Monday, April 20, 2009

Doggerel #182: "I Bet You Ruin Fantasy Movies!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos love to depict us skeptics as partypoopers, even in the non-blogging portions of our lives. Often, they don't seem to notice our other blog entries on our favorite science fiction and fantasy shows, which we can enjoy. There's a sizable portion of us who are comic book geeks. We don't feel the need to slice and dice good entertainment, or at least not on our first viewing.

The fact that we've got plenty of reason to disbelieve in various phenomena in real life doesn't affect our entertainment. We're capable of what's known as "willing suspension of disbelief." Just because the universe we live in doesn't have magic or warp drive doesn't mean the fictional universe can't. Frankly, it doesn't matter how weird or magical the fictional universe is, so long as it's reasonably consistent. Few things break my suspension of disbelief faster than self-contradiction. It works pretty well with real world woo, too.

The point is that we approach fantasy and reality differently. If we allow ourselves to accept bad reasoning and unrealistic phenomena in the real world, people can die. If we do so with a movie, the worst we risk is a bit of humiliation if we're caught indulging in a guilty pleasure. There's a difference between being easy to entertain and being gullible and open to exploitation.


Don said...

I've known hyperpretentious people who can't stand anything that doesn't jibe with their perceived knowledge of a subject. I had a classics prof who refused to see Troy because he just knew it was going to be inaccurate. Way to miss the point. Troy wasn't about accurate history; it was about an epic recreation of an old story with awesome fight scenes.

Like you said, it's the internal side of the media that makes or breaks it (unless you just don't like fantasy or sci-fi). If I hate a fantasy movie, it's because it was a crappy fantasy movie (like all of them except The Lord of the Rings), not because it has magic in it.

Now, what does get me is when something is presented as really, really, real and has glaring errors in it, like The Da Vinci Code (it doesn't help that that book is amazingly poorly-written). I also hate newage-based films, like The Happening. Personally, my suspension of disbelief can't get over newage hippie crap.

MWchase said...

Some of it might be a feeling that the movie/whatever gives off about how seriously it should be taken.

Like, I wouldn't even try analyzing the ridiculous tech that Douglas Adams came up with.

On the other hand, stuff like the thermodynamic debates about Star Wars are relatively grounded, if extremely tedious. (I kind of want to see that Time Cube argument, granted.)

(The thing that gets me about The Da Vinci Code is that, if you take a close look, you see that it should prove offensive to pretty much everybody.)

Dunc said...

I've known hyperpretentious people who can't stand anything that doesn't jibe with their perceived knowledge of a subject.Well, that really depends. I have no problem with fantasy movies, but I really, really hate it when somebody decides to make a fantasy movie using a bunch of real history as the template. So I despise Braveheart, and I refuse to watch 300...

It's about the demarcation between fantasy and reality - history is part of reality. Just change the names and everything will be fine.

Anonymous said...

The difference between skeptics and woos is partly, I think, that we can tell fantasy fiction from reality without our minds melting - they think Signs is a documentary (not literally, obviously), we know it is a shit Mel Gibson film.

This allows us to know magic doesn't really exist but can be cool in a book, film, game or comic. We can suspend disbelief when we want to but can always come back to reality when the need is done. A woo is someone who forgot to 'unsuspend'.

I've known hyperpretentious people who can't stand anything that doesn't jibe with their perceived knowledge of a subject.I should probably take offence or something because I just can't watch a lot of history based films anymore - my problem though is where they are presented as accurate history, like Braveheart or the Patriot (anyone spotting a theme here?) because unfortunately a sizeable proportion of people think if it is in a film, its accurate. Hell, the SNP saw a spike in votes after Braveheart was released even though it is unadulterated crap as far as history goes.

Way to miss the point. Troy wasn't about accurate history; it was about an epic recreation of an old story with awesome fight scenes.Dude, seriously? Troy, and this is putting it politely, really sucked arse.

and I refuse to watch 300...I found 300 was fairly entertaining until the point that Hollywood changed the graphic novel's story and added the utterly pointless and internally inconsistent gratuitous 'rape' scene.

