Fire In A Crowded Movie


New at Reason: If Hollywood's glamorization of smoking really does cause kids to smoke, how many kids out there are right now learning from the big screen how to overturn fruit carts, smash perfectly good large windows, escape from big explosions by jumping toward the camera? How many are learning the dangerous lesson that you can solve complex life problems, and learn something while you're at it, through such wacky mix-ups as bed tricks, impersonations, supernatural personality transfers or pretending to be gay? Exactly how many forms of bad behavior is Hollywood encouraging? Nick Gillespie gives an estimate.

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  1. Not to mention most romantic comedy behavior will get you, at best, a restraining order and, at worst, thrown in the pen for stalking.

  2. I don’t know. Pretending to be gay keeps me out of the military.

  3. As a physicist, I firmly believe that movies are the main reason why American youngsters score so badly on international science tests. The absurd physics in action movies may be doing irreparable damage to children’s scientific literacy.

    I demand an immediate program to help at-risk movie-viewing youths understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Please, let’s do this for the children!

  4. I know it has affected me — instead of cultivating mature conflict resolution techniques I resort to my light sabre!

  5. Sadly, you’ve been deluded into thinking that a beam of photons can have the properties ascribed to light sabers in the movies. Another victim of bad movie physics. We must put scientific censors on every set.

    Remember, it’s for the children!

  6. Should I stop working on the assumption that fate will take me away from my humdrum existance and I’ll discover I’m really savior of the universe/king/of the bloodline of christ/carrying the ring of Mordor?

  7. thoreau — what kind of a snide remark was that? I’m gonna use the Force to track you down, and THEN you’ll be sorry! 🙂

  8. Besides, don’t you realize that the science doesn’t really matter if it looks cool?

  9. BTW — my 4 year old girl already knows that the sky is blue because of Rayleigh scattering — too bad ya can’t choose your parents, huh? 🙂

  10. She also knows the nine planets (counting Pluto), in order, as well as the four Galilean moons of Jupiter…….

    What have I done!?

  11. Mark A.-

    I can’t tell you how many people went into physics, revolutionized energy generation, and then died at the hands of CIA agents because they saw Keanu Reaves outsmart the bad guys. They all thought “If Keanu can invent cold fusion and then escape from rogue elements of the CIA that work for oil interests, and score with a really hot chick in the process, so can I.” And every one of them was eventually killed. We need movies that send cautionary tales, not “Go ahead kid, revolutionize the world, nothing bad will happen.”

    (Just kidding, obviously. Cold fusion is tough. Out smarting a bunch of federal employees is easy 😉

  12. Willie, don’t stop working. But if you’re lucky, you might get flushed down the toilet.

  13. Wow! I had completely forgotten about that aweful movie (selective memory — maybe THAT’S why I keep going back for more)!

    Speaking of Keanu “Whoa!” Reeves, my favorite aweful-science flick of recent years is “The Matrix”. So this world-wide computer/sentient thing can think of no better power source than ‘bio-energy’? It HAS to expend more energy sustaining those humans-in-big-pickle-jars than it could ever get out. Why not just cover the planet with photovoltaic panels, or build a nuclear reactor miles on a side ala “The Forbidden Planet”?


  14. Let kids watch more porn. Rarely do I see actors light up after romp scenes anymore. Plus, most are going with condoms now. The only downside I see is little boys thinking that most girls want frequent anal sex and get off to it.

  15. I generally have the same thoughts after viewing porn that I have after viewing Sci-fi movies… “Cool, but that’s not going to happen…”

  16. Do you think the prevalence of condom use in porn was brought about by letters from state attorneys general?

  17. Absurd geekiness warning …

    So, about that lightsaber thing – what if you had coherent light sources at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions of a disc shaped hilt surface. You angle the things so that the beams meet at a point say 3′ out from the source and then adjust their phase so that they the 12 and 6 beams destructively interfere at 3′ and the 6 and 9 do the same. Are you close to a light saber?

    Movies are most dangerous when they take seemingly normal brains down bizarre paths.

    Then again, maybe there is a reason I barely scraped by with an undergraduate physics degree from a liberal arts school …

  18. But if you go any further from the hilt the destructive interference goes away and your beams resume. So you have beams that go to zero intensity at a point away from the hilt and then diverge from one another.

    And you certainly can’t parry with it. Photons pass right through each other (unless we have non-linear media, but the vacuum is a linear medium for visible photons, non-linearity doesn’t manifest until you get to high energy gamma rays).

  19. The hell with false depictions in movies, what’s wrong with kids lighting up? I lit up when I was a kid, and quit as an adult, as most people do. The only way we can have more ex-smokers than smokers is if most of us quit. Teens don’t get lung cancer.

    If we want to stop an at-risk group from smoking, why not target the 50 year olds?

  20. Jason:

    If you could cancel out the wave effects of the photons perfectly you could make a beam of light which terminates at a specific length.

    hmmm, let me think abut this one…..

  21. Mark A.:

    They ‘solved’ the reason they couldn’t have photovoltaic cells to make energy. During the wars humans supposedly “scorched the sky” because the machines were solar powered. But I agree, the who human battery thing bothered me because of the amount of energy a human requires to make the energy. Someone failed basic thermodynamics if they though humans could “create” energy. Or maybe they missed biology and didn’t realize why people have to eat.

  22. Jason,

    The fundamental problem you run up against is the fact that photons are bosons and thus are not subject to the Pauli Exclusion Principal — meaning that you would never be able to parry with the thing even if you did manage to form the 3′ “blade”.


