June 29, 2005

The Bathroom Litmus Test

This is something I've long used but just managed to put into words today when talking to some folks around the lunch table. It's in the Images category because it refers to television and film - it describes an off-the-cuff method of determining how believable an environment I've been shown is.

This applies not to a simple scene, but to a whole reality or vision of reality. This is more important in some cases than in others, naturally; however, the metric itself always works for me. How much weight I place on the result may vary. To wit, I always find myself judging the 'completeness' or 'reality' of an onscreen world by how readily I can picture its inhabitants using the bathroom.

This is something we all must do, as humans. Even if no humans are present (rare but occasionally true) then my own human sensibility forces me to at least envision some form of body maintenance that even if not done in private is likely done regularly, requiring a form-standard accoutrement or set thereof.

But back to the main point. When those 'other people' on the screen, or even the main characters, aren't in the shot - can I in my mind's eye envision them using the loo? Washing up? Stepping back out and saying "Now where was I...?" If so, then the litmus test has scored high. As I mentioned above, this isn't always important. In Flash Gordon, for example, it's almost irrelevant that there aren't really bathrooms that I can picture - or that if I try, I come up with almost entirely dysfunctional gold-and-red-and-chrome versions (yes, I grew up on the Dino de Laurentiis version). It doesn't matter because reality isn't important to that movie, and there's no 'jarring' because that test scores low.

Tim Burton's Batman, however, was a problem for me. I did enjoy the animation of what was clearly a comic book. However, Batman was always explictly set in what was a 'real' city - one whose other inhabitants were American humans. They worked, played, walked, screamed, took the subway, and, yes - used the bathroom. But in Burton's movie, I just had trouble imagining the bathrooms as anything other than elaborate sets - that is, while I could see what they looked like, I could never imagine how one would get to them from where the action was taking place. I could imagine characters stepping out of view, into a confused backstage area, and then dropping out of character until the scene where they magically showed up in the bathroom.

Star Trek: TNG scored somewhat confusingly, but low, on the BLT. I mean, we know the Big E has heads, after all. But really, we never see anyone use 'em. And we sure suspect they're carpeted in that same incredibly frustratingly soothing shade of...what is it, plum/pink/beige/grey? Can you actually imagine anyone pissing in such a place? Furthermore, why is it that NONE of them ever have to run off behind a five-branched, purple and orange thorny meta-apple tree and come back out zipping up sheepishly on these away missions? Come to think of it, how come those pants don't have any form of fastener whatsoever? See what I mean? On the other hand, Starfleet is too relentlessly practical - they probably all have little implanted transporters that just beam the crap right out of their anterior colons into the matter converters, where it's turned right into yummy Tea, Earl Grey, Hot. So it's hard to score that one.

Picard: "Number One, what was that strange hum?"
Riker: "I'm sorry sir, that was a Number Two. I had the Tyvorian Tacos for lunch. My implant needs to be cross-connected to selector B to compensate for variations in the surrounding fartyon field."
Picard: "Make it so."

In contrast, Babylon 5 not only had heads, it had public toilets and we actually have scenes of major characters having plot-critical conversations while using said conveniences. There were even running jokes about the fact that one of the alien races on station were very picky eaters - and would only eat the (long) dead. Their bathroom facilities were the subject of much terror and hilarity depending on one's proximity to said facility and the time since their last use. Actual toilets. As the two men above were actually leaving the bog, after having zipped their uniforms and washed their hands, a female tech came in, salutes were traded, and she headed off to a stall. See? Sane, normal, everyday traffic - litmus score off the scale.

Yes, B5 rocked my world.

The Chris Nolan Batman Begins has an incredibly high bathroom litmus score for me. People walk around Gotham, and damn it, they use bathrooms perfectly normally, even if I can't see 'em do it. I can even point with confidence off the side of the scenes and say 'yeh, there's probably a can right over there. It's a living room, for pete's sake.'

And that's the bathroom litmus test.

Posted by jbz at June 29, 2005 7:57 PM | TrackBack


mmmm, BLT *glarlharglarglarglharglh*

Posted by: cheridy at June 30, 2005 6:48 AM
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