Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A digital watch in a Western

I had an interesting conversation a while ago with a friend, where we saw together a godawful vampire movie set in the Old West, Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance. It was sheer masochism on my part: I heard Ewe Boll was bad, but I wanted to see how bad.

I don’t think I’ll be surprising anyone by saying that it was in fact, as bad as everybody says.

For example, in one scene, there’s an extra that quite visibly is wearing a digital watch. A digital watch in the Old West! The guy wasn’t even hidden in the background, either: he was front and center and the watch was unmistakable.

Something about that error just pissed me off even more than ordinary goofs, because it was the kind of sloppy mistake that’s made when the people making a film just don’t care.

A friend of mine that watched the film with me was baffled by how much the watch thing got to me and laughed it off. “So what, baby? It’s a movie about vampires, and you’re on about a digital watch being unrealistic?”

That comment totally took me totally off guard. Implicit in it is the idea that as something is a vampire movie, a crass error made in it is somehow less of a crass error.

That comment is also symptomatic of a mentality that science fiction and fantasy fans frequently suffer from: underestimating the importance of suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief is like trust: it can be broken, and it is hard to regain when lost. Like trust, suspension of disbelief is never just “given” away, and must be earned. The more we are convinced of the reality of a story, the more we’re emotionally involved. The more we’re emotionally envolved, the more moving and entertaining a novel or movie experience is.

1. If an error is unacceptable in any other type of fiction, it shouldn’t be acceptable in science fiction or fantasy, either. SF and Fantasy shouldn’t be treated differently from any other genre, or held up to different standards than any other genre. No one should ever say “he acts that way because it’s science fiction.” Characterization is just as important in SF (and for that matter, action/adventure) as it is in regular fiction.

2. Science fiction and fantasy have an even greater obligation to be “realistic” than so-called “realistic” genres. In “plausible” espionage fiction, legal thrillers, or detective stories, suspension of disbelief is easier because the story could happen. SF has to work harder because it features elements not present in everyday life. For another example, in superhero comics, just because characters wear costumes and fire proton beams doesn't mean they're exempt from the responsibility of plausibility.

3. Science fiction and fantasy work according to rules and those rules are just as important as the rules of the real world. If having a watch in a Western is sloppy and takes a person out of the reality of the film, then having multiple versions of Atlantis existing simultaneously with totally different properties (as happened in DC during the sixties) is every bit as bad.

For a somewhat more contentious example, having Yoda fight with a lightsaber, as he did in the prequels, is a mistake every bit as bad as the digital watch, because Yoda was never shown as having a laser sword all through his appearances in the original movies, never trained Luke Skywalker in the use of a lightsaber (all those other things were more important) and as Yoda was a wise, spiritual teacher that taught the Force as something wondrous and beyond the physical, having Yoda fight with a lightsaber contradicts the very essence of the character. Just because Yoda is a fictional character and a fictional alien in a fictional galaxy doesn’t change the fact that going against his nature is a very, very real error.


David said...

Well, this comes back to a pet peeve of yours, which is that it's not okay to "turn your mind off" when you watch a movie. I sympathize, believe me, but you may be in the minority.

I think your friend was saying, "I know this movie's crap, and that's why I chose it. I feel like a crap movie tonight." But then of course your thoughts always come back to the filmmakers; does anyone really go in saying, "Let's make a crap movie for people who love crap movies"? Or is it just a case of incompetence that ends up ironically paying off? And everyone hates seeing incompetence rewarded.

I have to say, if someone says "Let's watch a movie about vampires in the Old West," I'm going to *assume* it's crap (not that Billy The Kid vs. Dracula wasn't a masterpiece, mind you). If it turns out to be a genuinely awesome piece of filmmaking, it will be one of those great little moments for me, like when "Ghost" turned out not to be the tortuous chick flick I'd resigned myself to enduring. But if it's just goofy schlock, well then I can't really whine that "the concept had so much wasted promise."

