Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Suspension of Disbelief, James Bond and Skyfall

In an economy destroyed by globalization, the formerly prosperous citizens must look to entertainment of various forms to distract themselves from the poverty and despair of their lives. That is one of the reasons why such entertainment has an importance far beyond its nominal place in society. Thus the failure of a film to properly entertain must be seen as not merely a disappointment but a form of betrayal.

All fiction requires some "willing suspension of disbelief" in the audience to be effective. This by itself is not a problem. That the spaceships in Star Wars made whooshing noises as they went by never caused me the least concern. The audience wants to work with the filmmaker and be entertained. We want to believe that the mysterious "man in black" can climb the Cliffs of Insanity and win a duel with the fabulous swordsman Inigo Montoya, all in the name of true love. But when the authors of a piece go too far and stretch our credibility, then the suspension of disbelief may be revoked by the audience and the film may fail to serve its designated role in our formerly great society. That is a terrible fate for any work of fiction, and is to be avoided.

Everyone in the world knows that James Bond is fiction, not reality. The author, Ian Fleming, and his imitators, was writing entertainment fiction, occassionally informed by the author's experience in Naval Intelligence during the war, but not too often. Unlike LeCarre's George Smiley, Bond is intentionally the slightly disreputable scion of a noble family who drinks too much, sleeps around too much, and works as an elite operative of the double-nought section of British Foreign Intelligence. Although the original novels vary in their believability, only occassionally do they throw reality completely out the window, and when they do, they make up for it with colorful villains and so forth.  No, I never believed that Honor Blackman was really going to be able to take Fort Knox, but I was willing to go with it.  

There are no hard and fast rules here. The line between belief and disbelief in fiction is a fuzzy one, but when one steps over it, then the road to hell is slippery and the fall is complete.

Expectations may lead to an even greater fall from grace, and that was the case with me and Skyfall. I had heard generally very good things about this film, and I expected a lot. I had heard that the new villain was very interesting, and he is/was. The performance by the Komodo dragon was exceptional as well. Even Q was generally amusing. But one is asked to suspend a lot of disbelief here, an awful lot, and I just couldn't do it.

The Komodo dragon may be simulated but at least is not completely unrealistic.  I think they toned down the blood in this scene. 

1. Nobody survives that fall

The fact of the matter is, when you are shot with a high powered rifle and fall off a moving train 200 or so feet into a rocky stream, you are extremely unlikely to live. Every bone in your body will be broken, you will have internal bleeding, you will probably be unconscious and you will drown, assuming you are still alive. You will not be able to pull yourself out of the water, nor will you be able to make it to a nearby town. Even if there was a rescue team at the bottom ready to apply critical aid and care and rush you to a hospital, you are unlikely to make it. 

2. There is no reason for Q and Bond to meet in a museum

They are in London. They should meet in a safe house or other secure facility. If for no other reason than they will have to adjust the biometric sensor on the revolver. Its not as if they have to do the handoff in Moscow or something. Also, most museum galleries these days have guards and/or surveillance. Why bother ? 

3. There is no reason to send Bond out alone if he is not in good shape.

If he doesn't pass the tests, he will know it. If they want to send him out anyway, then generally you team these people up, rather than send them out as a loner (which you never do anyway but which is part of the conceit of a double-nought agent). There is no reason to lie to him about his condition. But most of all, there is no reason for M to violate rules to send him out. If something goes wrong, she is vulnerable to criticism. MI6 is not a little terrorist group reliant on a single person. If they need to borrow someone from the SAS then they will. 

4. Helicopters are very noisy.

All of a sudden we are subjected to an immense number of plot holes. First, I don't know where MI6 got 3 helicopters worth of special forces in a hurry, unless they planned this, but lets go with that, because worse is coming. Helicopters are noisy, and they are on an island. I live near two Marine Corps bases here in Rincon del Diablo, and they are very noisy.  Oh are you saying that they did not have a lookout posted? And even if they did not notice those incredibly noisy helicopters flying over the water in daytime towards them, his many guards are armed with machine guns and I would not be surprised if they did not have an RPG or two in their facility. I certainly would. You can do a lot of damage with some machine guns and a few RPGs on those big helicopters just hovering there.

Or maybe you think he, the bad guy, wanted to be captured so he could confront M with her crimes. Sure, that would make sense, except it doesn't. Once you put yourself in your enemy's power, anything could happen. Someone could put a revolver to your head and shoot. Its a terrible idea. There are lots of other ways of confronting M, if that is what you want to do. 

5. M turned Silva over to the enemy.

This is just crazy. No matter how fucked up someone might be, he's your guy and he knows all kinds of stuff about your organization that you don't want the other people to know. He was your station chief in Hong Kong for Christ's sake. They turn him and he could make your life hell. No, you recall him and put him in a dark hole for the rest of his life.

6. Silva is so fucking brilliant that he thinks its a good idea to get into a gun fight in Parliament?

I mean what the fuck? Manipulate a jetliner to fall on them sure, but a gun fight? 

7. What is this about the train crash ?

Huh ?

8. Attack Scotland with a crew ?

Why bother. Go home. Enjoy life. M will come after you and then you will be in your place and they can find whatever you want them to find. You don't really care about M anyway, you have all that money to manage, and that takes time in this volatile market.

9. Password in the Encrypted Text

But worst of all, in this day when cybercrime is so important, the idea of finding the password in the clear in the bad guys encrypted data is just laughable.  That is too stupid, I am sorry.

I just don't buy it. I love secret tunnels and old mansions but I just dont buy it. And why is it called Skyfall? Is the sky fallling? Did I miss something?  I must have missed something.

I loved the villain, I love the homosexual seduction scene, but it was not enough.

Not nearly enough, Mr. Bond.

I hope you will do better next time. If you need a script consultant, do not hesitate to call.

For more about Ian Fleming and his fabulously wealthy family see:

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