Friday, March 23, 2012

Verisimilitude: It Doesn’t Work That Way

I’m willing to go along with some of what Rick Moran says about the trouble with selling a Barsoom movie to an audience, but not this:

Besides, everyone today knows that there is no life on Mars, could never be life on Mars, thus destroying the premise of the movie from the outset. And since most of the potential movie-going audience had no preconceived notions of the source material, and had no treasured memories of being swept up by the narrative, most of the audience ended up at sea — caught between wanting to suspend belief and their own realistic assumptions about Mars. In the end, how could you ignore what your own eyes have shown you about the Red Planet? We’ve had rovers exploring the surface of Mars for more than a decade.

Uh-huh. And James Bond movies flop because submersible undersea bases make no sense. Star Wars was a flop because we know explosions make no sound in space, and spaceships don’t swoop around like aircraft. How many times have we seen the facade at Petra used in a movie? And how many people have walked out of a theater because they knew that was tourist attraction in Jordan, and not where the movie-makers were trying to say it was, or what it was? I’ll bet you could count ‘em all on one hand.

But that’s the way verisimilitude works. It says, “Ok, we’re going to do this one crazy thing that we both know ain’t real. Just go with it, and we’ll have fun.” Really good fantasy and sci-fi then goes with that one change and follows through on the rational consequences: Han Solo can tell the difference in the sound of lazer blasts from asteroid collisions, James Bond needs a car that can transform into a submarine, and John Carter enjoys incredible strength and the ability to leap over tall tharks in a single bound while on Mars.

People watching Heroes had no trouble with accepting the idea of ordinary people being imbued with super powers. Those who enjoyed Lost didn’t nit-pick over all the insane crazy things that happened on the island, even when no explanation was quickly offered. Heck, that was almost certainly one of the big draws for the viewership (ditto X-Files). Modern audiences are well acquainted with the bargain of verisimilitude. You can tell when it’s being used poorly (Avatar - link NSFW) and even then lots of folks will give it a pass.

Photo by Arian Zweger.


Trey said...

Teah, I don't buy it either. I'll accept some people didn't go to see it because they couldn't accept the premise (though I think it would be a small number), but everything I've seen suggest most people that actually saw the movie liked it which works against Moran's notion.

Ryan said...

Mars was a giant MacGuffin, anyway. The idea of the story is an Earth man who is thrust into an alien world... they could have called it anything. (Well, they sort of did, with the name Barsoom) People I know who didn't want to see it just thought it looked dumb or they have little interest in science fiction. I'm the only person I know who disliked the film, but suspension of disbelief had nothing to do with it.