Not long ago I was re-watching Guardians of the Galaxy with a bunch of friends. There is a scene where, during a prison break, one of the characters disables the gravity generators of the space station where they are being imprisoned while being able to keep it working in the booth where the protagonists are. I am not a physic, not by a long shot, but you don’t have to be Sir Isaac Newton to know that’s not how gravity works. I spoke out about it, saying something in the lines of: man, this situation is so stupid, and one person sitting there with me hit me with a: dude, in this movie there is a talking raccoon and aliens, don’t ask it to make sense. I found this to be a funny response, because I for one believe that something being realistic and making sense are abysmally different concepts.
I completely agree with the fact that movies would be all but entertaining if filmmakers made them one hundred percent realistic. Nobody in this planet wants a James Bond that gets a sprain and two weeks of repose every time he jumps out of a moving car. An artist can include as many unrealistic elements as they wish in a story, but unless there is also a certain degree of coherence provided, the audience loses touch with the events presented they cease to make any sense even for fantastical standards. This is one of the biggest challenges faced when writing speculative fiction, especially in the genres of sci fi and fantasy. There has to be a balance between what the audience is willing to give up from their conception of how the world works and what the artist is proposing in their invented world.
An example where this is beautifully shown is in the cinematographic adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by Peter Jackson. In the movie The Return of the King most of the action takes place during the siege of Minas Tirith, where a fierce battle is taking place between the human army defending the city and the besieging horde of orcs, wargs, ghost kings of old riding dragons and armored trolls; we even get some oliphants (giant six-tusked pachyderms) and wight knights as the fight progresses later. It cannot possibly get more unrealistic than that, and yet, the events of the battle unfold with such a thorough pace that the feeling the audience gets is that, should all these fantastical creatures exist, a battle featuring them would be like this. On the other hand, when we take a look at The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies we are presented with an even richer variety of fantasy creatures; this time we have elves, dwarves, giant eagles added to the mix. For reasons beyond me, this time Peter Jackson makes a complete mess out of the battle. It is chaotically shot, and as a result, for the most part of it the audience has no idea about what positions each army occupies within the battlefield, and thus who is winning or losing and why. On top of that, we get nonsensical scenes like the one where a bunch of the protagonist dwarves get a much of saddled goats from out of nowhere and literally cut through the orc army to get to the top of a mountain in a matter of minutes. So the big difference I find between The Return of the King and The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies is an unbalance of coherence. The fact that we have dragons and wizards in a fantasy world does not mean that actions that make no utter sense are justified. Defending this argument is actually removing all the responsibility from the filmmaker to make a fantasy movie believable. This may seem like a contradiction, but the only way to immerse an audience in an invented world is by making it look as if it could exist somewhere.
Realism is definitely something to be toyed with in storytelling, but coherence should be kept no matter how many unicorns and spaceships the plot revolvers around. Unrealistic movies can and should make sense; these are not ideas that cancel each other and one of them should never be considered as enough to compensate for the sacrifice of the other. Audiences don’t and shouldn’t want to see impressive and colorful computer animated imagery, they want to see and feel explosions, stunts, dragons spaceships and magic as if all of those were real.
Written by Javier Gonzales