Realism in (television/cinematic) Military Scifi

Discussion in 'Space Battles Main' started by Rockhound, Oct 27, 2013.

  1. Rockhound

    Rockhound Für den Sieg

    Lack of attention to detail kills......suspension of disbelief. Especially in MilSciFi. When you get the names of the tanks and tactics right....but leave the audience wondering why the hell your characters are doing what they've missed something.

    Case in point...Battle: Los Angeles (2011). It makes a good example, since it combines all kinds of poor detail work.

    #1: The military shows up fast. The Marines (and significant National Guard and Air Force ground units) deploy to LA (from Pendleton and 29 Palms) within what appears to be an hour or so. Yes and no.
    Yes, you'd get a small group (Assess and Eval teams, and Leader's Recon/Forward CP could get there as fast as you can stuff a dozen guys onto a chopper and fly) into the AO really quick....but nothing that would be shooting. To get an Infantry battalion onto transport (much less roll/fly/etc out to the AO) from a cold start (finding all your Officers and NCOs, who mostly live off-post and may be working on different areas of the Post, drawing weapons, ammo, ordnance....OPORDs...comms recon...,etc)....could be as much a 6 hours. We don't sit around our Forts, Bases, and Stations waiting to deploy into combat. An HBCT might have half its vehicles disassembled for maintenance. Ditto with Fighter Wings, Helo squadrons, etc. We aren't in a combat ready posture when we are at home.
    Movies like Cloverfield do this, too. With the Army somehow getting into NYC within a couple of hours of the Monster wading ashore. Nope (closest Army combat units are at Ft. Drum, on the other end of the State). Nor can National Guard units mobilize that quick. They take even longer than Regular units, from a standing start (as the troops and leaders might be spread across half a state, with their crew-served and heavy gear/combat systems stored elsewhere).
    They do this because they can't be bothered (or just can't) shaping the story to feel like time is passing, so everything in the world happens in a few hours.

    #2: Colonel Squad Leader. The entire leadership of a unit is constantly accompanying/leading a small subset of that unit. Lt. Martinez and SSGT Nance (the Platoon Sergeant, 2IC) both go with one Squad (and a machine gun team that never actually appears). Never mind that this dispenses with the entire reason you have both a PL and a PSG (so that you can split the Platoon and still have a leadership cell with each part)......they both go with one squad....while the other 3/4 of the Platoon is never seen again.
    They do this because they can't handle (and don't think the audience can handle) more than a handful of people onscreen at any one time. Not speaking characters, just moving bodies.

    #3: The General sweeps the floor. Important people doing trivial tasks. Both of the Platoon's leaders (Martinez and Nance) follow one squad on a civilian evacuation mission. Meanwhile, the now-leaderless Platoon is actually doing the fighting (and interfacing over a 2-echelon jump to Company, with a Squad Leader having to step up).
    Hollywood likes to have important people (with important-sounding titles) on the job, because less-important people couldn't get away with or take as much on themselves.

    #4: Hollywood Priorities/Must. Save. The. Goat! The US Armed Forces are losing the battle for Los Angeles (California) to an alien amphibian invasion force.......and the priority is evacuating a few hundred civilians from behind enemy lines. To the point that they are sending out entire squads from what is explicitly a crumbling defensive line, in the hope of guiding these lost civvies to safety.
    Don't make me fucking laugh. Civilians (below the scale of "Population of California") would be the bottom-most priority. The uppermost priority would be trading space for time and preserving the combat forces.
    They do this because they can't think of a way to make a "combat-combat" (versus combat interspersed with a lot of noncombat social/interpersonal drama) story interesting for an audience...which shows how bankrupt the screenwriters and directors are.

    I don't demand hard realism from my Hollywood scifi fare......but I do expect them not to simply throw their hands up in despair and flatly impose blatantly unrealistic actions because they couldn't think of any other way to create tension. A medical drama where the entire ER trauma team wastes an hour removing a thumbtack from a puppy's paw.....while the victims of a schoolbus rollover slowly die in triage....would be just as bad as some of the stuff Hollywood likes to derail (scifi) war movies with.

    Opinions? Brickbats?
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  2. B:LA seemed perfectly plausible to me.

