a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Let's Talk About The Bucket

The longer I read, the more intolerant I have gotten about dumb logic mistakes in scripts.

There's nothing that makes me throw a script across the room quicker than when something happens in a screenplay that makes no sense at all, and only exists because it serves the plot.

Of course, I wasn't always this way. Because it took a long time for the bucket to bother me.

In fact, I don't think I even realized how stupid the bucket was, until I was an adult.

The bucket, of course, is the bucket of water that Dorothy throws on the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, melting her.

There are so many amazing things wrong with the bucket.

First of all, it has no reason being there. None. It is just... there.

Think about this. You're a witch. And your main Achilles' heel (other than houses falling on you, which knocked off your sis) is that water will melt you.

I mean, you have to know this. Because it takes a lot of effort to avoid water your whole life.

We're talking no showers. No swimming in pools, or lakes, or skinning-dipping in the local pond. No dancing through the rain as a little girl.

I'm guessing there probably wasn't any running water in her castle. Too much of a risk. No toilets, because she wouldn't want to risk the splashback.

Could she even drink water? Or was she limited to juice? Milk? Martinis?

(I know there was a novel that came out about a decade ago about the Wicked Witch of the West, called WICKED. I have no idea whether it dealt with any of this.)

But despite what must have been a tyrannical water ban... there's a bucket of water. Just sort of sitting there.

As a villain, this whole water-will-kill-me thing makes her very vulnerable, and ultimately rather painfully easy to defeat.

And you'd have to think word would have gotten around about the water avoidance. Hell, the smell alone... unless she could cure that with a spell.

Or with perfume, like the French.

But obviously, rumor must have spread that the witches have this water problem. And the obvious fix is to have Dorothy learn of this, and bring a little water with her, to actively take on the witch. A stoppered bottle, a prototype water pistol.

Hell, even a flying monkey, that needs to pee really badly.

But Dorothy has no idea.

And this is the second problem. She douses the witch with the bucket accidentally, while putting out the scarecrow. Who is on fire. Caused by the witch, who is too stupid to realize that she might be bringing the bucket into play. The bucket of water, that shouldn't even be there.

Obviously, the idea is that Dorothy is really not a bad person. She's not a killer, she just conveniently kills witches by pure contrivance.

And looking back, I have no idea why none of this occurred to me as a kid. Maybe because, as a child, I was more than ready to suspend my disbelief for the right movie.

And some people -- even adults -- get mad when you bring up the bucket. They don't even want to think about the bucket.

They just want the bucket to do its job.

I'm more jaded now. The bucket has to be earned.

I think that's a good thing. Maybe not.


At 12:47 AM, Blogger deepstructure said...

i COMPLETELY agree. the bucket has to be earned.

At 12:52 AM, Anonymous skullen said...

Hmmm, surely she is 60% water too? That plot's worse than a collander...

At 1:24 AM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

The point, my little munchkin, is that if you kick ass with all the other aspects of your story, you can get away with the bucket. Besides, wasn't there supposed to be some sort of symbolic significance to it? I mean, if you wanna get technical, the Wizard should have died from berylliosis as his emerald city weathered, and if you stick a heart in the tin man, and he starts to heat up in the sun...

My point, of course, is that in stories where logic isn't one of the rules, there is no reason to expect logical plots.

The Wizard of Oz is fine. The problem is when buckets pop up in gritty modern-day crime mysteries.

At 2:18 AM, Blogger Random Brandon said...

That sounds a little like "deus ex machina" to me. I have a problem with scripts and movies where the "hero" doesn't do anything. Things happen around him, but he doesn't actively solve the problem or save the day. It just happens while he's around.

So would the Bucket be the opposite of the McGuffin?

At 5:05 AM, Blogger stu willis said...

I've heard the term 'writer's prerogative' to describe this scenario. A great example is the gun in Sunset Blvd. Where does it come from? WTF knows.

Apparently, it should ony be used in the third act, cause your audience should be fully into your world by then. If they're not, then you've already failed.

