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SDG

Idiot Plots and other storytelling fallacies

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du Garbandier, your post reminds me of the first two Indiana Jones sequels, which both rely on gags that would not have worked in real life but only work on a flat, two-dimensional movie screen:

In Temple of Doom, Indy walks into his bedroom and past a wall-sized painting of several life-sized figures -- but then, after Indy has turned away from the wall, one of the figures steps out of the painting and approaches Indy from behind. The idea that a fully-contoured human being (especially one so big and muscular) could have blended in with a flat, two-dimensional painting makes no sense at all -- it only works as a gag from the camera's perspective.

Meanwhile, in Last Crusade, Indy walks down a tunnel, at the end of which is a bridge leading across a chasm -- but he doesn't see the bridge because it is painted in such a way that it blends in with the chasm's opposite wall. But it only blends in if you look at the bridge from a very particular perspective! That perspective, of course, happens to be the camera's perspective ... but Indy has been WALKING, and his perspective has been MOVING, all through the scene. (And as SDG has pointed out elsewhere, if Indy has "binocular vision", then he should also be able to sense that the bridge is CLOSER to him than the chasm's opposite wall.)

You mention visual gags. What about audio gags? I never, ever understood why everyone thought it was so funny that the burglars in Home Alone would be scared away by the sound of gunfire on a TV show. The sound of gunfire coming out of a TV is a heck of a lot different from the sound of gunfire in real life.

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Meanwhile, in Last Crusade, Indy walks down a tunnel, at the end of which is a bridge leading across a chasm -- but he doesn't see the bridge because it is painted in such a way that it blends in with the chasm's opposite wall. But it only blends in if you look at the bridge from a very particular perspective! That perspective, of course, happens to be the camera's perspective ... but Indy has been WALKING, and his perspective has been MOVING, all through the scene. (And as SDG has pointed out elsewhere, if Indy has "binocular vision", then he should also be able to sense that the bridge is CLOSER to him than the chasm's opposite wall.)

I remember thinking about just that point when I watched Last Crusade not long ago.

There are also two shots from the opposite side of the chasm, and the bridge is also invisible from that perspective. So apparently the rock formation of the bridge precisely matches that of two different walls from two opposite perspectives! Leap of faith, indeed.

See :29 and 1:14 in this clip:

Edited by du Garbandier

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What about when something impossible or miraculous happens in an otherwise realistic film?

Certain types of films are founded on impossible premises, but we understand that such films aren't meant to be realistic. We know it's highly unlikely that a radioactive spider-bite will confer superhuman powers on anyone, but that shouldn't bother us if we accept Spiderman as a type of fantasy film. But what about Arachnophobia? It doesn't seem as though it's trying to be a fantasy film (although I suppose every horror flick has an element of the fantastic). Yet its central premise is the extremely unlikely idea that a super-aggressive South American bird spider would mate with a markedly different species of spider, and that such a union would produce a fertile egg sac. I don't think the film treats this idea as fantastic, but that's exactly what it is.

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In Temple of Doom, Indy walks into his bedroom and past a wall-sized painting of several life-sized figures -- but then, after Indy has turned away from the wall, one of the figures steps out of the painting and approaches Indy from behind. The idea that a fully-contoured human being (especially one so big and muscular) could have blended in with a flat, two-dimensional painting makes no sense at all -- it only works as a gag from the camera's perspective.

I can't remember the scene in particularly, and therefore nor can I remember the room's dimensions, how closely Indy walks to the painting the degree to which he looks at it and his state of mood at the time, but it strikes me that given the correct combination of extent of those four factors this would be plausible, even if it isn't in the film as such.

Meanwhile, in Last Crusade, Indy walks down a tunnel, at the end of which is a bridge leading across a chasm -- but he doesn't see the bridge because it is painted in such a way that it blends in with the chasm's opposite wall. But it only blends in if you look at the bridge from a very particular perspective! That perspective, of course, happens to be the camera's perspective ... but Indy has been WALKING, and his perspective has been MOVING, all through the scene. (And as SDG has pointed out elsewhere, if Indy has "binocular vision", then he should also be able to sense that the bridge is CLOSER to him than the chasm's opposite wall.)

I've thought about this a lot, but resolved it to myself in that the tunnel brings you out in one very specific angle. Now I think what you're saying is that as he walks along the tunnel his vertical perspective alters which should give it away (right?). If so I can see what you mean, but then I guess Indy doesn't know what to expect. If he had even an inkling that such a cunningly hewn bridge would be the solution then there would have been a lot less tension, no step of faith and a 1000 Christian "step of faith" sermons would never have been written. But he doesn't, and in many ways I could understand that having just narrowly survived potential death a number of times in the last half hour, and having a natural concern for his Dad, I'm not sure we have to consider him focussed enough on the permutations of what will meet him at its end.

