Spoilers for the Netflix-produced motion picture Bright, starring Will Smith, which can be found on the Netflix proprietary web site, netflix dot com follow the break.
Since Alex Tabarrok gave Bright (reportedly the highest-budget original feature film Netflix has yet to produce) little more than a few sentences, I thought I might expand upon why I found myself unable to maintain a willing suspension of disbelief while I suffered through it during a bit of recuperation from a herniated lumbar disc.
First, a bit of gertruding. I write this here because it is here that you can most easily search my post history to find the many open paupers’ graves filled with heaps of words I have slain scouring the dismal plains of an alternative-history America, one plagued by cannibals, marauders, despair, and road potage. Evidence that I am the target audience of Bright, a Netflix production, starring Will Smith is but a click away. What you may not know is that I am a reasonably avid tabletop role-playing gamer. I picked up Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in fifth grade back in the 80s and I’ve recently returned to the game, now on its fifth iteration as both a player (I controlled a paladin named Lloyd von Eblerheim [last scion of House Eblerheim] up against the wicked Strahd von Zarovich in the fifth edition version of Ravenloft and I now control his sister Ekaterina and her orc retainer Wakgut in Tales from the Yawning Portal) and a DM as I painstakingly recreate old Spelljammer rules to fit the fifth edition framework. I have, in short, at least a journeyman’s interest in both fictional premises offered in Netflix’s Bright, a Netflix Production, brought to you by Netflix and Will Smith.
Starring Will Smith.
Now, I admit the possibility that thanks to my affinity for the themes and the setting that I may put more thought into the production than the casual viewer, but I assure you that I took pains to give the film the benefit of the doubt. I had heard that it was a stinker, and when I willingly watch a stinker, I gird myself.
Girding proved insufficient.
I don’t know about the rest of you dudes, but I am perfectly willing to accept whatever codswallop a storyteller wishes to deploy as part of his tale so long as the premises are internally consistent. Take the film Event Horizon for example. The premise there is that they harnessed a tiny black hole to create a FTL drive. That’s premise one. Premise two is that horrible things dwell Somewhere Else and they can influence our world through the black hole. Everything else that goes down on the Event Horizon (the name of the ship was the same as the name of the movie, which is not a storytelling convention so much as it is a branding technique, to which I am indifferent) follows quite naturally from those two premises, with perhaps a small exception for what happens to Sam Neill’s character at the end. Same holds true for the motion picture Stand by Me starring River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Keifer Sutherland, Bradley Gregg, the voice of Richard Dreyfuss, and others: four kids go see a dead body in 1950s Maine and one of them threatens to shoot Donald Sutherland’s kid (also, Wesley Crusher would grow up to sound like Matt Hooper, which wasn’t all that implausible at the time), and everything that happens afterwards follows quite logically from that.
Consider the premises of Bright, the live-action film produced by Netflix starring Will Smith.
- Fantasy races exist
- Humans – indistinguishable from the real (?) humans of the earth we inhabit.
- Elves – de minimis High Elves, with a faction of Dark Elves that lack the characteristic pigmentation of the Drow. Normal bonuses to DEX and perhaps INT apply. I saw no evidence of Wood Elves or other subraces.
- Orcs – I could identify no subraces (orogs, Eyes of Gruumsh, & al) in either the opening crawl or the body of the film. They have mottled skin, burlier builds, and greater physical strength than humans, but less agility.
- “Fairy” races – these were feral, considered pests, so I could not tell if they were meant to be pixies, sprites, nixies, quicklings, red caps, or whatever.
- Centaurs – in a blink-and-you-miss-it shot, there is a centaur in SWAT gear during an arrest scene.
- Dwarfs – I saw no Dwarf characters on-screen, but it was mentioned that Orlando boasted a large Dwarf population. Their subrace was not mentioned.
- No Halflings, Gnomes, Kender, or miscegenations (Half-Elves, Half-Orcs &c) were mentioned, though we might make reasonable projections based on other statements in the film that either miscegenation is impossible or that cross-breeds are infertile.
- Magic exists.
