Friday, 14 March 2014
Are We Becoming Too Unforgiving Of Plot Holes?
Plot holes are often deemed the greatest enemy of all fiction. They're those irritating quirks which snare your suspense of disbelief and call into question the validity of the plot. Vast numbers of films have them from critically acclaimed blockbusters to made-on-five-quid bargain bin tripe.
As audience understanding and standards grow, our expectations and frustration at these errors rise with them. Groups of online forums have become devoted to picking out the failings of certain films or even desperately trying to write them away. Fandoms of ongoing series have become particularly vocal of certain failings and are quick to point out flaws. Some people have even made a living off of analysing these problems, from Noah Antwiler to SFDebris, and almost every film which comes out now seems to have at least one major failing.
The question though is this: Have we as an audience become too unforgiving of such problems?
Now, please don't misread this as some argument that certain plot holes should be ignored. They definitely shouldn't. Standards need to be set and poor characterisation and plotting needs to be explored for what it is. It's the only way film-making and writing will slowly progress and improve over time.
That said, you have to wonder if the same standards are being applied to the classics. All of those films which are upheld as pinnacles of great writing, near perfect characterisation and excellent scripting. All of those ones which are cherished and well recognised within pop culture for memes, iconic lines and great storytelling. Because when you do look back at them, truly look back and analyse them, you find severe plot holes which go completely unexplained.
Now, to be completely fair I am not going to use two examples of my personal all time favourites here. There is no bias involved, these are films I genuinely love. At the same time however, there are problems which people seem to have completely overlooked where they would be held against them if they were produced today.
The first of these is from John Carpenter's The Thing, from the film's opening. In it we see the survivors of the Norwegian camp chasing after the faux husky, trying to hunt it down and kill it before anything can escape the frozen continent. Even ignoring what we know from the much later prequel, they clearly were aware that fire was a major weakness of the monster. So the question here is obvious:
Why were they even bothering with bullets?
The film later shows that bullets don't even slow the creature down and it will casually shrug most off. Fire is the only thing which will hurt along with potentially explosives. Yet throughout almost the entire opening they spend time trying to gun it down before eventually breaking out grenades towards the end. You could argue they were trying to slow it down, but at no point was it ever suggested bullets would even stagger it. For people who had turned their camp into a warzone fighting it, this was a major mistake.
The second of these is James Cameron's Aliens, back before he utterly went off the deep end. It is a well lauded film for its tight storytelling, great atmosphere, fantastic ideas, and not attempting to completely replicate Ridley Scott's classic. That aside, when all is said and done, when the film is over and everything is finished, answer me this:
Why had no one heard the Derelict's beacon?
In Alien it was what drew the crew to the planet in the first place. It was loud enough for what was effectively a glorified space truck to pick up loud and clear without any distortions or problems. Yet at the same time in Aliens we are expected to believe that no one has heard it. In the time more advanced explorer ships have arrived and a colony has been set up, no one LV-462 has even heard of the distress signal. It is mysteriously off without a single hint as to why, especially since it had been broadcasting for seemingly a millennium, and despite it being a crucial part of the film this directly follows on from.
Again, both are fantastically well made films despite these flaws. Yet ask yourselves this: If they were released today, would audiences still be so accepting of these flaws now as they were back in the 80s? Probably not. They would probably hang over the entire film for some people and be brought up as a major failing. Often many other films will be decried for having similar, very early, issues while here they seem to have just been ignored.
Speaking personally, I think a big reason for this has to do with communication between now and then. With the internet about it is much wider, as mentioned before, and we are used to hearing so many opinions. As such whereas one guy previously would have only been able to point out these problems to one or two people, he can now broadcast it to a few thousand at once. We have become extremely used to picking out these problems, expecting such failures and quite often holding them against the film. The problem is that at the same time, we so rarely truly look back at prior productions when doing this and still hold them up as almost sacrosanct creations.
So what's the solution? Better awareness of the failings of these past films.
Greater perspective is needed when it comes to analysing films as a whole. More people need to understand that the very films they consider to be the greatest among those ever made are hardly without flaws before they judge others. That for every error a modern production makes, there are indeed some narrative failing which can be seen as acceptable for a greater overall story. People should be no less willing to question lapses in logic or failures of the plot, but in some respects they should definitely be a little more forgiving. At least with the films which are not openly insulting the audience's intelligence by having the heroes cure death and render space travel irrelevant. Yes Star Trek, that was directed at you.
This is, as always, just a personal opinion though. If you have any thoughts of your own you wish to add, in agreement or complete disagreement with what is here, please feel free to add them in the comments.