Cinematic Believability

This is an argument that I’ve made several times, and I was surprised, as I went through my blog history, that I haven’t posted it before. Essentially, there are two ways to make fiction believable: realism and plausibility. Many people confuse these, but they are quite different: realism means that the story generally conforms to the nature of the “real world”–that is, no elements of fantasy. Plausibility means that, whether the story requires an initial suspension of disbelief or not, it progresses in a believable manner from it’s own viewpoint.
The movies that I generally use to contrast these elements are Pumpkinhead and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Both movies are about revenge taken on a bunch of teenagers after they cause drunken motor accidents–Pumpinhead then focuses on plausibility without realism, while I Know focuses on realism… without much plausibility.
In Pumpkinhead, a group of teens passing through a small rural town kill a small boy while racing their dirt bikes while drunk. The story then progresses unrealistically, as the father of the boy makes a pact with a local witch to send a “demon of vengeance” after the offenders. If one can suspend disbelief and accept that this happens within the world of the movie, the story then progresses both plausibly and interestingly.
I Know What You Did Last Summer begins similarly: a group of teens drinking and driving hit a Maine fisherman and then leave him for dead, attempting to hide the body by tying underwater. While this is a much more realistic scenario, for the story to progress we must then believe that the fisherman managed to hold his breath underwater–not only long enough to untie himself, but while unconscious. Said fisherman then waits a year, finally going on a rampage both sociopathic in nature and requiring superhuman strength.
While this approach may appeal to some viewers–and both of the above movies have their own “cult” followers–it is worth noting that the three biggest American horror franchises (Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street) all opted to forego realism.

Published by Little-Known Blogger

I spent the first years of my life in a trailer park outside of a tiny town in rural Missouri. I grew up to be a long-haired, gun-hating, military-hating, Presbyterian super-liberal. Well, perhaps the “growing up” happened later. While in high school, I was on the cross-country and wrestling teams, and actually won my weight-class in a State powerlifting competition. I went on to attend college on a Bright Flight scholarship, where I promptly became an atheist. I trained for a few years in Shotokan karate and Cheng-system taijiquan before training in my first real martial art, Hwarang-Do, under the late Franklin Fowlkes (later the Founder and Grandmaster of the Five Elements Martial Arts System). I married an older Taiwanese woman my junior year, got divorced in short order, and dropped out of college. After completing my AA in Psychology, I decided I needed a complete change of scenery and joined the U.S. Marine Corps (having early been assured that there was no way that a skinny liberal like me would ever survive Boot Camp). Contrary to what the Hipster Zombies will tell you, this did not “brainwash me into being a Conservative”. Instead, it made me a very unhappy, short-haired liberal, surrounded by guns and the military. However, I spent my whole contract (after schools) on the island of Okinawa, where I was exposed to points of view not dominated by the American liberal media. During this time, I taught ESL classes as a side-job, trained under some of the highest-ranking masters of karate on Okinawa, and discovered the practice of Buddhism. I also spent some time in Korea, where I got to train in hapkido. It was during this period that I came gradually to realize how stupid and evil American liberalism actually is. This was partly due to my Military Police command sending me to Small Arms Instructor school, which gave me more exposure to guns than I could ever have imagined—thus negating my idiotic liberal distaste for them. After the active-duty portion of my Marine Corps contract was over, I worked several jobs, from security contracts to operating a forklift in a warehouse. In 2002, however, when the invasion of Iraq was getting under way, I signed up with the Missouri Army National Guard, and have remained with them since, continuing as a Military Policeman. I am also full-time corrections officer, a member of the Anglican Church, and at one time was an Instructor Candidate in Dekiti-Tirsia Serradas Kali (until my instructor moved away). My hobbies (beyond blogging) include strength training, shooting sports, martial arts, creating digital art, and being a huge science and science-fiction geek.

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  1. Great, now I will probably have nightmares tonight about Pumkinhead. >:O I never watched the movie, because the trailer scared me too much.I think, "I Know What You Did Last Summer" is so dumb. I like movies to be at least somewhat plausible, I guess… even if the movie is unrealsitic. 😛

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