Where does a reasonable inference end and fanwankery begin?

Very often, filmmakers will ask audiences to make inferences about what’s going on with the characters or the plot. Frex, they’ll show a character staring off in the distance and you’re supposed to pick up that she’s sad or happy or etc. from her expression and whatever’s going on in the plot and his or her character. Or in movies from censorship days we see Cary Grant grab a leading lady’s hand and then we see a roaring fire and we’re supposed to know his proud stallion is charging through her throbbing virginia.

But then we have a situation like the one cited in

this thread which cites a scene from a Star Wars movie in which an A-wing fighter, about the size of a modern jet fighter, crashes into the bridge of a Super Star Destroyer, totally disabling it. Superstar Destroyers are supposed to be tens of kilometers long, dwarfing the largest modern aircraft carrier, and they’re combat ships, which means they’re presumably protected against people who want to, like, blow them up and stuff. So it’s kinda like a matchbox toy crashing into the bridge of a modern aircraft carrier, totally disabling it. And the question was, how do you explain something like that?

The explanations ranged from stuff that seemed like reasonable inferences to extreme fan-wankery (Uh, the Emperor was controlling all the commanders with his mind and when Darth Vader killed him, they all collapsed like puppets with their strings cut, leaving the ships to drift in space without, um, commanders. – Timothy Zahn was cited on that one, IIRC).

Art films are the worst offenders in this respect, often asking so much wankery from viewers that their reviewers/defenders are left to do extreme hand-waving in defense of films that most viewers reasonably regard as pure balderdash. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s reasonable to ask audiences to infer stuff in art films or elsewhere, just that there ought to be clear references in the film to base their inferences on.

So whaddya think? Where does inference end and fanwankery and handwaving begin?

Anything that requires a cite from something that lies outside the film.

In any LotR discussion it was usually impossible to tell whether people were arguing the movie or the book, but the real worst example of this was Memento, with people going to a web site that purports to give additional information. Didn’t go there, never will. If it’s not on the screen, it does not exist.

That other thread pretty much started from the premise that the scene was indefensible so let’s have fun. No problem with that. But more generally the audience should not be doing the jobs of the director and writer. If it’s not on screen, you should feel obligated as an audience member to rip them a new one.

The second someone says “It’s explained If you listen to the director’s commentary…” they’ve lost me. If the director wants something in a film to be understood as X there had better be an alusion to X in the damn film. It doesn’t have to be spelled out for the audience, but it has to be there.

In fairness to Memento director Chris Nolan, I don’t think he ever intended the additional information to be anything but a bit of fun. The bonuses on the website/DVD do not contain the answers to any of the mysteries raised by the film’s ending. It’s mostly just a bunch of partial newspaper clippings, medical records, and other documents relating to the events in the film. They don’t actually explain anything new or reveal what happened prior to the chronological beginning of the film, and all the arguments I’ve seen claiming that they do have been mere fanwankery. The only thing of any significance to be found in the supplementary info is that

Leonard spent time in a psychiatric hospital after the attack that left him brain damaged but this is implied although not explicitly stated in the film itself. It’s also a piece of information that I don’t think makes much difference either way when it comes to interpreting the film.

Wizard did it.

Anything that takes events in Star Wars seriously is fanwankery. But as a series of films it does seem to attract this. People who believe that Lucas had an entire biblically proportioned saga planned out from day one; multi-themed, detailed and allegorically deep.

As long as the film entertains while holding the suspension of disbelief together without getting ridiculous, that’s all that matters. Once you start picking of course it’s going to fall to bits. Only fanwankery would attempt to defend it, unless it’s totally tongue in cheek.

As for “Art” films. The beauty of the best of these is that they are art mirroring life, so what you infer from the events are often coloured by your experiences. This is what makes them compelling and is often what the director intends. The film isn’t there to tell you what to think, but to prompt you to think. It’s subjective and whether this extends to fanwankery is up to each viewer.

