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2012 – The (2009) Movie

Um. Um. Um. Um. Where do I begin?

The movie was entirely preposterous. There almost wasn’t enough science to make fun of! It ranks way above Sunshine [1] in my ranking of action flicks full of terrible science, and yet it barely holds a candle to Armageddon [2]. Perhaps no one can top Armageddon as the best movie to show an intro Astronomy class: the best movie to ask Astronomy students to rip to shreds.

I think we (the astronomy educators of the world) were worried about nothing. If this movie convinces anyone that the 2012 hoax is real, then they weren’t watching the movie.

In any case, here goes!

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NO REALLY! STOP READING NOW!

Science: F (A=perfect, F=utter failure)

Blood & Guts: 1-2 (0=none, 5=District 9 [3] & Zombie movies)

Illness & Medical Awfulness: 0 (0=none, 5=Outbreak [4] & District 9)

Scariness: 2, mostly just suspense (0=none, 5=I’ve never seen a “5” but Outbreak gave me nightmares for years – so maybe 5 is Jaws [5] or Psycho [6])

Other Phobias* [7]: “apocalysophobia”, suggestion of vertigo, aviophobia, hydrophobia, necrophobia (fear of losing spouses or children and fear of death), amaxophobia, fear of conspiracy, and fear of flying giraffes.

Opening Scene:

I can’t even tell what planets those are supposed to be  they’re so wrong. At first I thought it was Nibiru on a collision course with Earth and the Moon, but since there is no further mention of Nibiru I doubt that’s right. And then there’s Saturn with a stripy-like-a-gas-giant moon. Uh-huh. No, Saturn’s moons don’t have gas bands like Jupiter.

And the scale is ALL WRONG on the clip of the Earth and the Moon and the giant coronal mass ejection coming off the Sun.  Of course, you couldn’t fit all three in a dramatic image even if you wanted (the Sun would wash out the whole image, and to get the sizes anything like that you’d have to be on the other side of the Moon, not the other side of the Sun) to so maybe we can pretend it is a split-screen shot. Mm-hmm.

Solar Eruption:

YES! Okay, they got one thing right. They do not call the giant bubble of Sun-stuff headed towards Earth a solar flare as would be tempting. They call it a solar eruption. Technically I’d call it a coronal mass ejection (CME), but solar eruption is at least not reinforcing a common misuse of a scientific term.

Neutrinos:

This is the crux of the whole movie. It’s also the science-y-est the movie tries to get. (And then later they kill off the astrophysicist who gives this explanation – just as well, this science was, what’s that word again? Oh yes, preposterous!)

Neutrino detector – great, it is deep underground, and it’s got those detectors on the wall to make it look like Super-Kamiokande [8], but the people climb down inside and the detectors aren’t even in a place where they can detect Cherenkov radiation within the water. The water is through a hatch! And the mine is in India – 11,000 ft deep. Super-K is only 3,250 feet deep. It looks to me like our deepest mines are actually around that deep – but they’re in Africa not India.

Some quick look-ups online reveal at least one 2008 paper [9] from Super-Kamiokande  (published in the peer-reviewed Physical Review) that shows no correlation between sunspot number (a measure of solar activity) and neutrino levels. It also does not find a doubling of the number of neutrinos detected during Solar Maximum. Of course, this being the cause of the apocalypse in the movie, maybe we should just let them have doubled neutrinos.

Except that wouldn’t cause the apocalypse – as they say in the movie neutrinos do not interact with ordinary matter! This is why we have to have super-specialized detectors deep underground to even detect a few of them. So they have to turn the neutrinos into microwaves. Well, what can I say to that? If you’re just going to turn gnats into electricity or elephants into ocean waves I guess you can do anything.

Then those microwaves begin to boil the Earth’s core. Oh.

Mass Suicide:

This is what I actually worry about. If too many people believe the 2012 hoax, then there will no doubt be a number who take drastic action. Please don’t. You will wake up just fine on December 22, 2012, unless you do something to change that. Suicide is not a good option, neither is anything that hurts you or those around you. If you feel like hurting yourself is a good idea please go talk to your doctor or call your local helpline [10].

Maya Prophecy:

The “Maya Prophecy” says nothing about the Sun. The calendar flips over. Ta-da!

