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The camera is focused in -- just enough so the viewers can't see the whole set. Then the camera pans out a bit, or cuts to a wider view. We now see something else, which significantly changes the situation, often for the worse.
Sometimes preceded by a Reaction Shot to build suspense. Other times, there's no warning, usually because the characters are seeing it the same time as the viewers are.
This trope probably evolved from radio, where a standard gag was to slowly reveal what something looked like, with the last bit totally changing the situation.
Usually the preferred method of filming Innocent Innuendo.
Anime and Manga
- The anime Serial Experiments Lain did this a lot, with Lain or her friends having a Reaction Shot followed by the Reveal Shot of whatever horror they just saw.
- In The Broken Ear, Tintin and General Alcazar are apparently having an in-depth political discussion in his office. Tintin remarks seriously, "It's a difficult position," and there are several close-up panels of the two of them deep in thought. Then the panel pans out, and the General exclaims, "Checkmate!"
- Ubiquitous in Hagar the Horrible.
- The Hunt for Red October first reveals the full size of the submarine this way. The "Typhoons" really are big submarines- biggest ever built. Combined with glorious Crowning Music of Awesome, this scene ranks as one of the best moments in the film.
- The Fellowship of the Ring movie -- we open with a shot of a dark menacing tower in Mordor, apparently Barad-Dur, home of Sauron. Then the camera pulls back... and back... and back... until we are able to get a full view of the ungodly immense, dozens of times larger and infinitely more menacing tower that is the true Barad-Dur, revealing the initial tower we saw as one of the hundreds of (relatively) tiny lookout towers spaced around Barad-Dur's outer wall.
- Used in The Blues Brothers: The Brothers speak with agent Maury Sline to get a gig for the following night in a sauna. After closing the deal, we see that the entire ten-person band has been there the whole time.
- The finale of Mystic Pizza does this with a woman and her fiance, who were at odds throughout the movie. The camera pans out to reveal her wearing a wedding dress, showing that she decided to go through with the wedding despite everything.
- The opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope does this. First the Princess' ship goes overhead, everything is normal. Then the Star Destroyer starts to slowly go overhead... and goes... and goes and you realize that the ship is HUGE. At this point, if you were first watching it in 1977 when it came out, you suddenly realized how awesome this movie was going to be. Differs from the others in that the Star Destroyer enters (and enters and enters!) as opposed to the camera zooming out.
- Parodied, of course, in Spaceballs.
- Tomorrow Belongs To Me, from Cabaret. Starts out as a nice song, and then you start to see the swastikas...
- The short movie Powers of Ten (and imitators) is entirely based upon this trope.
- This is how Pirates of the Caribbean introduces us to Captain Jack Sparrow. Standing proudly atop his ships mast, hero music blaring... and then widens to reveal his ship is almost totally sunk, hitting the bottom as he jumps onto the dock.
- Used in I Love You Phillip Morris. Early in the movie it is suggested that Steven (the protagonist) is heterosexual and happily married. In a scene he is shown passionately kissing his wife, and the camera cuts into a scene of Steven having sex, his sexual partner being off-screen. One can't help but to assume he is having sex with his wife, until the camera pans out revealing his sexual partner to be a man... To top this off Steven narrates: "Oh, did I forget to mention I'm gay?".
- Note: this is not an example of Closeup on Head as we see Steven's torso from the beginning of the scene.
Live Action TV
- Arrested Development was a big fan of this trope. One particular example from the episode Bringing Up Buster: George Sr. is detailing to Michael all the ways Buster has failed him as a son. We hear a prolonged, familiar yawn and the camera pulls out to reveal Buster sitting between them; he then states simply, "We're just blowin' through nap time, aren't we?"
- Father Ted, "Think Fast, Father Ted." Jack crashes a car into two lorries. When Ted and Dougal inspect the car, the front (all we can see) looks okay, and Dougal hopes the car isn't damaged. Cue the Reveal Shot, and we see that the back of the car has been scrunched like an accordion.
- Father Ted, "Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse." It's the end of a long Fawlty Towers Plot, and Ted is performing the last bit of fast-talk he needs. It looks like Brennan is about to be fooled. Then comes the Reveal Shot, and we see that Ted is (without realizing it) standing next to an incriminating photo that has been blown up to the size of a house.
