Movie Inaccuracies: The Subject of Suspension of Disbelief
For those who don’t already know, the phrase suspension of disbelief is the idea that while watching a movie or enjoying some sort of story that we allow the creators some liberties with common sense.
Essentially “I know in the back of my head that this is all bullocks, but I’m not going to think about it and enjoy the film. However, the other side of that is that if the makers go too far it can break and possibly seriously affect our enjoyment. For instance how many times have you seen a movie and were talking to someone else and they mentioned they liked it to a point, but something happened that shattered their ability to enjoy it? I’d wager that everyone has had this experience at least once. The interesting thing is that it can be almost anything. We’re all different. What may pass by me may infuriate someone else and it’s unavoidable.
To use myself as an example, while I have NO problems believing in concepts like the Force from “Star Wars,” or that a magical ring could bring about the end of the world full of dragons and wizards, I do and have always had a problem with the idea of child superheroes. Take “Spy Kids” for example. It came out in 2001 and I was 10 years old and completely in the target age range for the film, but I HATED it. I thought the concept of kids becoming spies was stupid and unbelievable. Any adult should be able to take these kids out and boom, movie over. I was able to buy the villain turning people into kid show creatures with a machine, (it’s a weird movie) but not the children saving the world. It’s similar to why I’ve never liked kid sidekicks like Robin, Short Round, or the Junior Ghostbusters. Again, in the case of all of those examples, I have no problem with villains made of living clay or someone ripping out someone’s heart with Indian magic or being able to build machines to capture and contain supernatural creatures, but the kids really bothered me.
Why is this? I honestly can’t say. Much like how we all have a line we refuse to cross with humor, everyone has their breaking point. I frequent the IMDb message boards for movies I watch and I often read through the threads of people who have the opposite opinion as mine to try and maybe more fully understand what I liked about the movie myself. As a result I’ve seen a LOT of different reasons for disliking one movie or another. Some of them make sense (even if I don’t agree with them) while others almost feel like a joke with no punchline. I’m fairly easy-going with movies and you have to do something really dumb to snap me out of it. Mainly because I feel that’s part of the fun seeing a movie to begin with. I don’t want to see pure reality, that’s what reality is for. However, it does happen and it often technically has no real rhyme or reason to it. Is the fact no one at the Daily Planet who works with Clark Kent can’t tell that he looks EXACTLY like Superman without glasses any more unbelievable than Batman being mere moments away from killing Superman and suddenly becoming friends with him just from learning their mothers shared the same name? Technically no; they rate about the same on the crazy meter. However, one passed by audiences with little more than an eye roll, while the other is still being analyzed and critiqued. Heck in my last review I was questioning the reasoning of chalk-white skin in a movie that takes place in a magical world. Technically speaking, it’s a silly thing for me to get hung up on. I also guarantee you that there were some who were the exact opposite. Who is really right or wrong in this subject of silliness?
Many times you have to pick and choose your battles. The climax of “Jaws” has Chief Brody shooting a tank of compressed air that’s in the shark’s mouth and it causes it to explode in a gory frenzy. We all cheer at this ending even though in the years since it’s been debunked in all sorts of scientific ways. Although the author Peter Benchley thought it was preposterous right from the start. Early in the same film when they find the remains of the hot lady attacked in the iconic opening, they find her dismembered hand on the beach. The prop department studied through medical textbooks to learn what a hand would look like if that happen, but when they presented it to the director Steven Spielberg he took one look at it told them it looked fake. People explained that the prop was scientifically accurate, but Spielberg countered that the average audience members don’t know about these things and will think the filmmakers could just afford a cheap plastic hand. One of my favorite cases in real life was someone telling me they hated the 1986 “The Fly” due to him using the vomit to melt another character’s hand and foot off. The story of a man slowly morphing into a giant fly creature didn’t bother him, but the way flies actually eat something (and something the film itself explained) did. Also, it should be noted that the director David Cronenberg studied insects as a child and thus knew exactly what he was talking about.
Again, this can backfire the other way by how many of you want to see a film with brightly colored feathered dinosaurs… didn’t think so. We like how they looked in the “Jurassic Park” films the best, even though we now know it’s technically wrong. Although in that case, even though it wasn’t at all Michael Crichton’s intention, the method he came up with to bring back the dinosaurs did lead to a built-in explanation about why they don’t look like what the science says they should. Though on that same token the entire premise is technically faulty because they wouldn’t be able to get the blood from the mosquitoes because the same process that would turn the sap into amber would dissolve whatever dinosaur blood may be in there. It doesn’t personally bother me, but if you want to call foul on the scientific accuracy then when do you stop? Another example is “True Lies” which is a fun action flick, but I distinctly remember my dad saying the ending always bothered him. It ends with Arnold’s character flying a harrier jet to save his daughter on a skyscraper. Now the film itself even mentions that his character hasn’t flown one in a long time and according to my dad who read about stuff like this… no you can’t do that. Even for professionals who fly for a living it is an incredibly difficult and complicated jet to control. So the idea that someone who hasn’t used it in a long time will pick it back up like riding a bicycle was too much for him. Even when it’s the same kind of movie that has Charlton Heston running around with an eye patch like he’s in a Nick Fury movie.
My typical rule is if it feels like it comes out of nowhere then it’s a problem, however that doesn’t always hold up. Take this random gag from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” Pee-Wee and this criminal are driving down the highway in a convertible (that’ll be important) and full asleep at the wheel, then drive off a cliff. As they fall the soft top roof catches the wind just right and the car softly floats down. Now if that situation sounds unbelievable congrats you’re sane. If it doesn’t then please step away from the computer you’re currently using to read this before you hurt yourself. This is technically breaking the suspension of disbelief, but it’s doing it for comedy and as a result is one of the funniest gags in the film. Lots of films do this and it works wonders. It’s not something we or filmmakers need not be afraid of. In my opinion, it can actually lead to sillier things like…
Disney’s recent film “The Jungle Book” (the third one) was again not interested in following the original Rudyard Kipling book, which is fine. Instead, it was a rather close remake of the original 1967 version. Many people such as myself were fine with this as this is the version of the story we know much better and it gave us a chance to see new versions of older characters we liked. They were all extremely well-cast and close to the 67 version, except one. King Louie (who is not from the original book at all) was changed from an orangutan to a gigantopithecus. What is a gigantopithecus? It is an extinct primate from 100,000 years ago. Why the change? Well it’s because orangutans are not native to India by quite a lot (Asia) however this gigantopithecus WAS supposedly native to the region and reportedly an ancestor to the orangutans. What this all means is that Disney thought to themselves, “hmm an orangutan somehow living in India, that’s just impossible! He needs to be an animal that HAS NOT EXISTED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS because that’ll make so much more sense.” Now remember we’re talking about a film where the animals can all talk. I know it may not sound like it from the previous sentence, but I actually don’t have a problem buying into either of those ideas for King Louie. What I find so silly is the idea that one idea had to be used over the other to make sense when they’re both ridiculous for a ridiculous story.
I don’t want to come off as making fun of every complaint I’ve ever heard someone tell me and aside from the kids thing, none of these examples personally bother me. What is to be done about this? I don’t know, it’s just something that’s always going to be with us as long as we make movies. I suppose this article was more an attempt to get us to think about all of this and why it bothers us when it does and why it doesn’t when it… well doesn’t.