Thursday, February 14, 2013

Something I don't like in movies and "Vanishing on 7th Street"

Spoilers for Vanishing on 7th Street but it's not a very good movie so... do as you please.  (Though, that said, anyone familiar with Tim LaHaye's theology, specifically the naked Rapture that leaves your clothing and such behind, might be interested in it as a portrayal of a very inclusive and very creepy Rapture where "Like a thief in the night," puts emphasis on "night" to the point that light sources can hold the Rapture at bay.)

The thing I don't like in movies is that there seems to be a tendency for someone to do something suicidally stupid, and by that I mean something that they're smart enough to know is massively unwise and has zero chance of a positive outcome and a very large chance of their death, someone else to try to save them, and then have person who tried to save them and would otherwise have lived die, person who did suicidally stupid thing live.

On occasion it could be used to indicate, "The life you end might not be your own," but the massive repetition of it in movie after movie ends up making it seem like the message is, "If you want to live just do high risk low reward things until someone else dies to save you, then you're set."

It also delivers the message, "Don't try to save people, you will die."  And while that might seem like a noble sacrifice, remember that the person you're saving is the type of person to do things that will clearly get them killed for no good reason whatsoever and the plot invulnerability mentioned in the previous paragraph that comes from getting other people killed in your place only lasts until the closing credits.  Who do you think stands a better chance of actually getting a happy ending after those credits roll?  You, the person who cares about others and recognizes certain death when they see it, or them the person who doesn't give a damn about others and embraces obviously certain death not because they're actually suicidal but because they've chosen to take all of the intelligence and knowledge they do have and cast it aside in order to convince themselves (again, for no good reason whatsoever) that obviously certain death somehow isn't obviously certain death in spite of the OBVIOUSLY and CERTAIN being written over the DEATH in the equivalent of giant neon letters.

So, as you might imagine, anyone who tries to help anyone else in Vanishing on 7th Street did not survive to see the end of the movie.  Message received: Helping people = Bad.

There were two survivors   One was the person who, while not embracing Obviously Certain Death, did almost get two people killed for no good reason when she could have just as easily accomplished the same thing by saying, "I feel safer on my own."  The other was the one who killed someone by trying to embrace Obviously Certain Death, that killed person's death jarring him back to his senses.

It wouldn't be so much of a problem if the embrace of Obviously Certain Death were because he was actually suicidal and then when someone died trying to save him he decided that he'd live to make it so the other person's death wasn't in vain.  The trouble is, he wasn't embracing Obviously Certain Death because he wanted to die Obviously Certain Death.  He was embracing Obviously Certain Death because he wanted to live and he knew better and the death was both obvious and certain and so ... seriously what the fuck?

I think I'm going to break off the "How I would do it" into another post.


  1. My guess is that this is what you get when scriptwriters have been to Writing School and want Character Arcs. From nobody to hero is an obvious arc, and if the "nobody" is actually of negative value so much the better...

    (And that's something your snarky X characters might comment on - never mind the Plot, how about the Writer? :-)

    1. The problem in Vanishing is that it doesn't really take the form of an arc. It's really the very end and the person saved (a child and thus immortal, although I note that a baby was taken offscreen) makes no signs of it having any effect upon him (besides making him decide not to do thing that leads to Obviously Certain Death.) I think in this case it probably had a lot to do with wanting the only survivors to be children (but children old enough to know better than to act the way they acted, I note) and therefore the adult had to die.

      But since it seems to show up so much in general my complaint extends to movies where that is not the case.

  2. I haven't seen Vanishing, but that was one of the enumerable things wrong with The Day After Tomorrow: the father's stunningly stupid trek across the country (which, for bonus points doesn't get him there any faster than if he'd waited) gets someone killed and it made no sense that his colleagues didn't just tackle him and duck-tape him to a chair until he saw reason. Then again, that movie was pretty much an epic pile of Whut, so...

