Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bad Science

I had never heard of this movie until I read this disappointing article on movies featuring bad science today, which is surprising because Delroy Lindo has been my favorite actor since Romeo Must Die.

I know we all know how bad movies can be, but still--check out this summary:

Who the hell thought this movie would be attractive at the multiplex? Were they ever allowed to make a decision again? Sadly, they were.

The majority of movies that involve bad science are tolerated because most people have no idea it is bad science and the story is enjoyable. Examples: Not that many people know cold fusion does not exist, much less what it is, but they still enjoyed The Saint; time travel is not possible, yet Back to the Future is awesome.

However, I feel like every person over the age of eight knows that the center of the Earth is so hot that people would be instantly incinerated before they even got there, even if they aren't aware of the lethal poisonous gases down there or the fact that the Earth's core would not stop spinning.

So how does the movie get around all this? It doesn't. The scientists unload at the Earth's core without masks, protective gear, or some sort of jerry-rigged "heat neutralizer." Instead, they just sweat a lot.

An even more interesting problem, however, is the fact that after the hydrogen bomb detonates in the Earth's core, the resulting tidal wave of lava radiating outward would most likely cause every volcano on Earth to experience a simultaneous eruption of epic proportions, killing untold millions and spewing so much ash into the atmosphere that we wouldn't see the sun for years causing crops to fail, people to riot, Armageddon--a species extinction on par with that of the Cretaceous period.

But that doesn't matter, because science must always serve the story, and this is a great story, right? Well...to be fair, let's look at the plot more closely, in pictures:

This is where a nerd with a huge penis drops the science, explaining to the audience what exactly is going on here, and why it is an urgent problem; Aaron is enthralled.

This is where the Douche Dream Team, doing their best Armageddon impression, is finally assembled and goes for a walk on the beach before breaking fast at the Ihop near LAX.

This is what it looks like when they get down there,
exactly as predicted by the nerd's sophisticated 1976 modeling technology.

This is what it looks like when the Fat Man sings.

Aaron and Hilary are unable to avoid getting hot and bothered
as they watch the nuclear explosion from a nearby ridge,
in Aaron's sweet-ass Thunderbird convertible.

For no reason whatsoever, since they were totally a safe distance away,
Aaron turns into an asshole/scientific implausibility
and ruins the moment with Hilary, so they all go home.

Preparing for her new role of celebrity planet-saving-scientist,
Hilary exercises like a madwoman every day and loses touch with reality.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn't such a bad movie after all...



Jed Rothwell said...

The movie "The Saint" had nothing to do with cold fusion, except that the equations used as props came from real cold fusion papers, by Hagelstein. (He was greatly amused to see where the lady-scientist kept them.)

Anyway, you are wrong about cold fusion. See:


Goodtime Charlie said...

Well, actually the entire plot of the movie centers on cold fusion. But don't take my word for it, take wikipedia's:

"...Tretiak hires Templar to steal the formula for cold fusion from the eccentric American scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Elizabeth Shue). Theoretically, cold fusion could create heat and energy from open air, and it would be cleaner than petroleum and safer than nuclear power. And it would be much less expensive. Tretiak wants to get the formula so he can create heat for the Russian people, who are freezing because of a heating oil shortage. The deal would put Templar at the $50 million mark in his Swiss bank accounts, the amount he wants to retire with from the life of thievery. (This plot point comes from the Charteris novella "The Melancholy Journey of Mr. Teal" in the collection The Holy Terror, in which Templar strives to top up his bank account and retire at 100,000 pounds sterling.)

Templar, in the guise of Thomas More, has become attracted to Dr. Russell, but he reluctantly steals her formula in order to stop Tretiak from killing her, a threat that arose when Simon said he wouldn't do it. So he ultimately ends up turning it over to Tretiak. However, the formula is incomplete, and Tretiak becomes intent on capturing both Templar and Russell in order to force her to complete it. However, Templar, normally a loner, and Dr. Russell have fallen in love with each other. Templar then has to save both of them while simultaneously exposing Tretiak as a criminal.

After his failure to capture Templar and Dr. Russell, Tretiak launches an alternate plan: to sell the (incomplete) cold fusion formula to the president, and then "expose" him to the public as a traitor who wasted billions on useless technology. As the cold winter continues, Russians continue to protest against the government in Red Square, Moscow and in front of the American Embassy. Tretiak, his generals and aides begin planning their revolution to take control of Russia.

