5 Movies That Don't Get How Long Things Take
With the magic of editing, movies can cover huge jumps in time over a span of mere seconds. That way, we never have to know how long James Bond spends sitting on the toilet after eating some bad tacos, and instead get right to the car chases and karate chops. But if you ignore the editing, how long do some of these movie scenes really take? Well, we did the calculations and found ...
It Takes Four Years For Starkiller Base To Destroy The Senate In The Force Awakens
In an intense scene in the Star Wars remake (search your feelings, you know it to be true) The Force Awakens, a cult of Space Nazis called the First Order activates their superweapon Starkiller Base -- a bigger, more powerful Death Star with the power to destroy entire solar systems over vast distances. Moments after the colossal beam is fired, our heroes look to the sky in horror as the Hosnian System, the seat of the Galactic Senate, is spectacularly disintegrated.
Actual Time Scale: Four Years
We know that we're talking about a science fiction universe in which both fire and sound are possible in the vacuum of space. Oh, and that literal wizards can move objects with their minds. That, too. We're not exactly expecting Stanley Kubrick levels of realism here, but most of the physics of our world -- such as gravity -- seem to remain more or less intact in the Star Wars universe. So for fun, let's imagine how long this event should have taken.
First of all, we're assuming that whatever the Starkiller beam is made from, it's moving no faster than the speed of light. It's true that spaceships in Star Wars can travel faster than light, but a beam of pure plasma or energy or whatever probably doesn't have a hyperdrive installed on it. We also know that Starkiller Base isn't in the same solar system as Hosnian Prime, because it needs to vacuum up a star before it can operate, hence its creative name. And the star in the middle of the Hosnian System is still shining at the time of impact.
R.I.P. Manatee-Pug-Face Man. May you live on with your 12 unnecessary action figures.
Best-case scenario is that Starkiller Base is orbiting the very next star over. We don't know how far that is, but we know how far our sun is from its nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri -- a little over four light years. This means that, even if Starkiller Base is as close as it can possibly be to the Hosnian System, it still likely takes a matter of years from the moment they pull the trigger to the moment they hit their target.
"OK, now stand and wait for 1,450 days. It's going to be so cool, you guys."
So after the beam is fired and Finn and Rey escape, they could simply hop in a ship, grab a few drinks, take a little vacation, learn to play the piano, and then eventually kick on the FTL drive to mosey over to the Hosnian System to let them know that a death beam is on the way. No hurry, though -- they still have years to evacuate.
Gandalf's Research Journey In The Fellowship Of The Ring Covers Years
In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, Bilbo Baggins accidentally reveals that he's carrying one of the most powerful objects in the universe when he uses it to perform party tricks. It's sort like hanging up a nuclear bomb as a pinata. Understandably concerned, Gandalf takes off on horseback to some ancient library in order to figure out which magic ring Bilbo has been carrying around -- whether it's one of the bad ones, or the really bad one. Upon concluding that it's the latter, he jumps on his horse again and rides back to Bilbo's house to warn Frodo to stop smacking the bomb with a stick.
Or to at least to not leave it in his damn junk drawer.
We assume that Gandalf's return happens the very next night, since the hobbits are all still in party mode and the banter between Gandalf and Frodo continues without skipping a beat. But if you think about it, Gandalf must have been away for much, much longer than that.
Actual Time Scale: Several Years
The library that Gandalf visits is in Minas Tirith. That's where the final battles take place in Return Of The King. You know, the same place that takes our heroes three films and around 300 hours of movie time to reach. Here it is on a map. The Shire, where the hobbits live, is in the top left, while Minas Tirith is on the bottom right, just west of Mordor's crazy square mountain range.
If we assume that Middle Earth is about the size of Eastern Europe (which is kind of what Tolkien was going for, since there weren't exactly a bunch of samurai involved), then Gandalf traveled the equivalent distance from France to Greece. On horseback. And although Gandalf is a wizard, his horse isn't established as having magical teleportation powers or anything.
So Gandalf's research trip and return could have taken years -- enough time for Sauron to figure out where the ring was and build an army. As for the hobbits still dancing and drinking when Gandalf returns? Well, that's down to the fact that nobody throws a rager like The Shire.
They're all shorter John Belushis from Animal House.
The Trip To Alderaan In A New Hope Takes Days
After the Star Wars cast escape from the Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine aboard the Millennium Falcon, a matter of hours seem to pass before they reach Alderaan, only to discover that the Death Star has already made short work of it. During the journey, our heroes have only enough time to play a game of space chess and give Luke Skywalker a truncated education on the Force. Or maybe just screw with him. We can't really tell what purpose that whole blindfold/droid scene served.
"This sucks; he's actually good. Watching him take nut shots was like half our entertainment plans."
