Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trying to put my finger on it...

I've actually written a couple of reviews that I considered posting, but didn't get around to and now it feels a little pointless. I might still get around to putting them up, but I have so little time these days and so much I want to do. So instead here's a few thoughts about stupidity in movies.

Yesterday someone happened to mention "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow". I immediately said that I didn't want to talk about that movie. Thinking back, the reason why I said that was because it was the kind of movie that I hate, but have a hard time explaining why. I find it to be stupid; yet there's plenty of stupid movies that I enjoy, both movies that aren't taking themselves seriously (mainly comedies) and ones that are. So what exactly is this particular brand of 'stupid' that I cannot stomach?

Well, I don't have a word for it, but I can try to describe the kind of scenario where it occurs. Picture this: The villian's doomsday device is primed and ready to fire, his finger hovering over the big red button that will distroy the Earth. He stands for a few seconds, staring out of the viewport at the the precious blue-green planet, savouring the moment. Suddenly the hero bursts in, levels his firearm at the villian, and proceeds to tell him to surrender.

What the hell? Ok, wait, let's finish playing out the scene before we go off. The villian gives his rant, the hero says something unintelligent about it being over, then the villian goes ahead and presses the button (or possibly presses some other button hidden behind his back, or something else distracts the hero). Now the hero does not shoot the villian, but runs forward and examines the console to try to disable the weapon. Of course the villian does not simply stand back and allow it to happen, but attempts to interfere. The hero loses his weapon, the two tussle in an unrealistic and unintelligent fashion as we see the cannon charging up / hear the countdown (ooooooohh, drama!). Perhaps the hero manages to save the day on his own or perhaps a third party intervenes - the willful former damsel-in-distress is always a popular choice, she can't stand around making witty comments to prove how tough she is for ever, after all.

Now I didn't just make that up on the spot, I actually saw it on an old episode of one of crappier Star Trek spin-offs. I don't remember all the details and I did throw in a few variations on the theme - all of which I've seen multiple times - but basically it's how it went down.

So what's my complaint? When the guy is about to destroy an inhabited planet - hell, even if it's not inhabited - you don't stand around debating! You bloody shoot the guy! I'm sorry, his life is not worth risking the lives of billions. That he is currently trying to kill. Hell, if there's any justice in whatever justice system the hero subscribes to the villian will be executed anyway.

Yes, if you need a second to line up the shot to be sure you get him, pretending you want to talk is a valid way of trying to distracting from pressing the button in the one or at most two seconds it takes to be sure of the shot. So it's 'Baddius Guyyus! Surrend -' POW!

But the hero did not, he allowed the villian time to improvise or just call his bluff and trigger the big world-ending plot-device. Now you shoot him so he doesn't cause any more trouble, take one second to make sure he's out of commission (preferrable shooting him another couple of time - two to the body one to the head right?), then try to clean up your mess and shut down the whatever device. Right?

No, apparently you assume he won't actually try to stop you from stopping him. Very smart. Clearly the hero min-maxed for good looks, since he takes far longer to punch out the weedy scientist bad guy in his 60's than your average "yeah-I've-been-in-a-couple-of-drunken-brawls-in-my-time" bloke off the street, never mind a trained military officer.

What it all comes down to is manufacturing drama through, well, stupidity. It's just bad writing. If you can't write a situation that is dramatic enough on it's own merits, trying to amp it up using incredibly contrived plot devices, especially ones that are based on the main characters being retarded to the point of occasionally forgetting to breathe, well, it won't make a good scene. At least not for me.

You may talk of suspension of disbelief. I have no problem with suspension of disbelief when it serves a purpose, like allowing a great action scene - some of my all-time favourite movies have only a passing aquaintance with the laws of physics. But when it's used to cover for bad writing, I cannot stand it.

Perhaps it has something to do with how I relate to characters. I'll come back to that later, because that is another thing that matters to me and that I have very little tolerance for when done poorly. I'm tempted right now to give lots of examples of 'manufactured stupidity' in movies, but I'll stop here for now.