Flying in long flights is the way I usually catch up with movies I have not seen. I’m many times too tired to work, and not tired enough to sleep. If all goes well I get to see one reasonable movie and I’m happy. I usually also bring something to read and that is the best way to spend a long flight. However, as I was traveling back from China, I had ran out of books and couldn’t get anything remotely interesting at the airport (most of the books I could find I was not able to read), so instead I got to see three bad movies.
It’s not the first time that I have seen bad movies. However, there are some really irritating aspects of movies that seem to modify some essential part of Newtonian dynamics to get their work going. This is fine sometimes and usually I don’t care, seriously, I really don’t. But this time it was just too preposterous and not just in one movie. Loud explosions in the vacuum of space is one, but not that bad. The telltale sign that it is too preposterous is that I start groaning loudly when the physics is really wrong. If you are next to me on the airplane you might hear me muttering under my breath. This makes me very glad to the SEEx initiative, although I’m really not going to keep my hopes up that the entertainment industry will get the physics right.
Ok, so what were the bad movies and why did I groan?
First, Wanted. A movie about assassins that can do extraordinary feats of markmanship and acrobatics. The bad physics? Curving bullet trajectories. Maybe this is something you are not aware of, but bullets and guns are designed to shoot in as straight a line as possible. This is done by making the bullets spin in flight and they are shaped to make sure that they fly straight. They are also made of heavy metals (lead) to make sure that air currents and the like modify their path length as little as possible. To fly not straight, the bullet would have to be spinning in a different direction and would have to be light (maybe even shaped like a boomerang). Also, there are Murphy’s laws to consider: if a shot can be bungled this way, it will be by the vast majority of people. The biggest groaner: a boomerang shot that kills about 10 of these guys. So all those special effects, lousy physics and a rather weak plot line make a bad movie. There is also a scene where a car moving sideways picks up the protagonist at high speed. The guy should have lost his legs, or at the very least, have a lot of leg fractures.
Next in line, I got Journey to the center of the earth. It is a movie designed to be watched in 3d. If you get to see it in a small screen on an airplane a lot gets lost. It was not as bad as I expected (I had very low expectations), but the physics was lousy, even considering. The worst? A scene where some magnetic rocks are floating at fixed altitude (due to a strong magnetic field). Never mind the fine tuning of their mass. Magnetic rocks are dipole magnets. If you reverse their orientation, they flip and stick to the source of the magnetic field. They also can only feel net force in the presence of a magnetic field that varies in position. Unless the rocks are suspended over some vast superconductor and they levitate due to the Meissner effect, which would require a rather cool center of the earth, there is no way to set that up. Also, there is a scene at the end where the protagonists shoot upwards of 200 m from Mount Vesubius and land without a scratch. Nothing broken, not even their ‘boat’. Again, a lot of broken bones should have ensued. Verne would not have allowed it to be so sloppy.
The third movie was Tropic Thunder and even though I laughed sometimes, I’m very glad I didn’t pay to see that one either. At least in this case they didn’t make me groan with the bad physics (bad jokes don’t count), and the begginning had some real magical moments. There were some previews that were part of the movie that made me believe they were real for a little while, and when I caught on I laughed really hard.
So next time, I will bring two books.