- It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia had one episode where Charlie and Mac got a mail room gig to qualify for the company's health benefits. Mac dumps all the responsibilties on Charlie, who then does... this
- Stargate Atlantis does such a shot when Shepard has to climb a few stories to shut down a self-destruct because of a malfunctioning quarantine system, revealing it's a long way down.
- In Coupling, Jeff is trapped in a photocopier (It's a Long Story), and in order that his colleagues shouldn't know that it was him trapped, refuses to come out until they've all gone home. He walks into work the next morning, secure in the knowledge that no-one knew he'd made a prat of himself the previous day. He sits down at his desk. And the camera pans up to reveal... 500 A4 photocopies of his head, pasted to the wall behind him.
- One show that likes to use these shots for comedy is... Lost. In season 1, Michael and Jack appear to be having an intense discussion about a dire problem, but they turn out to be debating a golf shot. In season 4, this is repeated with Sawyer, Hurley, and Risk.
- Of course, it's also used for drama, such as the end of "The Economist," where a pan reveals Sayid's associate to be Ben.
- On Top Gear: The caravan holiday. James May, standing next to what looks like a Lotus Exige, explains they've got something very special as the tow car for their caravan. Perspective flip and pan out to reveal... the inauspicious-looking Kia Cerato.
- Used as a fakeout and then straight-up within one scene in the Alias episode "Phase One", which ends with Sloane telling Sark to 'check in on [their] new asset'. The sound of a ringing phone transitions to the next scene, where it is revealed Sark is calling...Francie! However, the camera then pans around to another angle to show the real Francie's corpse with a bullet wound in the forehead.
- A sketch by Spanish comedy duo Crackóvia.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "I Was Made to Love You" opens with Buffy pounding away at what appears to be a punching bag, but a wide shot reveals it's Xander in a huge padded sumo suit.
- The video to Stripsearch by Faith No More features a seemingly normal guy leaving his apartment in what seems to be a police state, and having officials turn on him. At the end it revisits the opening scene with a wider shot... revealing a submachine gun on a coffee table, hand grenades near the door and a body tied to a chair lying on the floor.
- "Woah, free boat ride for three! Now who should I take? Keef! And....T-pain."
- The Jack Benny Program used the audio equivalent a lot. In one episode, the cast is traveling by train, and Phil is complaining about having to share a bunk with Jack due to Jack's cheapskate nature. They begin to argue... and then Dennis pipes up, "Shut up, I'm trying to sleep!"
- The original Doom ends this way: After defeating the final boss, the player character is teleported back to Earth, where we see an idyllic grassy field. Then the camera pans left, the music gets Darker and Edgier, and we see a city. In flames. Followed by a bunny head impaled on a pike (which is later implied to be the head of the Space Marine's pet rabbit).
- This is how Ruby Quest first revealed what genre it was. Ruby looks through a slat in a door, and sees only Stitches's eyes. When she finally gets the door open, she sees his face . . . then sees that his head is the only part of him that's fully intact.
- Works for villains as well as heroes: The 1980s cartoon, Jem did this. Eric is about to tell the small crowd that he has that "The Misfits" are the winners of the first annual Starlight "Battle of the Bands"--but before he can--new music is heard--and the crowd goes off in that direction. The camera pans out to show "Jem and the Holograms" performing for the first time.
- The Simpsons: Homer crashes his car in snowy conditions. He gets out to inspect the damage and says "well, at least I got him as well as he got me". Cue pan-out, revealing that he'd made it to his driveway and the car he hit was in fact his other car.
- In another episode, Lisa seeks to reassure Homer that Smithers, who was fired because of Homer's actions, "can get a great job at any corporation he wants." The next shot is a close-up of AT&T's wordmark. Panning out, we see that Smithers has gotten a job at "NEAT & TIDY Piano Movers."
- Likewise, Futurama used this when Bender's worried that a bureaucrat he insulted is standing behind him. Cue the Reveal Shot and that bureaucrat saying that she is in fact, in front of him, less than a foot away.
- The Incredibles: Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible has tossed his boss through a wall. Camera pans to the hole, revealing that he had thrown his boss through four walls. Granted they were cubicle walls.
- 6Teen: After Jonesy says that things might actually work out after all (by which he means that he can cope with Nikki's departure), the last scene in the finale zooms out to show the other characters going about their business; what this, of course, means is that her leaving only really affects the five main characters.
- On an episode of Adventure Time, after a scene transition, a shot of the main characters' house is shown. Then the camera zooms out to reveal that the shot was just a framed picture of the characters' house. A definite Rewatch Bonus.