Empty Pondering: Independence Day (1996)

lead_960So I was thinking about the 1996 film Independence day, because… well, what else should I do with spare processing power? Don’t answer that. Not the point. The thing I wondered is this: Remember Jeff Goldblum’s character drawing A diagram of Earth to show how the invaders used our own satellite network to relay their attack signals?

Seems kinda funny, dunnit?

I mean, these critters had a mobile warbase capable of carrying an entire planetary invasion force from star to star. Wouldn’t they have their own satellites to deploy? If I were the boss Clam-face of all the Clam-faces, the first thing I’d do is send out some fighters to take out every single maggoty human satellite around Earth, then deploy my own. Why bother hacking them? I mean, mayyyyybeee it saved them a little effort but, again, they had the tech to wage war across the stars. Was it noticeable effort they saved?

What they did was like a billionaire stealing your coffee off the serving bar at a cafe. Sure, maybe he saved himself a little effort. Didn’t have to wait in line, didn’t have to give up three of his billions of dollars. But was it really worth it to him? He has the money. Heck, he could own the cafe if he wanted to. If he doesn’t have the time to wait in line, he could pay someone to get his coffee for him. And he didn’t even get the coffee he wanted. He got what you ordered. And finally, by stealing your coffee, he leaves himself open for an ass-whuppin’.

Which, incidentally, is how it played out in the movie. Yay for us.

This is a problem with storywriting. You want to create some kind of powerful obstacle for your hero to overcome. People want stories of those who did the impossible. No one wants to read stories about those who overcame the slightly difficult. But if you create a powerful obstacle, then you have to also create a way for your scrappy underdog to get through. But your bad guy is really, really bad. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and your only way out is a plot hole.

Scary Galactic Empire? Stormtroopers can’t aim, and they can’t figure out how to run security on massive installations. Three times in a row.

Unstoppable Martians? Forgot to take their Emergen-C.

Iron Man VS interdimensional battleship? He throws a nuke at it. They have, apparently, no point-defense or other active countermeasures capable of shooting down a thrown missile. On a military starship.

Militarily unbeatable Clam-faced invaders? Hmmm… let’s give them a woeful disinterest in cyber security.

This lazy writing trick is hard to avoid, especially in genre, where the drive is to out-super everything that ever was super before. If I haven’t done it already, I probably will in the future. But as long as I’m aware of it, maybe there is a chance that I’ll fashion a story where the underdog wins against a bad guy who isn’t actually really lazy or stupid, who is truly powerful, and not just sporting a facade of power. That would be a good story.

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