- Magic-users are exceedingly rare, and [high] magic requires the use of wands, one of which is the Macguffin of the film.
- A Big Bad was kept at bay 2000 years prior thanks to the efforts of magic-proficient individuals. During this event, Orcs were the enemies of an Elf-Human alliance, and they later did a heel-face turn and were grudgingly accepted into civilized society.
Note the 2000-year gap. This isn’t a situation where fantasy creatures simply appeared one day in Inglewood. Orcs and Humans have history. Thousands of years of history. History that predates the discovery of the New World. History that predates Constantine I and Charlemagne and the Reformation and damn near every major event that shaped the modern world.
This battle with the Dark Lord (or whatever the damn Big Bad’s name was; I couldn’t be bothered to pay close enough attention) is played to be a supernatural event of great importance. So important, I inferred from some of the dialog, that it might have been a big enough deal to overshadow other supernatural events that occurred 2000 years ago (recall that actual resurrection is an actual thing that can actually happen in the fictional universe of Bright, a Netflix production starring Will Smith, rendering other instances of alleged resurrection marginally less miraculous).
The movie, called Bright, and produced by film studio Netflix (starring Will Smith) is set in the Los Angeles metro area. The actual El Pueblo Sobre el Rio de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula was founded in 1781, then still part of Mexico. Think of how much time had passed between Cortez’s misadventures leading to the fall of the Aztecs and the founding of LA (it’s about 160 years). Think of why the Spanish were able to so quickly and easily able to dominate Imperial Latin America.
Let’s back up for a moment and consider where cities come from. I don’t mean towns. Towns are easy. Towns are settlements of convenience that spring up near useful resources like arable land, peaty bogs, comfortable meanders in navigable rivers, deep-water harbors, and the like. Cities are another matter. Why is London a city and Cardiff a mere town? Okay, okay. I can hear you yelling already. Cardiff is a proper city, despite its sparse population. Poole then. What’s London got that Poole hasn’t? Access to the Thames? If the Thames were so dynamite, why was the old capital on the Colne? Hell, today Colchester is a sleepy little country club town. I doubt that outside of the British Commonwealth not one person in ten thousand could tell you that Camulodunum was the capital of the Brits prior to its being sacked by the Romans. I’ll tell you why: there is no why. London was a dumb-ass accident of history. Besides being a reasonably convenient port when sailing from Gaul in a trireme, London has the weight of history and that’s about it.
Think carefully about that as you consider the series of events that must have taken place in the world of Bright, the feature film starring Will Smith and produced by Netflix, available at the internet world wide web site of the same name. Consider what must have happened between this fight between an immortal dark lord and the construction of Westminster Abbey 960 years later. Ask yourself if Henry VIII would have had the same marital and religious issues plaguing him that led to all the difficulties culminating in a passel of Puritan fanatics making their way to Massachusetts. Ask yourself what’s so blasted attractive about the mudflats at the mouth of the Charles that someone would be dumb enough to build a city there in the absence of religious zeal. Ask yourself what cities Elf or Orc civilizations would have founded in an environment of mutual hostility. In our history, nations vied for the conquest of the Americas. How vastly different would such competition be if it were between different races?
This mentions nothing of the technology. Firearms tech improved in part because of the demands of sport hunters and in part because of territorial conflict. Would sidearms have improved at the same pace relative to automobiles, mobile telephony, police cruiser dash computers and refrigeration (to name but a few) in a world of high-IQ Elves? For that matter, how would the wealth accumulation habits of extremely long-lived races influence the deployment of global capital? If you know you’re going to be around long enough to enjoy the fruits of delayed research, you will be marginally more inclined to fund exotic research. Space exploration in a world with thousand year old elves would be decades, perhaps centuries ahead of what we have now.
But no. In the world of Netflix’s Bright, a Netflix film movie for the Netflix Internet Site, starring Will Smith, literally every thing in the world is exactly the same down to the home decor as in our world, only there are Orcs, Elves, and a few other minor races. This outcome is so extremely unlikely that it ruined my ability to maintain a willing suspension of disbelief.
Decent soundtrack though.