    I think only the military nerds are gonna care at all. Everyone else isn't going to spot those details.
    hank11796, Mobiboros and Necron_Lord like this.
  3. Frog With Leaf

    Frog With Leaf Fancy Witch Lady

    Haven't seen Battlefield LA but I will admit that the lack of military discipline in Attack on Titan annoyed the shit out of me after a while (and I ranted about this previously elsewhere)... hell, I'm a civilian pacifist, and I still know that in the middle of a fucking fire fight, you don't backchat or question your commanding officer! And EVERYONE seemed to do this, even the more experienced Scouts.

    I know, I know, volunteer fighting force, CoC level sanity-checks needed to stand one's ground against the Titans...

    But still, it just really bugged me.
    Necron_Lord and HecateGW like this.
  4. PeaceKeeper_Cmdr

    PeaceKeeper_Cmdr Pimping for Justice

    I literally know nothing about how the military works beyond "some guys give orders to other guys". Your OP is just a bunch of words to me, and I've been on this forum for more than a decade.

    Now imagine how little a screen writer knows about military organization and tactics, and how little incentive there is for them to learn. A writer needs only know enough about any subject to fool the audience into believing that they know what they're writing about. The less the audience knows about a subject, the easier it is for the writers. Given the time pressure that all screenwriters work under, and how little the average person like myself knows, there's no practical reason why they should be accurate, or try to create dramatic tension from more realistic scenarios. The paying public can't tell the difference? Mission Accomplished.

    There is literally no reward for accuracy.
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  5. Frog With Leaf

    Frog With Leaf Fancy Witch Lady

    Depends whether you think a half-researched job is going to feel as satisfying as a fully-researched one. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes getting things right and accurate and knowing that they're right and accurate is enough reward to make me want to try my best as a writer to achieve that.
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  6. PeaceKeeper_Cmdr

    PeaceKeeper_Cmdr Pimping for Justice

    Novel authors have the luxury of being satisfied with their work. A screenwriter's overriding priorities are time and budget. They've got drop-dead dates they have to meet, or they get replaced by somebody who cares less about perfection.
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  7. Frog With Leaf

    Frog With Leaf Fancy Witch Lady

    Suppose it depends on the grade of film.

    You think the writers who wrote There will be Blood, or Burn After Reading or The Artist or Big Fish didn't get it as close to perfect as possible (because nothing is perfect). Hell, even Zero Dark Thirty only had the amount of noise that the team of insurgents after UBL as a significant difference to the real life conditions.

    But if you're talking Hollywood blockbuster then yeah, shit is going to slide.
  8. Rockhound

    Rockhound Für den Sieg

    As I said, I don't ask for accuracy (or I wouldn't be watching Scifi at all). I ask for plausible human actions/thinking. Not just "let's clear all these moving bodies off the screen, never speak of them again, and go rescue the cat while the Russians sell nukes to Osama".

    It's also poor dramatic presentation when you cause me to go "never mind the Main Characters and their boring-ass fetch quest.....I want to know what those other characters who were only barely introduced are doing!". When you've got The US Armed Forces losing a major city to aliens....don't show me a rescue mission for some random civilians that ends up killing two troops for every civilian it rescues. Show me the fighting!
    Posbi likes this.
  9. Preda

    Preda The Great Chained Wonder

    I thought they did it to show that the Military actually has some actual value to society in such a conflict, other than cynical self-preservation. Like, y'know, they're there to protect civilians, not themselves. You might reply with something along the lines of "if there are no combatants left the whole country falls" or some other standard-issue soldier's justification, but I don't think that is of much comfort to a bunch of civilians reduced to ashes in the event of a homeland invasion.
    That is very harsh criticism for a movie that, if anything, is almost a propaganda piece and presents the Marine Corps at least as self-sacrificing heroes who give their lives without blinking for the safety of others. The producers of this film try to make soldiers look good and this is your reaction?:rolleyes: I mean, there's enough fighting in that movie to satisfy anyone, and your complaint is that it's not the right fighting?

