Basic Things That Every Disaster Movie Gets Wrong
Humankind has obsessed over cinematic mass slaughter ever since we made three Titanic films the same year it actually sunk. But for all our previous effort, the true explodey renaissance no doubt came with 1996's Independence Day and the slow rise of modern digital effects. Now, cut to the 2016 sequel and epic destruction is so blase you can calm an infant with the sounds of flaming cars. Let's face it: Simulating big-ass disasters is sort of what we do, as a species.
Too bad, then, that we suck at it. I'm not talking about "Uh, lasers wouldn't make a sound in space"-style nerdery -- in most cases, the actual disasters would look even more awesome than what the movies are showing us (provided you're not one of the casualties). For instance, bet you don't even realize that ...
The Statue Of Liberty Would Be Blown To Shit In A Second
As a beacon of American freedom, the originally named Liberty Enlightening The World is an easy target for screenwriters and directors hoping to scoop some quick symbolism points to use on their monster/doomsday/global warming movie's poster.
And even if the statue's destruction isn't the centerpiece, films like Independence Day and Deep Impact will still make a point to show fairly intact pieces of Lady Liberty when the dust starts to settle.
One way or another, America's endurance in the face of certain doom rears its crowned head, a cinematic habit no doubt inspired by the grand-daddy of them all ...
But Actually ...
The Statue Of Liberty would be the first to go.
While so many films imitated the visual parable of finding America's hope jutting out of the monkey-beach like a million-year-old tombstone, none of them stopped to wonder if this iconic twist was in any way a load of bold-faced hogwash. Spoiler: It absolutely is. Because, as Discovery's Life After People series figured out, there's no goddamn way the Statue Of Liberty would withstand so much as 300 years before crumbling into the ocean -- let alone the amount of evolutionary time apes need to form robe societies and shag haircuts.
Hell, Lady Liberty wasn't able to go its first 100 years without $25 million in restoration to rusting framework and heavy corrosion, as the National Park Service once described her as "literally falling apart." Because for all she's taken on in movies, we're actually talking about an iron frame under copper that's been exposed to the elements of sea spray, cold winters, and hurricane winds. Copper that's thinner than two goddamn pennies pressed together.
It's no wonder that back in 1916 when Germans exploded a munitions dock in Jersey City, the shock wave was enough to burst rivets from her arm. So any world-ending tsunami or alien ray explosion would pulverize her like moist tissue paper. And this solemn green toga giant isn't the only landmark we inexplicably think is indestructible, either ...
Bridges Would Completely Fall Apart (Instead Of Just Losing A Chunk)
We're not sure what San Francisco's most iconic bridge ever did to screenwriters, but they love breaking it up. We're seeing major franchises from Terminator to Planet Of The Apes to Godzilla take a swipe -- sometimes literally.
This is from the scene where the atomic lizard grapples one of the large cables while fighting an army so inept that they already destroyed the other one ...
All of this culminates in the monster bursting through the center of a bridge like an angry marathon winner.
But this isn't the only suspension bridge that's been bisected by monster rage, since the Brooklyn Bridge sees a similar fate in Cloverfield, as well as being purposely destroyed in I Am Legend:
But Actually ...
There's no way any of these bridges would still be standing.
This really shouldn't be surprising, but it turns out those big things called "suspension cables" are there not to look nice but rather to keep the bridge suspended. So when one such cable snaps on the Golden Gate Bridge, the road would instantly start falling apart -- especially when said road is covered in 60-ton tanks. Instead, it doesn't even shake at Godzilla's might, nor does it completely fall apart when severed at the middle, despite that act essentially being like cutting a rubber band in two. We know this thanks to a structural engineer named Alex Weinberg who took the time to explain how these bridges actually work.
