What I Did With My Post-Event Time Last Night

There was a hashtag going around last night on Twitter called #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly. And I thought, hey, I can do that.

Because I suspect some of you might want to guess about the films or otherwise comment, the thread is open for a couple of days.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

123 replies on “What I Did With My Post-Event Time Last Night”

A rambunctious extraterrestrial plays hide-and-seek with the exasperated crew of a starship. Alien

A woman chooses never to be hungry again. Gone with the Wind

Sam plays it again. Casablanca

She comes with him because she wants to live. Terminator

An attempt at a nautical speed record is hampered by polar detritus. Titanic

A salty sea captain and his mismatched crew are confronted with the desirability of a larger vessel. Also, fishing. Jaws

The budding relationship between a young girl and her unexpected visitor is threatened by a pair of meddling priests. The Exorcist

I guessed all but the last three or so.
I couldn’t guess the one at all about The visitors to Manhattan or the unexpected penis- the Piano? Eastern Promises?

The first one was pretty easy though as I’ve heard the movie described that way before.

That scientists suck at science pretty much describes every science horror movie ever made- so really, just pick one at random.

What’s the one about the troubling skin condition?

Raiders of the Lost Ark
. . .
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
. . .
The Abyss (maybe?)
The Fugitive
Men in Black (maybe?)
. . .
The penis thing could be dozens of films, I imagine, but: BOOGIE NIGHTS.

Yeah, the visitors to Manhattan one could be a bunch of movies, but of the two options yet floated, I’m inclined to go with The Avengers because the Men In Black are technically a private organisation funded by the sale of patents for alien tech, whereas The Avengers are contractors for SHIELD, who are sort of a government organisation.

… I’ve written about 1500 words of Urban-Fantasy/Gothic Horror today, and that paragraph is still the nerdiest thing I’ve typed all week.

I thought “unexpected penis” was Fight Club, but I could see Crying Game.

I know Alien is the (likely) intended movie for the second one, but since the bouncing beach-ball extraterrestrial playing hide-and-seek with the (weary) crew on Dark Star fit the clue so well, I felt I had to mention it, even as a joke.

A more direct Dark Star #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly would be “A bomb has an existential crisis”. But that might not be a bad enough explanation.

Any guesses on the Terry Gilliam one? I could see many of his films infuriating people but don’t know of any specific problems he’s had making a specific one.

srs @ 1:08

“Brazil” famously had a tumultuous post-production period, where it was delayed for years because of fighting between the studio and Gilliam.

“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” has been in production on and off, eating up tons of money and going through scores of investors, since 1998. The co-filmed “making of” documentary was released, called “Lost in La Mancha”, detailing how disasterous the 2000 filming was.

Old man lurking at high school with a skin condition = Nightmare on Elm Street, IMO, although I see a lot of people are guessing Twighlight.

Thought the angry orphan in black might be Vader/Star Wars, but I think the Batman guess above is more likely correct.

Giant Smurfs are championed by Virtual Combat Smurf (too easy).

Pasta-eating pooches overcome all obstacles.

Two people move to New York, become intimate.

Visitors come, cause problems, get shot down.

By my count, Scalzi used passive voice in 5 of the 17. Namely, Titanic, Muppet Movie, The Exorcist, Jaws, and the one people are arguing between MiB and The Avengers.

Teh Gerg’s quartet of Avatar, Lady and the Tramp, (too vague), and Independence Day only includes one instance of passive voice (Avatar).

Did I miss any?

A young man gets bitten by an insect and fights his friend’s father.

Someone whose aunt and uncle were just murdered runs off with an old man he just met, and never mentions them again.

Evil police car with cop hologram fails to actually use his disguise sensibly.

Two orphans run away and starve to death.

A boy rides his mother to please his father. And then everyone turns to tang.

My Guesses:

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Gone with the Wind
The Terminator
The Muppet Movie
The Exorcist
The Fugitive
The Men in Black
The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen
The Crying Game

Um, just for reference…
Passive: the bus stop was trashed by the kids.
Active: the kids trashed the bus stop.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with either, it’s just a difference in focus.

Except that passive allows the actors to disappear. “The bus stop was trashed by kids” can become “the bus stop was trashed” if you want to avoid assigning responsibility for the result. Good thing, bad thing, I’ll let you decide.