I agree about the Star Wars prequels though, and I applaud any attack you want to make on them. They're worse than a cowboy vampire movie because they pretend to be important, thoughtful and well-made. I envision the director of the cowboy vampire movie as generic, blow-dried, track suit-wearing Hollywood no-name, which adds to the fun. But I choke on the crap handed down by His Holiness Lucas to the members of the Church of Skywalker.

Eduardo M. said...

Your example of Yoda fighting w/a lightsaber is not the same as a digital watch being present in the Old West.

One is an error that the filmmakers either didn't catch or didn't bother to amend. Maybe I'm speaking too much from the side of someone who works in the biz, but from what I've been taught, you need to pay attention to details like that, even in a setting where we have fanciful elements like vampires.

As for Yoda swinging a lightsaber, that's a different story. You are correct in saying that Yoda came off as more of a spiritual person in the original movies. But to go over what I said last time we spoke, it was clear Yoda was trying to focus on the spiritual side of thing with Luke to prepare him for the mental and psychological aspects of battling Vader. Also, as I said before, Yoda didn't use the lightsaber that often in the prequels. Most of teh time he was involved in battle, it was in an advisory capacity. Its not like he was a mini-Sam Jackson saying "Your Ass Kick I will."

Julian Perez said...

David -

Let me see if I understand what you're saying correctly: I went into that movie with the wrong spirit, that when you expect something to be bad, things like visible digital watches become a part of the movie's charm and appeal, is that it?

Perhaps that's true - and maybe the reason I use this example is because "digital watch in a Western" makes me giggle every time I write it.

What I was saying though, is that an error like that is defended because "it's a movie with vampires" so a different standard is applied to it than other works, which bugs me. People should treat science fiction and fantasy the same way they treat other genres.

Let me give you another example: in early Justice League stories written by Gardner Fox, Wonder Woman's lasso does everything, including on one occasion, changing an element from one type to another, via "vibration." Vibration does not work that way, and that can't be ignored just because people are wearing costumes and have superpowers.

Ewe Boll isn't just your generic Hollywood shyster: he's a madman with panache all his own. My favorite story was when Dr. Boll challenged any of his critics to a boxing match, and at least a couple took him up on that. The guy's actually a former pro in addition to a Doctor of Literature, incidentally, so all his critics got creamed.

Eddie -

Yoda used the lightsaber a ton in the prequels. He had two major fight scenes. Towards the end of the last prequel, he was cutting down stormtroopers left and right.

If he fought once, that would have been fine, but...was this really all they could have done with a character as beloved as Yoda - this kind of video game stuff?

Yoda fighting with a kid-sized "My First Lightsaber" was problematic if done even once because he's so short, so there's no logic behind him using an edged weapon. Remember when he had to throw his lightsaber at a stormtrooper because he couldn't reach him otherwise? Yoda's at a disadvantage because of his size, and that negates the entire idea behind the character.

Plus, the scenes looked dumb, with a fake bouncing-ball CGI Yoda fighting Christopher Lee. It provoked absolute laughter from the audience I saw the film with.

David said...

Let me see if I understand what you're saying correctly: I went into that movie with the wrong spirit, that when you expect something to be bad, things like visible digital watches become a part of the movie's charm and appeal, is that it?

Well, I don't know your friend, but I think maybe what he meant was that "it's a *cowboy* movie with vampires," so right away it's suspect.

"Vampire movies" covers a lot of territory. I love me some Hammer, for instance, but I wouldn't go near "Twilight" with ten-foot pole. That has nothing to do with negative judgments about vampire fiction and everything to do with an aversion to pimply teenage romance. Similarly, you'd tend to watch "The Twilight Zone" with different expectations than you'd have for Gil Gerard's "Buck Rogers" even though in the broadest sense they're both "science fiction."

I'm betting your friend would watch "30 Days of Night" in an entirely different way from "Bloodrayne 2".

Mr Boll sounds like an interesting character. Maybe the Oscars would be more fun if we settled it all with a cage match. Anyway, it couldn't produce worse results than we've already seen, and it would be entertaining to boot.

Eduardo M. said...

