June 13, 1999: all you want is something good
I'm probably stretching the term "plot hole" in my review
of the Phantom Menace, but I think it's fair to want a
single term that means "a place where the plot goes
unconvincingly"--either because it's internally inconsistent,
because it relies grossly on luck, or because characters are
totally unrealistically motivated.
I'm just going to keep calling all of these things "plot
holes", since I lack an appropriate term.
One of the things I've been doing to learn about screenwriting
is downloading lots of screenplays--mostly to movies I've seen--and
reading through them. Very useful to see how things are put
together, to see what it left to the director and what's not.
Very useful, also, to follow the plot much more clearly than
in a movie. You don't miss any lines of dialogue. Sometimes
things are just much more obvious in screenplay form.
sex, lies, and videotape worked for me a lot better as
a screenplay. Partly this might be because it would have
worked better had I seen it a second time. Partly it might
be because of the actual performances in the film bringing
down the material. Partly it's because it's always clear
from the moment you meet them who the characters are and how
they relate to each other. It's supposed to be obvious from
the voice-overs that John is Ann's husband, but it's spelled
out in the screenplay (she mentions John, and he's referred
to in the screenplay as John even though nobody calls him
by name). Sure, in the movie you figure that's who he is,
but you have to spend a while thinking I think that's who
it is, which rather breaks the suspension of disbelief.
Mainly, though, I've noticed how easy it is to find plot holes.
Pretty much every screenplay I've downloaded, there's a plot
hole or some sort of flaw. Here's a bunch of examples;
note that these are screenplays
that don't necessarily represent the final product; the scenes
may have been changed or cut:
Chinatown: The climactic moment in the first act when
the real Mrs. Mulway is revealed is weakened by the fact
that she doesn't have a legal leg to stand on with her
threats, but everybody acts like she does. Maybe there's
a difference with modern laws, I dunno.
sex, lies, and videotape: also slightly weakened by a flawed
legal argument when John asks Cynthia whether she got Graham
to sign something to say he wouldn't redistribute--Cynthia would
have had to sign something for him to legally redistribute. It
would be OK if it were just a mistake on the character's part...
but John is a lawyer.
48 Hours: In the initial breakout, instead of slipping a
gun to Gantz, had there simply been three or four bad guys
at once, they could easily have done things the direct way.
So the drama of the gun sneakery is a little bogus. Obviously
fictionally there's nobody else they could trust, i.e. this
is all justifiable--but the trivial ease with which a few
people could have pulled it off makes the escape less
dramatic overall. (At least in the universe of movies where
we're used to gangs of people and the ease of picking up
extra bad guys--I think 48 hours is trying to be set in
a more realistic world.)
Godzilla: This is an early script (hunt around on
Wordplay in the archive section),
not very related to
the final movie (which I never even saw), and the authors
are very defensive about the fact that the movie was crap
but this screenplay wasn't. However, this screenplay has
the absolute worst examples of relying on coincidence for
drama. I don't mean simple things like the good guys only
uncovering the alien creature just at the moment it awakens
(which is forgiveable); I mean the fact that they have two
giant creatures fighting each other and basically ignoring
humanity, so to create dramatic tension, they have to throw
the humans in the way of the fight, which is mostly done
There were plenty of other little annoying coincidences besides the
- Aaron on the Golden Gate Bridge
- Tina in New York
- The gryphon and Godzilla just happen to land next to the group
when they're being intimidated by Pike
- The monsters just happen to cave in the tunnel where
the group of humans are trying to get through
- to be honest, at this point I stopped reading, although I think
there must have been at least one more to have triggered my annoyance
- The sub crashing into the ship--check out the "big sky"
theory of defense against AA batteries. It's just improbable.
- I think there was another chance occurence but I don't
recall it now.
- Personal opinion: I don't care for the Aaron archetype--his
"new agey" beliefs turn out to be valid, with scientific basis due
to alien influences long ago, and the fact that they were true
seems to justify his believing them for no good reason.
(Check out the notion of knowledge as "justified true belief" in philosophy.)
Essentially, he got lucky.
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It's Not Safe Aimee Mann