Scalzi’s list: Il decline to pick a Terry Gilliam film, since the tweet describes half the films Gilliam’s made. I think Batman is the angry orphan who wears black and hits people, and “Hopeful visitors to Manhattan are brutalized by government contractors” is Men in Black rather than The Avengers. (The Chitauri never struck me as being all that hopeful.) I’m with Vicki on the scientists who suck at science being the Martians in War of the Worlds.

Teh Gerg’s list: “Pasta-eating pooches overcome all obstacles” is Lady and the Tramp. I’m guessing that “Two people move to New York, become intimate” is Midnight Cowboy. And I think “Visitors come, cause problems, get shot down” really is The Avengers, though there are plenty of other options.

Only two of D. T. Nova’s clues work for me so far. “A young man gets bitten by an insect and fights his friend’s father” is Spider Man, and “Someone whose aunt and uncle were just murdered runs off with an old man he just met, and never mentions them again” is Star Wars.

Fun game.

Hopeful visitors to Manhattan are brutalized by government contractors. – The Avengers (Avengers Assemble). (I go with Avengers on this one because Loki was very hopeful his invasion would prove successful)

On a visit to a new planet, scientists suck at science so much that they deserve to die, and do. – Alien: Prometheus

In a bid for cash, discredited academics concoct a scheme to evict Manhattan’s oldest residents. – Ghostbusters

An old man lurks at a high school, reveals his troubling skin condition to a new student. – A Nightmare on Elm Street

A man does not kill his wife. A government agent, properly, does not care. – The Fugitive

An angry orphan wears black and hits people. – So many candidates, but I’m going to go with The Matrix.

The rainbow connection, and employment, are sought. – The Muppet Movie

Terry Gilliam makes a film that infuriates the people who gave him the money to make it. – could be any Terry Gilliam film, but I’m going with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” as a start, and “Monty Python: Life of Brian” as a second choice.

Child has a happy dream in which she murders two women and exposes a fraud.

After a business venture goes badly, two men find a novel use for farm equipment.

An army nurse discovers her patient is a traitor and kills him.

One professional instructs his protege to take dessert after a job.

A soldier takes a boat ride and meets quirky people on his way to visit a superior officer.

A classical pianist learns to love jazz in postwar Italy.

A man’s future depends on his choice of medication.

Ooo, can I play?

1. Young woman searches for her lost sister; what she finds chills her to the heart.

2. Creepy Bearded guy hears voices, breaks all ten commandments.

3. Young woman, on rebound from much older guy, hooks up with Jacob only to see him become Esau.

4. Most people are dead, so the Second Coming fights the Antichrist until you doze off in your seat.

5. A bunch of people fight, lose everything, die, and reincarnate over and over until they reform, win, or settle down.

6. A woman with a pet wolf and a man with a pet hawk can’t get together until they get rid of their pets.

7. Man tricks his ex, gets her to agree to leave her husband, then puts her on the next flight out.

8. Most people only use 10% of their brain. She’s NO THEY DON’T SHUT UP YOU FUCKING IDIOTS

9. Geeky young man lets his garden get out of control, kills local dentist, marries the girl of his dreams.

10. Cadfael tries to kill a woman twice; succeeds the first time but not the second.

11. Amnesiac cannibal kills and partially eats man, then romances the dead guy’s girlfriend. It’s a romantic comedy.

Re. the passive allowing the actors to disappear: you don’t need the passive for that.

Passive: mistakes were made.
Active: mistakes occurred.

At least the passive version implies there *were* actors. ;)

But the passive is also particularly useful for shifting the emphasis to the actor: “the patient was killed by his own doctor!” is a lot stronger than “the doctor killed his own patient!”

As for “unexpected penis”, I’m inclined to guess The Crying Game, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s a bad explanation. For many people, that is (as TV Tropes notes) All There is to Know About The Crying Game. :D

Xopher, no to The Odyssey, though that may have been one inspiration.

I guessed The Wizard of Oz for the child’s dream too, also The English Patient for the army nurse.

Farm equipment: Fargo

1. Young woman searches for her lost sister; what she finds chills her to the heart.


9. Geeky young man lets his garden get out of control, kills local dentist, marries the girl of his dreams.

Little Shop of Horrors?

Giant Smurfs are championed by Virtual Combat Smurf (too easy).

Pasta-eating pooches overcome all obstacles.

Two people move to New York, become intimate.

Visitors come, cause problems, get shot down.

Giant Smurfs are championed by Virtual Combat Smurf (too easy).
Avatar (too easy for sure)

Pasta-eating pooches overcome all obstacles.
Lady and the Tramp (everyone got that one)
Two people move to New York, become intimate.
A blue million movies and I was deliberately nebulous, but what I had in mind was When Harry Met Sally.
Visitors come, cause problems, get shot down.
Independence Day, or dozens of other science fiction movies.

