Learn To Write Better From Films (feat. Morbius)

(Approximately a 3 min read.)

I gave up on Morbius approximately a half hour into the film, whereas I just eagerly finished the audiobook of World War Z, a book I’ve read twice before. The reason for both of those decisions is extremely important for genre writers.

The very opening scene of Morbius had me yelling "THAT IS NOT HOW BATS WORK", which should have been a warning sign. Ten minutes in, and I’d said "THAT IS NOT HOW THAT WORKS" three additional times (IV pumps, the Nobel Prize, research methodology). Five minutes after that, the count was up to seven times. That rate pretty much held constant until I gave up.

Some of those things were, perhaps, due to specialized knowledge. Some of them are very common. Take Morbius’ "aquarium for flying mammals". Aside from vampire bats not killing the animals they feed from (and just needing mammals, not humans), that "aquarium" has NOWHERE FOR THE BATS TO PERCH TO SLEEP.

But again, the film made basic, mundane errors – ones that I caught – seven times in fifteen minutes.

Every two minutes, Morbius required me to suspend my disbelief about something mundane in the real world.

So by the time they got to where suspension of disbelief was required in his origin story, I was already done.

In contrast, Max Brooks’ novel World War Z gets all the "real world" details right. (Also, the audiobook version with the full cast is amazing.) I mean, it’s right enough that it is spooky revisiting his pre-pandemic predictions about people’s reaction to an unknown virus. So when you’re asked to suspend your disbelief about the zombies, it is a very small ask.

Please note that I’m not talking about the level of detail. I am not talking about always listing out, say, the specific model number of the rifle your protagonist is using. I am saying that it is imperative for authors to not get the details you use be wrong.

Nearly all the things that bothered me in what I saw of Morbius were easily solvable. Here’s some possible fixes:

  • It’s a newly-discovered discovered sub-species of vampire bat that requires primate blood, not just mammalian blood.
  • Morbius does his research in a gritty basement/garage lab and cobbles together a home-grown CRISPR to do his research.
  • Cut the Nobel prize scene, make it about turning down a Big Pharma offer.
  • Proper enclosures for the bats, naturally.
  • Make the IV thing about medicine, not fixing medical equipment.
  • Use an EMR at the big fancy research hospital, not a chart on the end of the bed. That also would allow an opportunity to show he’s also a computer genius, if required.
  • Maybe try to be a little closer to actual research methodology? If you want to show Morbius being sneaky and smart, then have his "public" lab – and then show his home lab where he bends the rules.
  • VAMPIRE BATS DO NOT DEVOUR CREATURES LIKE THAT. FFS.

These changes would have not taken any more screen time, and probably would have also decreased the SFX budget. And you don’t need the bats to be violent; you’ve already established that people are violent with the bullying scene, as if we didn’t know.

I cannot see this as anything but an utter failure of the writing team.

I haven’t even thought about the dialogue, or plotting, or any other aspect of Morbius here, because this threw me out of the movie so thoroughly.

But at least Morbius is useful for something other than memes: It can show you why getting your details right matters, particularly in genre fiction.

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