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Suspension of disbelief

  1. Jun 3, 2013 #1
    Bear with me if this forum doesn't normally answer highly subjective questions. If this is a necro zombie repost of something asked five years ago my apologies. When is the suspension of disbelief or plausibility destroyed for you as a viewer, when watching sci-fi films? How much linear elasticity of scientific principals can you bear before you call BS? What are five sci-fi films set within its fictional realm did you simply accept and enjoy? What are five sci-fi films that you instantly hated and posted immediately on various social media the amount of suckage to not waste your money on? Thank you for your positive responses?
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  3. Jun 4, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    It depends on the overall film - I'll sit back and enjoy Plan 9 from Outer Space or Earth Girls are Easy for instance but had issues with disproportionate effects of godlike powers in Fantastic 4 ROTSS ... though it didn't stop me enjoying the film it did mar the effect.

    The usual rule of thumb is to allow only one "get out of physics free" effect at a time. In SF this usually involves some sort of hypertech, "unobtainium", or psychic powers. You can then explore the possibilities of that one breach... this is why Star Trek has pretty much everything as some consequence of the Warp Drive which requires unobtainium in the dorm of the dilithium crystal.

    The worse the breach the further in the background you want it.
  4. Jun 4, 2013 #3


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    It's a difficult one to answer as there doesn't seem to be a hard and fast set of rules. I can watch some old star trek TNG episodes and enjoy them despite the amount of nonsense in them, others I can't stand. Acting, plot, nostalgia and all sorts of other factors come into play. Most science fiction is essentially fantasy but can get away with it if it is consistent (i.e. FTL is fine so long as it's used consistently rather than in different ways in a variety of situations to solve problems but only once). The real annoyances in terms of physics are the basics like not understanding space is big, not understanding orbit, not understanding momentum (e.g. when superman catches someone they should be crushed by the impact of hitting his arms just as much as the floor) etc.

    Personally I also get annoyed by any of these tropes:

    It's entirely possible for a piece of science fiction to contain all of these flaws and still be enjoyable overall but it becomes harder the more they're included.
  5. Jun 4, 2013 #4
    I've done some serious soul searching on this issue lately, Ryan, and have come to the conclusion that FTL travel is NEVER going to happen. Sorry to burst your bubble...
  6. Jun 4, 2013 #5


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    Lol I'm well aware. That's why I characterised it as fantasy. I once read a good way of characterising different genres, (paraphrasing):

    Contemporary fiction: about what is happening
    Historical fiction: about what has happened
    Science fiction: about what could happen
    Fantasy fiction: about what can't happen

    It's often argued that the latter two overlap and that most science fiction uses one fantastic plot device (e.g. FTL, forcefields, time travel), alternatively most science fiction is really modern fantasy set in a fictional future rather than a fictional past. Either way it's an interesting way of characterising.
  7. Jun 4, 2013 #6
    Yeah, here's DP's prediction...we CAN navigate the cosmos because we are uber-intelligent PF-ers. It's not gonna happen in the traditional, way, though. We are gonna create a fictitious universe, and many of them, and "star trek" our way across them. Don't laugh at me, that IS what is going to happen.

    But its going to be virtual.
  8. Jun 4, 2013 #7


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    That's already happened. It's called fiction and it predates the virtual by quite a long way...
  9. Jun 4, 2013 #8
    I think it depends on one's level of literacy in a given field. Then they will tolerate poetic license depending on whether or not it might be balanced with other factors (acting, plot, etc.) Up until recently, I couldn't watch any movies involving computers, because of all the nonsense speak (I remember a line... "Oh no! It's collapsing into another subdirectory" from an episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. What??)

    Also, "hacking" into a "mainframe" apparently involves going through tunnels on your screen until you break through some sort of a brick wall, after finding the "password" (Like, the baddie's pet's name or something, which doesn't meet any of the criteria for a secure password) and exclaiming "we're in!"

    ahem, anyway.

    I think the success of star trek was always that they did implausible things, but threw in little "pacifiers" for the science literate folks, like inertial dampers, heisenberg compensators, etc.

    "When asked "How does the Heisenberg compensator work?" by Time magazine, Star Trek technical adviser Michael Okuda responded: "It works very well, thank you."[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transporter_(Star_Trek)#cite_note-3)

    Some things we tolerate because it is just necessary (no FTL, no aliens). Some things we tolerate for drama's sake (Hearing explosions in outer space when ships blast each other).

