Saturday 28 November 2015

Science Bad!

Sure, a lot has been written about bad science in movies but those posts and pages tend to focus on the films' premise or sci-fi tropes. I know there are no big, loud, fiery explosions in space but how unsatisfying would it bee to see the Death Star blow up cold and silent? Submitted for you consideration is bad science on a smaller scale--stupid nonsense that could have been righted with Wikipedea. Moreover, these fixes won't change the very nature of their movies.

Die Another Day

This Goldeneye remake features a villain named Zao who undergoes gene therapy to change his identity. The therapy targets his DNA, creating a new DNA profile. He's a whole new person! New face, new genetic fingerprint, new everything.

Here's the problem with that

Your DNA is in every cell of your body. It can't be changed. While gene therapy is a real thing, it doesn't have anything to do with DNA. Rather, gene therapy targets genes which cause mutation and disease. A bone marrow transplant can change your blood type, but that's as close as you'll get to DNA replacement.

Who did it "right"

No one ever. The CSI episode "Bloodlines" featured a human chimera who had two different sets of DNA, but he was born with them. The SVU episode "Serendipity" was inspired by the real-life case of John Schneeberger who hid a tube of someone else's blood inside his arm in order to beat a rape charge.

Area 51

In this stinker, a small group of conspiracy theory nutters break into a secret military facility to find proof of aliens. As part of their plan, Reid, Darrin, and Jelena dress up in freon suits and down ammonia pills to mask themselves from sensors. The Freon suits are meant to lower reduce their heat signatures so they appear invisible to thermal senors. The ammonia pills are supposed something. It's a little unclear if the pills are meant to increase or lower everyone's ammonia output, so they pass unnoticed through the base.

Here's the problem with that

Freon (a trademarked name for a collection of halocarbon products manufactured by DuPont), is a volatile, toxic chemical. Over exposure can cause a host of problems, ranging from dizziness to cardiac arrhythmia. Also, since it's a refrigerant, something like a Freon suit could result in burns and/or hypothermia. While it seems likely that Area 51 would have thermal sensors, a Freon suit probably isn't the best way around that obstacle.

Ammonia is naturally occurring in the environment, and in humans it's concentrated in urine. A tiny little bit might be sweated out of the body, but mostly it's found in pee. Ammonia pills, which do exist, are used by weightlifters to give them an adrenaline rush so they can lift more. Ammonia is also an irritant, and too much ammonia in the system can lead to pulmonary edema. Taking a course of ammonia pills is not only potentially dangerous, it increases the likelihood of being detected by Area 51's piss sensors (providing you stop to take a leak in the desert during your raid).

Who did it "right"

Predator and Sneakers. In Predator, Arnie makes himself "invisible" to the Predator's heat vision by covering himself in mud. In Sneakers, Dan Akryod discusses the difficulties of and potential solutions to bypassing a heat sensor. He takes pains to point out that encasing Robert Redford in neoprene, while effective at masking his heat signature, would smother him.

Harbinger Down

The fishing vessel Harbinger nets a huge chunk of ice with something frozen inside. "No doubt the result of climate change," states the reporter covering the story. Granted, this is an edited version of a slightly longer explanation, but it still it speaks to a gross misunderstanding of climate science and the audience's familiarity with said science.

Here's the problem with that

What the fuck is this guy talking about? There is so much wrong with that statement, it's hard to know where to begin. Flash freezing happens regularly, and it does trap animals in ice, but not in the North Pacific. If the alien popsicle had broken off from a floe or landmass, that would suggest the creature had been on land for a while--long enough to be fully encased in ice before it slid into the ocean. Still neither of these two explanations really have anything to do with climate change.

Climate change has certainly caused ice ages in the past, but it doesn't happen overnight.

Who did it "right"

The Thing. The alien buried in ice in The Thing has been down there for years. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. It's entirely possible that an alien crashed into the Antarctic and was buried deep under layers of ice and snow.


