I shoulda checked the reviews first

I watched the movie Red Lights last night on Netflix. The first part of the movie was strikingly familiar: it practically stole the life story of James Randi. There was the Peter Popoff exposé, the psychic surgery stunts, the usual whirl of frauds and fanatics, all under different names with different details, but the same general stories about exposing flim-flam. And then it had a marvelous cast: Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy. The whole movie is following a good ol’ skeptical trajectory…and then, the ending. Oh, jebus, I have never seen a movie so thoroughly implode as this one did with that ending.

Stop here. Don’t read further, unless you want to know how it ends, because I’m going to give it all away. Completely. This isn’t just a spoiler, it is full disclosure.

After building up the skeptical side of the story, and after the climactic reveal that shows how DeNiro, the psychic, was faking everything, the movie pulls a complete Reverse Scooby Doo. There is an overly dramatic confrontation in a theater in which the skeptical psychic investigator, Murphy, makes lights explode and electronics fail because he, the investigator, was the one who actually had psychic powers. As he explains in a lame final voiceover, he was in this business to look for people of his own kind.

It was a marvel. The whole movie just threw itself away in the final two minutes. And if only I’d checked a few reviews first, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on a movie that had no respect for itself.

Comments

  1. says

    Ok… as a basic premise for a story I like it. But if it strikes to close to Randi’s story then that’s manipulative. But as a basic premise for a sf story I think its perfectly cromulent. I could see building a supers rpg based on the idea.

  2. says

    Ah. Well, I watched “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!” the other night. I was really psyched because I love pirates and I love science. However, I came away pissed off. The moral of the story was that if you want to be a pirate or a scientist, you better be a man, or pretend to be one, because women are evil and only good for having their shirts looked down.

  3. says

    There is an overly dramatic confrontation in a theater in which the skeptical psychic investigator, Murphy, makes lights explode and electronics fail because he, the investigator, was the one who actually had psychic powers. As he explains in a lame final voiceover, he was in this business to look for people of his own kind.

    That sounds to me like possible studio interference and a very late re-write. Like some executive producer came up and said, “You know what this movie needs? A big Thing. Like, some kinda Thing, you know, at the end. Make it happen,” and the director and writers just looked at each other, shrugged, and said “Fuck it. We’ll add a weird voice over in ADR.”

  4. says

    I rented the DVD. Blockbuster gave me Red Tails instead to start, but fortunately I checked before I drive off, as they have been fooled before. Maybe they were trying to do me a favour, although I enjoyed the table trick explanation anyway.

  5. says

    You should have watched Dredd instead. It has a psychic too, but it is right out there at the beginning and since it is a sci-fi premise it isn’t offensive. Also, people chewed to bits by machine guns.

  6. centient says

    The Last Exorcism did the same thing. Such a good movie about the dangers of exorcisms until the last 60 seconds, when they reveal the crazed townspeople were right and the ones trying to get the girl psychiatric help instead were just oblivious fools. I’ve never been more frustrated with a movie.

  7. says

    Scooby-Doo aside, I struggle to think of a fictional story that centres on debunking a supernatural event and doesn’t end with the same “…and it turns out there was real magic as well!” twist. It was probably fairly clever the first time it happened, but using it every time kind of misses the point of twist endings.

  8. says

    For a rather more satisfyingly sceptical fiction, you could try Christopher Brookmyre’s novel “Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” which I hugely enjoyed.

  9. kevinalexander says

    I went to see Les Miserables. Okay, I don’t expect too much realism from Hollywood but this was just too much. One of the heroes is a priest? In France!?
    Anne Hathaway dies of something though she looked very healthy to me.

    And what’s with the singing.

  10. says

    I have some Marty Stu daydreams where I end up in various fictional worlds, learning things like magical ninja stuff, spellcasting, and how to build warp engines. Then I end up coming back to our mundane world and demonstrate my powers, establishing myself as an expert in “supernatural” stuff. Then when I get invited onto shows with all the frauds and deluded people, I go in full skeptic mode, asking critical questions and for scientific trials of all claimed powers. Because, hey, I wouldn’t have bothered with magical training if the teachers couldn’t unequivocally demonstrate the usefulness of their lessons.