    I can tolerate such plausible attempts at implausibility with mediocre actors (star trek.) Or non-science/fantasy with quirky plots that I don't have to think about much (warehouse 13) or pseudoscience with a pretty compelling plot and just enough good acting to carry it the rest of the way (Fringe). My favorite is the hard sci-fi in magazines like Analog, which are stories written by scientifically literate folks(often scientists themselves), though not necessarily the best prose.

    -Dave K
  10. Jun 4, 2013 #9


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    Ryan_m_b's reference to "Rubber Forehead Aliens" reminded me of a "Deep Space 9" episode. I was not a big fan of "Deep Space 9" nor do I particulary like any of the Star Trek episodes in which they "go back in time".
    This particular episode the Deep Space 9 group, including the Klingon, Worf, go back to the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode from the orignal series. They actually had scenes from the original epsiode with the new people added photographicaly. Of course, in the original series, Klingon's did not have the "Rubber Foreheads", they just had dark complexions. Worf (who is wearing a large hat to cover his forehead) was asked "What happened?".
    His answer? "We never talk about that"!
  11. Jun 4, 2013 #10
    ha. I tried to watch DS9 and still can't get into it. But I'll have to track down that episode.
  12. Jun 4, 2013 #11


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    Another one that stretched the imagination for me was Farscape with the living ship and the weird alien outfits.

    I liked Stargate the movie and the series but not so much Stargate Atlantis because of the fantastical city that could rise and fall into the ocean. The original Stargate series was more modest in its set design and took some time getting used to after having seen the movie. Tthe cool movie warrior head-dress deployment was great but the weaponry seemed rather limited for a race so advanced.

    For me if they violate one principle of Physics (say using FTL) thats okay but if they start bending the rules here and there then I lose interest. Stargate had one noticeable episode when they opened the gate onto a planet being swallowed by a black hole. I felt they tried to do justice to the physics there while trying to close the gate (wrt to time dilation) as you got closer to the black hole although I think they should have been taffyfied (squeezed and stretched like taffy) in the process.
  13. Jun 4, 2013 #12


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    A strange observation I've had whilst thinking about this topic: more in film than TV people are bothered with inconsistencies in technobabble. For example: it kicks people out of the narrative if Crewman Redshirt dies from a cut when two scenes earlier the Doctor healed the Captain's severed head by waving his Medical Wand. However sometimes these inconsistencies are good for popularity because they create debate. It doesn't take much googling to find endless threads on forums discussing all manner of inconsistencies in shows like Star Trek and films like Star Wars. These kind of discussions often continue along the lines of "Who would win in a fight between Starship X and Spacecraft Y?" and contributors gain satisfaction trawling through examples of how technobabble worked in one way or another.

    This phenomenon (if I'm characterising this correct) is probably very hard to pull off deliberately!
  14. Jun 4, 2013 #13
    I have the opposite view of Simon Bridge. The worse the breach the more in the foreground it should be, baffling and shocking the characters, upsetting their world view. For example, encountering aliens with faster-than-light travel capabilities should be a major and disturbing plot event, not one that's trivialized by quick, easy acceptance.
  15. Jun 5, 2013 #14

    If an author set his fictional universe 500 years from now is FTL plausible?
  16. Jun 5, 2013 #15

    Simon Bridge

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    Guessing you mean FTL in terms of star-travel... it requires overcoming some specific problems that suggest that it is implausible ever... but SF is inherently speculative so one can speculate that the laws we know are a subset and some super-law will allow it in special circumstances.

    Have you read through:
    FTL Travel and relativity FAQ
    ... part IV deals with the specifics of what FTL will mean while the earlier parts provide a crash course on the physics. Most SF gets around the problems by making sure the circumstances never comes up.

    FTL in general terms is possible already - just not useful for SF ... and there are suggestions that large amounts of negative energy via the Casimir effect will allow slightly FTL signals ... at least if some hyped proposals work. This is still fringe stuff but you can build a what-if story around it. If it does work, then 500 years is plenty of time for the technology to develop to exploit it.

    FTL travel gets you lots of uber-tech - ftl communication, time travel etc.
    The challenge for an author is to figure what role travel to different Worlds plays in the story.
  17. Jun 5, 2013 #16
    Going by the grading scale created by Ipetrich https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=663752
    My personal SOD falls between plausibly hard to medium.


