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.
Youâ€™ve got polar bears, black smoke monsters, and a cabal of mysterious Others. Thereâ€™s no shortage of dramatic opportunities, which is why itâ€™s so disheartening to see the show reach for that lowest-hanging fruit: a guy in an air duct.
Letâ€™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, theyâ€™re not built to support a grown manâ€™s weight.
3. â€œSecureâ€ facilities â€” where characters are most likely to climb through air vents â€” are exactly the places that wouldnâ€™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 clichÃ©, 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: â€œJust yank twice! Iâ€™m not screwed in or anything!â€
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.