Geology:

It confuses me how the cracks run down the middles of streets – turning corners with the street. They worm out of the geology by saying the earthquakes and cracks aren’t due to tectonic shift. It also confuses me that these cracks propagate slowly (at about a walking pace), and that they cut buildings like cake: leaving most of the structure intact.

Soil Liquifaction:

This is a real geology term. [11]It generally requires that the ground be saturated with water and then that an earthquake occurs. It does not mean that the soil turns to water, that rocks melt, or anything like that.

Yellowstone:

Yellowstone is the caldera of a hot spot (not “hot zone”) in our Earth’s crust, and could do some interesting things someday. I’d sure stay away from all volcanic areas (yes, that includes Yellowstone) if the Earth’s core/mantle were heating up. Under the circumstances of the movie, Yellowstone would definitely be unstable.

I like some of the beginning stuff that goes wrong in Yellowstone – the lake drying up (though the dead buffalo is really weird and reminiscent of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind [12]. I don’ t know why it is dead, it certainly isn’t because of the neutrinos.)

Then there’s something about 2700 degrees C and 0.5% change per hour. Math senses tingling – but I didn’t quite catch everything in this sentence so I can’t actually double-check this.

Later on, the way Yellowstone rolls and explodes into flaming balls of lava is cinematography, but how else would you have John Cusack outrunning boulder-sized “meteors” of flaming rock and a rolling ashcloud first in an RV and then on foot? I mean come on! A movie like this needs a man outrunning flaming balls of rock.

Pickles:

Why?

Charlie Frost’s Explanation of the Apocalypse:

No. And you should be able to tell that from his character and his animations.

Mayan expiration date: yeah, but just flip your calendar and you’re okay again.

Alignment of all the planets with the Sun and the galactic center: No. No. No. There is no alignment of the planets in 2012 [13]. The alignment of the Sun with the galactic center either happens every year  near the solstice or will happen in 2300 depending on how exact you want to be [14]. Does this happen every 640,000 years? It takes us 220 million years to go around the galaxy once, and we go through the plane an unknown number of times during that period.

Neutrinos: we already talked about this.

Earth’s core melts: a good part of it already is melted!

Earth crust displacement theory: There was a guy who proposed Earth Crust Displacement – a massive simultaneous rotation of the Earth’s crust, and Einstein did write a forward to one of his books. It is very important to note that this was in the 1950s – and the currently accepted theory of plate tectonics was not solidified and accepted until the 1960s. My geology professors were not taught plate tectonics when they were in intro geology classes, and now even elementary schoolers can explain it. Einstein was very smart, but he did get things wrong, and scientific theories change as we get more evidence that supports or disproves them. When scientists don’t understand something they propose many possible solutions and then gather data – this helps them choose the theory that is best supported by the evidence.

10.9 on the Richter Scale

Personally, I like the Mercalli scale [15] much better when reporting how “bad” and Earthquake was. It isn’t as useful for a scientific study, but in this case San Francisco would have undergone a “12 – Catastrophic – No structures left standing, landscape distorted” which is easy to understand: total chaos. But 10.9 on a logarithmic scale? What does that even mean? (Let me clarify: I have no gut understanding of 10.9 – but it does have scientific meaning.)

“The San Andreas Fault is shifting …” (says Adrian)

Why would the San Andreas Fault (and all connected faults) be shifting if the earthquakes aren’t due to tectonic shift? Script continuity please!

San Francisco slides into the Ocean

If we’re really having non-tectonic Earth crust displacement due to melting of the subterranean crust and core – and a piece of a continent starts to submerge, shouldn’t it be submerging in the mantle? Why does it look like it is just plain sliding into the ocean? I’m not sure the ocean just off San Francisco is deep enough to slide an entire city into. We’re still on the continental shelf at that point, and you’ve turned the city on end to sink it.

Yellowstone Eruption:

I already said it’s preposterous, so let’s look at just a couple pieces. First, it looks like a nuclear bomb blast surrounded by three rings of clouds, probably meant to be shock waves.

