Friday, 13 August 2010

Double Mumbo Jumbo

For those who don't know, Double Mumbo Jumbo is something Blake Snyder talks about in Save the Cat:
audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie. It's The Law. You cannot see aliens from outer space land in a UFO and then be bitten by a vampire and now be both aliens and undead.
The example Snyder uses is from Signs:
In M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, we are asked to believe that aliens from outer space have invaded Earth. The movie is about Mel Gibson's crisis of faith in God. Huh?! I'd say proof of an alien intelligence outside our solar system sorta trumps all discussion about faith in God, don't you think? But M. asks us to juggle both. And it's a mess. Well, God and aliens don't mix. Why? Because it's two sets of different kinds of magic. It's Double Mumbo Jumbo.
It's hard to disagree with Snyder at the best of times and he makes a pretty solid point here. How can we be expected to believe two different, seemingly contradicting, sets of magic? It's a problem.

However, are there occasions where it's acceptable? Another example Blake uses is Spider-Man. At one end of NYC, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him superpowers. Ok. Then at the other end of NYC, an experiment gives Norman Osborn different powers. Ok.......

But I think superhero movies are allowed to bend the rules. Because as we enter into a superhero world, our believability expands and what it is "realistic" goes out the window.

This'll be interesting when the Avengers movie is released, since it will combine a variety of supers, all made that way through different means - Norse Gods, super-soldier serums, growth experiments, high-tech suits of armour et al. This sort of thing has worked in comics for going on 70 years, so should it be a problem at all?

One thing that really pissed me off during Supernatural's latest season is that Sam and Dean were fighting Lucifer. As in - Christian mythology. Then they encounter gods from a bunch of other religions - Islam, Greek, Norse etc. Surely the existence of the Christian deity directly proves that every other religion is tosh? There's your Double Mumbo Jumbo!

Never mind the fact that Balder was in charge, while Odin (Balder's Viking superior) took orders! And Lucifer managed to kill Odin and Zeus?! Please! Anyway, I digress....

So Double Mumbo Jumbo happens. A lot. What say you? Does it really bother you that they use it? I'm a huge fan of Signs, despite that obvious flaw. And I think Spider-Man is one of the best superhero movies.

Let me know what you think - are there times when Double Mumbo Jumbo is acceptable? Or even welcomed? Do you want to see Merlin do battle with Emperor Zod? Or see Thor slug it out against Freddy Kreuger? Share your thoughts......


Adaddinsane said...

Hm. While I understand the point (not that I'm a Snyder-fan) I'm not sure it even matters, and here's why:

In a *well told* story the supposed problem won't actually be a problem.

So yes, if a story combines two major concepts badly then it's a badly told story and won't work.

But if it combines two, three, four or whatever well, then nobody notices and it's a good story.

The question is whether the skill of the writer is up to the task, not whether the task should be undertaken or not.

You might advise newbies not to do it because they'll probably screw it up, fair enough. But that does not mean YOU MUST NEVER DO IT.

Neil said...

I think you're right. Afterall, every film I mentioned has a high IMDb rating, so they're clearly popular.

I'd personally stay away from combining such magics, but that's simply because a) I don't really want to and b) I'm not confident I could make it work. But in the right hands, it could be a powerful tool.

halojones-fan said...

Signs: Thing is, the religious bit isn't presented as magic. It's not as though Jesus Christ came down out of the sky and vaporized all the aliens.

Frank said...

No, just no. How are you teaching film writing when you don't even understand the concepts yourself? Hmmm Blake Snyder? Spiderman is a terrible example, it takes place in the Marvel universe, that is a universe where super heroes and super villains exist. This is called setting your reality, at least by playwrights, they may be more evolved in their understanding of their craft.

Why not point to a better example of bad coincidence, such as in Spiderman 3, where it just so happens that the hero of New York City is sitting in a park exactly where a meteorite carrying a strange alien goo being lands. The same guy who got bit by the radioactive spider just so happens to be sitting within a few yards of where a meteorite that'll make his next movie plot lands? When it could land anywhere on Earth, or miss Earth altogether? That is stupid.

And to provide a quick fix, you could have it hit New York City somewhere else (still ridiculous yet the audience will allow it), and then have Spiderman come across it because he goes to save the people in the skyscraper it slammed into. It looks like cause and effect by doing it that way.