Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Suspension of Disbelief

Most movies require some level of suspension of disbelief (SoD), and I'm fine with that. Fiction is fiction, and I don't expect all fiction to look exactly like reality. Where's the escape in that? Sci Fi should have fantastic technology, fantasy deserves its magic, and we call all use a little extra serendipity once in a while. But relying on SoD to explain mundane situations that would never happen in those circumstances - that's just lazy.

This is a pet peeve of mine. I tend to think about the movie I'm watching, not just absorb the entertainment. Unfortunately, that makes it a bit harder to enjoy your average movie. I understand that SoD is a key part of most story telling, but there are some places where its use just makes the storyteller look stupid or lazy. I'll use the last two movies I watched to illustrate my point.

The directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven, released in 2005, runs just over 3 hours, and is split into two DVDs. Watching the first DVD convinced me not to watch the second. Orlando Bloom stars as a blacksmith (again) who goes off to Jerusalem during the crusades seeking redemption.
  • Body type isn't something I usually notice, but my spouse pointed it out, and I had to agree: Bloom is not built as a blacksmith. He doesn't look like someone who has spent his entire life in grueling manual labor. He made a fine elf, but he shouldn't be cast as a blacksmith.
  • Bloom's character, I forget his name, learned to wield a sword, and subsequently survived a gory battle, in about an hour. After that, he was pretty much an expert, besting many more experienced men in battle. This is common enough that I'm usually fairly forgiving, but it is annoying.
  • As a blacksmith that has never been a mile from his birth place, Bloom knows how to read... Latin. Please. Peasants can't read, peasants don't know Latin, and peasants certainly cannot read Latin.
  • Guess what else he knows how to do: run an estate, dig for wells and build an aqueduct system! Yea, that makes sense... kind of... if you don't think about it... at all.
So we didn't finish the movie. Instead, we watched Iron Man (2008). I've discussed the absurd portrayal of Stark's sex appeal elsewhere. Here, I'm just going to focus on two things: the situation with the war lords and Stark's glowing heart device. As usual, I wasn't bothered by most of the technology. The main driver of the story is a super-powerful suit, so that's a freebee. When they power their subplots on SoD, that's when it gets annoying.

Stark gets a soup-can-sized cylinder cut out of his chest. What happened to the vital organs and bones that were supposed to be there? How did a doctor manage to do this with little-to-no medical equipment, in a cave? How is Stark still alive? I understand there was supposed to be a magnet there to collect shrapnel and keep it away from vital organs. I don't understand why his heart was apparently removed, and how he was kept alive. Or was his heart underneath the cylinder? Then why did he collapse when the cylinder was removed? They didn't lead us to believe he had internal bleeding from shrapnel. And what was the device plugged into in his chest, anyway?

The war lords demand that Stark make them a state-of-the-art missile. They plan to take over unarmed villages with it. They could have accomplished their conquest with the ample AK47s that they already had. The movie could have made it a little bit more believable by saying these war lords were fighting other war lords, i.e. the Taliban. They didn't. It was just unarmed villagers.

These are little things, but they add up. They weren't vital to the story. They could have been explained, but they weren't. That's lazy storytelling abusing SoD.


John said...

At least the writers addressed the issue of the suit's power source. In Spiderman 2, Doc Ock has these incredibly powerful robotic tentacles, and, kind of ironically, is obsessed with getting the money to finish his breakthrough energy technology.

Plot just gets in the way of the CGI displays in modern movies. Don't pretend you don't like it. Hollywood knows what you want much better than you ever could.

Jackie said...

Ha! Don't get me started on Spiderman. The Spiderman villians were always pretty outlandish, even for a comicbook. I managed not to think Spiderman too deeply, though I always wondered how he got the suit. It was obviously done by a professional - not like the one he wore as a wrestler.

Oh, I get it. I shouldn't be thinking, I should be staring at the screen, mesmerized by the pretty pictures.

John said...

Now you understand.

Just shut off your brain and go see Wolverine.

Actually, I can almost see Wolvie's claws, since they don't seem to be longer than his forearms. But in X2, Lady Deathstrike had adamantium fingernails that extended several inches, and in Wolverine, Deadpool has adamantium katana-like blades extend from his forearms. How does that fit with adamantium being indestructible? Lady Deathstike's hands and Deadpools arms should be locked stiff...

Aww, dammit! Now you've got me doing it. DO you know how long it took me to get into that drooling stupor? All that time and non-effort. Wasted.