Max Lance Typing

The Cheap Plot Device that Ruins Independence Day and The Hangover

You said the word "virus?" That's it! I'll use my Mac laptop to beat the aliens.

You said the word "virus?" That's it! I'll use my Mac laptop to beat the aliens.

There’s a little plot trick that the writer abuses used glaringly in Independence Day and The Hangover. It’s one of these things where the writer has gotten into a corner where there’s no way to solve the epic problem that he or she has created and needs a miracle plot device to get out of it.

It’s when out of nowhere, from casual conversation, the character who can’t solve the problem either says or hears something which triggers the thought that solves the entire problem.

Remember in Independence Day where Jeff Goldblum is sitting with his father, a.k.a. every Jewish stereotype rolled into one guy. The aliens have destroyed the world, they’re down and out, there’s no chance to succeed and the dad sneezes and says, “I think I’m getting a cold.”

Now any normal human being would respond by saying, “Bless you,” or “Stay away because I don’t want your cold,” but magically this sneeze has solved the entire alien crisis.

Jeff Goldblum says, “Wait, what did you say?” on the brink of revelation. And the dad goes, “I’m getting sick. I have a virus.” And because of this Goldblum goes, “That’s it!” By the dad saying he has a cold, suddenly Goldblum has realized that the way to defeat the aliens is to link it up to a Macintosh computer, create a network connection, upload a virus into the alien mothership, which will then pull down the forcefields around all their smaller ships and give the humans a chance to win the war.

Have you ever in your life had one of these moments of revelation, for real? Like someone says, “The Yankees got robbed today.” And you’re like, “That’s it! I’ll solve my financial problems by pulling off an elaborate scheme to rob Fort Knox and the blueprints just appeared in my head because you used the word “Rob.”

The Hangover did the same thing and it’s infuriating. When they find out the guy is on the roof by someone using the word, “Up,” or something. It’s a cheap move and never happens in real life.

I love, by the way, that I can totally buy the logic that aliens have come to Earth to destroy our planet, but I have a problem with the plot device used to defeat them.

2 comments

  1. July 17, 2009 at 8:05 am

    It’s a writer’s dilemma as old as ancient Greece. Which is why they invented Deus ex Machina. At least the writers of Independence Day and The Hangover took a little more effort in figuring out how to “lower the gods from a machine” in order to get out of the corner.

    In both cases, as a layperson, I went with “the willing suspension of disbelief” and enjoyed both films tremendously. One of the curses of becoming an expert in something is that you no longer are able to view your field without your “pro vision.” As a 30-year advertising veteran, it’s impossible for me to watch a commercial or read a print ad without analyzing the messge, the audience and the selling proposition. And today, most humans can’t look at lightning without thinking “static electricity” rather than, “oops, the gods are pissed.”

  2. Rachel
    July 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Read this entry a while ago, but I just watched Twister and had to return to share this little pearl:

    So, tornado chaser Joe (Helen Hunt) has just saved her Aunt May/Meg/Peg/WhoCares from the wreckage of her home, recently torn apart by a tornado. Up to this point in the movie Joe has been obsessing over her new machine (called “Dorothy”- get it?), meant to measure all kinds of crazy tornado stats from INSIDE the tornado (this is a big deal; you can tell because they tell you at least eight times, always vocally italicizing “inside”), which won’t fly. It’s too light; the tornado doesn’t want to pick it up. Joe gets upset about this a lot.

    Anyway, after saving Aunt What’s-Her-Name, Joe and company find themselves in her yard. It’s sort of been brought up that Joe’s Aunt is an artist- she makes big, twirly wind chime things that stick out of the ground. One of these- her magnum opus, if you will- has survived the F4 (pretty horrible) twister that tore Aunt M’s house to the ground! Did I mention that this tornado also threw a police car at some people? And ripped apart a movie screen (playing “The Shining”) at the drive-in? The wind chime was just really well constructed, I guess, because it’s still in the ground, barely off its axis, getting ready to inspire the hell out of Bill.

    Philip Seymour Hoffman (I can’t remember his character name, and you probably don’t care) comes running over to tell Joe that an F5 tornado is going to be about 25 miles away – SOON! This is a huge deal, but Bill doesn’t even notice. He is captivated by Aunt’s wind chime-thing, which continues to spin. He stares. And stares. His brooding Paxton eyes widen, and he says “I know how to make Dorothy fly.”

    CINEMA.

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