There are also two shots from the opposite side of the chasm, and the bridge is also invisible from that perspective. So apparently the rock formation of the bridge precisely matches that of two different walls from two opposite perspectives! Leap of faith, indeed.

Less of an issue that for me. After all, given the amount of effort that we already know has gone into this particular venture, it's not too much of a further stretch to think the original architects of the place made sure of this as well.

More generally there's a lot to be said for how seriously a film takes it's own internal logic. Jurassic Park for example goes to a ridiculous length to tell you how they've managed to recreate dinosaurs, which then, for me at least, invites me to place the rest of the film's logic under greater scrutiny. Spiderman on the other hand doesn't bother to explain itself which, in turn, makes me less critical of it's potential flaws in logic.

Matt

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Always meant to respond to these comments ...

The Brown example is clever writing but poor statistics. Something impossible is always less likely to occur than something improbable.

I'm not sure that accounts for Chesterton's characteristically paradoxical mode of writing. Fr. Brown doesn't really think that the ghost of Parnell is literally impossible, only that it belongs to a class of phenomena that we can't simply declare "possible" because we don't know enough about the world to say whether such things as ghosts exist. Fr. Brown's point was that it is easier to agnostic about ghosts than to accept the idea that Gladstone would behave that way toward the Queen.

Gladstone's child could have been kidnapped and he had been told that if he ever wanted to see his child again he had to...yada yada yada.

I'm not sure anyone is in a position to say that this class of event, which could reasonably be classified as of purely hypothetical significance, is "more likely" than the possibility that ghosts exist (especially granted the host of necessary attendant suppositions: that Gladstone lived out the rest of his days never revealing this event, which never came out any other way; that kidnappers would have some motivation for committing such a crime in order to make such a ridiculous demand without otherwise making any mark or revealing themselves in any way; etc.).

The two kinds of "possibility" are radically disparate; we can say with confidence that one does not violate the laws of the universe, though it strains mightily against known norms of human behavior. The other is much harder to evaluate, and is less clearly contrary to what we can say with confidence, on the basis of positive experience, about the world we live in.

Likewise, getting bumped to coach? Easy. There's always people who hate celebrities, even superheroes. All it needs is for the bump decision maker to be one of them.

Not so easy, even in principle, I think: How likely is it that one person really in a position to make that call? But in drama I could accept that, if it were a plot point. A movie that opens with such an event, so glaringly in need of explanation, without bothering to explain it, does not deserve the benefit of any doubt.

Also, does the end of Star Wars count? We'll make this whole invincible space station which will be indestructable but for this 2m square panel that will blow the whole thing up if shot. It's obvious enough for the rebels to be able to find after only a fairly brief perusal of the plans, but somehow the empire didn't think it was worth covering up or blocking at any point in the decades long process it would have taken to build the thing from those plans.

I would call this more genre convention, like most of the items on the Evil Overlord list. It's not really idiot plot, since it's not like the Imperials are sitting around for half the film going "Yikes, how do we prevent the rebels from blowing us up?" and not thinking of the obvious answer.

Just as importantly, the movie provides an explanation for the Empire's short-sightedness, rooted in the movie's thematic motif of faceless, mechanistic collectivism vs. heroic, mystical individualism: The Empire's defenses are structured around a large-scale assault; they don't consider a one-man fighter to be a threat. That might not be literally strategically plausible, but it's not a true idiot plot.

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Here is an example of a true idiot plot fallacy, from an interesting but flawed movie this year that almost nobody saw: Battle for Terra.

Human beings, bereft of their homeworld and searching for a new one, come across a planet suitable for life but with a non-oxygen atmosphere, inhabited by intelligent creatures for whom oxygen is poisonous.

Humans have the technology to terraform the planet to support an oxygen environment, but of course this will kill the indigenous intelligent life forms. Some, like the evil General Hemmer, are willing to accept this, but other more conscientious leaders are concerned and want to take more time to debate and vote.

Not until the very end of the film, after the climactic battle, does anyone even propose the obvious solution: build a biodome, terraform on a more limited scale that won't harm the locals. And that's how the conflict is ultimately resolved, by bringing in a solution that anyone should have thought of halfway through the film.