(BTW, Lord of the Rings is full of buckets and deus ex machinas.. but we don't notice that much)

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Belzecue said...

There is no way I'm letting this article pass without pulling M. Night Shyamalan into it.

The movie: Signs

The writer: Shyamalan

The atrocity: Aliens invade Earth but (a) forget to do their homework and check the planet's situation vis-a-vis their natural enemy H2O; (b) forget to pack their waterproof suits, you know, just in case.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Brett said...

You know what, Scott-- Scarecrows don't really dance, either!

That entire portion of the movie takes place in Dorothy's mind-- she's unconscious, remember? So the entire OZ portion of that story only requires what logic and sensibility one would expect from the dream of a confused Kansas farmgirl. Come on-- you throw a flag at the appearance of a mop bucket, but you have no problem with FLYING BLUE MONKEYS?

But I understand and agree with what you are saying in principle. ;-)

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Georgi Rimsakov said...

I can't help it, I know I'm going to say it, I don't want to, but it's going to fly out of my mouth any second. Oh, I hate to say it. Damn, here it comes now. I can't stop it ... "It's only a movie."

I am so so sorry. I hate it when someone trots out that answer. But since W O Z is a fantasy, then fantastical things are bound to happen. It would be easier, perhaps, to highlight the ridiculous scene in Superman 3 where Richard Pryor accidentally skis off a skyscraper, falls several hundred feet and lands safely on the ground without the breaking of every bone in his body! All right, it is a fantasy too, but surely a teeny bit of logic is necessary?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Actually, SIGNS gets a bad rap.

Clearly, the aliens are only affected by water if you crack their hard outer shell first. That's the point of the ending -- hit them with the baseball bat, and then add water.

The problem is that this isn't really all that clear, and the idea that you need a woman dying's hint to tell them to hit the aliens with a blunt object is just silly.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Georgi Rimsakov said...

But the world was a more innocent place in the late 30s, yes? And simpler? I wouldn't know how to kill a witch these days.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger lighterate said...

I've always loved the way Arnie jumps out of a moving jet in Commando. The jet has taken off and is several hundred feet in the air. Despite flying at over 500-600 kmph (or 350 mph) - at a pinch - Arnie kind of falls vertically like a stone dropped from the palm of a giant's hand - and survives. The logic? A patch of grassy swamp broke his fall.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I also feel the need to bring up the question -- in the original, and in the remake -- of how they got King Kong from the island to New York.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

Actually, Shyamalan's post 6th Sense efforts all suffer from the same problem- the audience is bored, so they nitpick. in the Wizard of Oz, the audience is engaged with bits of the story other than the bucket, so the bucket gets pulled out of a hat (mixing metaphors), and nobody really minds.

Mind you, there are things worse than buckets. For example, killing the interpersonal tension and thematic message just to get a few facts straight. For example, there would be no logical inconsistency if the Wicked Witch of the West was killed by having Toto pee on her leg. But it would still be a piss-poor resolution.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger jefe said...

So, what was the "bucket" that set you off on this rant, I wonder?

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous James Patrick Joyce said...


I wondered about Kong, too. I don't recall seeing a space on the ship that was big enough to house him. And did they just keep him ether-soaked for the entire, lengthy, cruise back?

Talk about brain damage.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger Brett said...

See-- at least the '76 DeLaurentis version of Kong addressed this... sorta. There's a scene where we see Kong slunking in the corner of an empty tank onboard a re-routed Texxon supertanker.

And I'm sure Skull Island had a deepwater mooring facility and heavy duty cranes for loading him into that tank. Yup.

Maybe they used the 6-copter Robot Kong Lifting Systemâ„¢ used in that 1960's movie where a crazed Japanese super-industrialist kidnapped Kong to help design a robot copy of Kong for use in mining boobaroo or whatever that stuff was.

There's a whole lot of Kong mythology to sort through when you get right down to it.

