Trope-ic Thunder: That’s Not How Things Work 2

Trope-ic Thunder BannerBy Drew Parton

So, not only am I back (again), but I’m a Bachelor of Science now, which means my hourly rates have gone up (James…). In the interim period of studying, writing, crying, etc., I saw a few movies and TV shows that inspired me to do another column about some quick and dirty scientific inaccuracies in media. So sit down, and strap in for “THAT’S NOT HOW THINGS WORK, HOLLYWOOD!” Part two:

The movie Evolution, starring David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, and Sean “Stiffler” William Scott is a fierce competitor for the “Worst Movie Science” award. Among my favorite of its heinous offenses to knowledge is the biochemistry of the aliens. First off, the aliens are “nitrogen based.” I use that in quotation marks, because what they really mean is “they breathe nitrogen,” but fine, whatever.

Now, Nitrogen is an inert gas. Like the noble gasses (helium, xenon, neon, etc.), Nitrogen generally doesn’t interact with other elements. You can see how this might be not be best thing to base an animal’s biochemistry on. But perhaps the weirdest thing of all is that when the meteor crashes, the first life that forms is oxygen-converting fungus, this creates a livable environment for further organisms rich in nitrogen.

The problem is that ALL OF EARTH IS RICH IN NITROGEN GAS. Seriously, 78% of earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen gas, they’d feel right at home here. But, that’s the price we have to pay in order to see an alien forcibly removed from Orlando Jones’ anus.

I hope it was worth it, America.

Now, I loves me some Godzilla. I know I’m not alone on this website. I love the movies (even when I didn’t know that they were a metaphor for the horror of the atomic bomb), I played the Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters game at a birthday party for like 6 hours, I cried like a baby when Godzilla seemingly died at the end of King Kong vs. Godzilla, I even remember waking up early to watch the Godzilla animated series with Godzuki- the original Jar-Jar binks of “ruining things I like.”

But much as I love Godzilla, it is more magical than science fiction. First off, in the second column I ever wrote, I talked about something called the Square-Cube Law, which puts a cap on the size of things on earth- either through power sources or weight (you can read more about it in the other column). Now, because of the radiation, maybe ya G-Boy has a power source strong enough to move his lard-ass. And maybe because he usually lives deep beneath the ocean, his bones are strong enough to support his weight (though that’s extremely unlikely). My real problem is with the original Godzilla Deus Ex Machina, and still the only man-made device that has defeated Godzilla: the Oxygen Destroyer. The Oxygen Destroyer does pretty much exactly what it says it does: it destroys the oxygen in water, causing things to asphyxiate. Now, one does have to wonder what Dr. Serizawa made the invention for besides a terrible weapon of mass fish-destruction. But anyway, it works on Godzilla, killing him and… dissolving all of his flesh? Wait, what? Was he made mostly out of Oxygen?


I think the whole world has just finally gotten over how amazing Breaking Bad is and we can go back to normality and comment on it. Despite it being one of the best cable shows of the last 10 years and actually hiring a chemist as an advisor, the show takes some artistic liberties with chemistry. One such liberty involves mercury fulminate and the phrase “This is not meth.”

As freaking awesome as that scene is, it ain’t quite accurate. While Mercury Fulminate is highly reactive, it’s not quite that explosive. Though, it is so highly reactive to heat and pressure that it more likely would have exploded in Walt’s pants on the walk over.

Let’s all pause for a moment and remember that Michael Bay’s movie The Rock is part of the The Criterion Collection.

I thoroughly love the movie. It’s got the awesome trifecta of Ed Harris, Nicholas Cage, and old-man Sean Connery in his prime.  It’s a wonderfully fun romp that I list among Cage and Bay’s (actually his highest rated movie on rottentomatoes) good films. Not to mention this unforgettable piece of advice:

I mention this movie not because of scientific inaccuracies- but actual scientific merit. I was watching it with friends a while ago, and we were all laughing at the goopy green gas of doom- VX gas. It seems like a just a silly plot device thought up- but it’s a legitimate nerve agent and chemical weapon. In fact, it is the most lethal of all nerve gasses discovered and the United States military did have an active stockpile of it until 1993. The effects of the gas aren’t quite as dramatic as in the movie, it shuts down respiratory function really quickly, but doesn’t melt your skin away.


And an important plot point of the film is that if one of the team of seals (plus Sean Connery and Nic Cage) comes in contact with the gas, they need to inject atropine into themselves to prevent dying. That’s actually part of the the recommended treatment for VX gas- including “washing the exposed area with cold water and house-hold bleach.” Atropine, as well as Pralidoximine, is a common anti-nerve agent antidote. And most of the time, it is administered using similar-looking auto-injectors.


Now, someone asked me about hacking and computers in movies.

I’m not an expert on computers, but I know enough to say affirmatively that 98% of hacking portrayed in movies is total and utter horse hockey. Yes- horse hockey, a word only grandparents use. So, let’s start out by saying that computers aren’t magical. That may come as a surprise to some film makers, but they aren’t able to do everything. In fact, they’re quite limited in what they can do. In order for someone to hack into something, they have to be connected- this might sound kind of stupid, but it’s something that is overlooked. You either have to be directly connected, or it has to be connected to the internet. So: hacking phones? Possible. Hacking power plants, fuel lines, and traffic lights remotely? Not so much. In addition, most hacking isn’t dramatic, furious typing. It’s slow, it’s looking up manufacturer’s default passwords or phishing their email. It’s a lot less computer and much more simple social manipulation.

Who gets it right and who gets it wrong? Well, unfortunately, most media falls into the second camp, eschewing accuracy for effects- and this might not be a bad thing, otherwise hacking films would be boring. Violators include: The Italian Job, Swordfish, Skyfall, and Live Free or Die Hardamong others.

Oddly enough, Tron and Tron 2.0 do it better. True, your programs aren’t actually anthropomorphic constructs that walk around a physical computer world. But, in both movies, the real-world hacking (using back doors, manufacturer’s passwords, having to physically connect with the company’s servers) is pretty legitimate.

Pictured: Legitimacy

The Social Network, starring future Lex Luthor Jessie Eisenberg (not a joke), features entirely realistic hacking techniques (in fact lifted directly from court documents of the actual incident) during the scene in which Zuckerberg is downloading people’s pictures for the face book.

Additionally, most hackers aren’t criminals or bad guys. They actually tend to work as cyber-security experts for companies, finding and fixing security flaws in programs and networks. Alas, it’s not quite as dramatic or exotic as the romanticized hacking you see in the movies. But, if that’s something you like, head on over to and start typing like a madman to feel like you’re really cracking into the pentagon (hit caps lock three times for “Access Denied,” and hit alt three times for “Access Granted”). For bonus fun, go to a crowded internet cafe wearing a hat and dark sunglasses while you do so.

And be sure to check out my other column, where I review action films on Mondays: Mindless Action Mondays

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