Suspending Science

Once upon a time, I went to the cinema to enjoy the latest huge, crazy disaster movie. Having a degree in geology makes big disaster flicks somewhat hit and miss for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed stuff like Dante's Peak and I figured that Hollywood at least deserved a chance to impress me. See, science is genuinely pants-wettingly scary, when you get down to it. Earthquakes are terrifying. Volcanoes are terrifying. All the stuff that happens as a result of the Earth's crust shifting about the place is truly, honestly terrifying. And we know about these things in pretty fine detail, because there's better than two hundred years of study gone into learning about them. Good disaster movies are great, because they really hammer home what could happen if the Earth burps in the wrong place (everyone would die and whole cities would be levelled in a matter of hours). Bad ones... well, bad ones just look ridiculous because they beg a suspension of science that frequently makes no sense. The very worst of these is The Core.

I have only seen it once; that first time I sat down in the theatre. I doubt I could sit through it again. The plot, and how I wish I was making this up, is as follows - courtesy of IMDB:

The Earth's core has stopped spinning. Disasters are appearing all over the world: Birds acting crazy, powerful thunderstorms, 32 people die within seconds of each other when their pacemakers quit working. Dr. Josh Keyes and his crew of five (total members: 6) go down to the center of the Earth to set off a nuclear device to make the Earth's core start spinning again or Mankind will perish.

All I can really say to this is the same thing I said when I got out of the theatre. The Earth DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. Let me break it down, just so we're all on the same page here:

  • In the movie, the core stops because of a secret government superweapon that generates 'targeted seismic events', a.k.a. causes an earthquake when and where you want. The first problem? This is NOT POSSIBLE. Earthquakes don't work that way. The very idea of a 'targeted' earthquake is laughable, because earthquakes happen on fault lines. If the city you want to target is in the middle of a tectonic plate (like, say, Moscow) then you are out of luck. The second problem? The very idea of a human invention stopping something like the Earth's core from spinning! Try to move the moon with a lever, why don't you - it's probably less ridiculous. Whoever made this movie doesn't realize just how big the core is. It'd be like trying to snatch a plane out of the sky with your bare hands.

  • The Earth's core spins, slowly, but if it were going to stop, it'd take thousands if not millions of years - not one. The Earth's magnetic field has changed or flipped thousands of times over the course of prehistory, so the disasters? Not so much. Weather doesn't work that way. The atmosphere doesn't work that way. Considering how the movie gets all doomsdayish on the idea that the loss of the magnetic field means all life will end because microwaves will cook the planet, I'm pretty sure someone there decided to just make stuff up for giggles at this point.

  • The nukes. Oh boy, the nukes. They decide to set off a chain of nukes to 'restart' the core. Let me be clear on this: again, there is nothing, nothing that a human could build that would have any measurable effect on the Earth's core. Let me just put this in perspective, here - when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, it was the equivalent of 500 atomic bombs. That's one eruption. And it's not the biggest on record. So the very idea that a man-made bomb of any kind, at our current level of technology or anything created in the next hundred years, could make any difference to the Earth's core is pure fantasy. The energies operating there are simply many, many, many orders of magnitude beyond anything we can generate.

  • And then they get into a specially made tube ship thing and shoot themselves into the Earth's crust and travel to the core in a couple of days, even though they'd have to get through almost 2,000 miles of solid and semi-solid rock - oh to hell with this, I think you get the idea.

People who know me are well aware of just how much I hated The Core. It's not even that it was a bad movie - as disaster flicks go, it's got all the right elements, I guess. But the science was so horribly, ridiculously wrong on every level that it'd insult the intelligence of anyone with even basic common sense, never mind a degree in geology. It asked you to just accept things that couldn't be true too many times while still pretending to be a serious movie. But that's not the full reason why I hated it, oh no - I hated it for what it could have been, if whoever was writing it had done any kind of research.

The thing about all this, like I said, is that science is scary. It's mind-blowing and terrifying and frequently all kinds of batshit crazy, with the added bonus of being real. No one can convince me that they couldn't have made an awesome disaster movie without relying on this ridiculous crap. You know what would have been cool? Something like Krakatoa, an eruption so violent that it was heard 3,000 miles away. Can you imagine a story based on that? Hell, just make it about the 1883 eruption, you could add in all the period stuff as well.

It's a goddamn insult that Hollywood has to resort to this lunacy when it's got perfectly good real events ripe for dramatization. That's what I despise, more than anything else. You shouldn't need to suspend science at all, or you shouldn't have to suspend it more than a very small, unnoticeable amount, to make a great movie. You shouldn't have to rely on cheap, unbelievable ploys to tell a good story. Movies like The Core are an insult to anyone who actually cares about scientific accuracy, true enough, but they're also an insult to story-telling in general because they're so incredibly lazy. They're a statement that, when faced with all of human history, mythology and experience, a writer decided to just spin some made-up bullshit into a few set pieces and call it a day.

Anyone who's going to do that and deliver the result with a straight face deserves all the mocking and criticism they get.

(As an aside - did you know that the doodad that drives the main plot of my Novel is called the Core specifically because of this movie? No reason; I just thought it'd be funny, at first, and then the name stuck.)