    As for the movie, that reveal sounds counterproductive. If he had real powers, he should have demonstrated them openly under scientific trials, and people would be more willing to listen to his demands for testing. The deluded would be happy to be tested, at least initially, and there’d be more people willing to question the abilities of those who refuse to be tested, since the tests are coming from a real psychic and thus supposedly one of their own.

  11. Doubting Thomas says

    I always assumed that Randi was the real deal who went around exposing fakes by using his own secret super powers.

  12. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    A Kevinalexander –

    If the priest was disemboweled with a large though shallow cut and, as he was dying, he used his still attached entrails to strangle the king, then you’d have something memorable. Something heroic.

    Something that could be put into a saying or something.

    Shirley? I jest.

    Cause that would be wicked gross.

  13. pacal says

    Actually the ending is indeed a total cop out. Instead of telling the audience that fantasies of ghosts, goblins and fairy tails aren’t real they throw in a sop that they are so has not to disturb the fantasy world of their audience.

    The X-Files had that trope in spades, constantly reaffirming the moronic cry “I want to believe!”.

    It is fascinating that since Conan Doyle all sorts of psychic believers have alleged that psychic investigators have “real” psychic powers. Doyle believed that Houdini, who aside from being a magician was a investigator / debunker had genuine psychic powers. Doyle thought Houdini could dematerialize himself to go through walls.

    Regarding Randi some believers in psychic powers have claimed that Randi has real psychic powers and uses them to suppress other peoples psychic abilities. I also remember hearing many years ago that supposedly Randi was “really” a psychic looking for other “real” psychics. It sounds like the movie makers found the same vein of woo.

  14. Sastra says

    From what PZ tells us here, checking the reviews first wouldn’t have helped. Very few reviewers are going to reveal the “surprise twist” at the very end. Sounds like the filmmakers were trying for another The Sixth Sense.

    But as pacal and others point out above, a real “surprise twist” would be if it turns out, at the end, that psychic powers aren’t real after all! Really, is there any movie or TV show which deals with proposed supernatural or paranormal phenomenon which doesn’t confirm to a believing audience that yes, yes, your beliefs are really true and those people who doubt were wrong to do so? Andrewm and I can think of Scooby Doo — and I’ve heard that Psych assumes that psychic powers aren’t real (and has yet to have an episode where it turns out that hmmmm … looks like they might be.) But otherwise, it’s drearily predictable.

    I did not see it, but read that the Scooby Doo movie was not brave enough to maintain the skepticism — and the new tv series made sure all the ghosts were real. I wonder how much of this media love affair with the supernatural has less to do with maintaining drama — and more to do with encouraging “faith?”

  15. says

    That sounds to me like possible studio interference and a very late re-write. Like some executive producer came up and said, “You know what this movie needs? A big Thing. Like, some kinda Thing, you know, at the end. Make it happen,” and the director and writers just looked at each other, shrugged, and said “Fuck it. We’ll add a weird voice over in ADR.”

    Sounds like the ending of the fictitious movie in The Player. IRL that’s what happened to Blade Runner and Brazil as well. I can easily believe this was some studio exec corporate nitwit’s idea.

  16. Owlmirror says

    I still recall an anecdote posted at some point to Sb Pharyngula, where a magician performed a trick before evangelical Christians taught to believe that magic was real and demonic. The Christians were impressed and frightened. Then the magician explained, “No, it’s not real. Here’s exactly how I did it”, and showed how the slight worked, doing it several times. And the Christians said: “That’s all very well, but that first time you did it, that was really demons helping you.”

  17. microraptor says

    While the original Scooby Doo and the first spin off or two (at least as far as A Pup Named Scooby Doo) were explicit that there always was a mundane, non-super natural explanation for everything that happened, by the mid 90s the franchise decayed and started featuring real ghosts and monsters on a regular basis.

  18. yubal says

    My wife and me watched the same movie. I found it quite entertaining because I was able to predict the ending. Just when the Sigourney Weaver character died I used my powers to predict that the young doctor is the true psychic and the old blind dude the fraud. How did I do that ? Simple. It is a Hollywood movie so there has to be a psychic after all. Silver was already built up as fraud and who is left? The most adorable character, the young handsome dude.

    @ pacal

    in one scene of the movie they had a modified x-files poster in the background with “I want to understand” printed on it.

