Super Characters Who Make Silly Mistakes
& Crafting a good story/scene? Not for idiots.

(Maintaining suspension of disbelief and engagement in the story.)

Date: Saturday the 17th of August, 2013

You watch a great-sounding science fiction, thriller or adventure film and you’re hoping for good writing, then you stumble on the idiot scene, or in the worst case, the idiot script and your day turns to tears of laughter.

It’s a common practice to throw any nonsense on the screen with spectacular stunts and special effects to enthrall the audience, but in the end those nasty little pieces of nonsense, the lead character suddenly acting the idiot or the general environment of everyone’s behaviour, begins to eat away at your pleasure and the whole story becomes laughable joke.  Sometimes this is the director’s/writer’s intent, but it still isn’t a happy experience unless you share their sense of humour.

In the last few years two such films have inspired me to write my own projects, but there are many other examples of scenes and situations that just amazed me when they throw a “stupid spin” on a story.  Here are a few examples (I’ll add more from time to time when I stumble on them) these are the styles of scenes that ought to be avoided, and a suggestion or two about how such scenes might have been written…

Independence Day

What Happened
(the actual set-up)

Our hero, TV tech boy, discovers there’s a signal from the moon slowly counting down.  He suddenly realizes that the world only has seven hours left before… whatever.

Urgently he races out of the TV station, grabs his bicycle, puts his bike clips on and rides across the city to bang on his dad’s door.

There, after some argument, he manages to convince his dad to drive them both from New York City to Washington DC, through or past endless steams of traffic, very slowly.

They arrive at the White House, by some magical unblocked route, just in time to hack the President’s Advisor’s cellphone, using a piece of technology he thoughtfully remembered to bring with him.

After some stupid male American posturing, with only thirty minutes left he, barely, manages to convince Mr President to evacuate. They all, just, barely, with only seconds to spare, manage to escape the blastwave of the alien shock weapons as the Capital-Of-The-Entire-Global-World-Of-Americaland is blasted to smithereens.

And the audience laughs.

What Could Have Happened
(an alternative way to write it)

Our hero, TV tech boy, discovers there’s a countdown signal on the moon and realizes mankind could be facing holocaust in just seven hours.

He races down from the control room to a TV broadcast news room and, after a few minutes struggling to convince the idiot Producer in charge, and thus informing the idiots watching the movie, that the world is in terrible trouble.

They cut into their regular broadcasts and begin spreading the news to the rest of the world through increasing levels of crackling static.  It races, bounces and crackles around the world on news cables, radio broadcasts and the few remaining satellite pick-ups.

A few minutes later the President is interrupted from his arguments about making contact with the huge alien spaceship, to see the news broadcast replayed to him.

Already people around the world are beginning to move, hysterical American Hollywood crowds in every city are surging out of their cities through immense Hollywood-planned special traffic jams, while religious dopes are flocking to the alien superships in the belief they’ll be uplifted in these end days.

Amidst the scramble the President orders “that man” to be brought to him as his evacuation to Air Force One begins.

In New York our hero, TV tech boy, must struggle through crowds, reach his father and get a lift to the airport and save them both, where they’ll eventually be picked up by a plucky and professional Air Force helicopter to be escorted onto Air Force One.

As they take off and fly away safely they look back to see the sudden blinding flash and blastwave of the alien attack ripping the heart out of the city now evacuated city.

Now the race is on to find out more about the aliens and how to defeat them.  Anyone got a solution?

Area 51 anyone?

(Might actually make all this and more into an alternative I.Day film in the future..?)

Star Trek (the new movie version, a.k.a “Star Trek High”)

What Happened
(the actual set-up)

Vulcan is under tremendous threat, the world is about to implode with a really magical piece of nonsense science from the secret laboratories of Hollywood.

Boom, splat!

Vulcan gone.  There are only ten thousand survivor. (Ignoring the enormous colonies Vulcan has.)

“I am now part of a nearly extinct species.”

All Trekkers screaming in laughter in the aisles.

What Could Have Happened
(an alternative way to write it)

Vulcan is under threat and every available possible spaceship in immediate space is flying to save people.

If Vulcan is anywhere nearly as technically developed in spaceflight as we are today in air and sea travel (with thousands of Jumbo jets and hundreds of huge ocean liners, thousands of private executive jets, etc., etc) then the Vulcans ought to be able to evacuate at least ten million, possibly far more if every ship is squeezed, in a few minutes.

If the science of “red matter” were more realistic, with Vulcan taking hours to implode, then the resulting scenes of evacuation all organised by Star Fleet’s kiddies could be more dramatic.

“I am now part of a homeless species, but we still have our colonies, we will survive.”

(Everyone in the audience cheers.)

[And how could Nero seemingly take hours flying to Earth from Vulcan with his advanced technology starship when the clunky old Enterprise (previous generation technology remember?) took only a few minutes to reach Vulcan in the first place?  Did Nero stop off for a picnic somewhere?]


There is another kind of story that can be irritating, when you have a supposedly intelligent super-hero or “brilliant” character who suddenly makes a stupid mistake so the enemy can bring them to a confrontation for dramatic theatrical effect, even though the audience has now begun laughing.

Law Abiding Citizen

According to the initial set-up this is a character who is so amazingly good at creating assassination methods and techniques for the CIA that he’s never been surpassed.  He’s brilliant, he’s amazing, he’s unbeatable. then he’s caught by a dumb street cop for one little mistake in a plan that took years of meticulous work.

Duh!?

Here’s a man who creates some of the most sophisticated and clever plans imaginable. He’s hidden money trails across the country to conceal his activity, but suddenly we discover he’s left a clear trail to South American banks which in turn lead directly back to his base of operations!??

Of course the cop had to find him in the end didn’t he, there had to be some form of confrontation with the cop otherwise our “hero” would just vanish, fading back into the shadows and leaving the cop guessing, and wondering whether there’ll be a next time, and a sequel.

But there won’t so that’s all nicely tidied up

Colombiana

Like the Law Abiding Citizen we have a superhero character.  The “ultimate” girl assassin (think adoptive daughter of “Leon”) who can carry out missions of subtle and successful death against her contracts.

Then she makes the silly mistake of broadcasting her ID by “tagging” her victims and attracting the drug lords she’s hunting.  In the process she exposes her family in America to be murdered.  Something she ought to have been able to foresee if she was that good at her job.

No, all this is just sparking the bomb in time for the climatic confrontation when all masks are stripped off so she and the gangsters can go at each other face-to-face in a farce of violence that contradicts the earlier subtlety and sophistication of her professionalism, just like all those other silly Hollywood idiot films we love to enjoy while waiting for something more intelligent.

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