There are a number of unrealistic scenes in the film Independence Day, and yet, the scene below is the one that always gets to me when I come across the movie on cable and decide to sit and watch it for a bit.
Going into a film like Independence Day, you’re generally prepared for certain rules to be bent and even broken. It’s an action sci-fi. As a willing member of the audience I’m okay with aliens, stunts that defy the laws of physics, more than a few cheesy one-liners, and just about anything you want to claim about Area 51. These are things I’m prepared to deal with. I’ve signed on for them. They will not break my suspension of disbelief because I know to expect them.
But in the clip above, Boomer, the ever loyal dog, is saved from a ravaging fire that has just consumed all of LA because, evidently, flames and heat can’t turn corners. Boomer and his owners should be charred, but they are not. They are, quite literally, feet from the flames. Feet. The heat alone should have popped their lungs. And yet, they are fine. The rest of the city burns. Later scenes suggest that only a handful of the millions in LA lived.
If only more had hidden in their closets.
I know, I’m being tough on Independence Day when it’s clear the film was never meant to be serious cinema, but my point is a simple one. Play within the rules of your genre. Pull out all the stops. Make your plot nearly unbelievable, but don’t cross the line that causes me to consciously realize that, oh yeah, this is just a story.
Suspension of disbelief is a precious thing. Even if you think one particular scene or twist is just mind-blowing (as the film-makers no doubt thought Boomer’s near miss would be), if it reminds your readers that the whole thing is just make-believe, it’s not worth it.