    Futureworld- many of the technological inventions came to pass. motion control joysticks, 4d motion simulators, animatronic heads, the suspended vertical bed may have influenced the cargo netting style seats used in the army hummer, the androids monitoring the central control room is the equivalent of a drone craft.

    Aliens- its plausible that an alien species could exhibit a higher cognitive hive mentality.

    Terminator 2- the T800 used a nuclear battery, the T1000 was essentially ferrofluid .

    Predator- thermal vision to hunt prey in dense foliage. in real life pit vipers feel heat to hunt prey. cloaking technology is being developed with the use of metamaterials

    1984- Homeland Security, London CCTV


    Transformers 2,3,4- the metal the cybertronians are made from must be very similar to Reynolds Wrap

    The Dark Knight Rises- basically everything he said

    CSI all spinoffs- 100% of all crimes solved

    Chain Reaction- how does the creation of a water fusion generator threaten the status quo of the oil industry?? wouldn't every petroleum based vehicle have to be converted. last I checked solar energy is free. solar panels not so free.

    Deja Vu- Denzel was already in a paradox prior to knowing about the spacefolding technology. his dna was already at the crime scene. then he created a gross conflict of interest by being romantically inclined to the victim, which should have created a reality destroying paradoxical backlash. aka marty mcfly marrying his mom.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  18. Jun 5, 2013 #17
    On a semi-random but related note, I just saw this:

    "George R.R. Martin and Joss Whedon walk into a bar. Someone you love dies."
  19. Jun 5, 2013 #18


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    In the movie Battleship, my suspension of disbelief was destroyed right out of the gate when the main male character won over the token hot girl by stealing a chicken burrito for her. Who gets won over by a chicken burrito?!

    The rest of the movie seemed believable by comparison.
  20. Jun 5, 2013 #19
    "B 6!" - Best movie line ever.

    Seriously I didn't actually watch that movie, on principal. I just assume that has to be in there somewhere.


    -Dave K
  21. Jun 5, 2013 #20

    Simon Bridge

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    ... I'd go for it ... but you are right: hot chicks don't look at a guy for less than a cheeseburger!

    (re. Seth Brundle/Geff Goldblum: The Fly )

    I think a movie can have a lot of bad science and still be fun - Battleships didn't try to take itself seriously ... a Battleship doing a handbrake turn?! Just enjoy the corniness. That's one of the things - if the movie makes an effort to look scientific, then a small deviation can spoil it ... how many people with a science research background got really annoyed at the sloppy research methods and discipline from the team in Prometheus? Or being able to run and fight after having an emergency c-section without anasthetic?

    A good source of the more fun critiques is the HISHE website.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2013
  22. Jun 5, 2013 #21

    Vanadium 50

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    I remember a review of "While You Were Sleeping":

    I've seen angels, I've seen demons. I've seen men fly. I've seen aliens. I've seen Godzilla destroy Tokyo. I've seen people rise from the dead and talking pigs. I've seen giant apes climb the skyscrapers of New York. But I have never seen anything as unbelievable as Sandra Bullock unable to find a date on a Saturday night.
  23. Jun 5, 2013 #22


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    Something like that was definitely uttered. However, at no point in the movie do they say "You sunk my battleship!". A travesty, I say.

    Actually, the greatest travesty of the movie is that Liam Neeson is in it and at no point does he kill all of the aliens. I mean, I don't understand why every Liam Neeson movie is not just a re-hash of Taken. This should have happened:

    "I don't know who you are, or where you're from. I don't know what you want. If you want me to take you to our leader, I can tell you I don't have a high enough security clearance to do that... but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long navy career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you leave my planet now, that will be the end of it - I will not look for you, I will not pursue you... but if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you... and I will sink your battleship.
  24. Jun 5, 2013 #23


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    Well if you were to steal the hot girl's cheeseburger...
  25. Jun 5, 2013 #24
    Wait, Battleship was about aliens??

    This movie is getting more confounding by the minute and I still haven't seen it...
  26. Jun 5, 2013 #25


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    Funny quote and it's unfortunate that there is an underlying problem here. It reminds me of the TV show New Girl in which Zooey Deschanel (a woman who matches all the Hollywood standards of beauty) has to play a social awkward looser who struggles to find love, work etc. They writers have to make sub contrived situations for her not to seem attractive to people and it isn't believable. It's worrying how much of TV and film can't abide putting a less than perfect looking actor on and so casts beautiful people as though they weren't.
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