Sunday, July 27, 2014

Plot Holes

So I just read one of those nitpicky articles, exposing the plot holes of movies.

Why doesn't anyone in post apocalyptic movies use bicycles? Why didn't they think to put tracking devices and remote kill-switches in the replicants in blade runner? Why put an actual person in the Mech murder-bots in Avatar? Man, these writers are idiots.

Except that they're not. They're really not.

Let me give you a writer's perspective.

Every story needs conflict. This is basic Writing 101. In fact, let me give you a 101 exercise. Imagine two people on a rooftop. One is about to kill himself by jumping off. Now, try and write the dialogue between the two guys with the other guy trying to talk him out of it. It's pretty easy, right? Ok, now try and write the dialogue where the other guy thinks the guy should jump off. It's impossible...unless the jumper creates the conflict by changing his mind.

In short, no conflict, no story.

The thing people tend to miss is that the super-easy, common sense solution completely removes that conflict and kills the narrative... and most of the time, coming up with an explanation as to why the protagonist can't use that solution breaks the rest of the story...and even if it doesn't, all it does is highlight the plot hole in the first place. Not to mention that in a movie you have extremely limited time. Do you want to spend 15 minutes moving the story forward, or handwaving a plot hole?

So, let's try it:

In the big climax of Avatar, the bad guys attack in gigantic mechs that have a nice squishy human running them, sitting behind glass that the Navi can put arrows through. So there's the nitpick: We have drone technology today, so why are we going to battle with such a glaring weakness? Why not send unmanned drones being operated by guys in a bunker a few hundred miles away?

Well, we've just broken the story, because there's no way for the Navi to win. Without the squishable weak point, the drones are virtually unkillable, and even if the Navi find a way to destroy them, all they've done is take out some equipment belonging to a trillion dollar corporation.They'll just send more and more because we've already established that 'Unobtanium'  is valuable enough to warrant any investment.

So let's explain it. Maybe there's some kind of radiation that means the remote signal can't get through. Well, that's solves one problem, but opens a few others. How do you explain the voice communcations that we can't lose because we need it for the story? Even if we establish that there's no need to communicate, everyone will just say: "Why not send autonomous drones?" Point a few hundred in the right direction and program them to destroy anything that looks like an oversized smurf.

Ok, so how do we explain why we can't use self-piloting drones? We know the Navi are primitive, so we can't have any technology that specifically targets them...and we can't really sell a kind of interference that specifically effects radio control, AI, but not voice comms and a way to monitor the battle.

Of course, we can sidestep the whole issue and set up an elaborate diversion plan where the Navi attack the bunker where the drones are being controlled from...but then we lose the whole scene. A squad of Navi stomping people in an office isn't as much fun or as interesting as a massive mech battle in the jungle.

Basically, that's the real problem. You have a minor inconsistency that can be quite easily explained (Hey, maybe the bad guys in Avatar have manned vehicles because they're arrogant pricks nd don't see a primitive tribe that hunt with spears to be that big of a threat)...and if you try to close that inconsistency, you break the story or just create more inconsistencies.

It's why when a computer is being hacked, they never just turn the computer off or unplug the network cable or disable the wireless adapter. If they can do that, it removes the threat and makes the scene pointless. If they can't, they have to come up with an explanation that's probably even more ludicrous.

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