Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merciless Logicians & The Sliding Scale of Plausibility

From a recent review I posted:

Okay, a question for all the scribes: must a thriller be totally plausible in order to be entertaining? Many film critics and TS reviewers behave like merciless logicians by pointing out each and every plot hole and logic flaw and thereby rejecting entire stories because of said plot holes no matter how small they might be, as if that's the only thing that matters in a movie. Well, it all depends up on the size of the holes, doesn't it? Most film students know that almost every thriller under the sun has plot holes and flaws in logic in them but they are still accepted and beloved by many because of so many other elements of quality craftsmanship. I think there's a sliding scale involved. If a movie takes itself seriously and yet you can't buy into it's incredibly flawed plot, then yeah, it officially sucks. Unless, of course, it is a movie that doesn't really take itself too seriously and is INTENDED to be wildly impossible but entertainingly so, like, say, a James Bond movie, then okay, no problem. If a serious thriller can hold water for the most part (or not leak too quickly), I won't condemn a movie over a few minor leaks...

...I also think you guys offered a huge volume of characters because you're not yet disciplined in the difficult task of exploring (and exploiting and giving arcs to) just a few characters with depth. I would've preferred fewer twists and stronger scenes and more attention to a smaller number of characters who have more depth. I'll praise a movie even if the story parts do not fit the whole so long as the scenes play strongly on their own and the parts work together even if the whole leaves me a little uncertain. A lot of movies are certain about their story as a whole but are made of careless parts, which is what I feel like we have here. Forced to choose, I would take the strong parts over the whole...


Carl S said...

I whole-heartedly agree. Plot holes only matter when that interrupt the viewer's suspension of disbelief and we all go into films with a different expectation.

Like you said, in a James Bond movie, people will allow for just about anything to happen and will allow for Bond himself to have epiphanies to solve his case that stretch any imagination.

A DePalma film will be scrutinized much more closely, but even he drives over the occasional plot hole so as not to get in the way of his narrative.

Mim said...

A thriller that's more about action doesn't have to fill up every little plot hole. I'll go back The Island as my example. It was full of plot holes and suspension of disbelief, but it was an enjoyable movie for the most part because it didn't pretend to be anything other than an action-packed thriller.

Something like Die Hard has a stronger story-line because the climax is building to reveal several key things about the characters, including Hans Gruber.

When a thriller is more like a treasure-hunt, where the audience has to unravel clues, you want a stronger story. If it's just one car chase after another with a bridge blowing up here and there for fun, the story doesn't matter so much.

GimmeABreak said...

I have a linear, logical processing style so plot holes jump out at me most of the time. Example - I loved ID4 UNTIL they got to the point where they uploaded a virus onto the computers of the alien mother ship. At that point, it totally lost its entertainment value for me because of the ridiculousness of this scenario. It's like the dumb blonde who forgets to turn on the light when she explores the attic/basement of the haunted house. I can't help but scream at these stupid people on the screen!

I think the only times I can overlook logic holes are in spoofs (where they're expected) and in complex mysteries (because I can never figure them out anyway - to paraphrase Tim Burton, I wouldn't know a mystery plot hole if it bit me in the face).

Mystery Man said...

Carl & Mim - Thanks so much. I agreed with every word.

Great comments, Pat. ID4 lost me when we first met the President. I just wasn't buying any of those scenes. After that, I just patiently waited for the special effects. Mysteries are really popular in books right now and I've noticed that mysteries won a number of contests last year. I have a friend who was irate about losing TWICE to "Sherlock Homie" in two different contests. Yet, mysteries have failed to materialize on the big screen. I don't think they'll make a comback. That's the kind of stuff you see on primetime television.


Mickey Lee said...

I'm more forgiving of failures of logic rather than failures of plot.

When facing logical questions, I say to myself: "given what I know about human nature, is it logical for a person to behave like this?" But beyond that, is it possible? That's why I'm very forgiving of illogical behavior, because people don't behave logically in normal situations, much less the stressful situations most characters face in a screenplay.

A plot hole, on the other hand, is where the story is not being true to itself. Where the rules of the story world have been violated. These tend to bother me more -- I'll forgive most things, unless a story changes its own rules for the sake of expediting the plot.

The ID4 example Pat supplied is a good one. Now logically, that makes no sense. We live in a world where Macs and PCs can't even get along, and we're supposed to believe that The Fly can upload a virus to an Alien OS?

But this is a film world where the Empire State Building straddles Fifth Avenue like the MetLife Building and said traffic flows UPTOWN (rather than DOWNTOWN as in real life). If you through stuff like that out the window, then anything goes as far as I'm concerned.

GimmeABreak said...

Since I'm not a New Yorker, I'm not familiar with the building placement nor the traffic patterns so those posed no problems for me. Perhaps I would have even been able to overlook the virus thing (wireless computer-to-computer, no less :-}) if I weren't in the field.

Let's see if I can think of some other examples... OK, first - the Samuel Jackson/John Travolta movie Basic. The story was convoluted to the max and trying to figure it out gave me headaches but it moved so quickly that every time a plot hole opened, something else jumped in and filled it so I was never able to dwell on any of them. In the logic of that movie's world, the "illogic," for whatever reason, wasn't distracting. I didn't love the pic but it was entertaining enough that I've seen it three or four times. On the other hand, Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man's Chest) was so full of illogical actions and huge plot holes that even the non-stop action and my love of the original characters won't get me to sit through that one again (that Terry and Ted didn't even have the script fully written by the time production started showed - the story was as poor here as it was in the cartoon Robots which also began before they had a script).

Clear as mud?

Emily Blake said...

It's all about consistency. When I watch "Hackers" I know the people involved in this film don't know diddly squat about computers. It's like it's based in an alternate reality where computer geeks are super hot and hard drives are floating around in a happy fairyland art museum of ones and pastel zeroes. But that was established in the beginning of the film and kept on going right to the end. I love that movie, in part because of its ridiculousness, because it embraces its own rules with enthusiam. Also, I adore Johnny Lee Miller and Matthew Lillard, but that's neither here nor there.

But "Independence Day" doesn't work because it's set up right in the beginning that we are dealing with our world and our rules. Things may be stretched, but they're always grounded in the world in which we live. Then they do that virus thing everybody's been talking about. It's over an hour into the movie before we're told they (writers, director, Bruckheimer) don't know diddly squat about computers. I'd have appreciated knowing that right from the beginning. Instead, I feel like they think I'm so stupid I'll buy that Mac/PC intergalactic wireless internet hooey.

If you tell me up front none of this is realistic, I'm far more inclined to enjoy the craziness.

Mystery Man said...

Mickey - Loved your comments, particularly "A plot hole, on the other hand, is where the story is not being true to itself. Where the rules of the story world have been violated." Couldn't agree more.

Pat - Excellent. You're spot on! For me, this year, the biggest plot hole was Superman Returns. This son is impossible. Superman gave up his powers BEFORE hooking up with Lois in II. Does Supe's have recessive superpowers genes or something? Whatever. Singer's version is only marginally better than JJ Abram's script, which was in pre-production before Singer took over. In the Act Two climax, Lex Luthor figures out he's from Krypton and suddenly starts flying. Abrams should be glad he didn't have to face public scorn and humiliation for that storyline. They should've let me write the damn thing. Bastards.

Emily - Loved it! Couldn't agree more!


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