    Also, editing your post won't help.
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  10. Rockhound

    Rockhound Für den Sieg

    That "soldier's justification" (given your choice of terminology, I'm guessing you are insinuating that the soldiers using said justification are abrogating their responsibilities) is the same one that the Florida National Guard uses when it moves Guard units out of the projected Hurricane that they can deploy back into the area to support the communities hit. That is to say, it's a correct justification. If you lose the only units that can respond to a disaster (or attack) in the first hours, are going to lose a lot more of those civilians than you would by cutting your losses and preserving your command.
    The surgical process of Triage (placing human lives on a priority scale by value of time to be invested) is likewise just as heartless.
    Moreover, it makes no sense. People (especially ones portrayed as serious, sober individuals) doing nonsensical things doesn't really help build drama. It detracts from it. Hell, Whedon made a movie mocking it.

    Silly propaganda is silly. We've got awesome real-world propaganda (between Band of Brothers and Generation Kill, you can play "guess that line" listening to the kids fresh from OSUT). I'd just like to see more thought go into my MilSciFi. It's especially disappointing when they set up an engaging story....only to immediately narrow the scope so drastically that the most engaging things they built are utterly offscreen. The Battle of LA, against aliens....and we get the (again, wildly far-fetched) fetch quest side story?

    If the Battle had been shown a few times over, in previous movies....yeah, I could see them following a minor action.

    ....uh? I didn't edit it.
  11. Hey, you really expect realism in movie supported by military, which actually serves as one big advertisement?
    Have you ever seen any realistic advertisement for anything?

    It is not silly if you take into account for whom it is made.
  12. Rockhound

    Rockhound Für den Sieg

    Well, then how do you explain all these dead unicorns?

    Realistic =/ Realism (though it can!). Realism (perhaps I should say "naturalism") is when people on spaceships around Tau Ceti act like human beings do in real life. Realistic is when we don't have spaceships around Tau Ceti because the economics of interstellar transportation are totally infeasible.
  13. And propaganda intended for average human kid needs neither.
  14. fijkus

    fijkus Does this look like the face of mercy?

    Here's how the duties breaks down:
    • The duty of a junior enlisted is to follow the orders of their lawfully appointed superiors.
    • The duty of a non-commissioned officer is to lead the junior enlisted and follow the orders of their lawfully appointed superiors.
    • The duty of a company grade officer is to lead the enlisted and follow the orders of their lawfully appointed superiors.
    • The duty of the field grade officer is to lead the enlisted and company grade officers and follow the orders of their lawfully appointed superiors.
    • The duty of the general grade officer is to lead the field grade officers and follow the orders of their lawfully appointed superiors.
    • The duty of the commander-in-chief is to lead the entirety of the military and ensure that the nation remains sovereign.
    Here's how things would generally happens:
    • President of the United States: US coastal areas are being invaded by space aliens. I need all federal agencies to either focus on repelling the invaders or evacuating the civilians.
    • General grade officers: We have been ordered to repel the invaders. USNORTHCOM must therefore mobilize and coordinate all assets in the United States, Canada and Mexico to ensure that we repel the space aliens. We must therefore move divisions A, B, and C to location X, Y and Z while the civilian agencies handle the evacuation.
    • Field Grade Officers: Alright, 3rd Battalion of Division C is currently en route to Manure in the State of Franklin. I need A Co to secure the north side of town, B Co to secure the south side, and C Co to secure the Western approach. Military traffic through the town takes priority. I expect you to use your best judgement.
    • Company grade officer: I need 1st Platoon on Easy Street, 2nd Platoon on Long Street, and 3rd Platoon at the intersection. I need a squad in the Burger Town to provide a lookout. Call in anything you see to me.
    • Non-Commissioned Officer: Alright, squad, we're in Burger Town. I need Johnson and Garcia on the roof, and eyes on the streets.
    • Junior-Enlisted: I need to keep my eyes on the street and call the Sergeant if I see anything suspicious. I want to do my job and go home. I really want to see my daughter grow up instead of dying in a Burger Town three states over. I hope my family's gotten to my wife's folks place alright.
    Meanwhile, EMAC is activated, and everyone is trying to do their jobs as best they can if they haven't already deserted their posts. Delegation of responsibility means that the coordinating the evacuation is FEMA's job, not the military's, and generally FEMA tries to ensure that everyone under its employ is out of the strike zone.
  15. Sven

    Sven Deplorable reindeer

    When you're making mass market media, you write stuff that appeals to the mass market. Most people don't give a fuck about proper military procedure, then want to see an entertaining film.
  16. fijkus

    fijkus Does this look like the face of mercy?