    Such a thing using gammas would create a huge amount of ‘shine’, as we call it in the trade. It would probably burn our courageous Jedi’s face clean off just from the downscatter if used in air (which I assume since we would want a nice brightly visible ‘blade’ — otherwise it just wouldn’t look cool)!

  23. Oh, well. I have to play the idiot’s trump card.

    I invoke quantum mechanics. Booga booga!

    Deepak Chopra tells me that it proves the truth of ancient Hindu spiritualism, so I suppose it could also prove the existence of green light sabers …

  24. Mo — I guess I missed that. Those dumb machines should have built a band of photovoltaics encircling the Earth in geosynchronous orbit (kinda like a variant of Niven’s “Ringworld” — now that would make a cool movie…….)

  25. Then I must defer to Deepak Copraphage 🙂

  26. This is an example of an ad hominem tu quoque.

  27. The most consistently horrible science I’ve ever seen was on “Space 1999.”

    Come on–a nuclear waste dump explosion powerful to hurl the moon out of orbit without killing the people on it? And they pass through a new solar system every week (where the people just happen to speak English, of course)?

    A close runner-up was Star Trek: Vulcans (another people who just happened to speak English, BTW) had copper-based blood. Yet they were genetically similar enough to humans to interbreed. With that fundamental a difference in biochemistry, a human would have a better chance producing fertile offspring with a three-toed sloth.

  28. The Matrix thing always bugged me. They should have fudged it and talked about computers harvesting “psychic energy” or something. Invented science is fine, butchered science (using human bodies as perpetual motion devices by recycling them as food for other humans while maintaining a constant energy supply) always bugs me.

    I remember once watching a made-for-TV movie about UFO abductions. I scare easily, and those aliens with the big eyes freak me out. I couldn’t fall asleep afterwards, until I pulled out a piece of paper, computed the escape velocity, and verified that it was faster than the speed of sound. There’s no way that UFO could have taken off without making a sonic boom. Then I slept much better.

    The next day somebody in my lab pointed out that it might have accelerated slowly, and not attained escape velocity until it was in the upper atmosphere, in which case there would be no sonic boom audible at the home where the person was abducted. Well, bad but reassuring science works just fine when you’re half-asleep and scared 😉

  29. Mark A.-

    The bosonic nature of photons isn’t the reason you couldn’t parry. Bosons of like charge can still repel each other. Sure, there can be strange effects that make them attract (I know very little about the mechanism of superconductivity except that somehow the electrons form bound pairs via interactions with phonons, and since the pairs are bosons they can all be in the same state), but the Coulomb repulsion is still there.

  30. I forgot to finish my original point on light-sabers parrying, but I got off on a tangent wracking my brain over what I remember concerning many-particle quantum mechanics.

    Anyway, photons don’t repel each other because they aren’t charged. If they were charged then they could repel and you might be able to parry.

    Actually, even if photons were charged and repelled, there’d have to be some way to bind them to the hilt so that a collision between photons in two different light sabers would transfer force (not “the Force”) to the hilt. But you can’t produce bound states of photonsh in vacuum (you can in certain inhomogeneous media via interference effects, but that’s another story) because they are massless (and hence always go at the speed of light) and uncharged (and hence can’t be “held”).

    So, basically, if photons were massive charged particles then you could make a light saber. But we already have weapons made of massive charged particles. The particles are called “electrons”, “protons”, and “neutrons”, and the weapons are called “swords.”

  31. Sayeth the Liberals Arts major,

    “What the fuck are you people talking about?”

  32. Tom J. — Article on ‘evil influence’ of Hollywood movies –> wisecrack about light sabers used for conflict resolution ——–> facetious discussion of bad science in movies and its pernicious effects (BTW – ‘facetious’ is one of only 2 words in English lexicon in which all five vowels appear consecutively) —–> discussion of light saber physics —> there ya go!

  33. thoreau,

    Of course you are correct. I was assuming that we were working with photons (“light” sabers ‘n’ all) and thus never considered Coulombic repulsion. In any event, the parrying action would have a completely different character since the force between the ‘blades’ would follow the inverse square law (it would be interesting if one of those mean ol’ Sith used an anti-particle saber………….:)

  34. -marvels at the havok he has wreaked-

    Oh, come on Thoreau. If you can’t even get me lightsabers out of the seemingly infinitely broad implications of quantum mechanics, what good is that advanced sheepskin? 🙂

    Surely we can work from the wave interpretation with the collapsing of wave functions somehow. We don’t have locality, particles phase through other particles all the time, quantum zeno effect? Can we have lightsabers as long as we don’t look at them?

  35. And remember – always run *toward* someone firing a fully automatic weapon.

  36. For all yall badmouthing the Matrix for it’s the apparent thermodynamic ignorance of its writers. The movie can always be saved from this picayune by having it so Morpheus (and anyone else who claimed the “humans for energy” story) was either a liar or a fool. I can imagine a few reasons other than an energy source that the machines might be keeping humanity alive. Another possibility is that when the humans originally built the machines, they built in a fundamental need for something produced in the human body that the machines can’t synthesize. Maybe the machines need just a little bit of human blood to catalyze some energy-producing reaction within themselves…. Morpheus did say that the machines also used some form of fusion to produce energy.

    But who knows, maybe they’ll just leave this as a glaring flaw in the movie. The thing that has surprised me about this is that most people don’t even realize that the explanation given by Morpheus about humans functioning as batteries is seriously flawed.

  37. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/11/2003 12:25:14
    In this grand B movie we call life, there is always a girl.

  38. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/21/2003 02:24:16
    Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.

  39. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/10/2004 04:35:13
    Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.

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