This sums up my feelings exactly. Anything requiring information not in the movie is… well, let’s be nice and call it speculation.

I derive reasonable inferences; you speculate; he engages in fanwankery.

Well … actually … no. Frex, if

party A says an A-wing fighter can destroy a Superstar Destroyer because there’s a schematic in the War Planning scene that shows that they can, that’s making a reasonable inference

If party B says an A-wing yadda-yadda because the Superstar Destroyer bridges might also be used as storehouses for unused nuclear bombs due to lack of room elsewhere, he’s speculating.

If party C says A-wing yadda-yadda because the Trantorian Guard used their mastery of subdimensional vortices to open a pathway to the heart of a star from the locus of the A-wing, well, that’d be fanwankery.

In the one case, someone is making an inference based on something in the movie. In another case, someone is making a speculation that, while not supported in the movie, isn’t totally outside the bounds of our understanding. In the third case, the inference is based on something that is apparently just made up out of thin air.

Doesn’t matter who said it, in each case.

Nope. See previous post.

Now, THAT’S some nice handwaving.

Apparently a lot of Donnie Darko has to be explained by the crazy old lady’s book, which is mentioned but the contents aren’t really discussed in the movie. On the DVD though are excerpts from it that make the movie much clearer.

Gotta disagree, and gotta hold up Twin Peaks as an example. The creators of TP deliberately placed canon information in multiple official sources, including The Diary of Laura Palmer, The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes and, believe it or not, a set of trading cards. I believe there was also a “Welcome to Twin Peaks” book which dealt with some of the background of the town itself. TP was pre-internet explosion but if it had come out five years later I’d be willing to bet that Lynch would have used it as well. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of multi-media storytelling; in fact I’m really surprised that it hasn’t become more widespread.

Now of course multi-source storytelling from the creators is different than fans reading in material that doesn’t exist anywhere, but the “it’s not on-screen, it’s non-existent” dictum is too harsh.

Even for a story that encompasses multiple mediums, all included in the canon hierarchy? It’s perfectly valid, in the SW example brought up in the OP, to go to one of the official novels to give a more in-depth answer. Lucas said that as long as it doesn’t contradict anything in the movies, it’s part of the universe.

I felt that the supplementary info/director’s commentary for Donnie Darko only served to make things less clear. The movie doesn’t really make sense without them, but it doesn’t make sense with them either. And the director’s explanation, such as it is, is less satisfying and IMHO much stupider than what I or other viewers have managed to come up with after just viewing the film. This is one case where I think the director would have done much better to let his film stand on its own rather than try to explain it.

Am I the only fanboy that keeps opening this thread and scrolling to the bottom, expecting to see my name mentioned in one of the posts? I can’t be, can I?

I agree. I’ve always said that Donnie Darko is one of the few movies where most of the movie isn’t in the movie.

And the whole “parallel universe” and the Temporal Mechanic thing (or whatever they called it) really didn’t make sense. It really feels like they just made it all up after the script was written, tacked on fancy-sounding terms like an episode of Star Trek, and pretended that it was some grand mythology.

Actually I’d mention NoClueBoy before I mentioned you. No offense to either you or NCB.

The Star Trek franchise is the undisputed, and undisputable, king of fanwankery. Unfortunately, this is mostly due to second-rate writing that leaves a lot of plot holes.

None taken… considering he’s at ~11,000 posts and I’m at ~4,500, it’s no surprise that he would get more attention even though I’m the bigger 'wanker.

Uh. That didn’t sound right.

Yeah, but he said that to the wanking fans. :smiley:

Pish, tush, and bother–they’re not plot holes, they’re openings for future stories. What do you think plot hooks fit into, anyway? :rolleyes:

I would, however, like to go on record as saying that in the cited example of the A-Wing vs. SSD thread, I was the first one to point out that there was an entire armada of rebellion capital ships shooting at the SSD, which must have been at least a little bit distracting to the guy piloting it.

That is all. Continue with your discussion of fanwankery.