  19. unclefrogy says

    Yes that sounds like the “Movie” business alright. Though ghosts and magic have been used in great drama for a long time Shakespeare and Sophocles have used elements from time to time but the movies are the worst.
    I’m sure that the producer execs had input at least along with the director of course. I think something else is at work here. Those who are more skeptical by nature, who would not leave any doubt that any of that supernatural crap actually existed are not interested in making movies about the supernatural even tangentially, there are a lot of stories available.
    The other thing that this reminds me of is that even in the most “realistic” action movie reality seems to be just a starting point even going back to old westerns.
    some times I can suspend my disbelief some times I can’t.

    uncle frogy

  20. DLC says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Alpha

    James Randi has been debunking psychics, including by undercover means, since the 70s.

    The skepticism movement does owe him a debt of gratitude for debunking several of them very publicly.
    Not that he is the end-all and be all of the skeptic movement, and he has his blind spots. but still, he’s done a lot of good for skepticism in general and for the general public as well. His debunking of Uri Geller on The Tonight Show was one of the things that lead me to skepticism and then to Carl Sagan and to Atheism.

  21. David Marjanović says

    I like comment 13.

    It has a psychic too, but it is right out there at the beginning and since it is a sci-fi premise it isn’t offensive.

    If it’s really a sci-fi premise, it is offensive.

  22. Rodney Nelson says

    If it’s really a sci-fi premise, it is offensive.

    David, you’re confusing science fiction with sci-fi. While there are some similarities, the two genres have little to do with each other.

  23. says

    David, plenty of top notch science fiction has dealt with the premise that psychic powers exist. That’s the FICTION part. Larry Niven comes to mind off the top of my head. Dredd has a psychic in it. It also has takes place in a huge megalopolis. In the comics it has a ghost who killed every living person in his own dimension. Sheesh.

  24. says

    Randi either wrote or had ghostwritten a short story titled “Lesson One”that was published in the January , 1980 issue of Omni magazine. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but I recall the protagonist was a famous skeptical magician who exposed those claiming supernatural abilities. There was a “twist ending” in which one of his targets turned out to be authentic, and in the final paragraph, the old magician sits at the real psychic’s feet to learn true magic.

    It was pretty awful.

  25. sambarge says

    For a rather more satisfyingly sceptical fiction, you could try Christopher Brookmyre’s novel “Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” which I hugely enjoyed.

    Or anything by Brookmyre, really. Have you read Pandemonium? Worth it; it’s brilliant.

    I have to say though, with all the rational, empirical explanations for the seemingly supernatural/horror premises, poor Brookmyre is never going to see his books made into movies. They would be excellent though.

  26. Gregory Greenwood says

    pacal @ 16;

    The X-Files had that trope in spades, constantly reaffirming the moronic cry “I want to believe!”.

    That poster always annoyed me – ‘wanting to believe’ is stating right off the bat that you don’t care what the truth is, you would rather have your favoured delusion. Wanting to find the truth or, as yubal notes @ 22, ‘wanting to understand’ makes far more sense.

    ———————————————————————————————————————-

    timgueguen @ 18;

    The “skeptic effect” is a fairly common copout for supposed psychics, not just when Randi has been involved.

    It is always hilarious to listen to so called ‘psychics’ try to weasle out of their latest failure to replictate their supposed abilities under scientific conditions by claiming that every skeptic is some kind of mighty ‘anti-psychic’ who can effortlessly and subconsciously block the abilities of any number of ‘psychics’ by their mere presence in the vicinity.

    Isn’t convenient that the psychic’s ‘powers’ only work when everyone who isn’t a gullible easy mark is escorted from the premises? Why, it is almost as if all ‘psychics’ are really charlatans or something…

  27. says

    Markita,

    the story was published under Randi’s name. I doubt Omni magazine would have published it under his name unless he approved it.

  28. says

    James Randi’s short story (Lesson One), which follows roughly the same plot trajectory as Red Light, was republished in 1983 in an anthology of stories that had appeared in Omni magazine.

  29. johnmarley says

    @ Audley Z. Darkheart (#2)

    So The Prestige, only terrible?

    That was my first thought, too.

  30. says

    IRL that’s what happened to Blade Runner and Brazil as well. I can easily believe this was some studio exec corporate nitwit’s idea.

    Yeah, both movies were fucked over by interference. Blade Runner especially. The studio forced Ridley Scott to add an unnecessary narration and change the ending so that it’s happy and unambiguous. Because audiences are too dumb to accept an ambiguous ending to a movie. But luckily there are director’s cuts of both movies that better reflect the directors’ visions.

