You’re here for the science, I’m here for the fiction

Whatever happened to suspension of disbelief? Every time I load YouTube, I see that there’s a new video from the Nerdist explaining the science behind science fiction and fantasy films and TV shows. CinemaSins, best known for their “Everything Wrong With” series, does comedic criticism of movies which focuses on the quality of movies while also touching on stuff like continuity, but frequently gets overly fixated on various minutia that really don’t seem to matter. If an action hero jumps out of a window and lands unscathed in such a way that might break a bone for a normal person, CinemaSins sees this as a “sin.”

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Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate scientifically accurate films. I think it’s great when people can get involved in movies like Interstellar because of their scientific accuracy. And if films, like Interstellar, want to do their scientific research to create a fictional world grounded in the same kind of science that grounds our world, then more power to them. That being said, I think that trying to apply our scientific rules to a fictional world like we see in Star Wars or Game of Thrones or Thor is kind of a silly thing to do.

But it’s not just science; in a recent Cracked.com article titled “4 Modern Movies That Were So Good… Until These Scenes,” included the recent Wonder Woman – because the scene when Wonder Woman and Chris Pine sail from Themyscara to London doesn’t follow the typical conventions of sailing, it suddenly ruins the film. I understand that the language of the internet is loaded with hyperbole, but in this regard it’s all starting to feel a little excessive.

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When I was a spry, young, highschooler, I was part of my school’s fencing team. And part of fencing is knowing that most movie swordfights are bullshit. Fencing bouts move so quickly, and a fencer’s movements have to be so concise that any sweeping, swashbuckling movements (the kind you see in every movie swordfight) would get you killed. Does this knowledge make it any harder to enjoy The Princess Bride or Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean? No.

The only rules of physics or sailing or swordfighting that we should bind a movie or television show by are the ones that they set up for themselves. For example, if Captain America throws his shield in one scene and it glides like a frisbee, then it should behave like that in every scene after that too. If it doesn’t, then the movie has violated its own rules and then it should be criticized. If a character falls from a certain height and is fine, then every character in the movie should be able to fall from such a height. If they aren’t consistent, then the movie has violated its own rules.

Quentin Tarantino describes the violence in his movies as an aesthetic choice to give the movie his own little flavor, and I think scientific accuracy should be used in a similar way. It benefits Interstellar just as much as Tarantino’s use of blood benefits Pulp Fiction, but complete scientific accuracy should not be the bar that we measure science fiction films by.

To people who demand their movies to have every single detail vetted by physicists, I must ask: does you enjoy these things more?If you’re going to suspend your belief enough to walk into a world where a Norse god can fight alongside a man in a mechanical suit, you should be able to do so without bothering to wonder about the physics about how no one else can pick it up. Other than Interstellar, name one movie that you walked out of and you were pleased because it adhered to scientific rules. On the flip side, can you name one movie that wasn’t that scientifically accurate to the point where it ruined the film for you?

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I just think that we need to focus on the narrative at the core of stories rather than the little details that just kind of decorate the film. Someone will probably explain that Star Wars or Star Trek helps to inspire kids to study space travel and other scientific fields, and that’s absolutely correct. But explaining the science behind these stories or demanding that every detail adhere to the laws of our world, I think, wouldn’t be any more or less inspirational.

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9 thoughts on “You’re here for the science, I’m here for the fiction

    1. Yeah! I absolutely agree. At first I read your comment and thought it wasn’t relevant, but it definitely it is. A book adaptation film will need to focus solely on the story and not spending all its time making sure it’s fitting in every single detail.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post, Andrew! I work in theatre so suspension of disbelief is a huge thing for me, and if a story is engaging and compelling enough the audience will stop noticing the little things that don’t make sense, such as your example of a character falling from a height that would hurt someone in our world of physics or having a half wall on a theatre stage to represent a full wall (but a full wall would block the audience’s view so we can’t put a real wall up). I love stories that challenge readers/viewers to step away from what they know and to open themselves up to new possibilities. Again, wonderful post you’ve created here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Sibille! That’s very insightful, and you’ve hit the nail right on the head. If the audience is wrapped up in the story, they shouldn’t care about the little things.

      Like

  2. I like being able to separate logistics from fiction and fantasy, but there are some cases (none which come to mind at the moment!) where it didn’t make sense to me, even in a fantasy world. Mostly, I accept that it is fiction and simply enjoy the amount of imagination that went into it.

    This is why I write fantasy and not sci-fi, too afraid that I will mess it up.

    Great post!

    Like

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