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.