Actual Time Scale: Two Or Three Days
The trip couldn't possibly have taken place over a time span of less than a few days, even with the spurious physics of Star Wars. The real top speed of the Millennium Falcon is never stated in the Star Wars series, and Han Solo's boastful declaration that it can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs doesn't help us at all because, as nerds have been pointing out since the '70s, a parsec is a measure of distance, not time.
And to the surprise of no one, George Lucas had a pretentious explanation for that.
Luckily for us, Chris Lough over at Tor spent altogether way too much time figuring out the speed of the Falcon using hard math so that you don't have to. First of all, he used a map from the Star Wars Essential Atlas to figure out the distance between Tatooine and Alderaan: 50,855 light years.
And you thought the TI-82 your sixth-grade geometry teacher made you buy would never come in handy.
Knowing the distance between the two planets, Lough was able to calculate the top speed of the Falcon, based on scattered information available via Solo's occasional quips throughout the original trilogy, because some people truly are that dedicated to Star Wars. The Falcon can put down about 25,000 light years per day. Which is insane, but it still means that the trip between Tatooine and Alderaan (or where Alderaan used to be) took between two and three days.
So in between Jedi training and existential discussions about the Force, this whole scene mostly involved Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan sitting around for hours, making small talk or just quietly looking out the window. Hopefully they packed some books, or at the very least, a toothbrush and some clean underwear.
"Plenty of conditioner. Your hair isn't going to feather itself."
WALL-E's Intro Lasts Over A Century
Pixar's WALL-E is the story of an adorable robot tasked with the job of cleaning up the Earth after the humans have all left for outer space. He spends his days shoving garbage into his onboard trash compactor, compressing it into cubes, and piling it onto skyscraper-sized towers, which seem structurally unsound, to say the least. The opening scene follows WALL-E during the painstaking process of constructing one of these towers, amidst the thousands of other WALL-E units who lie dormant in the rubble, revealing that he is the last of his kind, yet still dutifully pursuing this task alone.
Because nothing says "problem-solving" like piling up mountains of scattered trash.
Actual Time Scale: Around A Century
Later in the movie, it's revealed that WALL-E has been doing this for around 700 years, but if you were mathematically inclined, you could have deduced that from the opening scene alone. We assume from context that it takes WALL-E a mere day or two to construct one of his garbage skyscrapers, but with a bit of math, you can work out that the "day" we first spend with him in that initial scene in fact covers around a hundred years of collecting, crushing, and piling garbage.
According to a blogger named Roy, who's such a fan of the movie that he's been trying to build his own WALL-E for the past four years, the dimensions of the robot's trash compactor are about 40 x 40 x 40 cm. That's an important detail, because it establishes the size of each of the "bricks" that WALL-E is using as building material. We still need to make some assumptions, since the movie doesn't tell us how high WALL-E's structures are, or how long it takes him to create and install a garbage brick. So let's be charitable and say it only takes him one minute to crush some trash, take it back to his monument, and set it in place.
And let's be honest, he does a lot of dicking around between bricks.
Assuming that one trashscraper is around the size of the Empire State Building, the math tells us that one of WALL-E's constructions contains around 50,000,000 cubes. So even if we assume WALL-E only takes a minute to put each component together -- which is figuring that little sucker's got turbo-chargers and some NOS installed -- it still takes him 95 years to build a monument. And seeing how wobbly those buildings are, it probably falls down like a Jenga tower right after he places the last brick. And you thought the intro to Up was depressing.
The Pirates Of The Caribbean Series Glosses Over Several Months Of Sea Travel
In the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, the titular pirates of said Caribbean travel pretty much the entire world over the course of four films. Between Britain, Jamaica, Haiti, Singapore, and America, our heroes wind up sailing, if not the seven seas, then at least like ... three?
Or four, if you count all that rum Jack Sparrow puts away.
Actual Time Scale: Many Months
This is, after all, set in the age of exploration. Although the movies zip between international locations as fast as Jason Bourne, the reality is that, if we're true to the time period and the type of ships used, almost every scene in these films would have been interspersed with months of slow, uneventful ocean travel. The Magellan expedition, in a more or less direct route, took more than three years to sail around the Earth, and they presumably didn't have to stop to battle zombies too many times, if at all. Based on the average speed of pirate ships at the time (8.3 mph), the shortest distance that the Black Pearl covered, from Jamaica to Haiti in the first film, would have taken at least two days. The longest would probably be the journey from Singapore to the Caribbean in the third film, which would have taken a whopping two months.
Which is still less tedious than watching On Stranger Tides once.
Most of that time having been spent cultivating scurvy and struggle-pooping over the side of a rocking ship. That's what the poop deck is for, after all.
On his better days, Matt Cowan is a columnist here at Cracked. He also does T-shirt mashups that you can buy here. Tara Marie writes a lot. You can scope her stuff out at Comics Alliance and Harlot, and complain to her about things on Twitter.
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