    While I did post a great big wall o' text, I do generally agree with your statement. Especially since I know enough physics that I can ruin my sci-fi experience if I think too hard on the 'science' and poke too many holes in it.
  17. Ford Prefect

    Ford Prefect What is Project Zohar?

    It's a movie. It doesn't exist outside of its runtime. It's no good saying something like 'the heroes of the story should have practiced self-preservation so they could have come back later to pick up the pieces after the credits have rolled'.
  18. Damar

    Damar They hate you if you're clever and despise a fool

    My issues with Battle: LA were more that it was so ridiclously PG-13 and coming over as a 50's war/disaster movie at times, like Nance questioning whether the female soldier should have a rifle when they're in the middle of an alien invasion.

    And I never understood why when the aliens were entering the police station, they had only one marine tasked to hold them off. Of course he had a grenade launcher but still.

    To change films, as much as I love Aliens and their depiction of the Colonial Marines, there was no good reason for Gorman to order for magazines to be collected rather than just give a no-firing order. I know he's a rookie, but even so he would have had training and a voice telling 'NO! NEVER LEAVE YOUR MARINES UNABLE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES!'. It was all setup for the devastating chain reaction, but it could as easily be done as someone pointing out Frost was wearing a belt of grenades or something.
    Posbi likes this.
  19. utemia

    utemia Shadow Cabal UnFun Brigade

    It's not about the proper procedure.. it's more about making sense inside the context of the story. It is something that annoys me to no end as well, and you don't have to be an expert to notice it. You could still make an entertaining movie that got things right enough. It's been a while since I watched Battle:LA.. but there is one other example that illuminates the difference. Take your run off the mill cop procedural and then take "The Wire". There are still probably things that were glossed over in the Wire to make good drama but they got so much right and infused it with realism that it was really refreshing. The Wire isn't a documentary after all. You can do the same with military scifi - whether people wanted to watch something like that is the other question. I am looking forward to the new mil scifi show on Starz that was mentioned in another thread, it will be interesting to see how they do it.
  20. Captain Orsai

    Captain Orsai Venerable Chaplain Arbiter

    What? Yeah, he asks Santos if she knows how to use her rifle, but I'm pretty sure it's not because she's a girl - it's because she's USAF. :p

    You're missing the point there - the point is that Gorman screwed up, badly, and furthermore that he knows he screwed up. Notice that once he wakes up he immediately defers to a civilian and a Corporal rather than try and resume command. Also, it's acknowledged in-universe that he is screwing up - Apone tries to tell him that, but gets cut off by Gorman (obviously feeling he needs to reassert his authority, at a very bad time).
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  21. Damar

    Damar They hate you if you're clever and despise a fool

    Similairly, Generation Kill, which I was hoping for Battle: LA to follow in portraying marines, is based on real-life expierences and yet still is entertaining.

    True:p It still came off a bit odd.

    Again true, but I still don't see where the rationale for the order came from, as if his mind crashed at a 'Gunfire = Bad' problem and instead of just using common sense he made Captain 'America' McGraw look good. Gorman actually didn't seem a bad soldier, as shown him fighting the Xenomorphs with a ineffective sidearm and than going back for Vasquez without real hestitation, just a terrible officer.
  22. greendoor

    greendoor Losing in avatar related threads since 2012

    I think that was the point. He was a very green officer because Burke wanted someone he could push around. He made a dumb call, which happens and is more than believable given his lack of experience.
  23. Bryan

    Bryan <font color=yellow>The Great Goof!</font>

    Plausible for a sci fi alien invasion for our water.... ;)

    But I agree. You will never get a truly accurate war movie because those would be boring. The most realistic you want is BLA or Generation Kill.
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  24. FBH

    FBH Write drunk. Edit Hungover

    Battle:LA was very much a First Person Shooter movie. It had basically the same kind of verisimilitude without realism aesthetic, and unreasonably deadly small arms and infantry centric tactics.

    Edit: I still like IX's theory that the US commander in Battle: LA was a total thud who they refused to send to Iraq/Afghanistan for being himself and others, hence stuff like armoured columns racing to the beach and getting blown up and the whole "Let's not use any air for a while" plan.
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  25. Tiresias

    Tiresias Pendekar 212

    My memory on the movie is a bit fuzzy (shaky cams ain't my cup of tea) but I thought American air power got swatted by super alien air drones?