Back when the movie Pirates of the Caribbean came out, there was some angry commentary by viewers that confused me. The complaint? That there was no way the gun would fire at the end. After all, it had been unused but loaded with powder for something like 10 years, plus had taken a dip in the ocean with its owner at least once. It shouldn’t have been able to do the final shot at all, given all that.
A friend and I discussed this reaction, perplexed. After all, the movie had undead pirates in it! You can buy the undead pirates but not the firing gun? Really?
John Scalzi over on Whatever talks about the Flying Snowmen–that one thing that kicks past your suspension of disbelief and throws you out of the story. The Flying Snowman is exactly what the Undead Pirates and the Gun show us–that there are going to be elements that throw you out of the story because you no longer believe that.
There are some times where I think it is legitimately an issue. If the rules of the world have been set up to include/preclude some possibility, then when you break those rules, you lose readers/viewers. If you make a big point out of accuracy about certain things, then other things need to also be accurate. You couldn’t have had PotC’s first major plot point be about how cannons fire and then not address the reasons the gun wouldn’t fire. It’s like getting the apples wrong.
In that case, it’s getting the details right–or not, as the case may be.
In a movie like Pirates, though, I agree with Scalzi’s question: Why is this the one thing that sets you off? It isn’t as if accurate physics, gun battles, or fight scenes are really part of the status quo. So why that?
There’s no right answer to that. It’s a matter of one spec fic element going just a little too far. It could be a simple matter of personal taste or it hits that thing you know just a bit too much about. It could be that your Suspension of Disbelief isn’t getting fully used by you.
To quote Wash from Firefly when Simon tells him not to worry about him: “I always worry when Zoe is out on a job. It’s not like it’s out of my way.” If you are already suspending disbelief on undead pirates, it isn’t out of your way to keep on suspending about the gun being fired. The detail may not technically be accurate, but it isn’t as if it clashes with the way the story has dealt with other details of that type.
So go out and suspend you some disbelief. You’ll enjoy yourself (and the stuff you read and watch) just a tiny bit more.