I think you're exaggerating the numbers here. You are correct in saying that Yoda did have at least two big fight scenes in the Prequels. But notice he never drew the lightsaber in Phantom Menace. also most of the time he was advicing and not getting directly involved in the action. You are also correct in saying that a weapon like a lightsaber should be a problem for someone like Yoda to wield. However, remember one of the things he taught Luke "Size Matters Not."

If you want to learn more about Uwe boll and his "style" of filmmaking, may I suggets going over the Greatest Movie Ever Podcast, hosted by Paul Chapman. He has covered many of Uwe Boll's films.

David said...

However, remember one of the things he taught Luke "Size Matters Not."

Uh-huh. But you'll notice neither one of them ever got a girl.

Eduardo M. said...

if you follow the novels then you'll notice Luke did eventually get a girl. Even managed to get her to have his kid.

Paitience young padawan.

David said...

I have patience, but not enough to read Star Wars novels.

Julian Perez said...

My favorite part of the Star Wars novels and their dealing with Luke Skywalker's sex life was that at one point, there were two different women the writers proposed as girlfriends for Luke, and writers sniped at each other to push their pet character.

I have never seen such a gigantic "Armed With Canon" duel fought in continuity between competing writers since Claremont and Byrne went back and forth declaring the Doctor Doom used in each other's stories were "actually Doombots."

Incidentally, I always wondered why Obi-Wan Kenobi didn't have a wife and the evil Emperor didn't have a girlfriend (though I didn't think too hard with that last one, ugh). With Yoda, it made sense, since he was a thousand years old and was a mystic wise man that probably dedicated himself to spiritual stuff.

When the prequels tossed the idea out there that the Jedi Knights were all celibate, it made me regret asking. It was all a part of a greater trend: making Jedi Knights emotionless, detached and creepy weirdo monks with chilling calm and zero intensity, and maybe that wouldn't be so bad, but there was no warm, crowd pleasing Han Solo or Luke Skywalker character we were meant to empathize with or root for.

By the way, if Luke in the first movie just discovered his father was a Jedi Knight, shouldn't that have provoked more of a response? If the Jedi-are-celibate rule was there all along (heh heh), that's like finding out your Dad is the Pope.

About Yoda fighting...he had a major, climactic fight scene in two of the three movies and in the last film, as I said before, he ran down Stormtroopers like a lawnmower. Now maybe he didn't fight THAT much, but the problem is that's all they used him for: video game stuff. Which is not really the kind of character Yoda is.

I'd like to clarify the central point of this article. The point is that there are two types of errors in science fiction/fantasy/superhero:

1) errors from outside the reality of the story, like a digital watch or a boom mike that's briefly visible;

2) errors in the internal logic of the story, like a character behaving contrary to how we know them to behave.

Many fans of science fiction are so used to fantastic elements that they don't view #2 errors as that severe, when really they're every bit as jarring and should be avoided as much as #1.

Eduardo M. said...

"I have never seen such a gigantic "Armed With Canon" duel fought in continuity between competing writers since Claremont and Byrne went back and forth declaring the Doctor Doom used in each other's stories were "actually Doombots." "

That reminds me, after the mini-series Infinity Abyss introduced Thanos' Thanosi clones, several stories were retconned as involving Thanosi rather than the real deal.

Then there's also having several characters in Avengers stories like the Crossing turn out to be Space Phantoms

Julian Perez said...

"That reminds me, after the mini-series Infinity Abyss introduced Thanos' Thanosi clones, several stories were retconned as involving Thanosi rather than the real deal."

I remember hearing about that, and the thing I find the funniest is that it was Jim Starlin writing out every Thanos story he didn't like...which was pretty much any Thanos story not written by Jim Starlin.

Still, the fact that Mark Waid had Ka-Zar defeat Thanos does show that there was some need to clean house.

Julian Perez said...

By the way, I don't think I'm exaggerating Yoda's use of the lightsaber for fight scenes at all, because that's pretty much all he ever did in the prequels! Seriously! That's the problem.