Edited by SDG

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There are also two shots from the opposite side of the chasm, and the bridge is also invisible from that perspective. So apparently the rock formation of the bridge precisely matches that of two different walls from two opposite perspectives! Leap of faith, indeed.

Less of an issue that for me. After all, given the amount of effort that we already know has gone into this particular venture, it's not too much of a further stretch to think the original architects of the place made sure of this as well.

That occurred to me as well. However, even granting the highest degree of forethought and engineering acuity on their part (and surely it would take an absolutely incredible amount of skill and design to make a bridge "invisible" from two opposite angles), it is still unclear to me why the architects would need to make the bridge invisible from the other side of the chasm; presumably anyone approaching from that side has already crossed over and knows about it. Why is a "step of faith" necessary to leave the grail room?

My suspicion is that the filmmakers needed those two wide shots for whatever technical or aesthetic reason but did not want to reveal the bridge's existence to the viewer just yet, so they made it invisible from that perspective as well. They wanted to capitalize on the situation's emotional tension and make the viewer watch Indy take the step of faith without knowing if he would make it or what would happen at all. It's a case of a certain kind of storytelling triumphing over retrospective or eschatological plausibility.

In fact there is a small irony here; the film gives us a device in which the only possible justification involves positing untold amounts of forethought and attention to detail on the part of the artificers. But surely with a little more forethought and attention to detail the film itself could have precluded this sort of exercise in hypothetical justification.

Edited by du Garbandier

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(and surely it would take an absolutely incredible amount of skill and design to make a bridge "invisible" from two opposite angles)

Flat-out impossible, I would say.

Even prescinding from issues of binocular vision (and parallax, i.e., moving your head from side to side, or even the movement of your head as you approach the bridge) -- even if you only had to satisfy two still photographs taken from opposite sides of the chasm -- it would still be essentially impossible to engineer the sides and the bridge so as to camauflage the bridge equally against both sides.

The reason is that the effect depends on the near end of the bridge appearing to descend into the chasm, i.e., the near end of the bridge always has to look further away and lower down than the far end of the bridge.

In practice, that is almost unavoidably going to involve two strategies: To look further away and further down, the near end of the bridge will have to be (a.) darken in color than the far end and (b.) patterned in a way that converges toward the viewer, depicting smaller shapes closer together (thus appearing to recede into the distance). Obviously, these are one-way strategies.

In theory, it might be possible to engineer extraordinary lighting conditions that might ameliorate the need for (a.), in which case both sides of the bridge could be equally light in tone/hue. However, efforts to ameliorate (b.) would virtually infallibly fail.

For instance, suppose you tried to hide the reverse perspective effect of the bridge against the problem wall (or against both walls, if the bridge pattern were evenly distributed) by patterning the problem wall (or both walls) in highly improbable ways to match the bridge. E.g., rocks on the opposite wall would have to get grossly bigger as they descend, appear to radiate out from the far side of the bridge (or converge on the far side, whichever way you look at it). If you did that, you might succeed in making the bridge hard to see -- but you'd also make the opposing wall of the chasm look very unconvincing as an opposing wall.

Most likely such a wall would either look simply impossible and wrong, or else it might appear to wrap around up toward you, meeting the bridge and turning the whole chasm into an apparent tunnel that one could walk through without danger.

Even efforts to balance the lighting would more likely wind up making the whole chasm look flat and unconvincing. Best case scenario, the photos from one or both sides would simply look like a pile of rocks with no way to gauge size or distance.

(Hey. I didn't study perspective in art school for nothing.)

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: Even prescinding from issues of binocular vision (and parallax, i.e., moving your head from side to side, or even the movement of your head as you approach the bridge) . . .

Heck, if you check out the video embedded above, you can see that Spielberg even includes a shot from Indy's point of view that LOOKS DOWN AND MOVES SIDE-TO-SIDE as he ponders what a huge, huge drop it would be if he fell into that chasm. Yeah, forget binocular vision. Even with a single camera shooting a 2-D image, there is NO WAY that we should see what we see in that shot, if in fact the camera was pointing down at a camouflaged bridge with a chasm on either side.

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OK on Indy I concede (having always had my doubts and never liking the shot where the camera moves to the right to reveal the bridge - I much prefer the one where he has to throw stuff on the bridge to see whether it is as if it's invisible. Which would have been oddly easier to swallow that the answer we've just been discussing).

On the Brown/Gladstone one then perhaps I should be criticising his terminology. Properly defined something impossible is always less likely to occur than something improbable. But as for the event of "purely hypothetical significance", I would argue that even given the criteria you mention it is still possible, if exceptionally improbable, hence still trumps something that is actually impossible.