I mean really. Strong women can only get what they want, even when we make a point about how independent and strong these women are, by allowing the bad guy to rape them. WTF? It wasn't even in the original story. Goddamn that scene annoyed me.

Visually 300 was awesome though.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't know what's going on with the comments Bronze, but it seems that whenever something is tagged as bold, even when a blank line is thrown in between bolded text and unbolded, the unbolded text is just being joined with the bolded.

It even showed the blank lines between paragraphs in preview, but when published they disappearred into the luminferous ether.

MWchase said...

That sounds very strange.I wonder what could be causing it.

Tom Foss said...

Akusai: See, my problem with "Troy" was just the opposite: what's the point of The Iliad without all the gods and magic? I didn't think a whole lot about the movie, but I definitely thought including actual nigh-invincible heroes and gods getting into the thick of things would have improved it.

See also why I never bothered to see "King Arthur."

My hackles get raised when I see real-world woo get assimilated into science fiction and fantasy and such. I can suspend my disbelief all day long for telepathy and X-Men "mutations" and so forth, but when Grant Morrison whipped out Masaru Emoto in "Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein," or when Metal Men gave the most word salad-y quantum flapdoodle I've heard outside of Akusai's eBay commentaries, it really killed my suspension of disbelief and hurt my enjoyment of the project.

And I mentioned telepathy above, knowing full well that it's a real-world woo, but not having a problem with it (mostly because it seems to me that it probably originated into fiction and was thereafter assimilated by woodom).

I think part of it is kind of what Akusai was talking about: when they play it up as if it's "really real," it grates on me. The "Fantastic Four" flick was a good example of this: at one point, the Human Torch was reaching temperatures of 4000 Kelvin, which Reed warned was "supernova-scale" or something along those lines. Could the screenwriters really not use the Google? "That's almost as hot as the surface of the sun" would have been far more accurate, since supernovae are around three orders of magnitude hotter. When they throw out the "neat facts" that aren't, it bugs the living bejeezus out of me.

As to the text formatting issues, it's global, as far as I can tell. And it's not just bold text, but italics as well. Looks like everyone's going to have to relearn the "br" tag.

Dark Jaguar said...

If it's clearly "history fiction" then I don't mind that it takes characters places or events from history. The only stickler is I hate it when someone will tack "based on a true story" on an obvious piece of fiction.

As an example, Fargo, a completely fictional story, had that stuck in front of it. The writers claimed it was a device to draw people into the story, but I say that if you need to depend on the crutch of a lie that something "really happened" to get people to watch your movie, you've failed.

There's a game called Jeane D'arc (I think I spelled that right), which is extremely over the top history fiction. To give you an idea, the village you start in is attacked by goblins. It takes the historical character of Joan of Arc and reimagines her in an extremely fantasy world only loosely based on Europe. I don't think there's anything wrong with such a thing. There's no mistaking it for reality, they make no claims it's historically accurate, and the point of the story is just to be an interesting "what if" using a famous character's possible reactions. Along those same lines, Eternal Sonata is a game about the composer Frederic Chopin, specifically when he's on his death bed. The game invents a story about a fantastical dream world of his and the journey he makes there. Of course it's entirely fictional but the point is just to examine him from the perspective of this fictional world.

Soul Calibur as a series is set in a mythical version of the age of sail that mixes the ages of all sorts of places, like a still-existant ancient greece society as well as a french pirate (ghooost pirate) and an anachronistic samurai intent on developing his skills in an era where gunpowder reigns supreme. Also Spawn, Link, and Darth Vader.

In the case of a movie like King Arthur, their mistake was attempting to take a clearly fictional myth and say "this is how it happened". The History channel did some idiotic special about "what we know about Arthur, if he existed" which is kinda a silly idea. I think they also did a Cinderella movie that was supposed to be "realistic". In it's case, I can give it credit for not once claiming that the story was intended to be taken as true. It was a reimagining.

Plus, I have to give any movie that decides Leonardo DaVinci is a good replacement for a fairy god mother high praise.

Don said...