Main suspension cables work by creating tension between the bridge's towers, as if one of them just farted. When driving across, your vehicle pulls downward on the vertical cables -- creating force that is then transferred to those main arcing cables above. If you break one or both of those cables, the road is no longer supported and would begin to domino into the ocean like a suicidal anaconda. Meaning that when you see Godzilla cut through the Golden Gate Bridge without the whole road falling, it's the equivalent of Wile E. Coyote walking on air before looking down. And the biggest offender? According to Alex, it's the grounded world of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises -- which explodes every mid-section of Gotham's suspension bridges while magically keeping the surrounding road intact like it's being controlled by Magneto.
Doomsday Explosions Are Way Faster (And More Horrific) In Real Life
We hate to say this, but Hollywood has banded together to inexplicably make big-ass explosions less intense. For example, this one:
That would be the Nagasaki scene in The Wolverine -- one of many instances where characters come face to face with a world-shattering explosion ...
... and manage to outrun it at the last second.
Heck, sometimes you don't even need a car, as long as you're an adorable and literal underdog.
But Actually ...
Everybody dies. Instantly.
For starters: Your lungs, ears, and bowels would explode at the speed of sound by the pressure change alone. If you can run the speed of sound, then good on you -- otherwise all the Wolverine blankets in the world couldn't stop your organs from popping like grotesque water balloons. In the case of Nagasaki, the real-life detonation traveled 9,000 mph and leveled everything in a two-mile radius. Close up, it's an explosion so fast and devastating that it's hard to even portray on camera, immediately followed by a rain of radiation that would go on to kill everything not already dead within 1,000 yards. Oh, and this is all after the bomb's superheated flash already set your skin on fire -- as that tends to cause third-degree burns as far as five miles away. Oddly enough, the only movie that gets this mostly right is the one about shape-shifting future robots.
And these are the non-sci-fi explosions we're talking about here, as any ID4 alien death-ray would surely cause so much heat that Will Smith's lovable dog (and entire family) would be pink mist before they even knew what hit them. Not to mention that unless they are somehow slowing down the fireballs with space magic, it would take a flat surface and an Indy 500 vehicle to outrun even the blast from a volcano ... which is something we learned first-hand back in 1980 when this happened:
The eruption of Mount St. Helens sent out a lateral debris wall ranging from 150 mph to 300 mph -- something that a few lucky people far enough away were able to outrun in their cars. And so, in the case of alien invasion or 2012-style mega-volcano, we'd be thanking our lucky stars that death is only coming at speeds of 450 mph.
It's like Roland Emmerich isn't concerned with science at all.
Earthquakes Don't Open Up An Abyss In The Ground
It's easy to assume that films like 2012 and San Andreas are fantasy in that they take the effects of a natural disaster and crank them up to 11. For example, when a world-ending earthquake tears the ground in half like a muscleman's phone book ...
... we can extrapolate that we're seeing some ramped teachings of an on-set seismologist consultant. After all, this happens during pretty much every fictional earthquake from The Land Before Time to the first Superman movie: The land shakes violently until a giant chasm opens at the fault line -- which is of course what will inevitably detach the sin-ridden California from its puritan continent and cause Los Angeles to fall back into the abyss from which it once came.
But Actually ...
Fault lines don't work that way.
As we've already mentioned, the reason California isn't going to sink or drift into the ocean has to do with what actually causes an earthquake, which is the friction between two tectonic plates awkwardly rubbing against each other. Here's a graph made for dumb children to explain it:
See? It's real baby stuff we're talking about here. The two plates break apart and the movement of them rubbing together causes the ground to shake. Without that friction, we wouldn't have earthquakes to begin with ... meaning that it's paradoxical for a giant tremor to cause fault lines to tear apart, because that would actually solve the problem. So while films like San Andreas do consult geologists during production, whether they actually listen to them is another story.
And before any of you jerk-ass earthquake survivors pipe up in the comments about witnessing actual cracks in the ground: What you're seeing is shallow damage caused by either landslides or liquefaction due to sand and water being pushed up from out of the ground ... which is honestly way more horrifying than anything we've seen in movies.
