Now is time to put on your nit-picking socks, movie fans, as this week’s installment of B-Movies Extended (which is, in case this is your first go-‘round with us, a special addendum to CraveOnline’s very own The B-Movies Podcast, which has been chugging quietly away for 61 weeks now), as we are going to, in no uncertain terms, looking through some plot holes. It’s something we discussed on the show, and it’s something we’re going to (over)analyze here. We’re gonna pick our scabs.
There is a phenomenon in filmgoing called “The Refrigerator Test.” This is a test you yourself have probably put films through. Imagine that you are sitting in a film, enjoying yourself. The film ends, and you think to yourself that it was just fine. You and your friends confer, and you trade opinions with them. (Your friends are, of course, incorrect.) You part ways and you go home. On the trip home, you contemplate the film, and hold that it was still enjoyable. When you arrive home, you go to the refrigerator to get a drink or a snack. While you’re looking over the food and drink in your fridge, that’s when it hits you. Wait a second. How did that one guy know to be in that one room when the bad guy came in? How did the hero manage to drive a motorcycle such a great distance in such a short amount of time? The film’s plot flaws all begin to beset your mind. This is how a film fails The Refrigerator Test. While you stand in front of an open fridge, the cracks form.
No doubt this has happened to you several times. When you really analyze them, it’s astonishing how many films – especially mainstream genre films – are rife with storytelling flaws and pot holes. Sometimes it takes a review or an article or a peer to point it out to you, but such mistakes are everywhere. And I’m not just talking about little continuity errors, like the level of liquid changing in a glass from edit to edit, or a roaming bullet wound that creeps from the front of the hero’s arm to the side. No. I’m talking about basic narrative errors.
There are countless such lists online, as over-analyzing seems to be a merry hobby of the honest-to-goodness film nerd. Indeed, the phenomenon of the “Cranky Critic” could be considered a legitimate subculture unto itself, and pointing to plot flaws and continuity errors is a gleeful requirement of the occupation. There’s even one particular website that seems almost as extensive at the Internet Movie Database on the topic.
I typically am forgiving of small errors and storytelling flubs, provided the film is still moving, and contains interesting ideas. It’s only if I’m only half on-board with a film that I’ll start to make inner gripes about plot holes. Plot holes are, I feel, a vice rather than a proper sin. It’s only when the plot holes stack up too much, or when they openly and boldly contradict previously established premises that I will openly complain about them. Or, if my camp knob is cranked particularly high that day, I will praise them for their clunkiness. Plot holes, just like bad performances or chintzy special effects, can have their charm.
Sometimes, indeed, spotting a plot hole or a continuity error on a well-loved and favorite film can kind of humanize it and make it more charming. You begin to sense, in a very warm and pragmatic fashion, that the film isn’t perfect after all. But that you, as a fan, still love it, tiny little warts and all.
Here, then, are some movie plot holes that I spotted and was kind of fond of over the years.
The Time Paradox in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Time travel stories are, necessarily, going to have some paradoxes. How do you, after all, travel back in time without profoundly changing the present? Some films are cute and clever about the paradoxes (Back to the Future famously featured newspapers and tombstones that would slowly change before your very eyes), but most are going to have to fudge causality in order to tell an interesting story. When Terminator 2 came out in 1991, when I was a wee lad of 12, I was proud of myself that I caught this. In one of the film's final scenes, you'll recall (and I'm assuming you've seen this film, so I won't be ruining anything), the three heroes have defeated the shape-changing bad guy, and the young John Connor will now be allowed to grow up. They then logically deduce that the eventual Machine War will not take place if they destroy the friendly Terminator robot that they have fought with. The robot decides to kill itself nobly to prevent the war. Skynet had been destroyed earlier in the film. The machine war would indeed be averted.
But, if that was the case, the Terminator would never have gone back in time, Michael Biehn would never have impregnated Linda Hamilton, and everything we had just watched would have been quickly erased, only to be replaced by a timeline wherein Sarah Connor is still working as a waitress (as she was at the outset of the first Terminator film). I was only 12, and I knew enough about time travel paradoxes to notice that. There's one of these in just about every time travel film. They're hard to ignore.
Just About Everything in the Resident Evil Movies
I have managed to see all four of these films to date, and I'm not rightly sure why. Many people describe the first as being “kinda entertaining,” but that sort of vague descriptor is about as far as you can go in praising them. They are goofy movies and, as the sequels extend (the fifth is due out in September), the premise just gets more and more farfetched. As I sat in the theater, watching the 3-D version of Resident Evil: Afterlife, I found myself drifting off from the movie, asking myself vague questions about the series' plotting.