    1. Not to mention that, as just about the only scientist who had any idea what was going on, he might just possibly have done some good back where he was. And he didn't take any, y'know, blankets or food or stuff.

    2. The opposite is also on the, "I'm sick of it," list.

      Parent/Stepparent: If don't go to do X right away the world will end and we'll all die.
      Child*: I knew you didn't love me. If you loved me you'd stay. You're just abandoning me (again/at the first opportunity).

      No. There are legitimate responses urging the person to stay (Let someone else do it, for example) that may or may not apply to the case in question but, "I'd rather have you stay here and die with me and the rest of the world, than have you save my life, and the rest of the world with it, so you can come back later," is not a legitimate response. Which is probably why they never phrase it that way, but it's what they tend to be saying.

      When someone is risking their life to save the world, that doesn't mean they don't love you (doesn't mean they do either.) If they didn't do it, you'd die. It's entirely possible that saving you is at the top of their list or reasons for doing it.

      Urging them to let the world end in order to demonstrate their love for you is not a good idea.

      [break for character limits]

    3. Also the completely needless avoidable death comes up way too often. Consider the movie, "The Core," someone died from an unforeseen rock falling and crushing their skull, ok, these things happen. I might not particularly like it, but it seems like a reasonable enough way for a character to go.

      He was the commander and his death put the second in command in charge. One of the things he'd told her was that she wasn't ready for command because sometimes there is no good option and you need to be able to face that. It's not just about making good choices, it's about making bad ones when there are no good ones. And until you face that you're not ready yet.

      Apparently he was a fan of the Kobayashi Maru test.

      Regardless of whether what he said is true** she doesn't face that. She just convinces herself that she does.

      She's in the cockpit and gets the following information:
      1) Someone is sealed in a collapsing compartment
      2) All she has to do is push a button and the person will be saved
      3) The person who designed and built the ship is currently trying to manually do the same thing that pushing the button would do but it's taking too long because it's supposed intended to be done from the cockpit, not where he is.
      4) Person from three is the single most qualified person on earth to know what will or will not be a danger to the ship.
      5) The ship was designed so that she could save someone trapped in a compartment like that with the push of a button. Given some of the shortcuts they took in building the ship (see the reason for death number three) there's no way they would have installed a, "This will destroy the ship and with it the world," button for shits and giggles.

      In other words, the information she had boils down to:
      1) If you don't push this button [person's name] will die.
      2) If you do push this button [person's name] will live and everything will still be ok.

      She chose not to push the button because... what the fuck?

      [Still breaking for character limits]

    4. In fact, I'll up that. Person three died because he had to go outside in the damn-damn hot and, while he had time to do what needed doing (proof that buttons no one intended to be pushed were not located in the cockpit) he was incapacitated before he could make it back.

      If Tcheky Karyo (the actor for The French Guy) had been alive at that point they would have in theory had one extra person, one person could have tried to run out after him once the job was done and drag him back. Essentially cutting the time needed to be spent able bodied in the damn-damn hot in half. Designer only needed to get there and do the job, the moment the job was done (or preferably when it was almost done), rescuer would go out and get to designer to pull the person back. If that wasn't good enough it could be cut into even smaller shifts. Rescuer one has to get him, say, half of the way back (and hook the two of them together for easier carrying) Rescuer 2 has to get them, preferably two thirds of the remaining way (less distance because carrying/dragging two people, but also less strain because not out in the damn-damn-hot as long to get to them) Rescuer 3 has to drag the others the rest of the way.

      Maybe it still couldn't work, and they're smart enough people to work out whether trying to get him back after the job was done would be a suicide mission helping no one and killing more people, but it lays more options on the table because there are more people with whom the work can attempt to be divided.

      (Probably ideal strategy is to have some kind of wire or chain attached to him, as soon as the job is done someone goes out and starts yanking him back. If that person is on the verge of passing out/passes out the next person steps out and starts yanking him back, getting the first rescuer inside if the first rescuer can't do it themselves.)