  31. johnmarley says

    While the original Scooby Doo and the first spin off or two (at least as far as A Pup Named Scooby Doo) were explicit that there always was a mundane, non-super natural explanation for everything that happened, by the mid 90s the franchise decayed and started featuring real ghosts and monsters on a regular basis.

    You mean early 80s. Most of the monsters in “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo” (’80 – ’82) were “real”. Then “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” (’85-’86) featured the titular ghosts and Vincent Price as a warlock.

  32. says

    Okay, I’ve found James Randi’s short story Lesson One online. It’s a very, very short story about a young man who convinces and aged magician to take him on as an apprentice. The boy argues with the magician about the existence of the supernatural, and finally turns the magician into a believer by exhibiting real telekinetic abilities.

    The “contributors” page for the January, 1980 issue of Omni says the following:

    James Randi presents “Lesson one”, his first fiction story, in this month’s issue. Randi, a world-famous television and theater personality, is founder and chief investigator of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. His book The Magic of Uri Geller was a penetrating expose of the former Israeli psychic superstar and he has co-authored Houdini. His life and Art. Randi doesn’t think much of claims of paranormal powers, but he says it’s a favorite fantasy of his that there might be something to them after all. “There might just be a Santa Claus too,” he adds.

  33. says

    Somehow it reminds me about the movie contact.

    In the novel Elly searches for facts and finally she finds the proof her journey. (and she falls in love with the science adviser)

    In the movie, she falls in love with the preacher and he accepts what she says, because HE HAS FAITH!! (here the science adviser is one of the bad guys…)

    That almost make me hate the movie!

  34. says

    One warning about the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – it starts with a rather long and tedious waffly thing about how psychic powers are Realz!!elebenty11! You might be tempted to write it off, but don’t. Those familiar with Brookmyre will know immediately that this is NOT the authorial voice – this is as told by a character who is a bit of a twit.

  35. Rip Steakface says

    If it’s really a sci-fi premise, it is offensive.

    Not really. Sci-fi includes everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey (and its magic monoliths of magic smartmaking standing out among all the decent science) to Star Wars (actual magic powers manifesting with certain people with The Force). The only thing really separating it from fantasy in terms of speculative fiction is whether awesome shit is done with fantasy technology or just plain magic.

    Of course, when you get overlap (Final Fantasy, Star Wars), you get weirdness that some like to call science fantasy.

  36. says

    GAACK!

    I say this as someone who thinks River Tam was the worst part of Firefly.

    There are quite a few genres that are inherently ruined by the introduction of Psychic Psychic Bendy Spoons and many stories that suffer from their introduction.

    There is a fine line between Twist Ending and Ass Pull and I’m struggling the urge to dive into TVTropes to further elaborate on this point.

  37. consciousness razor says

    There is an overly dramatic confrontation in a theater in which the skeptical psychic investigator, Murphy, makes lights explode and electronics fail because he, the investigator, was the one who actually had psychic powers.

    It’d be better if the movie then backflipped into a Double-Reverse Scooby-Doo: the pscyhic powers meant the guy electrocuted himself every time. They were so powerful this time that his head exploded: a nice, big Hollywood explosion with lots of fire, because this is a movie after all. Roll credits with some dreary, noir-ish music, maybe toss in a few techno effects….

  38. bassmanpete says

    Sounds like it was based on the 1968 film The Power which itself was based on a book of the same name from the ’50s.

  39. microraptor says

    @johnmarley #36

    Didn’t realize that that 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo was that old. I never saw it until Cartoon Network picked it up, and given its animation (as I remember it) was better than I normally associated with mid 80s cartoons I’d assumed it was produced in the late 80s or early 90s.

    And I didn’t realize that there were any episodes of Scrappy Doo that had real monsters in them besides Scrappy.

    But most of my knowledge of more recent Scooby stuff comes from a former girlfriend who just loved all the new stuff and had to watch it while never quite getting why I was offended by the fact that there were real ghosts and werewolves or that Velma had a figure.

  40. horrabin says

    Except in “The Power” (the movie anyway) the bad guy did really have telekinetic powers; the twist was that the good guy who was trying to find out the identity of the bad guy also had telekinesis.