(struck then re-posted to correct way too damned many slobbering errors of spelling, grammar, logic, and sensibility)

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too think that the bucket needs to be earned. All the other comments I've read above have argued various time-honored perspectives: It's just a movie; it's a fantasy so it can do whatever it wants; it's just one of many movies who abuse "the bucket"; it's stories where logic isn't important; it's okay 'cause it's in the third act.

To all the above, I politely disagree. Lazy writers (and their movies) rely on those sorts of easy outs because they're not willing to flex their creativity muscle.

No movie is "just a movie." Whenever you feel inclined to say that, consider the fact that MILLIONS of dollars are spent on making movies. The budget of even a small movie could still accomplish some incredible things in the world; like feeding the hungry, building libraries, knocking off a dictator (or two), and so on. Not that those are better expenditures of money. And that is exactly my point: a decent movie is just as important in the overall scheme of things as any given other use for the money the cost to make. Movies are our cultures way of making sense of the world, of adding meaning and joy to our lives. That said, no movie is "just a movie." Besides, no movie is created for those who think a movie is "just a movie." They are created by people who have stars in their eyes, who love to entertain and mesmerize, for those that appreciate being mesmerized and entertained. As a screenwriter, I despise those who think of my work as just one small part of creating just another movie. I don't write for you, and I don't think any writer does.

Even a fantasy movie (or movie centered in a dream for that matter) MUST make sense. You can't just have random buckets laying around to get your story from page 1 to page 120. Even a fantasy story doesn't gain free rain to do anything. That is what most people misunderstand about fantasy, and thus, why there are so many horrid fantasy scripts made. Fantasies require--more than many other genres--strick adherence to rules and order in a story. LOTR actually plays very strictly by the rules. It takes far too much time to go into the "rules" of fantasy, but pick yourself up any book on writing fantasy and prepare to have your misconceptions reduced to rubble. Their are numerous flaws in the Wizard of Oz. I remember even as a child thinking things like, "why didn't the stupid witch jump out of the way of the descending building? what is a bucket doing sitting on the balcony (as a recall there weren't any flowers in need of watering nearby)?" and that's just for starters. Even as a child my mind was insulted by everything the film was asking me to accept (with it's most charming wink, wink, nudge, nudge). What makes it work? Mostly the production design and idea. It is DEFINITELY NOT the classic it's made out to be. The main problem with the story is that so much of it is propelled by convenient occurrence, and then in the end resolved--once again--by convenience. Dorothy is probably one of the weakest "heroes" in cinema. She actually does very little to move the story along by herself and survives and prospers by accident. What kind of character is that? Certainly not one I root for or care about.

Logic is ALWAYS one of the rules. It doesn't necessarily have to be waking logic (taking into account the rules of the real world), but it does have to be possessed of a sense of it's own logic. Every worthy, well executed story has it's own logic that it adheres to stringently. A "heart" can be given to the tin man without violating the rules. After all, heart is often more symbolic than anything. In fact, as I recall, we discover that the tin man does, in fact, have heart (even if not necessarily a physical heart made of flesh and blood). You're absolutely right that it would violate the laws to give him that sort of REAL heart. Every story has logic though. I don't know about you, but their are a number of movies that drive me crazy because they establish their rules and then proceed to violate them wholesale. Very uncool.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

We shouldn't even make it as far as the bucket if the story should be accurate. Both evil witches fly through the clouds and clouds are made of what?

Not to mention the chances of them avoiding even a trace amount of percepitation are nil when they fly that high. Still, it wasn't a deus ex machina that seemed obvious to me at that time, either.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Great post, bro. Though I do agree with some of the points that were raised inr esponse (esp the fact that it is in a dream). Still, good stuff.

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

"It is DEFINITELY NOT the classic it's made out to be."

Now who's living in an illogical fantasy land?

The book has been popular for over a hundred years, and has spawned numerous sequels, stage adaptions, and other spin offs. It is an icon of American literature, and the movie adaptation is a hugely popular and acclaimed movie.

I'm not saying you have to like it. But saying that it isn't a classic, or that it's appeal is a fluke is simply inane.

