With director Roland Emmerich’s “2012” just around the corner, I am already banging my head at some of the insane visual effects seen in the trailer. But Roland isn’t just now figuring out how to piss off a nation of scientists and engineers, he’s been doing it for over a decade.
In his first big summer blockbuster “Independence Day” back in 1996, Emmerich had computer scientists yelling at the screen.
Faced with an alien invasion, an ingenious solution is proposed. “I gave it a cold. A computer virus.” Jeff Goldblum reveals, as though impressed with his own words.
At the time, the general movie-going audience nodded along with Jeff – “A virus! Of course! That makes sense! Do that!”
Jeff Goldblum somehow quickly writes a virus for an unknown alien operating system, uploads it without a hitch to its host through an alien interface he’s never seen, and even arrogantly includes a laughing animated skull GIF complete with sound effects.
Officially, I am appalled at Roland’s ignorance toward physics, science, and engineering. He’s not the first director to violate a physical law or two, but unofficially I pick on Roland because I secretly love his movies. Yes, I will admit I still get chills when Bill Pullman does his presidential speech in ID4, and I still root for the old man fishing in that scene from Godzilla.
So in either anticipation or despair for the release of “2012”, here are my favorite cringe-worthy Hollywood science mistakes, most of them featuring my buddy Roland Emmerich.
Godzilla (1998) – Bridge Out
Ferris Bueller, Moe Syzlak and a Frenchmen speed through an abandoned and destroyed New York City, their cab narrowly escaping the pissy jaws of the title lizard. Two “I-think-we-lost-him” moments later, and as the entire American army somehow struggles to locate the building-sized monster, Ferris crackles an idea through the taxi radio. “The suspension bridge! We’ll lure him there!”
Godzilla chases the cab across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking every suspension cable with him. He persists, but the bridge is slowing him down! Standing alone on the heavily damaged iconic structure, the collapsed cables have him trapped like a fat man tangled in a hammock. Unable to move, a flock of F-18s barrage the beast with an arsenal of missiles. Meanwhile, our heroes quietly reflect on who the real monster was.
As Morbo would say: SUSPENSION BRIDGES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!
Roland Emmerich could have used a civil engineer on his production team. Quite simply, he has this backwards: the cables support the road, not the other way around.
With the cables gone and a monster standing at the weakest point on the bridge, New York is going to have another destroyed landmark to deal with. Godzilla would presumably survive the collapse, and the movie would continue for another needless 124 minutes.
Absolute Zero (2005) – Witch’s Teat
Okay, confession: I didn’t actually see this one. And while I can typically enjoy a stupid Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi straight-to-video, the trailer for “Absolute Zero” was enough for me.
The plot here is that something is screwy with the Earth’s magnetic poles, forcing the temperature in Miami to reach -273.15 Celsius — absolute zero! The heroes run around in blizzards trying to save the Earth before the movie’s budget runs out.
Zero degrees Kelvin is theoretically the coldest temperature, where there is essentially no molecular motion and thermodynamics get funky. It is physically impossible to obtain, however some thermostat-obsessed scientists have gotten very close. The Helsinki University of Technology’s Low Temperature Lab, for example, observed temperatures below 100 pK — that’s 0.0000000001 degrees Kelvin, y’all.
In the movie, the very fact that there is visible snow falling is evidence enough to melt their “absolute zero” claim. Then again, the title “It’s Frickin’ Cold” doesn’t have as much draw.
10,000 BC (2008) – What Time Is It?
A filthy young mammoth hunter lives in the simplistic world of a pre-Jesus Christ era. Suddenly, when some horse-riding punks kidnap his boo, our hero leads a group of hunters across the continents to save her. Along the way, he fights giant saber-toothed cats and terror birds.
Read a book:
When the date is so damn important enough that you actually include it in your movie title, you’d think Roland would pay attention to some very simple time-specific details.
The movie was highly criticized for this lack of attention, and there are far too many things factually wrong with this movie to list on this blog. But here are some of my favorites as noted by the folks at IMDB.
- Horses did not become domesticated by man until about 4000 years after the setting of this movie.
- Metalworking – first copper, then bronze, then iron – was not mastered before 5500 BC.
- The earliest pyramid was erected in Egypt circa 2630 BC.
- The ships with the triangular sails did not appear until the 17th Century AD.
- In the opening scene, where the tribe sees the blue-eyed girl and the tribe leader is thrown back, one of the shocked tribal members can be heard whispering the name “Jesus” in surprise.
Superman Returns (2006) – I’ll Be Back
Lex Luthor unleashes a horrible plan based on the idea that if Kryptonian encounters water it grows exponentially. Hoping to destroy the United States with a new continental landmass in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, Luther’s plan is set into motion when a sample of Kryptonian is dropped off the Eastern seaboard. Superman, weakened by the effects of Kryptonite, lifts the growing landmass out of the ocean, flies it beyond the upper atmospheric barrier and gently releases the rock out into space.
He also has a son or something.
Superman probably doomed the entire planet by not chucking the rock hard enough. There is a require “escape velocity” needed for an object of any mass to fly beyond the gravitational pull of the Earth. If Superman didn’t throw the island with enough force, he’d better stick around long enough to catch it again.