And while we're discussing Hollywood's total inability to understand fifth-grade science ...
Tornadoes Pull Stuff Inward; They Don't Throw Stuff Outward
Remember that scene in Man Of Steel where Clark Kent watches his father die in a tornado to protect his own identity, perfectly encapsulating the character's iconic belief that no man should be chained to collective action for the sake of what is called "the common good"? Classic Superman, you guys. And if you recall, this lesson in individualism is brought to you by a flying car.
It's something you've seen in every film about twisters, including that one called Twister. A tornado touches down and sends every car, cow, construction site, and Cary Elwes flying into the air like a deadly projectile. Here it is in The Day After Tomorrow ...
... and again in Into The Storm.
Cars and planes alike fly thousands of feet away from the giant funnel and into unsuspecting onlookers like they were tossed by The Hulk -- further demonstrating why the Midwest is filled with either God-taunting conquerors or people who can't move because their U-Haul keeps blowing away.
But Actually ...
Tornadoes don't blow things away from their funnels.
You might have noticed that description of a tornado as a giant "funnel" a few times. It's a word often used because this particular weather pattern fucking funnels shit inward. Take a look at this actual image of an actual F5:
Notice how the bushes are all blowing toward the tornado? That's because it's sucking everything in to create the dust and debris that makes us able to see it. Hence that Philip Seymour Hoffman line about the "suck zone." And yet, in that very same film, this happens:
Why would those fence posts be flying against the wind? They're running from a vacuum so strong it can pull people out of their cars. That's literally the opposite of what a tornado does, and yet we see it in every film. That's like if every movie depicted sharks as land-walkers or if Superman were some dick who lets tons of people die. It's fucking clown business.
And yet, not the most ludicrous thing on this list ...
Tsunamis And Monsters Making Landfall In Manhattan Is Fucking Absurd
You know the drill. Our protagonist looks up at the sky to see millions of birds squawking away from the ocean. The wind picks up, and Manhattan is suddenly slammed by a wall of water -- starting with Liberty Island.
It's such a fucking cinematic staple to flood New York that we've totally been doing it since the 1930s.
Not unlike Godzilla or the Cloverfield monster, these sudden hits off the coast often come as a total surprise for our heroes thanks to New York City being the coastal precursor for the wave of destruction. In the case of monsters, this might take the form of a dramatic oceanic peekaboo:
Godzilla and the Cloverfield monster are the size of mountains -- and we never saw them coming thanks to their aquatic hiding spots. In fucking 50 feet of water.
But Actually ...
Uh, Manhattan isn't facing the open sea.
Since no director ever did, let's take a moment to actually look at a map of Manhattan Island and the Upper New York Bay:
See the red dot? That's the Statue Of Liberty, which is facing east -- toward Brooklyn. That means in both The Day After Tomorrow and Deep Impact, the giant waves are coming up from the south ...
... otherwise known as New Jersey. Because thanks to this thing called Long Island, Manhattan harbor isn't exposed to the open ocean. Which is, you know, why it's called a harbor -- a place specifically designed to protect boats. And so if global warming or a giant meteor caused a giant tsunami to wash over the East Coast, it would more accurately look like this simulation:
Long Island would already be fish gourmet by the time Manhattan saw a drop, meaning that they would at least know that something was coming. Same goes for those giant monsters apparently avoiding all the obvious landmasses between the ocean and a dramatic Big Apple reveal.
But I get it: Despite it being geographically hilarious, films have forever avoided an accurate portrayal in favor of seeing our beloved landmarks get shredded harder than the end to "Freebird." And when you think of it that way, I guess spitting in the face of all science is well worth seeing a water-logged Lady Liberty get used as a talking ape's favorite poopin' spot.
David is the only person excited for the new Independence Day movie. Gawk at his idiot zest on Twitter.
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