Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics: Hollywood's Best Mistakes, Goofs and Flat-out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe

Edition: 1st
Format: Paperback
Pub. Date: 2007-11-01
Publisher(s): Sourcebooks Inc
List Price: $18.99

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-Would the bus in Speed really have made that jump? -Could a Star Wars ship actually explode in space? -What really would have happened if you said "Honey, I shrunk the kids"? The companion book to the hit website (, which boasts more than 1 million visitors per year, Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics is a hilarious guide to the biggest mistakes, most outrageous assumptions, and the outright lunacy at work in Hollywood films that play with the rules of science. In this fascinating and funny guide, author Tom Rogers examines 20 different topics and shows how, when it comes to filmmaking, the rules of physics are flexible. Einsteins and film buffs alike will be educated and entertained by this wise and witty guide to science in Hollywood.

Table of Contents

The Noble Cause: Striking a Blow for Decency in Movie Physics
Moviemaker Mathematics: How Hollywood Shoots from the Hip
Conservation of Mass and Energy: Is Anything Sacred?
Scaling Problems: Big Bugs and Little People
Inertia and Newton's First Law: Why Blowing Up Spacecraft is a Bad Idea
Newton's Third Law: That Special Hollywood Touch
Creative Kinematics: Explosive Entertainment
Hollywood Bombs: How Filmmaker Physics Misses the Boat
Leaping Logic: Why Moviemakers Say "How High" When the Director Says Jump
Acceleration and Newton's Second Law: How to Get Started, Use Brakes, or Change Direction, Hollywood Style
High-Energy Films: Nuclear Firecrackers, Falling People, and Cars as Weapons
Movie Momentum: The Attractive Force of Glass, Rail-Gun Recoil, and Cosmic Toyotas
JFK and Momentum: Hollywood's Conspiracy to Assassinate History -
Scenes with Real Gravity: Celebrating Disasters with Happy Hollywood Endings
Scenes with Artificial Gravity: The Good, Bad, and Ugly Space Stations
The Movie Merry-Go-Round: How Filmmakers Create Ridiculous Spin
Hollywood Disasters: Global Warming, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Big Winds
The Moviemaker's Cookbook: Cigarettes as Lighters, Exploding Cars, Burning Bugs, and Other Recipes for Foolishness
Wars versus Trek: Forgiving versus Forgetting
All-Time Stupid Movie Physics Classics: "They Said the Physics Were Impossible . . ."
About the Author
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


Excerpt from Chapter 1: THE NOBLE CAUSE: Striking a Blow for Decency in Movie Physics IT'S ONLY A MOVIE "It's only a movie," is often spoken by fans in defense of flicks with flaky physics, as though reviewing movies for physics content is an insult. But isn't the fact that Hollywood thinks they can feed us stupid physics the real insult? Let me explain why reviewing movies for something they need is not insulting, or unnecessary-starting with a hypothetical. Imagine a football movie: a group of plucky individualists have been forged into a team by the tough yet big-hearted coach. No one gave them a chance; yet, here they are in the big game playing their hearts out as Murphy, their beloved teammate, lies in the hospital with bandaged eyes, listening to the contest via radio. The team is behind and desperate. It's the seventh down in the eleventh quarter, so they punt a touchdown pass from the 127th yard line. But wait, this isn't football. It's nonsense. Anyone with football knowledge would think it was ridiculous; some would be offended. The scene would never appear in a movie-not because it's unlikely or hackneyed, but because it's unthinkable to take artistic license with the rules of football. (For those who don't favor American-style football, substitute basketball, soccer, hockey, or just about any other team sport. With a few modifications, the plot will still work.) Artistic license isn't a driver's license; it's an ambulance license. It grants the right to break rules without suffering petty penalties like traffic tickets. But rule breaking can cause errors, leading to serious penalties: wrecks. Rule breaking requires care; it's not a good idea unless there's a good reason. Hollywood would never take such a gamble with the manmade rules of football. So, when it comes to something profound like the guiding rules of the universe, why, of course, break the rules at will-no risk here. Okay, I realize that Hollywood isn't likely to reform, but at least by discussing bad movie physics it's possible to repair some of the damage done to our clear thinking by constant exposure to foolishness. Sadly, Hollywood has a rational reason for affording more respect to the rules of football than the laws of physics: audiences are more likely to know them. Ironically, movies may be part of the cure for this ailment: Hollywood's bad physics examples are good physics teaching tools. Besides, movies are almost as entertaining as physics, so what could be more fun than combining the two? In 1997, after years of watching one Hollywood physics wreck after another, I took a stand for decency in movie physics by founding what has become the premier movie physics site on the Internet. Since American moviegoers are used to rating systems warning of possible affronts to their sensibilities from strong language, violence, and sexuality, and since warning systems are, of course, highly effective deterrents, how could I resist? I created a similar system to warn about affronts from bad physics. Well, maybe ratings aren't so effective but at least they're fun. Movie Physics Rating System: GP = Good physics in general PGP = Pretty good physics (just enough flaws to be fun) GP-13 = Children under 13 might be tricked into thinking the physics were pretty good; parental guidance is suggested RP = Retch XP = Obviously physics from an unknown universe NR = Unrated. When a movie is obviously a parody, fantasy, cartoon, or is clearly based on a comic book, it can't be rated but may still have some interesting physics worth discussing. THE IMPACT ON ARTISTIC QUALITY To understand when the rules (the laws of physics) should not be broken, it's best to start with the situations where they can or should be. These include cartoons, parodies, and fantasies. Even top-notch science fiction routinely stretches the boundaries of physics for the sake of story. Time-travel is a

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