You might as well argue that the New Testament has a lousy story, because it is illogical that Judas didn't haggle for more silver, or that Pilate didn't track Jesus down using his tax returns after the Messiah charges woudn't stick.

Many stories are illogical. Some of those are great stories, with huge popular, historical, and critical appeal. Therefore, logic can be excluded as a prerequesite for a great story. Simple logic.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Belzecue said...

Scott the Reader said: "Clearly, the aliens are only affected by water if you crack their hard outer shell first. That's the point of the ending -- hit them with the baseball bat, and then add water."

'Clearly...' ?? LOL. I remember in the work print of Signs, in the basement towards the end, MNS dubbed his own voice over one of the characters to briefly explain why the aliens had retreated so suddenly. I can't recall exactly what the line was, but I do remember sitting bolt upright and thinking, jeez, he wrote this and he still has *no* idea how this story should end!

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I'll address this post about logic by throwing logic completely out the window, because I can't really figure out the "whys" of it all.

I've never, not once, thought about the bucket in Wizard of Oz. After seeing Signs, not once did I think about the water, or the shed, or about any of the other "whys" until people who did not like the movie brought them up to me?


The stories engaged me so much, that the logic stuff didn't bother me. If you can get me wrapped in a story so completely, and sell me that story so that I'm involved, if the animals start talking and all water turns to chocolate syrup, I'm gonna think to myself: "Huh, the animals are talking and the water is now chocolate." and I'll move on and continue with the story.

But.. these things can't SEEM like they are out of left field. And I can't tell you what constitutes as LEFT FIELD. Indiana Jones falling out of a freaking airplane on a raft, hitting the side of a mountain, sledding down its slope, and falling into a mighty river hundreds of feet below with a blonde and a chinese adolescent in tow is ABSOLUTELY OK, but Richard Pryor skiing off of a building is not.

I can't explain it, I just know. But it is all according to what type of person you are and what your tastes are and how you process the world.

Whether or not the aliens in 'Signs' have a hard outer shell in Signs is completely irrelevant. It is a conciet I'm willing to accept. And how can I presume to know why an alien would do anything? I'm going to presume that the aliens have a pretty damn good reason for going to the one place that will harm them. If we were about to die out as a race, and the one resource that would save us was located in a very dangerous place, would we not go there?

Does any of this make sense?

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

Like others, I never really noticed the bucket part as being a problem either.

I think part of the reason is that the bucket scene occurs after the movie is already over. The bucket is not the solution to Dorothy's problems, so it's not a Deus Ex Machina. Dorothy's already overcome her problems by standing up to the wicked witch, and in standing up to the wicked witch she proves that the witch is really all bluster.

The bucket scene is then just a little epilogue to this. Not only is the witch all bluster, like other bullies, but when you really stand up to her even accidentally splashing some water on her destroys. Moreover, in watching the story, we understand that the real reason she melts is that Dorothy isn't afraid of her anymore -- and that part was well-earned.

All that said, I agree the bucket has to be earned -- it's just that I think it was earned in Wizard of Oz.

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I think Steve nailed it.

The bucket is really only a concern when it is critical to the resolution of the movie/scene/problem.

'Wizard of Oz' is not about defeating the wicked witch. 'Signs' is not about repelling the alien invasion. 'Field of Dreams' is not about saving the farm.

If you get hung up on these other details. If you feel that a movie has to make perfect sense in its entirety, then these things will stick in your craw and make you cringe and prevent you from enjoying the movie as much as you hoped you would.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Kelly J. Compeau said...

I'll get you, my pretty -- and your little blog, too!


At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Or with perfume, like the French."

Or with cologne, like a trucker.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Crymes has a point about logic, as in with star Wars:

Why does the death star have to pass the planet to blow up the moon that the rebels are on? Why not just blow up the planet, too? Be a lot quicker, but I idn't think of this at the time, i was into the movie/story and didn't care.

PS. Kelly scares me.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...


