Monday, August 19, 2013
Ask JKM a Question: What destroys suspension of disbelief?
A regular reader, Jason, asks:
“When you're watching a movie or TV series, what breaks your willing suspension of disbelief? What takes you out of the experience?”
Is it bad special effects? Poor acting? Plot holes? Easter eggs?”
Jason, that’s a great question.
I would say that bad special effects are not generally a major stumbling block for me, even though I do register and note them.
Perhaps this is so because I grew up with 1960s-1980s television, and there were a lot of bad special effects but great stories to go around in that milieu.
I am a huge admirer of the BBC’s Blake’s 7 (1979 – 1981) for instance, but the special effects are atrocious. After some practice -- I watched the first episode, “The Way Back” three times to get past the cheapness of the enterprise -- I was able to simply enjoy the storytelling in spite of the production values and effects. Now, I sort of automatically “tune” myself to the visual frequency of something like original Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 or Land of the Lost while watching.
Poor acting can indeed ruin a moment, but it doesn’t often break my willing suspension of disbelief, either. Generally, if there is bad acting to reckon with, there are other problems in a film too, so it’s rarely the acting alone that jars me out of the production
I think the answer, for me anyway, rests in dialogue that fails to ring true, or tries to carry too much thematic weight.
The best example I can think of at the moment actually occurs in a movie I admire deeply, Cabin in the Woods (2012).
I consider this film an amusing, smart, totally worthwhile horror film. However, near the climax, a twenty-something heroine, Dana -- who has fought tooth-and-nail to survive up till this point -- says something like “Humanity…it’s time to give someone else a chance.”
This line of dialogue is so transparently the work/philosophy of the writer, and not the character that it yanked me right out of the movie, destroyed suspension of disbelief, and actually ruined the (clever) end of the movie for me.
That line is not Dana talking.
There’s no way she would reasonably, possibly say such a thing, given what she’s gone through and how she’s reacted thus far. It’s a terrible, terrible line that should have never been spoken. Marty could have gotten away with it, but not Dana.
So for one thing, the line is out of character. For another, it’s crushingly obvious, given the conceits of the film, and therefore pretentious. The movie would work just as well (and perhaps much, much better...) with the omission of that single line of dialogue.
I shouldn’t give the impression that Cabin in the Woods is the only film that suffers from this flaw. I remember Mississippi Burning -- a critical darling of 1988 -- ending with one character stating vapidly “Maybe we’re all bad.”
Maybe we’re all bad?
This is a movie about regional, entrenched racism in the United States in the 1960s and the effort to overcome it; to beat City Hall, essentially. And the point that the filmmakers’ want audiences to leave with is “maybe we’re all bad?”
Recently in Man of Steel (2013), Superman came up with the idea of opening a singularity over Metropolis to destroy General Zod, and a U.S. General wanted confirmation that this plan was a good idea. He got it from Christopher Meloni’s character.
But in this case, what was not said is what bothered me, and had me wanting to address the screen. Not a single line about the importance of closing the freshly opened singularity. And why ask Meloni’s character?
What the hell does he know about opening and closing singularities?
Don't forget to ask me a question at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com