57th floor of Scrooge's money bin. After much struggling, sweat, and panting, he reaches...the second floor.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Camp Keep a Good Mac Down", Mr. Herriman ventures into the forest in search of food for his friends, and he becomes more afraid the darker and more mysterious it becomes. And he starts to panic.
    Mr. Herriman: Oh. Oh dear. My bearings, they seem to have become misplaced. What's that noise? Hello?! HELP! HELP! MADAME FOSTER!!!
    Madame Foster: Yes?
    [cut to reveal he's only a few feet away from the camp]
    Mr. Herriman: [nervous laugh] I mean, t-that's what you would have said if any of you went into the woods. [laughs] ...Tally-ho. [hops into the woods] A-hunting we will... Hello? Hello? HEEEEELP!
    [Madame Foster facepalms]
  • Garfield and Friends: In "Weighty Problem", Jon makes Garfield go jogging with him, and it only takes a short while before Garfield collapses from exhaustion.
    Jon: Garfield, we're still in front of our house.
    Garfield: Yeah, but it's a long driveway.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Virt-Ed-Go", Ed is asked to climb a tree so they can build their new clubhouse on it. Ed struggles for a bit and asks for help, and the next shot shows he'd only made it a few feet up the tree.
  • Grossology: In "Squirmed", Petunia takes Abby rock climbing in an attempt at mother-daughter bonding. In the next scene showing a closeup of them climbing, Petunia suffers acrophobia before the scene pans out to show she is only about ten feet off the ground, much to Abby (who isn't even climbing)'s embarrassment.
  • In Hey Arnold!'s episode "Veterans Day", Arnold's grandpa was recounting about a mission he had in World War II. He had to transport some food elsewhere and after some time driving he decided to camp up and started thinking if any of his enemies might have already have noticed him...only for one of his comrades to ask him to join a poker game with the rest of his regiment, showing he was barely a few meters away.
  • Johnny Bravo. In "Hip Hop Flop", a hip-hop group named The Round Pound goes out in search for a new turn-table to purchase after one of them eats their old one, thinking it was a giant sandwich; as they press on, they collapse in exhaustion, but then we see they're only inches away from their tour bus.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses this a few times.
    • In "The Show Stoppers", a montage features the Cutie Mark Crusaders apparently scaling a mountain top and getting blown off by the wind. The camera pulls back to reveal it's just a small hill.
    • In "Flight to the Finish", the Cutie Mark Crusaders' Training Montage includes a shot of them climbing a staircase, just like Rocky Balboa. Then a wider shot shows that the staircase is only five steps high.
    • In "The Cutie Map Part 2", after joining Starlight Glimmer's commune as a Fake Defector, Fluttershy manages to sneak out of the chimney of her house and sets out to head to the mountain cave where Starlight is keeping the stolen cutie marks. Sometime later, Fluttershy is walking along and muses to herself that she must be getting close by now, only for the camera to zoom out to reveal that she's still on Starlight Glimmer's roof. This does, however, allow Fluttershy to find out that Starlight is keeping her friends' cutie marks in her house, and that Starlight still has her own.
    • In "Common Ground", Rainbow's attempts to turn the chronically nerdy Quibble Pants into an athletic, sporty person include racing exercises to build up his speed. Rainbow blows her whistle, Quibble starts running furiously while surrounded by a cloud of dust, and then the camera pans away from a sweating, exhausted Quibble Pants to show that he's barely moved from the starting line.
  • Used in The Simpsons:
    • In the "Treehouse of Horror" segment "King Homer", the eponymous giant ape climbs a skyscraper with Marge in his hand, but drops from exhaustion - from the second floor, about half his body height.
    • Used twice in "King of the Hill"
      • Homer decides to start running at night, next scene has him already crawling due to exhaustion and stops in front of a mailbox... the one of his neighbor Flanders.
      • Homer must climb Mount Murderhorn (a gigantic mountain that is said to be worse than the Everest). One Time Skip later, the camera follows a trail of spent oxygen tanks and a Homer that is greedily sucking down on a new one... and then we find out that he just ascended about 20 feet (it's still close enough to the ground that Bart can easily tell him to stop using up his oxygen).
  • Used in SpongeBob SquarePants
    • In the episode "Procrastination", SpongeBob writes his homework very dramatically and enthusiastically... only to be revealed that all he did was just writing a very stylized "THE".
    • In an earlier episode, "Your Shoe's Untied", SpongeBob realizes he doesn't know how to tie his shoes after he unties them for a demonstration; consequently, he can't take a single step without tripping on them and falling flat on his face, which causes a problem at the Krusty Krab when he has to bring a Krabby Patty from the grill to Squidward on the other side of the kitchen. He tries rubbing his shoes together and slowly shuffling along on the wood floor, but despite his best efforts, he barely moves away from the grill, which only annoys Squidward further.
  • Total Drama: In the first episode of Action, Owen spends ten and a half hours trying to walk only three city blocks to get to the bouncy castle where all the other contestants except him are being held to rescue them.
  • The Wayside episode "Wayside Special" has Todd climbing up to the 30th floor. He starts off by climbing some stairs, scaling a ladder, crossing a log, and traversing a jungle gym, only to get to the second floor.

 
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Video Example(s):

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"The..."

SpongeBob seems to write down his essay in a long amount of time, but it turns out he only wrote down a fancy "The".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

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