See also why I never bothered to see "King Arthur."
I really disliked that movie. It was a pastiche of one-liners and stereotypes with a weak story. I did, however, really enjoy Troy as a sort of "If it had happened, here's how it might have happened." Of course it was still over the top and it didn't happen that way, but down the years I've come to enjoy demystified versions of stories. Magic is just too often a really lame plot device. To that end, I liked how Achilles wasn't immortal, just a really good fighter. Clearly, I must heartily disagree with Jimmy_Blue, here.

I think Dark Jaguar's point about historical fiction is relevant here. I liked Troy and I still like Braveheart (not really The Patriot, though) because they're movies, not documentaries. If a documentary made the claims made in some of these films, I'd think it was crap, but historical fiction can, well, be fictional.

I think it all comes down to taste. I'm willing to overlook historical inaccuracy if I like the movie, but I'm stopped cold by movies that deal with anything New Age. I can suspend disbelief for one, but not the other. Why? I dunno.

Dunc said...

The problem is that a lot of people can't tell the difference between history and fantasy - and in many cases, there's no reason why they should, unless they've actually studied the matter in question. For example, Braveheart... There is absolutely no mention of the real issue which sparked Wallace's rebellion, there is no mention of Andrew Moray, no mention of the existence King John Balliol, never mind his role (in a movie about a war that was entirely about the relationship between the Scottish and English crowns!), no mention of the role of the radical Bishops such as Bishop Wishart, etc, etc, etc. Instead, we get a bunch of romanticised bullshit that people actually take seriously. You know the murder of Wallace's secret wife? Never happened - he was never even married. That story was made up almost 200 years later. It's gotten so bad that historical re-enactors are turning up wearing kilts (the kilt didn't appear in Scotland until the 16th century, 300 years later) and blue face-paint (there is no historical evidence that such a thing was ever done, apart from some very questionable references in Ceasar's Bellum Gallico, which is over 1000 years earlier, and it certainly wasn't done amongst the warrior class of the 13th century) and believing that this crap is historically accurate. There's a fucking statue of Mel Gibson as Wallace in Stirling, ferchrisake!

Everything in that movie is wrong. A professor of Scottish History once remarked to me that, if you're interested in the Scottish Wars of Independence, you'd be better off watching Apollo 13. If I hear one more twat admiring Wallace based on what's presented in Braveheart, I'm liable to punch them.

Imagine a movie about George Washington where he's an escaped plantation slave who single-handedly launches the Revolutionary War because some British officer raped his daughter. Also imagine that the events were sufficiently remote that most people were completely unaware of the truth, actually believed that he was a Negro and had a daughter, and had no idea of even the vaguest outline of the politics surrounding the war. How would you feel about that?

Dunc said...

Oh, and they even managed to get the name wrong - it wasn't Wallace who was known as "Braveheart", it was Robert the Bruce.

Anonymous said...


Clearly, I must heartily disagree with Jimmy_Blue, here.Obviously this is where I start flinging insults then. Anyway, you're clearly insane. The acting was the worst I've seen for a long time.

Damn you, and such.

And I wholeheartedly agree with Dunc. I actually studied the period of the three Edwards for my degree - there is virtually nothing but some of the names right about Braveheart but it was passed off as accurate - I remember an interview with Mel Gibson where he even stated they had tried to remain as historically accurate as possible.

I once even wrote a small piece about everything I could find historically wrong with the movie plot and characters - I even presented a seminar on why the Scottish actually probably did owe the English fealty and Edward I was probably within his legal rights to act as he did!

Margaret Maid of Norway is never mentioned; the Treaty of Birgham is never mentioned; Wallace was actually a minor noble not a poor farmer; never married; actually lost men many times whilst he was sneaking into villagers to get laid; the French princess he nails would have been underage in real life; as royalty she would have had absolutely nothing to do with a rebel fighting his rightful fuedal lord; Wallace and Edward I died years apart; the whole first night thing never happened as far as my research showed; the battle of Stirling was actually the battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace won by trapping half the English army on one side of a bridge and destroying that half; Wallace never made it as far as York, never mind sacking the town; York was not a big medieval castle - it was then a walled city.

For crying out loud, the first words in the film talk about the pagan king Edward I when he was a devout christian who heard he was to be king whilst in the Middle East fighting in the Crusades!