From someone else: Two orphans run away and starve to death.
Grave of the Fireflies? (if you haven’t seen this, you should; bring a box of Kleenex; it’s wrenching)

Yes to the Wizard of Oz, English Patient, and Fargo. Regarding the professional and the dessert, here’s another possible title:

Local businessman offers irresistible deals to his competitors.

2. The 10 Commandments
3. Underworld?
4. The Stand?
5. Edge of Tomorrow?
6. Ladyhawke
8. Lucy
11. Warm Bodies

A salty sea captain and his mismatched crew are confronted with the desirability of a larger vessel. Also, fishing

I didn’t get Jaws from this desc…I got The Perfect Storm.

Probably because I lived in Glouchester, MA (where TPS is based) more recently than on Martha’s Vineyard (Where Jaws was filmed)

Matt W:

2. Yes
3. No
4. Yes
5. No
6. Yes
8. Yes
11. Yes (though it’s actually completely accurate and it really is kind of disturbing that the “meet cute” is him killing her boyfriend and eating his brain)

My 3, 5, 7, and 10 have not been correctly answered. Time for hints?

Meanwhile, here’s another:

12. Institutionalized after her arsons claim several lives, a young girl murders most of the staff and escapes.

Xopher: I assume 3 is New Moon. Is 7 Casablanca?

A few of my own:

1. A young boy from a screwed-up home ends up at an even more screwed-up school.

2. A man disappears, is assumed dead, reappears under a different man’s identity, gets in several fights over a girl, gets captured, dies, and comes back.

3. A young girl from an abusive home takes her frustrations out on her school principal.

4. A young girl makes an enemy of a wicked witch and runs to a cowardly wizard for help. She also makes friends with a dog and a scarecrow. (Hint: it’s not The Wizard of Oz.)

Unexpected penis! Lol. I took film classes in college for my minor and after we watched that movie and discussed it, my professor told the story about his class the previous semester. One of the students was an older woman who said during the critique, “it was just so large and the close-up was unnecessary.” But it wasn’t large and there was no close-up. The shock of seeing unexpected penis overwhelmed her and her perception of reality became inflated. I never laughed so hard in my life.

Ellen: 1, 3, and 4 are correct! (I love summarizing Howl’s Moving Castle that way just to throw people.)

2 is a highly quotable nerd classic, if that helps anyone.

Bruce: The Blues Brothers. :-)

My attempts:

Foundling is adopted by kindly sovereign, wreaks havoc when kingdom is given to his step-brother.

Musician is duped by two strangers, doesn’t see his family for several years.

A man and his son make the best of an unexpected visit to wartime Germany.

Love leads a man to give his umbrella to a police officer during a torrential storm.

“On a visit to a new planet, scientists suck at science so much that they deserve to die, and do”

Has to be Signals. Stupid alien scientists didn’t realize that the Earth was not only 3/4 covered in a violently toxic substance, but that substance also sometimes falls right out of the sky.

Ken, that one can only be Tom Cruise is an Obnoxious Little Shit in the Navy, otherwise known as Top Gun.

This is of course distinct from Tom Cruise is an Obnoxious Little Shit with Aliens. Or any of his other movies.

Xopher (my autocorrect wants you to be Cipher), I can almost (almost) accept that rationale for the plot of Signs, though it dies seem like there have to be better planets from which to get their weaponry.

Suzanne: Well, I may not be much in evidence, and I do talk in code sometimes, but I don’t think I’m quite a cipher just yet!

And there are any number of reasons the aliens might want water, despite (or because of) its toxicity to them. A lot of oxygen is tied up in it, for example (hydrogen is too plentiful to be a likely issue). And few planets are in the Goldilocks zone; water is easiest to handle in its liquid form. And that’s not to mention that they may have come to Earth for another reason that’s compelling enough to make them overcome their fear of our toxic oceans.

But really I think all this misses the point. Talking about the logic of the aliens in Signs is like pointing out that the Eagles could have carried the Ring to Mount Doom (they couldn’t have, but never mind). Just because you can find something that undermines the plot doesn’t mean the story’s no good.

And note I said the story, not the plot: MNS’s plots often don’t make sense, but he often tells a compelling story anyway. There are any number of implausibilities in The Village (like my friend abi’s favorite: where the hell do they get their cloth?), but it’s a good story about some very damaged people who do something terrible to their kids, and the kids coming of age, and a disabled female hero. And it’s beautifully shot, has lovely music, and the acting is terrific.

