How Far Can You Suspend Disbelief
Over the weekend I was reading John Scalzi’s blog. (He wrote Old Man’s War among many other excellent books) Scalzi is largely responding to that Wired article last week about how movies get falling into lava all wrong. (They always make the viscosity the same as water whereas lava is viscous enough that you wouldn’t sink in) One of the examples used was Gollum from the end of Lord of the Rings. Scalzi thinks this is silly, saying:
In a film with spiders of physically impossible size, talking trees, ugly warriors birthed out of mud and a disembodied malevolence causing a ring to corrupt the mind of anyone who wears it (and also turn them invisible), we’re going to complain that the lava is not viscous enough?
Now I know a lot of people are in Scalzi’s camp on this. I disagree though.
To me I’m open to a movie making a handful of violations from the world around us. So I can accept magic, so long as the author doesn’t take an “anything goes” attitude. The more exceptions from the world around us the harder it is for me to suspend disbelief.
With Lord of the Rings I note that Jackson’s art department tried to make everything accurate down to the chain mail used by extras in the film. They wanted an immersive reality. We accept that there is magic and so accept large spiders, walking trees and so forth. But the point is that the rest of the world is supposed to be our world. When swords hit each other it is supposed to be like swords hitting each other here. When someone rides a horse it is supposed to be like riding a horse here. Individuals may have amazing abilities we don’t have – but the people who do this are supposed to be magical creatures like elves and not regular humans.
Of course I’m not saying you ought get angry because the people doing the CGIed ending messed up with the viscosity of lava. (Clearly they were copying the ending of Terminator 2 and just didn’t bother checking) As errors go this is a minor one and it doesn’t bother me that much. However the principle of the matter is that it’s an error and can’t be defended on the basis that the movie has a giant malevolent eye as the primary villain. It can simply be defended on the basis that most people don’t know the viscosity of lava and it’s a minor point that doesn’t pull people out of the movie. (As opposed to say the common problem of CGI fights where people disobey the laws of physics sufficiently that even non-physicists think something is wrong)
Now I know that I’m pickier on these points than most people. It bugs me in action movies when every single object appears bullet proof, when regularly bullet proof jackets stop rifles as well as pistols, when cars do jumps that you couldn’t drive away from and so forth. It’s ridiculous.
I love it when movie plot lines end up being similar to what would really happen. (Last week’s Mythbusters actually showed the way Lethal Weapon’s toilet bomb was survived was completely plausible — I love that!) But I know the vast majorities of directors and writers don’t care whether anything is plausible in their films. It’s just that while I can excuse a few items the more there are the more it bugs me. And when someone does point out the flaw it’s really hard for me not to notice anymore. (Kind of like when someone notes there a boom-mic in a shot or some film crew got accidentally filmed — less of an issue now since these are normally removed digitally)
What about you? Do highly implausible or impossible things bring you out of a movie? How much disbelief can you suspend?