Air vents are for air

I am an avid reader of screenwriter John August’s blog (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), so when he just posted an article about Lost, I started laughing, because he does actually have a point.

You’ve got polar bears, black smoke monsters, and a cabal of mysterious Others. There’s no shortage of dramatic opportunities, which is why it’s so disheartening to see the show reach for that lowest-hanging fruit: a guy in an air duct.

John continues:

Let’s back away from the keyboard and look at the situation with fresh eyes.

1. Most air ducts are not nearly large enough to hold a grown man.
2. Even if large enough, they’re not built to support a grown man’s weight.
3. “Secure” facilities — where characters are most likely to climb through air vents — are exactly the places that wouldn’t have hero-sized air vents.

Thanks to continuous bombardment in television and movies, the idea of characters shimmying through air ducts has become not just a cliché, but almost a given. The moment a hero finds himself stuck someplace, we expect his eyes to drift north to that spot just below the ceiling, where an oversized grate is beckoning: “Just yank twice! I’m not screwed in or anything!”

I love Lost, but John is right in that sometimes the deus ex machinas that fall from the sky are a bit too simple. This is of course not a problem that is isolated to Lost, but something that occurs in most, if not all thrilling tv-shows at one point or another.

In the Lost episode “Lockdown“, which John is referring to, I had already gotten used to losties climbing through the air ducts, but what really struck me as a bit strange was that Locke didn’t think of climbing through the air ducts until his legs had already been crushed by the blast door. Of course, if he had simply done that, then there wouldn’t have been any reason to let Henry out and the episode wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting as it was. So as long as it doesn’t happen too often, I suggest that we don’t get hung up on the details and instead look at the big picture.

In reality, improbable chains of events as interesting as these rarely happen, but that is also why we enjoy movies and tv-shows like Lost. In their worlds the impossible becomes possible and great stories are told, and in the end, that’s all that really matters.

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8 Responses to Air vents are for air

  1. Maurice Tift says:

    The context sensitive ads are for duct cleaning today :)

    I was just reading a web site with a list of what they called “insultingly stupid movie physics.” It was pretty funny and I have always suspected that cars do not always explode on impact or after turning upside down in a crash. However, I fell for the large air ducts. I never really thought about the size – it’s only now that I have searched and find that thieves have been frequently ‘trapped’ in air ducts – maybe they watched TV where the ducts are much bigger and more comfortable. Anyway, at least it doesn’t violate physics.

  2. joe says:

    john has a great point – because it’s exactly a show like ‘lost’ that would incorporate and even make fun of this oft-used cliche. can’t you just see the scene where sawyer tries to climb through a duct, only to find that it’s six inches wide, and locke says “you’ve ben watching too many movies.”

    i think the show is at its best when it subverts these things we’ve seen all too much.

  3. LostHSV says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it is ironic that he would point out the irony of polar bears and mystery smoke yet question the believability of air ducts. I understand his point, but THE WHOLE THING IS FAKE which is why they call them actors!

    It’s like complaining that Aslan looked fake in Narnia as if talking lions were normal. I think there can be a little too much scutiny at times.

  4. Lesley says:

    We like to pick the show apart in order to figure out what is going on but it is fantasy. I agree with LostHSV it is an escape for all of us when we watch (and watch again). Not only that but we look for clues and participate in thoughtful blogs trying to fit all the parts together. I am willing to dispense with a little “reality” now and again to enjoy the broad entertainment experience. Just give me more!

  5. annonymouse says:

    maybe they’re not airducts, but a series of inter-hatch transports only known by the others…

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  7. selwine says:

    I love this site. Good work…

  8. Air vent says:

    I really liked your writing, keep at it for us all!

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