Monday, January 9, 2012

Your Defenses Are Useless!

"We're safe as long as no Ewok
throws a rock at us."
One of the things that always gets me, whenever I watch either a historical or fantasy movie involving fights among people (or orcs) in armor, is how useless the armor seems to be. The hero charges around, usually without armor himself (and with unlimited reserves of stamina),  the bad guys shooting at him with unbelievably bad aim, and the whole while he's blithely dispatching them in droves, despite the fact that they are all wearing armor. Arrows, swords, and spears are shown penetrating thick breast plates like styrofoam, or ray guns burn right through them. So many people in these movies seem to be killed while wearing armor that it begs the question: why are they bothering to do it at all? Armor's expensive, heavy, hot, and restrictive. If it's not even going to stop an arrow, why would you wear it? In historical reality (for those movies set in ancient or quasi-medieval times) armor used to be so restrictive, in fact, that it would have severely limited the ability of the person wearing it to move around, much less fight (or see). So they wouldn't have worn it just because it made them look cool. And it was so expensive that only the richest elite could afford it at all; most soldiers used to wear no armor or, at most, carry only leather shields...the better to fight (or run away).

And, in a science fiction or fantasy setting, what must be the budget for armor for the Galactic Empire? Does the Armor Manufacturer's Lobby in the Imperial Senate have disproportionate sway? I demand a bipartisan commission to investigate plutocratic corruption!

So why don't the makers of movies think about this "armor problem"? Of course, the teenage boys, who love this kind of mayhem in their historical/fantasy/sci-fi movies and games, don't care about reality. Obviously: They're teenagers. Their favorite kind of armor is the armored bra protecting the thong-clad warrior princess's nipples--but not her vulnerable abdomen or cranium. She depends on the incredibly bad marksmanship of the enemy soldiers (unable to see out of their heavy helmets) to protect those.

But I do worry about it. I feel sorry for the poor sonofabitch orc who was forced to march a hundred miles in stifling weather with a hundred pounds of armor on his back, only to find it completely useless when shot by a Clairol-coifed Orlando Bloom, not even bothering to aim his bow as he snowboards down a staircase (something you couldn't do in armor). As the orc lay dying with an arrow in his armor-clad chest, he probably thought, "What the f*** was I lugging all this around for?" You know that the Imperial Storm Trooper was thinking the same thing as he lay dying from an unbelievable pistol shot made by a rope-swinging Luke Skywalker, "If I hadn't been wearing all this armor, I might have been able to duck in time." Why do they wear that armor, by the way? Because the art director thinks it looks wicked? Or because Chancellor Palpatine has an equity position in body-armor futures?

Why Do Cars Always Explode?
And it's not just useless armor that irritates me in movies. It's also explosions. Why, in action movies and TV shows, when cars roll down a hill, do they often explode with the force of a Mk-85 500 lb bomb? Or even when they just hit another car? How often have you seen that in real life? Why do we even drive cars at all if that's the risk? Cars don't just explode. And when a helicopter crashes in real life, it usually doesn't blow up like it does in movies--unless it has a live napalm bomb on-board ("I told you to leave that behind! But nooooo, you had to take it with us!"). This is lazy screen-writing.

Here's another beef I have with sloppy film-making: withheld information. So often in movies and TV shows, a character who has in his possession some vital information that could clear all this up, just doesn't bother to share it with the key-decision makers so they might not push that button that would end in the destruction of civilization (or a costly divorce). There's usually no reason this character decides to withhold that little bit of knowledge; he just does--you know--to move the plot forward. This is also sloppy writing. And it makes you flush your sympathy for the characters. I hate that. Mostly because I don't have a real life.

I know, I know, it's just a movie. But while I'm immersed in a movie, I want to stay in the universe that is the movie for that hour-and-half; I don't want to be reminded that it's just a movie. When a character gets killed and then miraculously comes back to life, I tend to think, well, I don't have to worry about his being in danger; he can be just "scripted" back alive again. And when he's wearing armor, I want to believe that it will do a half-assed job of protecting him from a stray arrow...unless he's an orc or Imperial Storm Trooper, of course.

And when a character actually does have some important information, I like to see he be given a chance to bring it up--even if it doesn't keep us out of an unnecessary 10-year war in Iraq.

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