The premise of the series, by the way, is that a huge multinational corporation called Umbrella has developed a super-virus of some sort (I don't rightly recall the details) that kills people and resurrects them as zombies. It can also mutate people into creatures at a moment's notice. Later in the series, the same virus will also be able to grant people psychic powers. It spreads like a virus sometimes, but, in the case of the superpowers, doesn't seem to be contagious. It can infect dogs and crows, and by the third film, has spread over the entire world and killed almost everyone.
The plot holes come in with the Umbrella Corporation. Okay, I get that they wanted to make a weaponized virus, and I buy that it can make zombies, and that it spread all over the world. I even kind of (kind of) buy that Umbrella has also been experimenting with cloning in order to make psychic supersoldiers. But why does Umbrella continue their experiments after the world has ended? What is their ultimate purpose? Wouldn't the company have been ousted when, I dunno, almost everyone on the planet became a zombie? And why have they kept bunkers full of zombies peppered across the ruined landscape? Is this some twisted experiment? For the third and fourth film, Umbrella seems to have access to vehicles, holograms, aircraft carriers and clean, white techno-labs. And yet, there are hardly any people left. Their constant wasteful activities is what drives the plot, such as it is. A single line of explanatory dialogue would have worked for me. But no dice. The plot is driven by the never-explained nefarious purposes of a corporate entity.
Don't you dare tell me it's more carefully explained in the video game. I will kick you in the shin.
The Eyeball in Minority Report
True, there was a bigger time travel paradox at the center of Steven Spielberg’s excellent sci-fi flick Minority Report (if the crime-predicting psychics were really predicting the future, wouldn’t they also predict that the crime was stopped by the pre-crime division?), but I will instead focus on a little plot oversight that the film didn’t bother to address, and that tugged at my pant leg throughout the film.
In Minority Report, the pre-crime supercop John Anderton has been implicated by the crime prediction system. To evade capture from his other pre-crime cop buddies, he goes on the lam, hiding his identity, and even going so far as having a skeevy under-the-table surgeon replace his eyeballs, which would be the only way the spider-shaped scanning computers would be able to identify him. In the scene where he gets his eyes replaced, he is warned by the surgeon to leave the bandages over his eyes for a very precise amount of time (which is even indicated on a red digital clock), or else the light might immediately blind him, and he’ll have to find new eyes again. It was right when he was blindfolded that the spider-shaped robots infiltrated his operation room and decided to scan whatever eyeballs they could find. Anderton tries hiding under some cold water to avoid detection, but the spiders find him anyway. They pull the bandages up, and scan one of his eyeballs, clearly not all the way healed. The camera kept cutting to the digital clock to show that the appropriate healing time had not yet elapsed.
This would imply, then, that John Anderton spent the remainder of the film blind in one eye, right? Well, sadly, it is not addressed ever again. Maybe there was a line of dialogue or a short scene that got cut which explained that he was indeed blind in one eye, but it wasn’t in the final film. This would up the stakes, right? Knowing that our hero isn’t at 100% vision? This little detail is never explained, and Anderton has perfect vision for the rest of the film. “Sorry about that plot point. Turns out it wasn’t a plot point at all.”
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
When I criticize a movie other people love – and I mean really criticize it, pointing out plot holes and weak character development and ugly thematic subtext, not just saying, “I don’t like it,” in that Droopy voice I do – I often get comments to the effect of, “It’s just a movie,” and “Don’t be so critical.” I have no qualms with people disagreeing with me, but it bugs me that rather than admit to a difference of opinion, some folks would rather write off the value of an artistic medium they claim to enjoy. "I love movies so much," they seem to say, “That I don’t care about their quality.” I guess I just can’t get behind that. On one hand, everyone has their own tastes, but a plot hole is a plot hole, no matter how hard you try to ignore it.
Not all plot holes are created equal, obviously. A lot of people like to point out that in The Dark Knight, Batman jumps off a building to save Rachel Dawes, leaving The Joker alone with Gotham’s finest, to do with them as he pleases. I can mentally fill in those blanks, since if we didn’t see it then it must have resolved itself. The Joker probably left, maybe kneecapping a handful of socialites as he went, since clearly none of the remaining guests was Batman. But the bomb at the end of Batman Begins sure as hell doesn’t pass The Refrigerator Test. It evaporates all water around it, which obviously would kill Ra’s al Ghul and all of his henchmen (and Batman, and most of Gotham) since human beings are mostly water. But let’s forgive that and talk about the real issue: the whole point of the bomb was to evaporate the fear toxin that the Scarecrow had been sneaking into the city’s water supply, which only activates when converted to gas. Um…So nobody in Gotham City took a hot shower in the last few weeks, or made a cup of hot tea, or ate Maruchan instant noodles? The whole “going insane because of evaporated water” problem really would have come up before Liam Neeson made a big thing about it.
