Thursday, November 20, 2008

Film Physics

In this piece I would like to talk about the above book Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, Tom Rodgers, Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville ILL.,2007.Now if you watch a lot of films you know that they have a revolting number of absurdities. The above book not only details the absurdities but gives a pretty good lesson in Physics. (The more technical sections are separated from the main text, so you can go back to them later or never, they go into the nitty-gritty of physics equations.)

I can't discuss all the examples from the book but I can give a brief run through of some of them.

1, The infamous person shooting from the hip. (pp. 15-30), Sure it looks real cool, but its damn stupid. You simply can't control the gun that well, shooting from the hip. Yes its in so many Cop films and Westerns, but its plain dumb. if I'm ever in a gun fight I want my enemies to shoot from the hip while I shoot properly, they would be sitting ducks. This section explains why.

2, Downing the space craft in the movie Independence Day, (pp. 164-168), basically its a damn colossally stupid idea. The energy released by them dropping to earth would generate massive winds (several hundred miles per hour at least) and intense heat. The devastation would be hideous. (This ignores what would happen if the power source on the ship blew up, which given the energy need to take such a ship, 15 miles across, into and out of Earth orbit would be huge.

3, Very controversial. A section on the Kennedy assassination which tears apart some of the nonsense about the assassination (pp. 195-211). The idea that if Kennedy had been hit in the back his head would have jerked forward and not to the side, which supposedly indicates that he was hit from a shot from the Grassy Knoll. Well elementary physics indicates that purely has a physical reaction, (ignoring nuro-musculature spasms), such a reaction from a shot from behind is virtually certain. No shot from Grassy Knoll needed. In fact people who think this have been watching to many movies and ignoring real physics.

4, People out running explosions in shafts (pp. 113-114). Well it possible in theory, but given that the explosion moves very fast, (less than a tenth of a second for 50 feet.) outrunning it while hugely entertaining in films is highly unlikely in real life.

5. In the movie Armageddon, a Texas size asteroid is headed towards Earth and a collection of Hollywood misfits is sent to save it. (We are doomed!) They drill a hole, explode a nuclear device, the asteroid divides in two and both sections go around the world and don't hit it. This is of course entertaining but absurd, (Along with character played by Bruce Willis dying-Yeah!) on so many levels. (pp. 167-170) To put it simply doing what happens in the movie is both incredibly stupid, ( it would make the devastation worst if it "worked"), and it almost certainly wouldn't work at all. Why, because assuming the explosion happened when it did,and did in fact split the asteroid, (very big ifs!), it would only have separated the asteroid haves by under 200 feet before impact!

That is just a sample of some of the fun in the book.

Tom Rodgers has a web site at Here.

Other books in this area are.

The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence M. Krauss, HarperPerennial, New York, 1995.

Beyond Star Trek, Lawrence M. Krauss, HarperPerennial, New York, 1997.

The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios, Gotham Books, New York, 2005

Pierre Cloutier

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