It’s difficult to tell exactly what Superman did in the movie, so I’ll spit some math for two possibilities:
- Superman pushed the island at a near constant speed to a certain point where he suddenly slowed down, letting the rock continue on its path away from Earth. This is like pushing your buddy on an office chair and letting them continue rolling down the hall without you. The speed needed for the landmass to escape Earth’s gravity in this case is around 25,000 mph.
No sweat. This is a cake-walk for Superman. He’s gone this speed before in previous movies, like when he reversed the Earth’s orbit and somehow time-traveled (don’t get me started).
But unfortunately in this case, possibly due to the effects of the Kryptonite, he’s clearly dogging it. Based on the scale and speed of the falling debris, he’s nowhere near the required 25,000 mph speed.
- Superman pushed the rock to a certain point near a low Earth orbit, rested for a second, and then gave it a final “UMMPH!”, pushing the island away from the Earth.
This would be like pushing a rock up a hill. When you get close to the top, you slow to a stop, then suddenly give it a final big push to hurl it over the peak.
In this case, Superman would need to bring the landmass from rest to 21,000 mph in a single push. Unfortunately, like a 2 year-old bowling for the first time, the rock leaves Superman’s hands at a snail’s pace, once again nowhere near the required escape velocity.
In either case, we’re doomed. And considering that Superman went into a coma shortly after putting a small island sized rock in Earth’s orbital path, the president better get Bruce Willis on the phone.
Stargate (1994) – Forgotten Combo
Decades after an archeologist discovers a mysterious buried Egyptian gateway, a young, dateless brainiac is brought to a secret hidden government facility to help uncover the symbolic access sequence to activate the alleged “Stargate”.
After some intense chin-stroking, the nerd cackles, adjusts his glasses, and punches in the winning combo. The nerd then follows a disgruntled Kurt Russel into the Stargate, through an intergalactic wormhole, participates in an amazing alien war, and [SPOILER ALERT] falls in love.
Why didn’t you:
I’m picking on “Stargate” mostly because Roland Emmerich wrote the script, but countless movies and TV shows are also guilty of this.
Why is it that when hackers are trying to crack an access code, they always seem to get hung up on the last number? If you’ve got all the other numbers correctly, the last one should be the easiest to crack.
In “Stargate”, they’ve apparently been stuck for years trying to figure out this damn final symbol. You only have 39 options. Here’s an idea: try them all!
I remember back when I was just a pup, playing “Monkey Island’ with my dad on our gasoline-powered, desktop-usurping home computer. It was a generally accepted fact in the early 90’s adventure-gaming world, that at some point you’d get stuck and have to try to “Use” every single item in your inventory with every interactable world object. After hours of “That doesn’t seem to work”, Guybrush would suddenly use the “rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle” on the power line, and rappel to the inaccessible island in the background.
The lesson learned? Try stuff.
The Mummy Returns (2001) – Light Sprint
Several years after their first mummy encounter, Brandon Fraser and Rachel Weisz are still playing the archeology game while juggling the adventures of parenthood. One day their trouble-making son accidentally puts on some magic bracelet, prompting concerns from dad regarding his son’s affection toward jewelry, and more importantly starting a seven day countdown to find a hidden oasis before The Rock lays the smack down on Egypt.
Several horrible CGI mummy fights later, Fraser has only a few minutes to get his son to the sanctuary of a certain pyramid before the impending countdown ends and his son dies. With the rising sun’s wall of light chasing him, Fraser sprints climatically toward the pyramid with his son in tow. If the light reaches the pyramid first, the movie will take a very depressing turn. The light fringe closes in on them – the warming glow of the new day nipping at their heels. Death seems imminent, but he presses on, running even faster. Fortunately, fueled by his parental love and hatred of mummies, Fraser narrowly reaches the pyramid milliseconds ahead of the sunlight. His son’s life is saved.
Remember your high school geometry?
Ok, class: Egypt is 27 degrees north of the equator, and assuming a mean Earth radius of 3,958 miles, Egypt is about 3,527 miles to the Earth’s rotation axis. This means that a ring around the 27 degree latitude band is about 22,162 miles long. Since the wall of sunlight travels that band once every 24 hours, its observed ground speed is around 923 miles per hour.
923 mph. That’s how fast you’d have to run to match the speed of the rising Egyptian sun light across the ground. The fastest human can only reach up to around 28 mph. The Encino Man would have made a sonic boom if he were running this fast.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004) – Frost Chase
Once again, the Earth is going to crap and Roland Emmerich is behind the wheel. Global warming threw the delicate Earth weather cycle out of whack, and the only thing we can do is wait out the storm.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire or Elijah Wood is trapped in a New York library while floods and tornadoes wreck havoc nearby.
Suddenly the temperature drops significantly. Running from the impending frost, the heroes take shelter in an old library room, slamming the heavy door in the face of the cold front.
You can’t run from thermodynamics people. “Coldness” isn’t like a raptor. It’s not going to sit outside the door and try to figure out the handle mechanism. It’s freakin’ cold air!
Here’s a quickie unverified lesson on frost from Wikipedia: If a solid surface is chilled below the dew point of the surrounding air and the surface itself is colder than freezing, frost will form on the surface.
According to the token NASA scientist “the temperature is dropping by 10 degrees every second!” And if we’re to believe that statistic, and also that a helicopter pilot can flash freeze in a matter of seconds, then Jake is pretty much screwed regardless of the size of his big old wooden door.
Heat transfer is a bitch.
In space, you can’t hear comments.
Any favorites I missed?