Action movies try to kick ass by ignoring the laws of physics, which is like trying to win at wrestling by ignoring the use of your limbs -- you're left with ridiculous plots and big men making stupid facial expressions. Everything that moves, impacts, or explodes is by definition physics. The machines, pyrotechnics, and computers they use to fake those things are even more physics. The only good part of action movies that physics can't explain is Jackie Chan. But he's a problem for biologists, because he disproves the survival instinct, and advanced students of hypothetical insurance theory.
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Jackie Chan, personally fixing everything wrong with the Transformers movies.
But real-world scientists and engineers make "special" effects look like a euphemism. Behold, four real science and engineering videos that apply a significant podal positive impulse to a lot of gluteus maximus.
#4. Explosions: Nuclear Tanks Versus Every Other Vehicle
An international organization of engineers tried to destroy nuclear containment vessels by ramming trains and trucks into them. That's not an engineering test, that's an action movie plot escaped into the real world.
They forged 50 tons of solid steel indestructibility and then tried to destruct it, which is what happens when engineers get sick of philosophers wondering whether God could create something even he couldn't destroy and decide to do it themselves. Either that or it's a top-secret program to develop a taxi service for Jason Statham.
via Free Science Lectures
"We've arrived at a kickass explosion, Mr. Chelios."
They start by dropping containers from a crane, which sounds boring until you realize that they've built the most impenetrable anything they can conceive of and are now playing conkers with the Earth's crust. Then they utterly destroy a locomotive by ramming it into the indestructo-box at 100 miles an hour, and the box is fine. If Hephaestus had been half the engineer these guys are, Pandora could never have caused any trouble.
It escalates like an engineer keeping promises to his 8-year-old self. When the train doesn't break the box, they try again with a bigger train ramming a truck. Then a rocket-propelled truck ramming a wall. Then a rocket-sled-train ramming a wall. These people use The Fast and the Furious to cure insomnia.
via Free Science Lectures
This is actually The Fast and the Furious 7, from a finer future where they no longer waste time pretending to have plots.
This video is everything the Transformers movies should have been. True, the vehicles don't transform, but they also don't hang around with Shia LeBoeuf, so that's a better than fair trade. These vehicles do nothing but kick ass, and then they explode so that they don't have to even look at anyone who wanted more than that.
via Free Science Lectures
OPTIMUS PRIME IS A WIIIIIIIIIMP!
This video is everything we know about gas-powered engines: stupid and awesome. It's not a recording, it's a never-ending series of Christmases for anyone who understands that petrol is made from living things and that burning it releases all their joy back into the world as velocity. Then they cut the middle man and dump a container in a pool of jet fuel and set it on fire, because a rocket-sled engineer's idea of "icing on the cake" can be seen from neighboring countries.
#3. Unbelievable Explosions: Exploding Lakes
The second law of action movies* states that the more gently a car nudges the ground after meandering off a cliff, the more hilariously violently it explodes. This video does it for real.
*The first law of action movies is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, the only physics law to apply to both forces and Arnold Schwarzenegger characters.
This was the disposal of war surplus material metallic sodium. Sodium is a highly reactive alkali, meaning it has only one electron in its outer shell, and not to simplify chemistry too much, but that electron is a suicidal bastard. It reacts (which often means explodes) as soon as it touches anything, especially water. After World War II, the U.S. Army found themselves stuck with nine tons of Instant Doom (just add water). After three years of winning "not getting blown to smithereens" roulette, they decided to cash out. But the sodium gods demanded that something be blown up, and the powers that be sacrificed Lake Lenore.
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"We had actionable intelligence that lake could have contained scuba-diving terrorists."
Those barrels roll gently into the lake, whistling casually, before suddenly remembering that they're portals to hell. Then they blow hell up. In movies, "detonation" is a transition, an instant of going from non-exploded to better than that. For sodium in water, detonation is a new state of being. Metallic sodium reacting with water releases hydrogen and heat, creating a continual Hindenburg at the water's surface. The stuff goes up like Guy Fawkes' wet dreams and just does not stop exploding. The Catholic church's greatest secret is that the U.S. Army killed Satan in 1947. After destroying Hitler, they figured it was only a short hop up, and since they had nine metric tons of constant boom lying around anyway ...
That's one ton per level of hell, and this stuff is hotter.
It's the pyrotechnic equivalent of syphilis: It only happens because of American soldiers having bad but fun ideas during the war. It resulted in miles of chemical plumes, which the chirpy newscaster relays in the same manner as someone who's just seen an interesting bird in the distance, despite being the exact opposite of that ever happening. This is the same newscaster who cheerfully praises the Army for choosing a lake without any fish in it, because back then "environment" was just a useful Scrabble word for men who'd failed the army physical.