Sunday, 22 July 2012

Cinemaniacal: Put Some Suspenders On Your Disbelief!

You readers just keep giving me good questions. This time it's one that inspires me to tackle a very involved issue. Here's an edited version of the question...
Fuloydo asked...

OK, here's a question for the next "Answering Questions" post.

Background: I just tried to watch (turned it off about half-way through) the movie 'Journey 2:
The Mysterious Island'

My question is as follows:

How stupid does Hollywood think the movie going public is?

I understand suspension of disbelief and I know the current educational system is turning out it's fair share of morons but, really.
Okay, the short answer to that question is that Hollywood thinks the audience is EXTREMELY STUPID. They also believe that the younger the audience the dumber the audience. This causes Hollywood to terribly abuse an essential part of storytelling that you mentioned, mostly out of sheer laziness.

I'm talking about the "willing suspension of disbelief."

For those of you who have never heard the term the willing suspension of disbelief is where the audience accepts the impossible for the sake of enjoying the story they're being told.

It's how we can accept that Superman can fly, or that Peter Parker got super-powers instead of a horrible disease from that radioactive spider.

Now suspension of disbelief only works if the impossible elements of the story follow some sort of internal logic that gives it the illusion of reality.

Superman can fly because he's from another planet with a different level of gravity, and a different kind of sun, etc... etc... yadda... yadda... And that he exists in a universe where that sort of thing makes sense.

This internal logic is specific to the genre you're working in. The internal logic of science-fiction stories must have at least a scientific sounding basis, and the internal logic of fantasy stories must have some sort of magical basis that's appropriate to the story.

Now the problem is that to do it all right requires two things:

1. A working knowledge of the genre you're working in, including the what seems rational within the rules of that genre, and what doesn't.

2. Respecting that your audience has at least a functioning brain cell that requires a decent explanation. 

But to do that takes work.

When making a movie like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island that's predominantly aimed at kids the temptation is to just forget about rationality and logic, and just whip up some lazy excuses for tossing in lots of special effects because that will keep the little bastards dazzled enough to make their parents pay for tickets.

Now while it might work in the short term, like Journey 2's healthy box office, it's not a very good strategy for the film's long term viability.

Poor suspension of disbelief makes films seem increasingly "silly" and "childish" over time, and they don't profit from repeat viewers on alternative mediums.

So it actually behooves a storyteller to put a little extra effort when putting together their premise to make things, if not realistic, at least realistic looking.


  1. It's sad, really.

    I'm a fan of the genre and I'm a fan of Verne.

    I watched the first 'Journey' movie and thought it was stupid. But it didn't insult me directly the way Journey 2 did and I watched it through to the end.

    The 1959 version with James Mason is an order of magnitude better than the 2008 version.

    At least Journey to the Center of the Earth relies on being underground. Moving that story to modern times sort of works since you can't see caves via weather sat.

  2. In Journey 1 they should have had the heroes keep running into guys looking for oil & gold.