I enjoyed Signs, the last movie with Mel Gibson I’ll ever watch, for reasons that had nothing to do with the massive, gaping hole in the plot. But I do think this is one of those Flying Snowman things: people criticize it for having implausible aliens when there’s a full-scale precognitive vision in the damn thing.

Ha! That is an excellent point re: precognitive vision. I haven’t seen that one in so long I’d actually forgotten about that, which may indicate how infrequently that aspect gets brought up in discussions, as opposed to the water issue.

I enjoyed Signs in the theatre, but it was one of those movies where I hated it by the time I got to the car. Perhaps it could do with a rewatch one of these days.

Also, I agree with you that The Village was a beautiful movie, visually. There are shots from that movie I’m still in love with, and I found it genuinely creepy for the first three-quarters or so. I just wish his endings didn’t keep leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

Coming late but…

i, Old man takes child across border without parents’ permission, before luring elderly academic to his death and stealing his vehicle.

ii, High school principal encourages gang to beat up Holocaust survivor.

iii, Quiet ethnic type kills rapist, and escapes as audience cheers.

iv, Due to mistaken identity, innocent man executed for religious reasons.

v, Clown attempts to teach morose billionaire lessons about smiling at life.

Suzanne, I also think The Village has some important things to say thematically. Millions of parents try to build their kids a safe little microcosm to shield them from the world. This never works, and is often desperately harmful. The Elders took that to an extreme, and learned nothing by the end; they resolve to continue, even after seeing the damage their fear of the outside world has done. (There is, I believe, some hope that Ivy may escape eventually.)

It’s a cautionary tale about parents and protection and creating false bogeymen to terrorize kids into obedience because of the parents’ own fears. I think it has a lot to say to this age of helicopter parenting, hmm?

“Plot is what the book [movie, in this case -XH] is about; theme is what the book is REALLY about.” (Lois McMaster Bujold) The Village isn’t REALLY about a bunch of people who decided to pretend it was the 19th Century and live in the woods.

Xopher, the fact that earth has water is a fluke. We are above the solar systems “frost line”. Water at earths distance from the sun melts and vaporizes and cant accumulate/aggregate with static forces and gravity. The inner planets are mostly rocky planets. Outside the frost line, water is far enough away from the sun to stay frozen and accumulate/aggregate from gravity, and perhaps melt from gravitational forces and tidal forces. The moon Io is covered in ice with liquid water below. Earth probably got its water from asteroids carrying ice from the frost zone inward. In short, if you were an alien looking for water, youd probably be better off mining it from the asteroid belt (low gravity makes it easy to move material around) or from io or pluto, etc. Stories that take earth-bound scarcity ideas and try to extend them to aliens with warp drives really annoy me. Another recent one that comes to mind is “Battle Los Angeles”. And “Oblivion”. If you have interstelar capabilities and you need water, there are much better plac3s besides earth to get it from.

I hated hated hated Signs. It’s on my list as the worst movie I’ve ever seen (that wasn’t obviously made for $3.) My objections have to do with the movie taking itself very seriously and posing real questions about faith and certainty at the beginning. Then it blows that stuff out of the water with the conclusion, neatly wrapping those legitimately tough questions up in trite, nauseating bows. I was furious.

A young man is recruited to play video games for high stakes.

I thought that was Ender’s Game!

Here’s my favourite (and my own creation):

In an isolated utopian community, dissident citizens and defective children are exiled to barren snowy wastes inhabited by giant monsters.

Xopher, the one that is the same as one of yours is:

Foundling is adopted by kindly sovereign, wreaks havoc when kingdom is given to his step-brother.

You guessed as Thor, but I had a more biblical film in mind.

Still waiting to see if someone gets this. Hint: it won an Oscar.

Musician is duped by two strangers, doesn’t see his family for several years.

There is another ‘version’ of this, “X from the point of view of Y”, oh, here’s a quick example – “Dances with Wolves” from the Lakota’s perspective is that they are constantly bothered by an annoying white guy.

A. Family feud leads to regime change. Many construction workers die, and an impending ecological disaster is set in motion.

B. What’s the under/Oveur on whether the fish was bad? Shirley it was.

C. Mysterious yet kind old man dies, then war veteran exposes government genetic experiment gone wrong while another experiment opens a can of whoop-ass on the results of the first experiment.

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