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Friday, September 10, 2010

Bad Science in Movies Bothers Me

Like most people of a geeky persuasion I enjoy science fiction.
Like many people who have an adrenal system I enjoy movies with some good action and/or adventure in them.
The other night I watched Terminator: Salvation for the first time.
I had heard that it was a bad film. I had heard that Christian Bale's performance was flat and boring.
What I had not heard was how badly they sacrificed science for the overall movie.


This is a problem with Hollywood. They often decide to "enhance" certain parts of the film to make it more intense. I can tolerate "enhancement" of certain things for the sake of storytelling and making a more entertaining product.
One example of this is the misrepresentation of ballistic physics in the movies. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. If I shoot a gun at a robot that weighs 500+ pounds and the impact of the bullet is able to knock that robot through the air for a few feet than the recoil from that shot would hurl me twice as far in the opposite direction.

What bothers me is when they decide to through science completely out the window when it applies to critical plot points.
This movie has two examples of this. The first (chronological order) is something that I have seen in movies before and each time it hurts my rational brain. Conventional (e.g. chemical) explosives work alike. They ALL burn. They burn VERY fast. When they burn (VERY fast) they produce hot off-gassing as the reaction process. This hot off-gassing happens ALL AT ONCE and creates a pressure wave as all of that gas tries to make room for all of the other gas all at once. The result is that all of the gas moves away from the center of the reaction at a high rate of speed. This is how gun powder works. This is how gasoline works. It is, essentially, the same exact reaction as a conventional fire, or rusting (yes, rusting), or aging but VERY VERY fast.
Nuclear bombs do not work this way. They do not release chemical energy. They work by breaking the bonds of the nucleus (hence the name) and, in doing so, converting a very small amount of matter directly into energy along the famous E=MC^2 equation. A teensy tiny bit of matter turns into a GIGANTIC wave of raw energy. Raw energy is, essentially, movement of particles. Movement of particles is, essentially, heat. It takes special apparatus that is configured exactly right with the proper catalyst and proper fuel (e.g. dense material that is easily split-able OR very not dense material that is easily smashed together) to create a nuclear reaction. Haphazardly placed chemical explosives do NOT make for the means to cause a nuclear reaction. If John Connor had done what he did then the resulting explosion would NOT have triggered all of the T800 nuclear power cells to explode in a nuclear fireball. What would happen is that the cells themselves would have been destroyed and the fuel spread out by the explosion's pressure wave. If the cells were fusion cells then the fuel would have burned (conventionally, not in a nuclear fireball) because that fuel would have been hydrogen. If the cells were fission cells then the material would have been excellent shrapnel that was probably radioactive. The entire facility would not have exploded. Skynet would not have been destroyed.
The second incident was just before the end of the movie. It was stated repeatedly during the movie that Marcus' heart was human. One cannot simply transplant any person's heart into another. There are tests. For starters the blood types have to be compatible. If the blood types are compatible (along with the other tests) then the transplant can occur BUT the recipient will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their life. Somehow I don't think that they were able to perform the battery of tests to confirm compatibility between the two people nor would they have been able to replace the blood loss during the operation nor were they likely to find any anti-rejection drugs at all, let along the quantity that John would have needed to survive. The last scene was not needed. It did not make the movie better and it completely disregards the majority of the medical science that goes into the idea of organ transplants.

People often wonder why Americans are so ignorant and misinformed about science. It's because we spend money on movies that completely misrepresent how science concepts work and then strip-mine our educational system so that our kids don't even know that the movies are wrong let alone HOW wrong. Of course, the broken education system is a completely different topic for many posts over many days.

If you want to check out this bad movie you can order it here:


And you can locate the third movie in the series (also bad) here:


The related TV show (that erased the 3rd movie from the timeline in the pilot episode):


There's good news here:
The first two movies were great. You can get them here:


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