The logic given later (not in the movie, but in the Star Wars Expanded Universe materials) is that the Death Star's superlaser took around a full day to charge up enough energy for a planet-destroying shot. So if it had destroyed the gas giant Yavin (and it's debatable whether it could have done that; blowing up Earth is one thing, blowing up Jupiter is quite another), it would have had to wait a whole day to blow up the moon, instead of the 30-odd minutes it took to orbit around it.

Yes, I'm a huge nerd, sue me.

On the original topic,


In WICKED, what ends up happening is that for various plot reasons, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) isn't wicked or evil -- she just looks that way from Dorothy's perspective, due to a series of unfortunate events. Elphaba ends up circulating a false story that water will kill her, so that she can escape from people who are trying to kill her. In essence, she fakes her own death in order to run off and live peacefully. At least, that's what happens in the stage musical adaptation; I haven't read the novel.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

That's actually brilliant.

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous KeithD said...

So, are you coining a new term, "Deus ex Bucket"? (Or would it be "Bucket ex Machina"?

The worst offender in recent years is the film "Red Eye". All the hero has to do on the plane is grab the phone out of the guy's hand and scream for help. They tackle him and hold him for the police. The killer outside her dad's house never gets the call to do anything, so the Dad is safe.

Why do I seem to be the only one who seems to see this huge flaw? It's what the entire plot hinges on, and it makes no sense.

This is a very simple solution, but the writer must have been too lazy or dim to come up with it -- the bad guy has to call the killer every 30 minutes to tell him NOT to go in and kill the Dad.

(Actually, I shouldn't blame the writer -- it might have been the studio or the director who insisted on doing it the way they did.)

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I didn't read no damn expanded universe shizzle, but it makes sense, maybe they could have slipped in that piece of info into the movie, it would have taken 2 seconds.

And I think that sometimes we do nit-pick way TOO MUCH (like I just did with Star Wars), but at least I can still kick back and enjoy the movie.

But here's the thing, and this is to all the logic/bucketheads out there:

*Someone's blood & sweat are up on that screen, most likely NOT YOURS, so give them a fucking break.

*It was written by a human, not a robot, so there might just be an inconsistency at some point, so give them a fucking break.

*Dammit, it's a movie. Stop sitting there picking it apart and just enjoy yourself, admit you're jealous that your script wasn't made, and yes, give them a fucking break.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Hey, as far as I'm concerned, if a big logic hole makes it past the screenwriter, the producer, the director, the actors, the script supervisor, the key grip and the 12 Teamsters with nothing better to do than look for holes in the script, and winds up in the movie, then it is fair game.

At 12:44 AM, Blogger mernitman said...

Totally fair game, even though Patrick's points are well taken.

Meanwhile: My favorite Bucket? (BTW Scott, TM or patent this term, I think it's gonna stick) Independence Day's assumption that somehow, our computers have alien-compatible software.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Independence Day is a great example of a bad bucket, because that convienient fact was crucial to the plot. No bucket, no conclusion.

Although, I'm sure there is at least one rabid fan out there on the net who will swear up and down that there is a logical explanation for the ability for an apple computer to infect an alien computer.

I will also add, in a geeky way, that the Star Wars Expanded universe doesn't exist, and the true canon is the films. Anything else is akin to adding books to the bible. Sure they might work, but they aint exactly legit.

At 2:11 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Another reason perhaps M. night's scripts might have holes - Does anyone cover them? Does a studio have to OK them? Doubtful, so who reads them? Probably just him, and anyone else close to him (friends, etc) I assume just nod and bow to him and say "Awesome script."

It's ahrd for him to see the holes since he's so close to them.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Mac said...

I always thought that there was a much simpler explanation for why the aliens happened to be so susceptable to water.

Why does everyone assume that the aliens who attacked them were the ones who were in control of the spacecraft?

Seriously - the first view that many islanders had of the British visiting wasn't the fact that they saw the British - it was the fact that they saw rats - which the British ships were infected with.

What if this 'alien' was their equivalent of rats? It explains why they didn't act intelligently, it explains why they didn't wear clothes to protect them from water etc.

In fact, they may have been perpetually in pain from the moisture in the atmosphere, which explains why they were in such a bad mood.



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