Silly humans miss the point of movies

I just ran across this article at the Wall Street Journal about hairless apes who think the point of watching a movie is to look for editing mistakes. Yeah, if you’re forced to watch a terrible movie and can’t leave because your date thinks it’s fabulous, you might as well look for errors. And you’ll almost certainly find some if you try.

You hairless apes have limits on how much information you can focus attention on at once — you can’t take in everything. Most people don’t notice errors because they are paying attention to what matters: the story! If you are catching errors, that means you are focusing all of your limited resources on irrelevant details like the shape of a bite taken out of an apple rather than on the important stuff.

Every movie has errors, and the odds are good that the script supervisors and editors knew about all of them—but they decided to use those shots anyway. Why? Because fixing an error might require them to use a shot with a weaker acting performance, and that might cause normal viewers to lose interest in the story. And the point of good filmmaking is telling a convincing and compelling story, not making sure that every trivial detail matches perfectly in every single shot.

But when normal viewers (people who don’t spend their free time viewing movies frame-by-frame) spot errors, then the filmmakers probably haven’t done their job; errors don’t jump out at you if you are actually interested in the story. Experiments show that even when people intentionally look for changes, they tend not to notice them, and when they’re not looking for changes, they virtually never see them (a phenomenon known as “change blindness”). If people who compulsively search for errors find some, it means nothing about the quality of the moviemaking.

So, a big chest thump and five bananas to you error sleuths. You’ve uncovered “mistakes” that the filmmakers likely knew about already, and you’ve proven your ability to focus on irrelevant details rather than watching movies for the reasons most people do: entertainment and storytelling. Of course, if your idea of entertainment is to watch movies frame-by-frame and search for errors, then more power to you. Apparently, you have a lot of company among your fellow hairless apes. And if you truly can keep your attention focused on that level of detail for a couple of hours straight, you might consider a career in airport security.

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