It’s no secret that Hollywood’s relationship with reality is tenuous at best. Screenwriters take liberties with facts all the time while filmmakers often don’t let pesky reality get in the way of making a good movie. This is of course more obvious when the film takes place in an invented world. But even movies based on historical figures, real events, or real people aren’t immune to Hollywood’s famous bloat and the making of some characters so much larger than life.
The good thing about this Hollywood phenomenon is that we are blown away by top-notch movies and cutting-edge visual effects that keep us on the edge of our seats. And when you love a movie, you often want to see it again and again. We admire the characters. We try to dress like the star of the movie. And of course we want to use the products they use in the film. This is why product placement is so critical to brand growth and success. So if you want to market a product, there’s no better way to reach millions of people than to have your brand featured in a movie or TV show.
When the film is set in an alien world centuries in the future, it’s only fitting to see the fearless protagonist wielding a laser gun or some other form of fictional weapon. These weapons can act in ways that defy the laws of physics and reality. And it’s easy to suspend our belief and accept the way the laser beam ricochets or even curves around objects. After all, this is the future and who are we as viewers to question the meteoric advances in technology that may only be a few years away?
But even in “realistic” films set in the current or historical epic, Hollywood seems dissatisfied with the limits of the weapons at its disposal and always tries to give them superpowers. For example, the arms of Hollywood do not seem to recoil. They pull smoothly and with ease without putting any noticeable pressure on the hand holding it. If only it was true. Since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the shooting bullet or the launching arrow would trigger a strong reaction that the camera could not fail to register.
The movie Eraser is a good example. Arnold Schwarzenegger in this realistic film with futuristic weapons fires aluminum bullets from a rail gun without straining a muscle. You could say Arnie is a big guy and can handle the huge ricochet from a huge gun like this. But even actors who aren’t as well-built as Schwarzenegger seem to wield their guns with the same aplomb as if they were shooting a water gun.
Fantasy archers and swordsmen
But it’s not just guns that defy the laws of physics as we know them. Even more traditional weapons such as bows and swords also seem to get the Hollywood treatment. In historical films, swords seem to be large and unwieldy. They need the bulky Arnold in Conan the Barbarian to hold and wield or the larger-than-life King Arthur to handle him. But in reality, the swords weren’t that heavy. In the brutal face-to-face battle, maneuvering the sword in your hand is more important than its weight. You must attack, defend and parry without struggling with a heavy sword that would turn the odds against you.
More importantly, a heavy sword is not easy to forge. It will crack easily when the blades collide. The lighter sword will easily absorb the shock, but the heavy sword will crack and break. So, from a practical point of view, the sword must be light, easy to handle and durable to protect the warrior in the heat of battle. A cumbersome sword would not be to your advantage against a skilled opponent.
And then we have archers like Robin Hood and Hawkeye. For the most part, they hit the target the first time and without even forcing too much. Granted, it’s not an overkill skill when you have enough practice and plenty of time to get the stance and balance right. But that’s not what we see Robin Hood doing. He always shoots on horseback at a gallop. His body moves everywhere in response, so there’s little chance he’ll be able to aim correctly every time. Even his posture is more for cinematic purposes than conforming to good archery rules.
Hawkeye is another flight of fancy that takes the cross and bows to new extremes. He wears two arm guards not because they help in any way. They just make the actor look cool. The same applies to how he takes his position. Hawkeye does not put his back on the shot, which is necessary to give the projectile strength and accuracy. If you’re trying to shoot arrows like Hawkeye, you’ll be lucky to send the arrow a few feet away from where you’re standing.
Hollywood’s affinity for embellishment and glorification does not match its attention to detail and adherence to the laws of physics. But again, isn’t that the whole point of watching movies that aren’t documentaries? We go to the theater to be entertained and leave reality behind for 90 minutes. And in this, Hollywood movies have met if not exceeded our expectations.