As Dr. Russell works to complete the formula, Templar confronts the Russian President Karpov in his residence in the Moscow Kremlin and tells him to admit to Tretiak's accusations publicly, just before Tretiak-loyal Russian troops arrest the President. Tretiak is exposed as a fraud as the failed cold fusion reactor Tretiak presents as evidence begins working in Red Square before a large group of Russians. Tretiak and his son are arrested by the Russian troops and are later convicted. The heating oil shortage ends when it was revealed that Tretiak hid stolen oil to start the shortage.

Days later, Templar and Russell return to England. Russell eventually presents cold fusion to the world at a news conference at the University of Oxford. Templar (in disguise) attends presentation by Russell and the police notice him. Templar quickly flees and eventually they catch someone who they think he is, but it's just a civilian. He drives by, smiling and waves at them as sunlight refracts through the windshield, so that a halo appears to form around his head. On his car radio, a news broadcast (voiced by Sir Roger Moore) reports that $3,000,000,000 was donated to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the United Nations Children's Fund (for which Moore, who played The Saint in the 1962-1969 TV series, is a "Goodwill Ambassador"). The funds came from Ivan Tretiak's Swiss bank accounts - the implication being that Templar, who had access to Tretiak's accounts, donated the money anonymously - while a non-profit foundation is being established to develop cold fusion technology."

Goodtime Charlie said...

Also, do you know something nobody else does about the realities of cold fusion (if so, I'd love to hear about it), because everything I have heard makes it seem like a great concept that is thus far unattainable.

Also from wikipedia:

"By late 1989, most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead,[6] and cold fusion subsequently gained a reputation as pathological science.[7] However, some researchers continue to investigate cold fusion,[6][8][9][10] and some have reported positive results at mainstream conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.

In 1989, the majority of a review panel organized by the US Department of Energy (DOE) found that the evidence for the discovery of a new nuclear process was not persuasive. There have been few mainstream reviews of the field since 1990.

Jed Rothwell said...

I know the plot of "The Saint." I was a consultant to the producer, as was my late friend Gene Mallove who was listed in the credits. Anyway, it wasn't actually about cold fusion. For one thing, if a real cold fusion cell had lit up like that, it would have blown to smithereens. You can see photos of the remains of exploded cells at LENR-CANR.org, in the Experiments section.

I do not recommend Wikipedia as a source of information on this topic. I suggest you read mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific papers instead. I copied ~1,200 peer reviewed papers on cold fusion from the library at Los Alamos. Unfortunately I cannot upload many of them because of copyright restrictions, but I have uploaded several along with about a thousand papers from non-copyright sources such as the NSF, the Navy, EPRI, BARC, the ENEA and conference proceedings.

I disagree with half of the 2004 DoE reviewers, and I agree with the other half, for reasons beyond the scope of the discussion. See:


I recommend a more recent review from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency "Technology Forecast: Worldwide Research on Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Increasing and Gaining Acceptance" DIA-08-0911-003, 13 November 2009. See the main page at LENR-CANR.org.

Note that although cold fusion receives little support in the U.S., and the U.S. version of the Wikipedia is negative about the subject, in some other countries there is more support. For example, the October 2009 conference was sponsored by the ENEA (the Italian DoE), the Italian Physical Society, the Italian Chemical Society, and the National Research Council (CNR).

Goodtime Charlie said...

What kind of hairs are you trying to split here?

Obviously, 'The Saint' was many things: a love story, a story about one man's redemption, etc, but it was ALSO about cold fusion--why do you think you had to photocopy 1200 documents at the Los Alamos library?

Because the movie "had nothing to do with cold fusion?" Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?

In case you need more evidence, here are some more of your own words that contradict your entire argument:

"For one thing, if a real cold fusion cell had lit up like that, it would have blown to smithereens."

Exactly my initial point--the movie featured bad science.

Perhaps instead of trying to prove some strange (and still unclear) point about the vagaries of cold fusion, you should actually read the blog entry you are commenting on...

Jed Rothwell said...

You wrote:

"Exactly my initial point--the movie featured bad science."

Ah. I see your point. But I thought of that movie as a fantasy or a lark, rather than a movie about science, so that did not bother me. It wasn't supposed to be an accurate portrayal. It was just for fun. Most cold fusion researchers I know got a kick out of it.

On the other hand, there have been some movies that were supposed to be about actual science or technology that were horribly inaccurate. Come to think of it, they may have been more common in the 1930s and 40s . . . I remember one about Edison that was way off. Most of the 1950s space movies were terrible. They used to upset Arthur C. Clarke. I recall he said that was one of the reasons he wrote "2001."

Around 1999 there was a dreadful made-for-TV movie about the world coming to an end because of the Y2K bug. It must have infuriated a lot of programmers.