Transformers is awash in problems, from story to execution. But right now let's just focus on two, the Allspark and Megatron's demise. The Allspark is a great big cube of metal that comes from outer space and is the life source of the Transformers. Carbon dating tells us the Allspark landed on Earth some 12,000 years ago. Optimus Prime and Megatron both want the cube, and after Megatron and the other Deceptacons are defeated, their bodies are unceremoniously dumped in the Laurentian Abyss, referred to as "the deepest point on Earth."

Here's the problem with that

For something to be carbon dated it must have been alive, breathing our air. While the Allspark might be life-giving, there's nothing to suggest it's actually alive, so it won't have absorbed the radioactive C-14 isotopes that make carbon dating possible. Also, it's made of an unknown metal and comes from space which makes carbon dating impossible to begin with. A better way to try to date the Allspark would be to date the matrix, meaning the material around it. Potassium-Argon dating, thermoluminescence, and optically stimulated luminescence are three very real and much more viable options than what appears in the film.

The deepest part of the ocean is the Mariana Trench, in the western Pacific Ocean. At it's deepest, which is known as the Challenger Deep, the trench is nearly 11km, or 6.8 miles deep. The Laurentian Abyss, by comparison, is 6km deep, or 3.7 miles deep.

Who got it "right"

The Hollow One states, in no uncertain terms, that it is impossible to radiocarbon date metal.

The Abyss? Not a lot of movies out there that namecheck the Mariana Trench. The Abyss doesn't have anything to do with the Mariana Trench, but it is set in the Cayman Trough and is fairly accurate in terms of its geography and topology.

The Abyss

Easily one of James Cameron's best movies, The Abyss features high-stakes action and underwater aliens. In order to save everyone on the experimental Deep Core drilling platform (and possibly those topside), Ed Harris dons a liquid air scuba suit and jumps off the edge of the Cayman Trough. He saves the day, but runs out of air. As he waits for death, a deep-sea alien guides him down further into the abyss where their spaceship is parked. The ship surfaces, bringing Deep Core with it and Ed Harris is joyfully reunited with his wife.

Here's the problem with that

Cameron was ahead of his time with his proposed liquid ventilation. The Abyss was made in 1989 and it wasn't until 2010 that someone actually drew up the plans for a liquid air scuba suit. Prior to that, breathing liquid was a big topic of research in the 1960s, and while it was shown to be possible in lab animals, no practical application was undertaken until the 1990s, and then only with premature babies and later with adults who had lung injuries. For a full grown, healthy adult to breath liquid oxygen as Ed Harris does, he must first be fitted with an oxygen scrubber attached to his femoral artery. Ed Harris, in The Abyss has no such gill.

Forgetting the pressure Ed Harris sustains and survives during his plummet into the Trough, he and everyone else survives the seconds-long ascent to the surface that ends the movie. Seemingly aware of the impossibility of surviving and uncontrolled ascent from over 200m, the characters surmise the aliens "did something" to them. It's not great writing, but it at least points out the fact that under normal circumstances that would surely get you killed.

Who got it "right"

Deep Star Six. In an effort to save himself from a deep-sea monster, Miguel Ferrer jumps into an escape pod and ascends without decompressing. He explodes inside his pod, which is unlikely to ever happen, but is representative of the barotrauma and other forms of DCS you'll suffer from ascending too quickly. Also, the film features a variation of the Newt Suit, an atmospheric diving suit used for deep water work.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

The film begins with Kirk and Bones running for their lives from a group of pissed off tribesmen. The guys jump off a cliff and swim down to where the Enterprise is parked underwater.

Here's the problem with that

Furthermore, if this planet's civilization has yet to develop telescopes, there's no reason why Kirk can't just park in high orbit and then beam down to the surface in order to violate the Prime Directive.

Who did it "right"

The Abyss. By paying lip service to physics, The Abyss suggests that its underwater spaceship can withstand the extreme pressures that exist at the bottom of the sea.


busterggi said...

At least most films get that aliens will be humanoid - the perfect body plan. Now I've got to sit as my back is killing me.

DM said...

Ever read The Human Factor? In one section, the author reverse-engineers a person to operate a certain poorly-designed lathe. The guy would have to be four feet tall with six arms.