Look at this (this is real, it’s from the International Space Station in June 2009 [16]):

Sarychev Peak Eruption as seen from ISS [17]

Sarychev Peak Eruption as seen from ISS

That looks kinda similar – but scientists aren’t proposing that the smooth white cloud is  a shock wave, just a cloud generated by changing pressures. Maybe that’s what the makers of 2012 were attempting to portray – a volcanic plume so huge it passes through three different layers of air creating three different concentric clouds.

And yes, you should get away from erupting volcanoes because of ash clouds, superheated ash/rock flows, and worst of all – lahars (superhot, superfast mud flows). Not sure where the lahars would go from Yellowstone, but the best advice in volcano country is to stay out of riverbeds and get to high ground – high ground away from the volcano. These various flows can travel up to at least 300 miles per hour – poor John Cusack he should be so dead.

That ash cloud from Yellowstone reaches DC in just about 7 hours. That sounds okay, it’ll be picked up by the prevailing winds and it only takes a plane 5 hours to cross the country. Of course, it will be somewhat dispersed by then and won’t look like the rolling superheated cloud of the apocalypse so much, but depending on how much of Yellowstone you blew up it could make  a decent ash layer over most of the country. There really wouldn’t be that much heading towards the West Coast though, the winds will push it back the other way.

Cell Phones:

Seriously folks, you’re destroying the world, dumping entire cities into the sea, blowing up continents, and yet somehow, miraculously your cell towers are undamaged and you have signal everywhere? Cell phones are NOT satellite phones, they rely on cell towers. Cell towers are anchored to the ground.

Planes Taking Off, Runways Eroding

Almost every time we see a plane take off, the runway crumbles away beneath it, and the plane goes off the end into a chasm, because it hasn’t reached take-off velocity yet, only to see that plane plummet a few stories, gain control and pull up out of the brand new canyon. This is okay – planes are made to fly – that’s what a wing is for. Engines just give you speed. If you’re already airborne, and you’ve got a good pilot, you can glide the plane until you get your engines under control. And if you need more speed, what better way to get it than going down? Gravity-assisted take-off, I say!

Geomagnetic Reversal

So we end up with the South pole somewhere in Wisconsin. The mechanism is all off, the timeframe is unpredictable, but yeah, the magnetic poles reverse every now and then – every few hundred thousand to few million years. This should not be related to Earth Crust Displacement theory or 2012.

The Physics of Driving a Car out of the Cargo Bay of a Crashing Airplane

I would like to analyze this in more detail. Suffice it to say for now – I think the car should be moving in the same direction as the plane when the car’s wheels touch the snow. If anyone wants to crank out some math and force diagrams on this with me, that’d be great, I don’t have time at the moment.

Boarding the Ark

Two warnings. 1) You’ve got 20 minutes of Titanic to sit through here, but you’re almost done. 2) The drowning scene is not nearly as realistic as the one in the recent Bond flick: Casino Royale. You can probably handle it.

On Board

Now we have mountain-high tsunamis, and our cell phones STILL WORK.

There’s this fascinating thing that is about to happen – with the pretty “v”-shaped cleft that the arks are positioned at the end of, you’ve created what looks to me like a perfect tidal bore: a path for a wave to travel, gaining energy as it comes towards you until you’re hit with the brunt of the energy much harder than you would have been had you been at the mouth of the valley, rather than the back of it. This is what will happen to Olympia, WA if a tsunami ever is positioned just right to enter the Straight of Juan de Fuca and comes crashing down through Puget Sound. Olympia, albeit farther from the source, will be hit harder than Seattle.

Okay, when you designed your arks, and you designed the anchors to fail after the first crashing tsunami, why did you not also design them to withstand things like: crashing into each other, crashing into large debris (like airplanes) in the water, and crashing into rocks? Did you assume that after your anchors failed at that first wave the seas would be calm and you could float peacefully under a rainbow looking for a dove to return?

Africa

Africa gets uplifted, but at this point you can do whatever you want with the tectonic plates because you’ve set up a completely fictional idea anyway. So they set sail and ::phew:: we open the gates and breathe fresh air again.

Credits!

NO REALLY! STOP READING NOW! (Just in case you’re reading from the bottom up for some weird reason)

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*If you see this movie and you think of other fears it may raise let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

~ A l i c e !