And even that doesn’t bug me enough to make my actual list of plot holes. That’s just a silly MacGuffin, after all. The entire movie would have been basically the same if they had planned to fire off a nuclear bomb instead, so yes, I think Batman Begins is just fine. I’m going to reserve my ire for films that are actually diminished, if not outright ruined, if you think about them too hard. These are the plot holes that simply drive me nuts. You can ignore them if you want, and I’ll listen if you think you can “No Prize” them out of existence, but don’t try to pretend they’re not legitimate problems with the story. (I’ll find you.)
Jake Sully is the Bad Guy in Avatar
Everyone seemed to love Avatar when it came out, not that you could tell anymore. It doesn’t seem to have reserved its place in the pop culture lexicon, since it’s rarely referenced, quoted or even talked about in casual conversation. (Experiences may vary, I suppose, but that’s what I’ve observed.) I’m pretty sure the reason is because it’s just not that good a movie, although admittedly it’s pretty as all hell. The thing that ruined it for me, as I was watching it the very first time, is that Avatar plays like a hero’s journey, even though the hero is the bad guy.
Watch it again: “Bad Guy” Giovanni Ribisi orders Sam Worthington to use his influence to find a diplomatic solution with the alien Na’Vi. He says they’ve tried everything, but that they don’t know what the Na’Vi want. So Worthington infiltrates this fantastical race with a specific purpose, and he never mentions it. Not even once. He doesn’t speak up at a city council meeting, or even intimate to his new girlfriend that trouble’s coming, even though he’s been aware of it all along. Thousands of Na’Vi die because he didn’t do his job, and he still gets to play the hero afterwards? I never bought it for a second. Avatar kinda sucks. (Still pretty though.)
Skynet Keeps Kyle Reese Alive in Terminator: Salvation
Witney already pointed out the time paradox in Terminator 2, but honestly that doesn’t bug me too much. It used to, but they more-or-less fixed it in the somewhat-underrated Terminator 3, so I’ll let it slide. (At least they tried, right?) I’m even kinda-sorta okay with the T-1000 going back in time even though the first film specifically states that only organic matter – or at the very least metal covered in organic matter – can actually be transported by the machine. (That info came from Kyle Reese, who didn’t build the thing, so what does he know?) But what I am not okay with is the plot of Terminator: Salvation, specifically in regards to Kyle Reese. In a nutshell, it’s the future (finally), and Skynet is searching for Kyle Reese because it knows that he’ll eventually go back in time and father John Connor, the savior of the revolution (never mind how). For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that in Terminator: Salvation, John Connor hasn’t even been promoted to rebel leader yet, meaning Skynet has no reason to think it needs to fear him. No, let’s look at the fact that Skynet actually catches Kyle Reese, and instead of killing him to prevent John Connor from being born, it uses him as bait to kill John Connor in the future, giving Connor ample time to save him when a single bullet, or robot punch to the head, could have won the war in less than a second.
Skynet? We need to talk. You’re a supercomputer. The audience should not be smarter than you. Ugh.
The Planes are Perfectly Safe in Die Hard 2
Some fans enjoy Die Hard 2, and yeah, it’s not the worst film in the franchise (see Len Wiseman’s Live Free or Die Hard for that dubious distinction), but the entire movie hinges on a really serious plot hole. Here’s the gist of it: the bad guys take over an airport and seize the communications between the control tower and the planes, threatening to make them crash if their demands aren’t met. It sounds like a pretty good evil plan…until you realize that they haven’t seized every communications device on the Eastern seaboard. There’s literally nothing to prevent the good guys from using another radio tower to contact the pilots and direct them safely to another airport, but the idea never occurs to anyone in the film. Stupid villains and stupid heroes? Not a good combination. I’m not a fan.
The Gremlins Are Always Covered in Water in Gremlins
Here’s one I didn’t really notice until recently, but that has forever ruined the horror comedy classic Gremlins for me. (I apologize in advance if it has the same effect on you, because otherwise it’s a great movie.) In the film, Zach Galligan gets a mysterious new pet with important rules for its care: 1) Never expose it to bright light (which can kill it), 2) Never expose it to water (which will cause it to instantly multiply), and 3) Never feed it after midnight (which causes it to transform into a reptilian killing machine). Like many people, the third rule always confused me, since when the hell is it not after midnight? But I’ll give that a pass since, presumably, there is a real cut-off point that just never gets explained to the audience. No, actually the water thing is the real problem, since the bulk of the film shows Gremlins walking around covered in snow, and not multiplying.
You could try to get a “No Prize”by claiming that the water has to be in liquid form to work (which makes pseudo-science sense, I suppose), but surely the gremlins are a little warmer than ice, right? Even a single drop of water causes them to multiply, so they literally wouldn’t be able to get anything done in a snow-covered town like Kingston Falls because they’d be multiplying so much. It’s not a plot killer, it’s just a weird case of ignoring the rules you yourself made up, and I find it endlessly distracting.
Now I’m curious: What movie plot holes drive you nuts?