And the Fantastic Four? They're so darn smug and annoying that I'd reckon at least 25% of people would bump them given that they HAVE to bump someone. And that's before taking other factors into consideration (the F4 are less likely to tip, the decision maker might have figured that one of them could fly there anyway etc.). I dunno perhaps I just think this cos I was once on a 4 hour flight on a plane about 75% empty, with a 15 month year old toddler, and the staff still didn't move us to seats that might have been more helpful to us and less annoying for those poor people stuck in front of us.

Matt

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Heck, if you check out the video embedded above, you can see that Spielberg even includes a shot from Indy's point of view that LOOKS DOWN AND MOVES SIDE-TO-SIDE as he ponders what a huge, huge drop it would be if he fell into that chasm. Yeah, forget binocular vision. Even with a single camera shooting a 2-D image, there is NO WAY that we should see what we see in that shot, if in fact the camera was pointing down at a camouflaged bridge with a chasm on either side.

Exactly.

indy.jpg

From the original architects' point of view, maybe the only remotely possible way to have allowed for such a perspective (disregarding the problem of motion) would have been to eliminate the darkness below using some form of illumination, and then taking enormous pains to match--in texture as well as proportion--the exposed bottom of the chasm to the top surface of the bridge. In other words you would need to make it all rocks and no darkness in order to be even the least bit plausible.

Of course being able to see the bottom would rather mitigate the dramatic effect of the Step of Faith. It might even turn the Step of Faith into the Spelunk or Rock Climb of About the Usual Degree of Courage Such Ventures Normally Require, Give or Take. Just go down one way and come up the other. (Not necessarily Indy, who is pressed for time, but maybe some other adventurer whose father is not dying.)

But of course they did not choose to do any such thing. And given the incredible effort and time and possible defiance of physics it all would have involved, we might say they chose...wisely.

Edited by du Garbandier

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Well, we could go all the way back to the first Indy film and ask ourselves how primitive engineers designed a security system that automatically thrusts spears into anyone who interrupts a beam of light. Pretty simple to do with photosensors and electric circuits; don't see how it could be done without them. Um ... and what happens when the sun goes down and said beam of light no longer enters the tunnel? Wouldn't spears be triggered at that point and remain extended into the tunnel, rendering that particular security feature useless at night?

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indy.jpg

This was one of those moments that I used to think only occurred in Looney Tunes cartoons. You know, when Wile E. Coyote paints a hole on the highway, thinking that the Roadrunner will stop to avoid it. Only the Roadrunner runs right over it, yet when the coyote tries to pass over it, he falls in.

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mrmando wrote:

: Well, we could go all the way back to the first Indy film and ask ourselves how primitive engineers designed a security system that automatically thrusts spears into anyone who interrupts a beam of light. Pretty simple to do with photosensors and electric circuits; don't see how it could be done without them.

Yeah, this has occured to me too. There are such things as photosensitive plants, though, right? Maybe, um, there's a network of them in the walls, or something.

: Um ... and what happens when the sun goes down and said beam of light no longer enters the tunnel? Wouldn't spears be triggered at that point and remain extended into the tunnel, rendering that particular security feature useless at night?

Oooo, I hadn't thought THAT far ahead! Good point, good point.

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Yeah, this has occured to me too. There are such things as photosensitive plants, though, right? Maybe, um, there's a network of them in the walls, or something.

Right, it might be possible to rig something using the photosensitive properties of water, plants, or other organic material ... but I think you'd need a longer interruption in the light beam, and it would take a relatively long time for the system to react to that interruption. An instantaneous reaction to the briefest interruption suggests the presence of electronics. Also, a network of plants would have to be carefully maintained, to prevent the plants from either dying or growing so large that they don't function properly. Whereas the suggestion in the Indy films is always that these archaeological sites have lain undisturbed for centuries, and that the security systems are designed to work on their own once an intruder enters.

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mrmando wrote:

: Um ... and what happens when the sun goes down and said beam of light no longer enters the tunnel? Wouldn't spears be triggered at that point and remain extended into the tunnel, rendering that particular security feature useless at night?

Oooo, I hadn't thought THAT far ahead! Good point, good point.

For that matter, suppose the dig at Tanis happened during a different season when the sun didn't pass over that one particular opening in the maproom? Seems to me, with the position of that opening, that the Well of Souls could only be found at a certain time of the year.

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elrondgandalf.jpg

phonebook2.jpg

104i3xd.jpg

from Cracked

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