Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Ludicrosity Threshold

I saw The Last Jedi the other day, and overall I enjoyed it. Saying so obviously puts one in one trench or the other of a rather pointless argument at the moment, but as far as I'm concerned you can't tell someone else whether or not they liked something.

Anyway, that and a few other things I've read and watched recently got me thinking about suspension of disbelief and how people seem to have radically different thresholds for it, a phenomena I'm now christening the Ludicrosity Threshold. Now, The Last Jedi- and I'm treading carefully here to avoid the dreaded spoilers- takes some serious liberties with the laws of physics. Most notable is the implication that a spaceship needs to apply constant thrust to keep moving, which is a direct violation of Newton's First law, as Mass Effect memorably reminded us.

It annoyed me at the time a little, and I know I'm not the only one. Those fans who like to maintain wikis and make lore videos always find it especially irritating when things like this happen. The thing is, though, that it's not like Star Wars and physics have ever really got on all that well. From faster-than-light travel to slower-than light lasers (and swords made of lasers) to sounds in space and levitating space wizards, Star Wars has always been very much 'soft' sci-fi as opposed to the 'hard' sci-fi of something like The Expanse. The ships have always flown (and even that word is loaded) as if they were atmospheric or even naval craft rather than spaceships, and usually it doesn't bother us, but in this case, for me, it did. For some reason, my personal Ludicrosity Threshold was exceeded.

It might be that I just don't like Rian Johnson, at least with regard to the Threshold. I wrote a post some time ago about stupid time travel rules, and his movie "Looper" which like TLJ he wrote and directed comes in for heavy fire for its blatantly illogical approach to the subject. Meanwhile I'm a huge Dr Who fan and yet that show is constantly having to make all sorts of excuses for bizarre rules to stop everyone's favourite last son of Gallifrey (at least until Christmas) from just nipping back into the TARDIS for another go when things take upon themselves the aspect of the avocado.*

If this makes me some sort of realism hypocrite, then at least I'm in good company. I've lost count of the number of critics who line up to decry a sci-fi movie like "Johnny Mnemonic" or "Equilibrium" as 'hokum' and yet praise something like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" the IMDB synopsis of which is:

"While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée's family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s everyday at midnight."

Now I'm sorry, but if The Keanu can't have a data-vault in his head because it's 'hokum', then Owen Wilson doesn't get to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali. I still can't play the Dinner Party Game because I refuse to just say "I'd invite Albert Einstein" without specifying at what point in his personal timeline I'd pluck him from or how I'd stop him running off before the main course to attempt to memorise every physics article on the Internet. Do I have to neuralyse him afterwards?

The Ludicrosity Threshold becomes particularly interesting when applied as an argument for or against an element even being in a game or story. I talked some time ago about armour for fantasy adventurers and how people object to 'boobie armour' on grounds of realism and practicality but seem fine with oversized shoulder-pads that would crush the head of the wearer if he shrugged, and there's several other examples of that disconnect in that piece as well.

Any excuse to get Sonya into a post

Some people can't stand third-person perspectives because they let a player see things behind and to the side of them that they couldn't actually see. Others find the fact that in first-person you can't see things that should be clearly noticeable by peripheral vision every bit as jarring. For one person, any story in which magic plays a part is automatically devoid of merit and can have nothing interesting to say about anything. For another, setting fictional spy stories in the real world might seem stupid because they couldn't possibly happen in 'our' world for all sorts of complicated political and technical reasons. Hell, some people won't even read fiction at all for this very reason.

So what's the takeaway from all of this? For me, it's simply that the Ludicrosity Threshold- the suspension of disbelief, if you prefer, shouldn't be considered some sort of slam-dunk argument. It's a deeply subjective measure which can be great fun to debate- I'm sure more than one student got a great physics paper out of the swimming pool scene in "Passengers"- but just because one person gets 'taken out' of something doesn't mean everyone will. Much more important is to keep track of which rules you follow, and which you break, and at least stay consistent to that. A Babylon 5 Starfury might well fly according to proper physics, but if it turns up in Star Wars it needs to leave Newton at the door because that's just how they rolled a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I like that ending, so the ending it shall be. A Merry Christmas to any who've read all this way down, and if you're still hungry for more and your Ludicrosity Threshold hasn't been exceeded, there's still a festive Orky Short you might enjoy..

*Overly complicated way of saying 'go pear-shaped'.

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