Thursday, 11 April 2013

GI Joe: Rediculation

My last two posts have dealt with why we shouldn't tolerate outright nonsense in science-fiction (or even fantasy) and why GI Joe: Retaliation sucks respectively. Which gives me a very neat (yet still contrived) segue into talking about the outright nonsense in the first GI Joe.

I went into Retaliation for a very specific and unusual reason: I wanted to laugh at some bad science. GI Joe: Rise of Cobra is a fun film and actually pretty good, but it's the absolute king of bad movie science. It doesn't have the biggest number of scientific errors (that honour probably goes to something like The Core) but it has by far the grandest. This is a film with such disregard for basic science - and even basic common sense - that it not only takes the biscuit but uses the biscuit to fly into space somehow, and then happily carries on breathing in a vacuum. It's so gung-ho about the whole thing - so proud of itself - that I almost respect the movie for it. Almost. Naturally, I was expecting something similar as I entered the cinema last week.
Sadly, as with everything else it promises, the sequel fails to deliver. Apart from one gobsmacking sequence involving a room full of people and every single nuclear weapon in the world, there is nothing in Retaliation that even compares to Rise of Cobra's transcendent idiocy. And that scene is more a failure of logic than of science, anyway.

But, as tremendous a failure of logic as it is, it still pales in comparison to the original's demented logic. In Rise of Cobra there is a super-advanced jet (which Google tells me is called the Night Raven) which defies not just logic but common sense.
The Night Raven's primary weapon (possibly its only weapon) is fired by voice-command. Voice-command is a very advanced technology - one we are only just beginning to master - but is it really the best way to fire the weapons on a jet? Rather than pulling a trigger and getting an almost-instant effect, the pilot has to shout "Fire!" (which takes a full second) and then wait for the system to process and interpret this (which may take less than a second, but will still be much slower than processing a trigger-pull). In fact, the pilot has to shout it in Gaelic for some reason, where "Fire!" is a two-syllable word, is harder for the computer to understand, and takes even longer to say! Keep in mind that this thing flies at Mach 6 so, in the two seconds this process takes, the Night Raven has potentially overshot its target by two-and-a-half miles - maybe more if the target was moving. Triggers may be pretty old technology, but we still use them for a reason.
Now, this would all be fine if this jet were a bomber. Bombers don't need to fire quickly, so the two-second delay wouldn't matter. One character does call it a stealth-plane at one point, further suggesting that it's a bomber. But it doesn't fire bombs or missiles - it fires sonic blasts or something (possibly the only tech in the film that doesn't involve "nanomites"). This, of course, brings up questions about the effectiveness of using sonic weapons at six times the speed of sound - but, even if we assume it works somehow, these blasts fire directly forwards, not downwards. Unless the plane is in a nosedive, there is no way these could be used to hit ground-targets, so they must be intended to fire at other aircraft. This is a fighter, not a bomber. Yet it only fires one shot at a time! If you miss, you have to shout another two-syllable Gaelic "Fire!" to try again - all the while being strafed with constant fire from the "technologically inferior" machine-guns of your opponents.

Nothing about the Night Raven makes sense. This is what I mean when I say I nearly respect the film: it's so stupid that it's almost magnificent. And to be fair to the engineers who designed it, they had much bigger problems to deal with than making it useful in combat. Frankly, it's a miracle they managed to make it fly.
Physics, you see, are different here. At the end of the film, the GI Joes attack Cobra's secret base, beneath the Arctic. The base is at the bottom of the ocean with long, spindly elevator-shafts connecting it to the Arctic ice above. Then someone blows up those elevator shafts and, incredibly, the ice falls onto the base. The ice falls through the water onto the base. This is a world where ice does not float! Science is broken - everything is backwards! How they managed to make something that could fly in this world, I'll never know.

But the film goes one further, and manages to combine this world's broken rules and its terrible engineering logic into one truly godlike moment of bad science. The worst science in all of moviedom. The Joes reach a corridor that is booby-trapped with pressure-sensitive panels; they need to cross, but can't do so without setting off an alarm. So Snake Eyes, the lovable ninja, crosses the floor on his fingertips, and the panels do not detect him.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong (I'm not), but isn't pressure defined as force divided by surface-area? This means that reducing the surface-area of something (by, say, treading only on fingertips) actually increases the pressure caused by that object. That's why sharp things are more dangerous than blunt things: the smaller surface-area exerts much higher pressure, even when the actual force behind them is the same. So, in decreasing his surface-area, Snake Eyes is actually increasing the pressure upon the floor - which should make him more likely to trip the pressure-sensitive alarm!
But it's ok, because someone in the film specifies that the panels "will detect anything larger than a quarter". Clearly this means that it is not a pressure-sensitive floor, but rather some new kind of "size-sensitive" floor. Honestly, people have said this to me, as though that makes it better! It does not make it better - it makes it worse. I would rather believe that science in GI Joe is just stupid and wrong (ice does sink, after all) than believe that Cobra's engineers went to the effort of inventing a new kind of security system that works really badly, when they could have just installed the old kind that works really well. They did invent the world's worst fighter jet, I admit, but this floor is on a whole other level of dumb. You could trick this thing by rolling across it on an office-chair, or by wearing football-studs! It's either a debasement of simple physics, or it's a debasement of common sense. Whichever way you go, it still fails. The terribleness is circular and kind of beautiful.

The reason stuff like this bothers me so much is how simple it is, and how easy it is to catch. Anyone who has ever had a drink with ice in it (that's everyone, by the way) knows that ice floats. Yet at no point in the development of GI Joe: Rise of Cobra did anyone - anyone - point this out. The writers, the producers, the director, the editors, all the people involved in actually creating and rendering that scene; not one of them said anything. Did they genuinely not notice? Did they think that we wouldn't notice? Or by the time someone noticed, was it already too late to go back?
Surely it would not be hard to get someone to glance over the script and point this stuff out. To spot it at the earliest stage, so that it can be fixed with the least expense. A school physics student could do it - hell, I could do it - so why is there not a "science advisor" for films like this? Surely it's better to have someone qualified tell you beforehand what doesn't make sense than to have some idiot picking it apart afterwards on their blog.

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