So here I am again, shouting at the TV screen. It’s happening again. I’ve lost count of how many good movies have let me down this way, usually in the really good action scene at the end. There’s a clever, feisty heroine, a good fighter, so far showing no signs of a penchant for hysteria. The hero takes on the villain for the final battle. Does the heroine join in? Not on your life. She sits in a corner and screams for all she’s worth.
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves is memorable for the intensity of Marian’s screams in the fight between Robin and Nottingham. All through the film, Marian shows the pluck required of her, even taking Robin on in hand to hand combat without uttering a squeak. So what happens when she could be really useful and help out when it matters? She cowers and whimpers. Then she starts screaming. It happens a lot. Maybe directors assume that it’s good for female characters to show their feminine side in this way.
Mind you, that’s not the only bad habit, displayed by both male and female characters, that has me ranting at the screen. For example, why, when they’re being chased, do characters always run UP the stairs? Down is better. Down is access to streets and people and places to run to. Up is bad. Up leads to a roof, with nowhere else to go without sprouting wings.
And what about the life-threatening impending disaster, bearing down on our plucky hero. Does he run like hell? No, he stands for a good few seconds, watching the tidal wave/lava flow/army of evil mutants bearing down on him, only reaching safety with a split-second to spare. If he’d moved more quickly he wouldn’t have cut it so fine.
Then there’s the all-time classic. It’s a dark and stormy night. Woman (usually), scantily clad in pale, flowing night clothes, hears a suspicious noise outside. Does she lock all the doors, arm herself with a poker and sit tight? No. She Grabs a torch and goes out. In the middle of a storm. In her nightclothes. With no raincoat. Towards the danger. Having been in that situation many years ago, I can still recall the sheer terror I felt. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me from the safety of a well-lit, locked-down house out into the uncertain night.
I know suspense has to be generated in movies. But it seems to me that dashing to the roof or venturing into the storm are not only predictable, but also severely underestimate the intelligence of the audience. In movies, as in books, the suspension of disbelief is critical. When characters behave with such predictable stupidity it weakens them and seriously undermines the whole plot.
Sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised by the lack of screams, by characters who run down instead of up, and by rational responses to danger in the dark. These are the exceptions rather than the rule. Am I alone in wanting it to be the other way round?