And as for a statue of Gibson as Wallace - that has always made me laugh and infuriated me in equal measure. Idiots.

This is just the stuff I can remember off the top of my head, but the film was presented as an accurate depiction, not historical fiction. I can't tell you how many times I've patiently explained the things wrong with that movie to its believers.

And the acting was fairly crap too. Does Gibson even know where Scotland is? I can do a better Scottish accent, and my Scottish accent is shit.

I hate that movie...

Any historical errors in the above text are purely because I was feeling lazy this morning. Just like the scriptwriters of that damn movie Braveheart...[mutter]...English always the bad guys...[grumble]...Irish always comic relief...[curse]...French women always hot...

Dark Jaguar said...

Braveheart's an example of a movie that just totally screws up it's supposed goal. It's hardly a condemnation of movies that are intended to be historical fantasy though. I think a few more should just go nuts with it and be blatantly clear about it.

To that end, we've got movies like The Core which do to science what Braveheart did to history.

Oh and I recently saw this preview of some movie called "High Voltage" or some such thing about some idiot that has to jolt his body to keep an artificial heart pumping. I can't begin to list all that's wrong with it, but apparently from the preview there's some part where he has to have sex to build up enough friction to get a charge. Seriously, I think we might have a movie that beats "The Core" in terrible abuses of science. It's laughably bad and that's just the preview.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, that had me headdesking, myself.

Dark Jaguar said...

A part of me hopes that this is a comedy movie delivered in a dead pan style like Snakes on a Plane, but another part of me says it may just as well be intended to be taken seriously...

Don said...

No, it's a Jason Statham movie, so the premise is pretty much "Let's have him running around and doing completely ridiculous shit for 90 minutes because it will be completely awesome mindless fun." I've found that they're usually right, but then, I often like ridiculously over-the-top action flicks, especially when they're a little tongue-in-cheek.

Brief note on SoaP: I watched it on TV the other day, and the famous line was censored with "I want these monkey-fighting snakes of my Monday-to-Friday plane!" It was bizzare and sublime at the same time.

Tom Foss said...

Yeah, I didn't see the first Crank movie, but I hear it ran on Rule of Fun more than anything. Since the concept was pretty much "Speed" on a dude, I think that kind of tongue in cheek presentation is the only way it could work.

Dunc said...

Seriously, I think we might have a movie that beats "The Core" in terrible abuses of science.You've never seen Earthstom then? It's hard to call, but for my money it's actually worse than The Core, in every respect. Astonishing, really.

MWchase said...

How is it that every sentence in the summary they gave had something wrong with it?

Dark Jaguar said...

What in the...

I demand a new prefrontal lobe! You broke mine!

Dunc said...

You think that's bad, you should try watching the actual movie... Not only is every single aspect of the premise and plot absurd, the acting is dreadful and the inevitable romantic resolution appears completely out of the blue. The entire movie, they're all "We must glue the moon back together with nukes!" and then right at the end it's suddenly "Oh, by the way, I love you. Lets get married." WTF? Where did that come from?

As a side note, have you ever noticed that there is no conceivable disaster-movie problem that can't be fixed with nukes? Asteroid? Nuke it. Planet's core stopped rotating? Nuke it. Mice in your kitchen? Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure!

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah. I'm reminded of one of those PZ vs. Phil Plait vote battles where PZ brought up some possible signs of microscopic life on Mars, and how much more they'd need a biologist to study the forthcoming evil alien epidemic. I posted a pro-PZ comment suggesting that Phil Plait and other astronomers are so out of it that they'd try to solve the problem by launching big rockets at it.

Since, you know, nukes always make such things grow faster.

Anonymous said...

I complain about a lot of fantasy and science fiction, but because they're predictable, cliched and written for morons who have no exposure to classical mythology and the like. If anything, they're not fantastic enough and betray far too much modern humanity in their plot construction and assumptions. Fake-history shows like 'Rome' are much the same, since the parasitic lumpenproles who watch television would be far more shocked by ACTUAL Roman culture and architecture than a bunch of tits and forced sex scenes.