      But let's assume there was no way to save designer even with an extra person to lend a hand. Death number four, the asshole, comes because it takes two people to move a nuke (which is why no one even tried to go out and save designer, they were needed afterward to and couldn't be risked. Well, and person three was the pilot.)

      The nuke ended up on his foot meaning he couldn't help to move it. The remaining person couldn't do it on his own, and the pilot was too busy piloting. If the French Guy hadn't been needlessly left to die, there would have been two people free to move the nuke and the asshole could have been saved.

      (Though his death was probably the best, as he narrates into a tape recorder for the book he will not live to write, then realizes the absurdity of it and just has a good laugh until he is nuked.)

      So the needless death of one person led to the needless death of at least one other person (the asshole) and possibly two (the asshole, the designer.)

      Why, the fuck, have the needless death of The French Guy? It served no purpose, it made no sense, and, even though the movie practically hung a neon sign over it serving no purpose, the movie didn't ever seem to realize it served no purpose. Instead it was presented as character growth for the pilot, one of the two survivors, she finally had to make the bad call. (Except she didn't really have to.)

    5. [originally this was all one post but I lost all that follows, including the footnotes to the above, and am reconstructing from memory.]

      Another type of needless death that really grates on me is the, "I'll buy you more time," death when the people supposedly being bought more time stand around and watch the person die thus wasting any time bought.

      "I'll buy you more time," is a potentially extremely useful thing, but only if it actually buys more time. If the other people stand around to watch then it doesn't buy any time and turns what could have been a useful self sacrifice into a meaningless waste of life.

      If you agree with the person's reasons for staying behind, or if you disagree with them but have realized that you can't talk them out of it and so they will definitely die trying to buy you more time, not making use of that time is the most disrespectful thing you could do.

      Want to respect their self sacrifice? Run like hell. Or do whatever it is that they needed to buy you time for. Do not stand and gawk, that defeats the entire purpose behind their death.


      * Child in this situation is always old enough to understand that if the world ends they too will die. Child simply don't give a shit. Does not make for a sympathetic character. Tends to make for, "Wow, teenager, you took nihilism to an entirely new level with, 'If you really loved me you'd make the world burn and all in it die, me and you included.'"

      ** It is arguably the case that if you're going to be in charge of people you have to be able to recognize when there are no good options and take the least bad one rather than waste time trying to find the nonexistent good option and in so doing make things that much worse.

      Sometimes immediate action is a better response than trying to find the right action.

      Also we come to the matter of ethics which is not limited to choosing between right and wrong, but also choosing between right and right or wrong and wrong.

      However, having said all that, I don't really think it makes sense to say that someone can't be a commander if they've been lucky enough to not find themselves in situations where there are no good options.

    6. I'm not sure why it is, but it seems like a vast majority of dramatic movie (or other fiction) deaths are really, really preventable. The script just says "nope, this person dies now."

      Is it intentional? Gives the audience the opportunity afterward to work out how they would have saved the person and had things come out better, which lightens the sadness.

      Is it incompetence? The screenplay writer couldn't come up with a convincing way to kill them off.

      Is it laziness? The screenplay writer didn't _bother_ to come up with something convincing.

      (Somehow this also seems related to the "drama" of the "nooooo, if you loved me you wouldn't save the world" trope.)

  3. In other words, the information she had boils down to:
    1) If you don't push this button [person's name] will die.
    2) If you do push this button [person's name] will live and everything will still be ok.

    She chose not to push the button because... what the fuck?

    O_o ????

    How do scripts like this make it to the filming point? You'd think someone, somewhere along the line (even the scripwriter, next morning) would point out really obvious WTFs like that.

    And yet, I can think of any number of movies that have serious WTF moments. Though that has to be pretty high on the what the everliving fuck scale.

    1. The script went through multiple people, for one thing. One of them explained that when he was brought on the driving force of the plot was going to be, "The core of the earth is losing mass," at which point he went, "No, just no." And that resulted in the current state of, "The core of the earth has stopped spinning," which is completely absurd but compared to mass disappearing seems downright scientific.