    As everyone else pointed out, the “no wait, it’s real!” last-minute twist is in almost every movie featuring skeptics.

  41. Greyarea says

    Not really. Sci-fi includes everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey (and its magic monoliths of magic smartmaking standing out among all the decent science)

    I don’t think you really understood the movie. Arthur C Clarke never wrote about magic in this sense. He wrote Hard Science Fiction. In this case the monoliths were the tools of an advanced alien civilization. There is zero chance that their technology would seem unmagical to us. This is something that fits completely within our current scientific understanding of the universe.
    Note: I would never offer the same defense for Star Wars.

  42. bassmanpete says

    Except in “The Power” (the movie anyway) the bad guy did really have telekinetic powers; the twist was that the good guy who was trying to find out the identity of the bad guy also had telekinesis.

    I only vaguely recall the movie but for some reason the book has stuck in my mind. A group of scientists, in an attempt to see if any of them has telekinetic powers, sits around a table with a piece of paper on a spike on it. They try to make the paper spin with just mind power and it does spin. At the end it’s revealed (spoiler alert) that the bad guy knew he had the power, didn’t want to reveal it to the others so didn’t attempt to spin the paper. The spinning paper revealed to him that someone else also had the power. As the hero attempts to discover who has the power, his colleagues are murdered one by one as the bad guy tries to eliminate the competition. In the showdown the hero discovers that it is he who also has the power. He defeats the bad guy and, iirc, becomes a bad guy himself.

  43. says

    There is a science fiction short story included in one of the “Darkover” fan-fic compilations in which a Randi-like skeptic comes to the planet Cottman IV (“Darkover”) to debunk reports of psychic phenomena among the planet’s residents. He reduces to tears a group of psychic children who were happily performing feats of psychokinesis before he insisted they demonstrate their skills to him in person — and they fail! Turns out — bum da dum! — he has the most powerful psychic powers of all, but his skepticism was causing him to subconsciously use them to block others! Cue the happy-ever-after music! Ick.

  44. andyo says

    Really, is there any movie or TV show which deals with proposed supernatural or paranormal phenomenon which doesn’t confirm to a believing audience that yes, yes, your beliefs are really true and those people who doubt were wrong to do so? Andrewm and I can think of Scooby Doo — and I’ve heard that Psych assumes that psychic powers aren’t real (and has yet to have an episode where it turns out that hmmmm … looks like they might be.)

    Psych is a comedy though, and though the premise is that psychic powers aren’t real, the guys pretend it is, where in actuality the main character just pays a lot of attention to little things. I like it, it’s funny and ridiculous but inoffensive. Where there have been “supernatural” cases that didn’t involve psychic abilities (like UFO and ghosts), it’s never turned out to be supernatural.

    Monk was another one in the same vein, and pretty much the same show with different characters. The Mentalist is another one, that actually takes flak for copying either of the above or both, especially Psych cause the main character is an ex-psychic turned good after the murder of his wife and daughter. It is a “drama” though, and it had some potential, with the main guy repeatedly telling everyone that psychics aren’t real and even going so far in one of the eps (might have been the pilot) to discuss (the lack of) god. But being a CBS show (home of the CSI’s, NCIS’s, Hawaii 5-0, etc.) they of course fucked it up with formulaic plots and extremely lame writing, the same way they fucked up Numb3rs.

    Yes, I probably watch too much TV.

  45. edmundog says

    Sally, you should read the Pirates books. For one thing, they’re more down on religion – The villain is not Queen Victoria, but rather the Bishop of Oxford, who has kidnapped Erasmus Darwin for extremely convoluted reasons. But on the women’s front, Jennifer is not in disguise in the books, and in fact joined the crew to escape life as a Victorian Lady. And she’s not a romantic interest at all, but a fully-formed character. Well, The Pirate With a Scarf rather lamely tries to hit on her in the first book, but after that it never comes up. And Mary Shelley – well, Mary Godwin – is a character in the latest one and is done quite well, despite having Percy and The Pirate Captain after her.

  46. edmundog says

    Andyo – Speaking of The Mentalist, this is from an episode of Psych:

    Shawn : You’ve seen “The Mentalist”, right?
    Corporal : Yes!
    Shawn : It’s like that.
    Gus : Except that guy’s a fake.
    Shawn : Right. If I was a fake psychic, it would be eerily similar.
    Gus : Exactly the same.
    Shawn : A virtual carbon copy.

