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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Successful Plot Holes

One of the interesting facets of books and movies are how easy it is to write into your story gaping plot holes, to forget well-known facts, or to become inconsistent with what has gone before. Usually books and scripts will get line edits and copy edits, but often not content edits.

Yet despite these plot holes, violations of nature, and the laws of physics, some of these book and movies go on to great success and acclaim. So much so, I'm beginning to think I should purposefully write plot holes into my stories just to increase their chances of success!

By way of example, and I could chose many, let me take the movie, Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams and released in 2009. According to the stats, it received an 8 out of 10 rating. It had an estimated budget of $140,000,000 and grossed in the USA alone $257,704,099. By all rights, a successful movie venture for the studio, which is why two sequels are already in the works.

And yet, the movie was filled with problems from a content point of view. To give you a taste, we'll deal with the primary threat/conflict premise.

The "bad guy" has plans to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. We'll give them the inter-parallel world travel through a created black hole of some kind. While that would be more akin to a worm hole, black holes are unknown enough that space opera like this can postulate such an affect without breaking believability.

However, the evil plan to destroy the Federation is to hover over a planet, drill a hole into the planet by dropping the drilling platform into the atmosphere, dangling by a big chain, from the ship in orbit. Then once the hole is drilled, drop a substance into it that will create a black hole, breaking apart and sucking the unsuspecting planet into it, effectively eradicating the planet from that universe. Right away we have problems.

1. For a ship to maintain an "orbit" over one spot on the planet, they would need to maintain a speed to match the plant's rotation, which would be not enough speed to maintain an orbit. Instead, they would have to have enough power for the ship to counteract the planet's gravity, while maintaining the correct position. Even if we give them a powerful enough ship to do that, what are the odds they can keep that drill right over the same spot? Would be hard to pull off from that altitude.

2. Related to the above, how precise can a drill hanging by a chain hundreds of feet long into an atmosphere from space possibly be? When you account for wind and other atmospheric turbulence, that platform should be bouncing and swaying like a drunkard at a drinking party. No way would that drill be as still as it was and create such a narrow hole.

3. Dropping the drill into the atmosphere on a long chain would create drag on the platform, and the chain would have been flexed, not a straight down drop, further complicating accuracy of the drilled hole. Likely the drill would not be perpendicular to the planet's surface, and would drill a hole diagonally into it as it shook from the forces being exerted upon it.

4. What is the point of dropping a drilling platform into the atmosphere on a very long chain to drill a hole? The Enterprise itself has drilled holes into planets using phasars on more than one occasion. Surely someone from the same era wouldn't need something so error prone as a huge platform dangling from space to drill a hole. Why have all that technology if you don't use it?

5. Black holes aren't easily controlled. Even if they could be confined within a predefined spherical circumference, the ship had a platform still hanging just over the planet. The black hole yanks on that, and the whole ship gets yanked down with it. By all rights, the first black hole they created to destroy Vulcan should have sucked them into oblivion too. It wouldn't just eat up the planet and leave everything else in orbit alone.

6. Kirk should be dead. He and the other two dive off the ship and fall along the chain, entering the atmosphere, and parachute onto the platform in an attempt to cut off the drill. Problem is, aside from the fact it would have taken them a lot longer to fall, being they are in orbit (hours at least assuming they are not at a full orbital speed), in which their air would have run out, they experience no atmospheric reentry burn. Kirk should be one crispy human falling into the atmosphere at that speed.

7. Here's the big plot hole large enough to fly the Enterprise through. The first planet the bad guy attacks and destroys is Vulcan. This is a race who have had warp drive longer than humans. They have flying ships. Ships with lasers or phasers or at least some kind of cutting tools for research. What's to prevent them from hopping in their ships and shooting that chain to bits, putting the drill out of service? As long as it took too drill, they had the time. Yet they are portrayed as helpless victims hiding in caves as their world collapses around them. This is an ending for the "How It Should Have Ended" crew.

Those touch on just some of the consistency problems and plot holes surrounding the main threat and conflict of the movie. But despite those huge problems, the movie did well. More are on the way.

Did I enjoy it? You bet I did. Why? The characters were done well, the chemistry was there, and it was a fun ride. I'll be there to see the sequels, which I'm sure will still have plot holes. Big ones. But I'll still enjoy them.

What other plot holes did you notice? What other successful movies do you like with big plot holes? Do those ruin a movie or book for you?

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