      So with so many hands on the project and so many drafts there's a decent chance no one knew which way was up.

      But I think it might have also had to do with the characters they picked. By this point you've got a ship with five geniuses on it (original leader, the only non-genius*, has died.)

      The characters are:
      Male Lead: Who figured this all out.
      French Guy: Who assisted male lead in figuring it all out.
      Female Lead: Genius and pilot, who has been told that she needs to be able to make tough choices in order to be a true leader. And now she's the leader.
      The Asshole: Famous scientist, works on top secret government projects, presented the research of Male Lead and French Guy as his own that they merely assisted with. Also stole all of the research he collaborated with the next character on to claim as solely his own work.
      The Designer: He designed a ship capable of withstanding the pressure and heat of the core of the earth as well as an engine capable of digging to get there.

      Everyone other than The Asshole is likable.

      So, you want a dramatic scene where Female Lead has to make the tough call. The scene, as set up, works, if not for who is doing what in it.

      Someone has to council her not to choose to save French Guy. Everyone else is likable, so that falls to The Asshole. Ok, good so far. They're in the cockpit where all the buttons and controls are.

      French Guy is trapped.

      That leaves Male Lead and The Designer to try to:
      1) Get the people in the cockpit to untrap French Guy
      2) Try to untrap him themselves.

      Two jobs, two people. Job two obviously rests with the person more in touch with the ship, since that would be the one who knew what to do to attempt a manual override. Thus The Designer gets that.

      Male Lead makes the desperate call.

      Here's where the problem comes in: The Designer is the designer. He knows the ship better than The Asshole. If he's working to do this thing then The Asshole is wrong about it getting them all killed. The ship can take it.

      If instead of The Designer you had The Asshole desperately working to override and The Designer saying, "No, don't do that otherwise implosion and we all die," then the scene would make sense except...

      It's a major plot point that the ship was built in a hurry and as a result things that will become necessary later on are in places it is deadly to get to because any part of the ship's functioning that the teranauts (earth sailors) weren't expected to need to access was left in inaccessible places rather than take the time to make this thing that we don't think is going to be done doable with ease.

      Meaning even if you did switch the positions so that the person who knows what he's talking about is saying, "Trying to save him will kill us all," and the one who doesn't is attempting the manual override, it still shouldn't be a question of whether or not to push the button.

      It should be more complicated than that, it should involve ripping the control panel apart and trying to hot-wire it to do something it was never intended to do at the very least. With a dramatic scene where she's finally able to let French Guy back inside but The Designer talks her down and then they both have to live with the fact that they didn't try to save French Guy when The Asshole did.

      [Break for character count]

    2. But it needs those changes to make sense.

      It needs to be more complicated than push that button/don't push that button because it's made very clear that they took no time to include controls that they didn't expect people to use when building the ship, and no one would have expected them to use the, "Open that door and you'll kill us all," control.

      It needs to be someone other than the one who knows what the ship can and cannot sustain trying to save French Guy. If they had a secondary mechanic who didn't know all the details then it could be him or her. But it can't be The Designer. If The Designer says, "We can save him," it doesn't mean, "For about two point five seconds before the act of saving him kills us all by crushing the ship I've spent the last twenty years pouring my heart and soul into as though it were an egg hit by an 18 wheeler." If the Designer is trying to do it then it's not something that's going to destroy the ship unless he's trying to destroy the ship which in that scene he very much was not.

      Take the scene in isolation. Pretend that he's not the designer and the ship was built with all kinds of extraneous controls no one would ever use and the scene would work, more or less.

      It's just in any kind of context where it fails.


      *Though he was an astronaut so you've got to assume he was pretty smart in his own right.

    3. ...

      Screenplay writing as Madlibs. Suddenly a great many movies make more sense. (Or at least how they got made as is makes sense.)