  47. Nes says

    It wasn’t about skepticism, but The Uninvited (2009) had a twist at the end that was a rather nice surprise, considering what I was expecting.

  48. Crudely Wrott says

    Gregory Greenwood @ #30 said:

    Isn’t convenient that the psychic’s ‘powers’ only work when everyone who isn’t a gullible easy mark is escorted from the premises? Why, it is almost as if all ‘psychics’ are really charlatans or something…

    Yes, it most certainly is as I saw powerfully demonstrated back in the seventies. I attended a faith healing service featuring Kathryn Kuhlman in Tampa, Florida.

    Soon after I had seated myself, a most singular figure came up the aisle and seated himself directly behind me. He was on crutches, holding his left foot off the floor. He was wearing, wait for it . . . sackcloth. I shit you not. He had on a near floor length robe of what looked like bleached burlap.

    He hadn’t sat there for more than a few moments before I recognized a familiar odor, the smell of rotting flesh. Turning to my companion, I chanced a look behind me, my eyes down cast. I clearly saw that his left foot was nearly severed and quite obviously gangrenous. That was one of the few times that I can honestly say that I was “shocked”.

    Moments later, two heavies wearing identical and very well tailored suits approached and leaned over the poor fellow. After a moment of murmuring, of which I did not apprehend anything other than, “come with us, please”, the suits lead the sackcloth to the entry door and outside.

    I watched carefully and observed the suits re-enter about a minute later, sans sackcloth man.

    After that, people went up on stage and either fell right off their feet or rose up from wheelchairs and the crowd went wild. A good time was had by all but two; sackcloth man and I.

    Kuhlman died just a year or two later. I guess someone wanted to have a stern talk with her. ;^>

  49. says

    #9 “andrewm” – You’re linking to a .uk site, aren’t you from the more civilised side of the pond ? Try
    Jonathan Creek, a good British TV series (with Allan Davies, whom you might better know as
    Fry’s favorite pet in QI). In this one, the debunking unambiguously debunks. Pretty refreshing.

  50. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    The RDjr Holmes movie has no supernatural elements

  51. mattand says

    andyo@49 wrote:

    Psych is a comedy though, and though the premise is that psychic powers aren’t real, the guys pretend it is, where in actuality the main character just pays a lot of attention to little things.

    My big problem with Psych is that at some point, Sean is going to be revealed as a fraud. I would imagine that it could possibly vacate all of the cases he’s helped solved over the years. This releases all of the people Sean has thrown into jail, turning Santa Barbara into a no-man’s land of lawlessness and destruction.

    Well, that last part might be over the top, and I know it’s just a show. Still, I always have a hard time swallowing that the Santa Barbara judges are allowing “psychic” evidence into evidence.

  52. mattand says

    Ugh. Make that “psychic evidence into court.”

    Can FTP please get an edit function for the commenting system?

  53. microraptor says

    Still, I always have a hard time swallowing that the Santa Barbara judges are allowing “psychic” evidence into court.

    That reminds me of one of my old superhero RPGs, which actually had a line in the main book that evidence of a crime gathered from psychic powers was considered inadmissible by default.

  54. says

    I read a 1950′s era “novel of menace” as they called it titled “The Power” in which the protagonist is the guy with the psychic powers but doesn’t know it as people around him disappear. Turns out a bad psychic guy was trying to off anyone else with “the power”. My summary sucks because, at the time I read it I loved the book and the twist at the end when you find out along with the good guy that he can fight back psychically but it was many, many moons ago. I was about 12 at the time so there’s a reasonable chance this pulp novel kinda sucked but it remains a favourite in my flawed memory.

    This movie, however, sounds stupid.

  55. sonofrojblake says

    Can’t remember who originated this analogy, only know that it wasn’t me:

    Imagine a police buddy show in which one partner is a dyed-in-the-wool racist, and the other is a rational, even-handed investigator. And every week, they’re presented with a murder, and every week there are two suspects, and every week one suspect is white, and the other is black. And the rational investigator investigates rationally, and the racist keeps banging on about how it was the black guy who did it, because that’s what he wants to believe.

    And when the episode concludes and the plot is revealed… it WAS the black guy who did it. Every. Single. Week.

