Years ago John Scalzi wrote a post about how his wife, when it came to reading their daughter a favorite story, couldn’t get past the idea of a flying snowman. This didn’t make a whole lot of sense. As Scalzi pointed out she had no problem with a snowman who could come to life, wear clothes,
and talk with children, so why was flying a bridge too far?
The fact is, we all have a point beyond which we simply can’t suspend disbelief any longer. As a writer of fantasy and science fiction I’m doubly aware of that. Some people will happily turn their brains off to enjoy a good story, but if you trip that wire that goes beyond their comfort zone of disbelief, they’ll turn on you. There’s not much you can do about it, except recognize that we all do it and we all do it at different points. In other words, we all have our own flying snowman.
I bring this up not because of some great work of fantasy or science fiction, but because of the seventh movie in the Fast and Furious franchise, which has dominated the box office this year (up to this point). Although I’m a car guy (autocrossing them since 1999) I’ve never been a fan of the series. If I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of action flicks in general, so the automotive overlay does nothing for me. My wife, on the other hand, is a big fan, thanks to her action movie jones and an abiding longing for The Rock, so I took her to see the new one.
It’s not bad, for a big loud popcorn flick that doesn’t aspire to be much more than that. In particular there are some really amazing stunts and some good quips. Can’t ask much more than that. However, there are some points where I reached my flying snowman point. Ken Levine’s line is apparently in about the same place, although he got a bit more aggravated by it:
FURIOUS 7 is an absolute fucking mess! What the fuck was that?! No, seriously! There’s not a fucking frame of this stink burger that’s rooted in any reality. Roadrunner cartoons are more realistic. Is this what the action film genre has become? Mindless idiotic fucking stunts that defy all laws of gravity, physics, logic, and common sense? Hand-to-hand combat where the combatants beat the living shit out of each other and neither is even bruised? They crash through glass walls. No cuts. They hit each other with lead pipes. No blood. Their heads are smashed through concrete walls – not even a mild concussion. What the fuck was I watching? Nobody dies. Cars go over cliffs, roll over seventeen times, are twisted gnarled wrecks when they finally come to a rest 1,000 feet down the hill, and the passengers just wriggle out without so much as a scratch. At least Wile E. Coyote looks disheveled when he swallows a lit stick of dynamite that explodes in his stomach. Not Vin Diesel. Not Jason Stratham. Not the Rock. Creative license is one thing but this is fucking preposterous.
Now, to be fair, some of what Levine rages against as CGI fakery actually isn’t (see, for example, the flying cars of the title). But, he’s right. Furious 7 apparently doesn’t take place in the real world. My flying snowman moment came when Vin Diesel and Jason Statham not once but twice staged deliberate head-on collisions from which each walked away without even a bruise. There’s a fine line between “I can’t believe they did that!” and “I can’t believe they really did THAT?”
My wife concedes the point. She doesn’t argue for the reality of those things, but is more willing to set aside concerns and just enjoy the movie. She’s not wrong, but neither am I. I just can’t go that far. At least not for Fast & Furious.
Star Wars, on the other hand . . .
The defining image of the second trailer for The Force Awakens is the star destroyer crashed on the surface of what JJ Abrams swears is not Tatooine. When I saw that, there was a large part of my mind that immediately started into how impossible it was for a craft of that size to plummet through the atmosphere and crash land more or less intact. But another part thought it was about the coolest thing it had seen in years.
Guess which side wins? That’s because, when it comes to something I’ve loved since I was a kid, my flying snowman threshold is much higher. I’m willing to turn the more rational part of my brain off and just enjoy the awesomeness. Not every part, mind you.
Which is just to say, as a writer and a reader/viewer, you don’t necessarily need to know where the line is, but be aware that everybody has that line and you can’t hope to be certain you don’t cross it.