Monday, November 16, 2009

The Neutrinos are Coming! 2012 and Hollywood Science

" '2012' Sells Tickets, Sells-Out Science"
Discovery News (November 15, 2009)

"Last night, my wife Deb and I went to watch the Roland Emmerich movie 2012. Deb fell asleep. She was the lucky one.

"I'm joking, it wasn't that bad, we just had to attend the midnight showing as the earlier showings were all sold out. It looks like the 2012 doomsday phenomenon is still alive and strong.

"Sure, the scenes of planetary destruction were impressive, John Cusack did his thing and Beatrice Rosen smoldered on the screen, but as for the rest of it, I have similar criticisms as I had of Nick Cage's Knowing. Both movies got the science behind doomsday all wrong...."

The article isn't a movie review so much as it's a discussion of Hollywood science. I'd been wondering what the writers and director of 2012 decided to feature as the scary thing in 2012. The author saved me the trouble of sitting through the movie:

"...Neutrinos. Killer solar neutrinos. Yes, you heard me: neutrinos....

"...Emmerich opted to used one of the most unlikely candidates to kill Earth. After all, the neutrino is electrically neutral and it has minuscule mass. Also, the sun pumps out a lot of neutrinos -- the human body is bathed in 50 trillion solar neutrinos every second -- and just as many neutrinos can be found entering the Earth's crust on the sun-facing side of our planet as there are on the opposite side. The ghostly particles pass through our planet totally unimpeded.

"They are extremely weakly interacting particles that have zero effect on our everyday lives. They are very useful to scientists however, and many billions of dollars have been spent world wide on building neutrino detectors that can sense distant supernovae.

"In 2012, scientists discover (in the depths of a copper mine in India) that an increased flux of neutrinos from the sun is interacting with our Earth's core, causing it to heat up, increasing subterranean pressure...."

That's Hollywood science item #1. Next, Hollywood science #2:

"...Why is there an increased flux of neutrinos? Planetary alignment of course! This magically kick-starts the sun's flare activity. And there we have the popular doomsday theory that we will be killed via planetary alignment.

"No sign of Planet X though, I'm disappointed.

"So Emmerich found a way to kill the Earth using a faux astronomical event (there is no planetary alignment in the year 2012)..."

None of which will change the minds of 'true believers.'

Personally, I think the movie-makers made a good (by their standards) decision, having a non-existent planetary alignment pull killer neutrinos into Earth.

"Neutrino" sounds cool and scientific - and, although quite a number of people have heard the word "neutrino," my guess is that relatively few have learned how maddeningly hard it is to get a neutrino to interact with anything. Which is part of why neutrino detectors are so expensive.

So, as a vaguely-familiar, really scientific-sounding thing that very few people in the audience really know anything about: "neutrino" is a pretty good choice.

I suppose it's easier to make people believe that killer neutrinos from outer space will make things go boom; than to sell the idea that simultaneous cases of static cling will create a lightning bolt that destroys lower Manhattan.

Now that would be a disaster flick!

2012, the Mayan Calendar, and Y2K

I've heard that the Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, and that this somehow means that the world will end then.

I did a little checking, and found out that, following the same logic, the world ended in December of 999 and 1999. Since we're still here, there may be something wrong with the idea that the world ends each time a calendrical cycle ends, beginning a new cycle.

From "Commie Plots, Cholesterol, Frank Burns, Hugo Chavez, and 2012"
Another War-on-Terror Blog (November 15, 2009)

"...Quite a number of people seem to assume that 2012 will be when the world ends. As a matter of fact, December 21, 2012, is when a 'Long Count' cycle of the Mayan calendar will end - assuming that the current Long Count started on August 11, 3114 BC. If it started on August 13 - which is possible - the cycle re-starts on December 23, 2012. It'll also re-start in the spring of 7138, summer of 12263, autumn of 17388, and so on.

"Western civilization's calendar uses a base-ten numeric system, and involves centuries and millennia. We just experienced the end of one of our 'long cycles' - December 31, 1999 - and Y2K went past without an apocalypse. (Yes, there was a real issue with legacy software - which encouraged some long-overdue upgrades and re-engineering.)..."

Disaster Flicks, Hollywood Science, and the Killer Tomatoes

From the sounds of it, "2012" is a disaster flick that might be worth the price of a ticket. But in terms of having plausible reasons to account for the special effects extravaganza? You might as well be watching "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!"

Related post: Background, about the Mayan calendar:

1 comment:

Defiscalisation said...

Nice review! Keep it up!

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