Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral

No one can grow climbable hair as long and strong as Rapunzel’s  (nope, not even Xie Qiuping).  No one can navigate L.A. traffic as fast as 24‘s Jack Bauer.  King Kong defies the limits of biomechanics.  Star Wars dogfights ignore inertia.  The Expanse violates laws of sound.  Fiction – perhaps especially science fiction – cherry picks its physics.  Perhaps the best storytellers do so with good reason.

In conversations, western shoot-outs, and basketball games alike, it’s important that opponents face each other.  So long as camera positions remain on one side of the conflict or action, the geography of the face-off makes consistent sense.  Screen direction is preserved.  Alas, filmmaking’s basic 180° rule conflicts with Newton’s laws of gravity.

Consider the U.S.S. Enterprise, squaring off against an enemy vessel of your choosing.  How is it, in vast, weightless space that the two ships should share the same orientation?  Put another way, why is “up” the same direction for both vessels?  What are the odds both ships would share x, y, and z axes?  How probable is it they should face each other?

Here’s the takeaway for earthbound filmmakers.  Star Trek‘s galactic geography is awful science, but it’s good storytelling.  Narratively, thematically, Kirk and Klingons need to face each other.  They are opponents.  And moviewatchers understand opposition in spatial terms:  two teams defending goals at opposite ends of the field – even if the field is three-dimensional, stacked, twisted, and floating untethered in space.

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