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Seeing is believing... except when it isn't

Updated on December 4, 2014
We assure you that no CGI was harmed during the shoot of this scene.
We assure you that no CGI was harmed during the shoot of this scene. | Source

Have you ever watched a movie, when suddenly the flick does something that completely takes you out of the experience? A single character decision, a visual cue, a plot hole or a directing decision sometimes can make or break a movie for people, or at least diminish their immersion and enjoyment of what's going on. Yet the instances and reasons why this happens is so varied that it's hard to establish a firm set of rules that movies should follow in order to keep suspension of disbelief alive. Every person has a different mindset that applies to movies. Some people are willing to accept everything that's thrown at them, while others can literally make a living out of pointing out mistakes in movies.

But is there really no logic whatsoever to what people will be affected by? Well, there are certain trends that one can notice during instances, when suspension of disbelief has been broken. We are going to look at a few of the more important ones today. These were gathered by me being nosy and asking several people a ton of questions. So yes, as every opinion piece, this is 100% bias, but I'll do my best not to really rate the movies in the examples as a whole, only in regards to the examples they provide.

Nowadays, Martians would most likely be laughed at, if they were to do some world conquering in this antique.
Nowadays, Martians would most likely be laughed at, if they were to do some world conquering in this antique. | Source

Deviation from the source material

Here's one that may seem fairly straightforward at first. We have a previous work that tells a story in a certain way. Then another work comes and tries to retell the same story. Deviations may be seen as disrespect, or simply inferior, because the previous work set a very special standard. The original is not just there for comparison in regards to quality. It can bee sen as embodying the quality that the new work has to strive for. Thus when certain actions are omitted or even changed, the movie goes against a certain expected logic. But on the other hand, sometimes the concept is so outdated that suspense of disbelief could be challenged if some parts of the original story weren't changed. Or the concept is basically “done to death” and would not engage people if not given a new perspective.

Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are prime examples of instances, where people can have issues in comparisons to source material. While fairly faithful, Peter Jackson's movies still take liberties and probably even more important, omit parts of the book that further explain the fate of certain characters, such as Gandalf's fall for example. The comparison of the two trilogies is even more interesting, because the suspension of disbelief is challenged by a very unique factor: the relative length of the source material. Lord of the Rings can be seen as three books that generated three movies. With Hobbit, the same amount of movies was generated from just one, relatively short book. This seems to be a catalyst for certain viewers to start looking for other things wrong with the Hobbit movies.

The ultimate edition of the Hobbit trilogy will feature an extra film: Smeagol's Lament, where Andy Serkis argues with himself for three hours.
The ultimate edition of the Hobbit trilogy will feature an extra film: Smeagol's Lament, where Andy Serkis argues with himself for three hours. | Source


Quality is another thing that one might think should kind of go without saying, but does warrant a bit more thought beyond that. For example, when talking about bad quality, bad CGI might be quoted as something that challenges suspension of disbelief. But how would bad computer generated visuals be determined? Did our taste evolve along with the quality of the visuals, making older attempts look more fake? Or would CGI always stay inferior to actual props, because of the fact that the latter are physically present during the shoot? Perhaps what throws people off when it comes to CGI effects in addition to these factors, is the fact that they are so readily available these days and used at any or all given opportunities. Perhaps the more the audience is being subjected to something they can determine does not belong, the more it learns to distrust such visuals. The movies themselves teach us not to get invested. Though... some cases may be a bit more... special... than others.

It is currently unknown whether Tommy Wiseau is a robot, an alien or an alien robot.
It is currently unknown whether Tommy Wiseau is a robot, an alien or an alien robot. | Source


Bad characters, bad decisions, leaps of logic, bad chemistry... anything characters say, do or react to goes here. Movies are stories. Stories are mostly about people. Or talking animals. Or aliens. Or a talking toaster if you're into that sort of thing. But what they have all in common, is the fact that these characters have human traits projected on them. At the end of the day, we are still human beings. And no matter what we choose to be entertained by, we can only do so through a human connection. If the connection is challenged by any of the factors mentioned above, the immersion is broken. If absolutely none of the factors mentioned work, congratulations, you're watching The Room.

Expectations and tone

We are all different in what we expect from our movies. If you go in to a movies expecting something you dislike, or perhaps something that simply doesn't fall into the type of movie you're into, the movie will probably have a harder time pulling you in. That being said, movies may still have considerable power over how much we are willing to swallow. In a way, each story has its own little universe. Whether it be a one off story or a whole franchise, there is a certain consistency expected throughout. However, the consistency does not need to be set in reality. The movie gets to make the rules. If it relies on reality, then the audience will be thrown off if something surreal and unexplained happens. But if the Harry Potter universe decides it's perfectly okay with wizards in the modern world being blocked off from using modern technology and sticks with it throughout 7 books or 8 movies, then the audience is much more likely to accept such a setting... Though if I have to be honest, watching the Order of the Phoenix just wreck Death Eaters with shotguns would have this hilarious sense of poetic justice to it.

Avada Ke- *BLAM* Shotguns: zero casting time, instant satisfaction
Avada Ke- *BLAM* Shotguns: zero casting time, instant satisfaction | Source

After the universe is established, the immersion depends on what tone the presentation gets. A comedy may for example get away with a lot more than any other movie, because the surreal is many times already implemented in the universe the story operates in. Let's compare. Fighter is a drama where two brothers enter a fighting tournament to compete for prize money for different reasons. The fights are not that well shot, but the sole focus is on character development. This makes the movie work. Feast II:Sloppy Seconds is a horror comedy that has two midget pro-wrestler brothers fight each other to settle whether or not they should launch their dying mum out of a catapult... Would you believe me if I said that sentence made sense in the context of the movie?

Because this is such a big part of immersion, let's do just one more example, where we combine both expectations and tone. Pacific Rim is a movie that has the audiences rather split on its ranking on the scale of awesomeness. It is a prime example of both well established parts of its universe and parts that unfortunately fail to maintain the rules the movie introduces. It sets out to be an over-the-top action movie that does not take itself too seriously. This includes all the cheesy nonsense that comes with the territory that helps the audience swallow some of the less realistic parts. But then Pacific Rim also throws a strange curve ball in the form of drifting – the need for two pilots to be linked together and work in tandem in order to keep the Jaegers going. While most likely an attempt to homage the giant fighting robots from series like Power Rangers with an added new spin, the movie tries to be strangely serious about the notion. However, it doesn't seem to know how to handle the idea well enough and seems to jump with the concept all over the place, breaking rules it established for itself on several occasions. This makes it much harder to get a feel for the actions of the protagonists in some cases.

Aww, don't feel sad. We still dig giant robots, dude!
Aww, don't feel sad. We still dig giant robots, dude! | Source

Everyone will of course have their own limits to how much weirdness, nonsense or mistakes they can take. These are but a few examples of a vast topic that may still be worth revisiting in the future. But for now, this would conclude the list of the most common categories I could find. This was an interesting experiment to say the least and I hope you enjoyed the ride as well.

From 1 to Ed Wood, where does your disbelief kick in?

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