Monday, May 26, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief

I just got done watching National Treasure: Book of Secrets and thought it was a fun rental. But the one thing I really got from this movie is that to enjoy certain films, you have to really be willing to give in to the Suspension of Disbelief.

This isn't news to anyone who is a fan of science fiction or fantasy. But I do wonder how far we should allow ourselves to go, though there are certainly no hard and fast rules when it comes to what we like in our entertainment. I talked about this a little bit in my post about Deus Ex Machina. But suspension of disbelief is essential not only when Deus Ex Machina comes into play but throughout the spectrum of sci-fi/fantasy.

And in a way it bothers me a little bit. Okay. Not much. But a little.

Here's why. "National Treasure" was fun, but there were so many "oh-come-on" moments. I like the idea of an Indiana Jones type story and the puzzle solving that goes along with it, but I also appreciate it when movie makers at least attempt to stick to the laws of physics. Without giving too much away, let me just say that I doubt a lever, set in stone for centuries, would give with just slight pressure and trigger an opening in a mountain with very little fuss. Or maybe it's just me.

But I don't want to belabour "National Treasure" too much. It is, by no means, the only movie guilty of going over the top.

I tried to watch Shoot 'Em Up, with Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti and Monica Bellucci a couple of months ago, and holy cow! That's a movie that expects a lot of an audience. I can't fully comment on this movie because the violence eventually drove me from the room, but when a man kills another man with a carrot, you gotta be willing to go with the flow don't you?

James Bond movies also require the audience to leave their preconceived notions at the door. (How do you like how I sneaked in a reason to post a Daniel Craig picture?) These movies are particularly easy to go along with because of the spy aspect. The little kid in all of us wants to believe that spies are not only superhuman, but that they have the gadgets to go with the occupation. I mean, who wouldn't want a dagger shoe or a garrote watch? I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that the Bond character is also responsible for many of the spy characters that I've come to love--from Jason Bourne to Austin Powers.

Any film set in space certainly depends on suspension of disbelief too. "Star Trek" most notably set the stage for all sci-fi television and movies that came after. I've heard some people speculate that our cell phones of today were based on the Star Fleet communicators, though that's probably stretching suspension of disbelief too far to go along with that theory. But any movie set in space pretty much assumes that we will eventually achieve warp speed space travel and maybe we will. I'm no scientist so I have no idea how far-fetched the idea may be. I remember watching the original "Star Wars" and marveling at the idea of the stars streaking by as the Millennium Falcon shot through space, and now that image is completely intertwined with virtually any movie set in space. I've seen wormholes, black holes, event horizons and time travel and never questioned any of it.

I even watched Keanu Reeves stop a bullet once with his mind and I didn't walk out of the theatre. That's how good Hollywood is at making me believe whatever they want me to.


Asara Dragoness said...

Believe it or not, hubby and I had the same problem with the new Indiana Jones movie. I don't know if you've seen it yet or not, so I won't say much.. but we were disappointed. For about an hour after we left the theater, hubby just kept saying, "...really?" Let me know if/when you see it, I'd like to hear what you think about it.

Joe Sherry said...

The biggest suspension of disbelief issue I had with NT2 was that I had to accept that the Secret Service was just flat out incompetent.

Yes sir, it is okay for you to go down into a tunnel we did not know existed and have not cleared for safety. Yes sir, it is also okay for you to go alone into a small room in said tunnel with somebody we don't know just because you said so. No sir, we wouldn't shut down all roads in a twenty mile radius when you've gone missing in a tunnel we haven't cleared with somebody we don't know.

There's Suspension of Disbelief and then there's just Going Too Far.

SQT said...


Oh man. I hate to hear that. I'll see it anyway though.


That was an eye-roller for me too. Whenever they have Cage do Bond moments in that series it never works. They make it look like anyone can pull off the impossible.

Charles Gramlich said...

It really depends on how it is done. I bought the Matrix stuff because it took us very gradually to that place where he could stop bullets, and it explained (reasonably given the underlying assumption) how it could possibly happen. If you'd hit me with that up front I wouldn't have been able to handle it.

furiousBall said...

that's a shame to hear the new Indy movie is a disappointment

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That's right; people don't watch fantasy & sci fi to say "That can't happen."

Carl V. said...

I agree that some degree of suspension of disbelief has to be there for most movies to enjoy them and that is okay. But sometimes it just gets sloppy. Like the new Indy movie...way too much over the top stuff in that movie.

However a movie like Shoot Em' Up, which is supposed to be all about playing up the impossibilities of it all (Transporter, et. al) is okay with me. I see them doing that on purpose to toy with the idea, not to pull one over on you.

I think one of the reasons I really enjoyed the newest Bond was that there was much less of the unrealistic stuff to it. Yes, there were still a bunch of scenes where you realized that this would only happen in an action film, but nothing like the gadgetry nonsense of some of the earlier Bond films.

Nepharia said...

Thanks for the picture of Daniel Craig -- I would forsake my wedding vows for him (as if it he would ever come knocking on *my* door :P).

But, yes, I love suspending my beliefs for a movie -- isn't that what scifi and fantasy are all about? Total escapism (sp?).

Another movie favorite of my is "The Chronicles of Riddick." It's especially good after a beer or two -- and completely sober. Great action film.