    Would any network make that show? Would any network PILOT that show? Would any network read the premise for that show and not escort the author from the building? But for “racist” read “believer” and for “black guy” read “supernatural explanation” and…

    That show got made, and its title was “The X Files”. And almost every single movie with an initially-proposed sceptical attitude to psychic phenomena.

  56. andyo says

    Dawkins has some pretty bad analogies regarding certain things. Is being a supernaturalist as questionable as being a racist?

    Same when he compares sexual abuse with religious upbringing. Just cause one woman told him it was worse for her the fear of hell than being sexually abused (IIRC it was not rape), he makes these big analogies about them.

  57. rrhain says

    @64 No, usually the X-files ended with it being a mundane, though unusual, cause. It was always some bizarre genetic mutation or some such that allowed the strange phenomenon to happen. Now, every now and again there was something “beyond” (and aliens, while very close to supernatural causes in terms of out-there-edness, are still grounded in natural causes), but they never really went full ghost.

    But as for the need to have a “twist,” I submit that it’s difficult to write a compelling story where the conclusion is, “Nuh-uh!” That is, a story about someone going around revealing the frauds for what they are isn’t, in and of itself, very interesting. The reason it worked for Scooby Doo is that the debunking was just a method for the real point of the story: Saving the person in trouble. The “case” was always of someone who was going to lose something important unless somebody could help. The specifics were that a ghost/alien/oogy-boogy was driving people away, stopping them from finding the lost will, etc. and thus the gang was able to find out that it was really some dastardly villain trying to get the important item. The point of Scooby Doo was not to debunk ghosts. Yes, they said that “There’s no such thing as ghosts” a lot, but they didn’t accept cases specifically because they were trying to show that. They simply got caught up in the situation and the way out was to show there were not ghosts.

    So if my story is about someone whose specific purpose is to go around showing there are no psychic powers, exactly where is the conflict that leads to dramatic tension? If it isn’t going to be about the existence of psychic powers, why do we care about him? What is posing the threat to his comfortable existence such that he needs to fight to resolve that tension? One possible way to do this is to have someone who truly seems to have psychic powers be out to get him; power he cannot figure out how they can function mundanely; he needs to be in real danger as a result. Then the process of debunking it can be done.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation did this in the episode with Ardra (The Devil’s Due). A planet is in panic because 1000 years ago, the population made a pact with the devil (called “Ardra”) for 1000 years of peace in exchange for giving over the entire planet to her at the end of the era. Well, 1000 years are up, it’s time to pay the piper, and along comes a being who claims to be Ardra who seems to be able to cause earthquakes, materialize wherever, and a whole host of supernatural powers. The Enterprise can’t figure out how it’s being done and their experience with various creatures such as Q indicate that this could very well be the real deal…until they read the contract and conclude that the Enterprise is included in the deal since it was in orbit at the time the contract came due. So they try harder to find out what’s going on, notice an unusual energy signature, and determine that it’s all just hyperadvanced technology that they, too, can manipulate.

    So given the setup for this movie, exactly what was the dramatic tension? If the central point is the debunking, then there has to be the potential that the debunker is wrong.

  58. microraptor says

    No, usually the X-files ended with it being a mundane, though unusual, cause. It was always some bizarre genetic mutation or some such that allowed the strange phenomenon to happen. Now, every now and again there was something “beyond” (and aliens, while very close to supernatural causes in terms of out-there-edness, are still grounded in natural causes), but they never really went full ghost.

    They did have plenty of flat out supernatural stuff in the show. And even when they didn’t, the point was that there would be some strange event and Mulder and Scully would go investigate. Mulder would talk about UFOs and werewolves and vampires and the Loch Ness Monster and Scully would give a rational explanation for why it was some normal thing that just looked weird: the person saw a helicopter on a foggy night while stoned and mistook it for a UFO, there was a rabid dog on the loose, or it was an ordinary serial killer who read Dracula one too many times, ect. And in every single episode, even if they discovered a mundane explanation that they ended up agreeing on, at the very end of the episode there’d be a serpentine creature that rose up from the lake or a very-definitely not-a-helicopter saucer shaped flying object that they didn’t see or the county dog catcher that they turned the rabid St Bernard over to would see the full moon and start to howl and grow fur. The show always tried to drive home the idea that the ordinary, rational explanation was always wrong regardless of the characters’ conclusion.