This is a topic I’ve been thinking about recently. What I’ve been pondering is the sort of thing that, apparently, movies can get away with that would never fly in a novel. Sometimes, by keeping the action moving or providing interesting visuals, movies can make viewers not notice what an author would call a plot hole. Sometimes a very big plot hole.
The problem is that we don’t watch some of these movies just once anymore. Some movies we watch again and again and . . . . By the third or fourth time I start noticing things. And, as a storyteller, they bother me.
Sometimes movies do this for a reason. They’ve only got so much time, after all. But sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason.
I’ll give you an example of the first. Let’s use the first Lord of the Rings movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Gandalf arrives back in the Shire and tests Frodo’s ring, discovering that it is the One Ring, and the Enemy knows where it is. This kicks the plot into motion. Great. What happens next?
In the movie, Frodo and Sam immediately set out for Rivendell–alone. They have no idea how to get there; neither of them has ever been outside of the Shire before. Neither of them has anything remotely resembling a weapon and wouldn’t know how to use it if they did. And the Nine Riders are already after them. In written form, any editor worth his or her salt would call this “too stupid to live” and stop reading. It stretches credulity for Gandalf to consider this any kind of reasonable plan. (And it’s even worse if you’re at all familiar with Tolkein’s map of Middle Earth, where it’s obvious that Gandalf is also going to have to go through Bree.)
It’s not remotely that idiotic in the books. They actually did have a plan that didn’t involve two unprotected hobbits heading out into the wild alone. The plan fell through, for various reasons, and Frodo was forced to run before the Nazgul caught him. They ended up in just about exactly the same place. But at least he wasn’t too stupid to live. Readers tend to lose interest in characters that do idiotic things. Movies can keep the action moving, throw in a little humor, and hope we won’t notice. In this case, probably even hope that those of us who’d read and loved the books, would fill in the gap for them with what we already knew.
Then there’s another problem I sometimes have with even good movies. Generally, in a book, the writer has to supply sufficient motivation for characters to do something. Characters can’t just do things–especially important things that impact the plot–for no reason at all.
Here’s one–an unnecessary one, I think–from the movie “Frozen”. Now I enjoy that movie, but there are a couple of places I have trouble with as a storyteller.
When Hans leads his little impromptu militia to attack Queen Elsa in her ice palace he makes a point of telling them that Elsa isn’t to be harmed. And I can’t help asking “why?” I mean, it isn’t that much later in the movie that he declares his intention to kill Elsa and make himself King. What’s his motivation for not wanting to see her killed by someone else–like the Duke’s men–leaving his hands clean in the matter? Then Anna would become queen and he already knows he’s got her in his pocket.
I’d swallow that whole scene down whole if he just hadn’t said anything–and probably if something else happened to prevent the Duke’s henchman from shooting Elsa with his crossbow. A ricochet, perhaps.
Meanwhile, I’m finally on the last chapter of this draft of THE IGNORED PROPHECY, sequel to THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.