Bad Movie Science

This is an article from the new book Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids


Premise: The Gulf Stream, an Atlantic ocean current that helps regulate Earth’s temperature, has become so affected by global warming that it essentially stops. The ocean suddenly rises and massive icy tidal waves flood New York City. Within days, North America is a frozen wasteland.

Bad Science: Global warming can have a detrimental effect on the oceans, but it can’t stop the Gulf Stream that fast. Even if it could, in order for New York City to flood like it did in the movie, the entire continent of Antarctica would have to melt. For that to happen, all of the sunlight that hits Earth would have to be collectively beamed at the South Pole… for three years.


Premise: After the machines take over the world, the human resistance “scorches the sky” to block out the machines’ power supply— sunlight. So the machines use the humans for power, keeping them alive in a vegetative state while subjecting their brains to a life simulation. The machines “liquefy the dead so they can be fed intravenously to the living.”

Bad Science: Neither the machines nor the humans know much about sustainable energy production. Blocking out the Sun would just destroy Earth’s biosphere; the machines could easily build solar panels in space to get all the power they need. Second, human energy is inefficient— only about 35% of the energy from food converts to mechanical energy. And feeding humans to humans can lead to a disease called kuru, which causes insanity— and would screw up the simulation.

THE CORE (2003)

Premise: This big-budget action flick stars Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank. After Earth’s inner core suddenly stops rotating, the planet’s magnetic field collapses. This allows the Sun’s microwaves to penetrate the atmosphere and cause havoc on the surface. Humanity’s only hope is a ragtag group of scientists who must travel down to the center of the planet in an experimental vehicle. Their plan: detonate several nuclear bombs in the hopes of “jump-starting Earth’s engine.”

Bad Science: If Earth’s core— which spins at 550 mph (although the movie says 1,000 mph)— suddenly stopped rotating, all of its rotational energy would be released up into the mantle, and then to the surface, causing a massive earthquake that would last for years. Also, microwaves couldn’t fry the surface; they’re too weak, and they aren’t even affected by magnetic fields. And as far as building a ship that can withstand the immense pressure inside Earth to detonate nuclear bombs that will jump-start the core… we don’t have nearly enough room to go into how impossible that is.


Premise: The surface of Earth has been completely covered in water. In one scene, the Mariner (Kevin Costner) swims around an abandoned underwater city that’s revealed to be none other than Denver, Colorado, once known as the “Mile-High City.”

Bad Science: If the temperature of Earth increased 8° F, sea levels would rise by three feet due to melting polar ice caps, which would be ecologically catastrophic. But sea levels could never rise to the point where Denver was completely submerged— the city’s elevation is 5,280 feet. If all the world’s ice melted, the oceans would rise 250 feet, submerging many coastal cities, but not Denver.


Premise: (If you haven’t seen this and don’t want to have the “twist ending” spoiled, stop reading!) Throughout the movie, some unknown force is causing people all over the northeastern United States to spontaneously kill themselves. The cause is revealed to be trees— angry, angry trees. Retaliating en masse against humans for polluting the planet, the trees emit neurotoxins called pyrethrins, which scramble the brain and lead to suicide.

Bad Science: Pyrethrins come in very small quantities (in liquid form) in chrysanthemums native to Australia. And the liquid can be toxic, which is why it’s used in pesticides. But trees could never emit suicide-causing neurotoxins.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it's a fact-a-palooza of obscure information.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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In the matrix, they combined human batteries with "a form of fusion". Human batteries would end up being a net loss for energy. Not sure if I agree with the space solar panels. Getting to space is a huge achievement, and how do you get the energy back to the surface? Nobody took this into consideration.
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Evidently the original plan was to have the machines using the humans' brains to enhance computation power, which makes a lot more sense, but it got nixed by executive meddling.
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Just need to watch The Animatrix and humans as a power source makes sense. The Second Renaissance Parts I & II tell the story of how robots evolve AI, humans continue to oppress, robots revolt, robots win the war and take revenge on humans by making them servants to the robots. It was never about efficiency.
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The Matrix: It does bother me why the machines did not build space solar panels. But the point about Kuru is not fatal to the science. Maybe the machines were capable of pre-screening and/or genetically modifying human cells to prevent all forms of genetically transmitted disease. Or in making their special blend of soylent green, would filter out prions that cause kuru, mad cow, etc.

Humans are indeed inefficient energy producers, but who is to say that humans submerged in soylent goo, would not shut down or severely atrophy some of their organs (lungs for example) thus redirecting the energy wasted there for machine consumption. Perhaps the methane produced by the intestines (fart) could be harvested. Human bodies could be used to culture certain extremophiles that could produce other kinds of energy sources.

No, I am not Dr Mengele. But if the inevitable happens, I for one welcome our new machine overlords.
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