The Big Shift

The other day I happened to catch a few minutes of the disaster mega-epic 2012.  A few minutes were all it took to remind me why I don’t, and shouldn’t, watch such cinematic giant-buttered-popcorn features.  I may not have all the details precisely correct, but that shouldn’t matter much because those details are so hugely and absurdly wrong in the first place – and, yes, there will be a point to all this, but after I first present those absurdities.

From what the section of the movie I did watch showed, Earth is doomed to disaster in the year 2012 because the Earth’s crust will shift, but around China as a pivot point [no, I don’t know why China was used, except that it seems to further the plot] so that great arks can be built for select humans in China and in great secrecy — and underground as well.  These two points alone are beyond merely dubious.

Taking the second one first… we can’t even spend enough to restart the space program or rebuild our highway bridges and infrastructure…and we’re going to be able to build something that no one outside of China knows about costing tens of hundreds of billions of dollars?  And the Chinese will cooperate when all they have to do is nothing to end up, literally, on top of the world?  I won’t mention, except in passing, the scenes where helicopters ferry elephants and giraffes dangling beneath them over frozen mountains in the last hour before disaster hits China or driving Bentleys out of the cargo hatches of aircraft landing in icy mountain valleys.

The first point is the one that truly frightens me, because it reveals how little either Hollywood or most people understand about the world, and plate tectonics in particular is just one example.  There are continuing references to the Earth’s crust shifting something like 23 degrees and thousands of miles, and I suspect this part of the movie had its genesis in a pseudo-scientific thriller of more than 20 years ago entitled The HAB Theory.  Such a gigantic shift in hours is not only technically impossible, but if it did occur, there wouldn’t be much life left anywhere above the microscopic or very small cellular level.  There certainly wouldn’t be mere huge fissures running alongside McCaran Airport in Las Vegas, and the earthquakes wouldn’t be a “mere” 9.4 on the Richter scale.

A “mere” tectonic plate shift of a few yards in the right place can generate an earthquake of over 7.0.  It’s estimated that the earthquake that dropped the land around Seattle some twenty plus yards some 800 years ago[as I recall reading] might have been over 8.0, and if a similar quake occurred today, there would likely be nothing of size or significance left standing within fifty miles of MicroSoft headquarters.  Comparatively TINY shifts in the earth’s crust and continental plates, resulting from shifts over years, if not centuries, result in massive damage.  You certainly wouldn’t need even a single degree of shifting of the Earth’s crust to level everything and destroy any vestige of culture and civilization.

But, of course, a shift of a single degree just doesn’t sound cataclysmic enough for Hollywood or the consumers of giant-hot-buttered-popcorn cinema.  Is it any wonder that no one gets upset over the prospect of a few degrees of global warming… or that they can’t understand that those mere few degrees of increased temperature would result in inundating every major port city in the world?

Or… put another way… little things do mean a lot, something that’s so hard to get across in a world obsessed with the titanic… or the apparently titanic.

3 thoughts on “The Big Shift”

  1. Alan says:

    While I understand, and agree to a certain extent with, your view. However, I have heard many critics complain about movies I truly enjoyed over the years. And many people who watch them complain as well, over many of the same points which seem to frustrate you as well.

    I tell them often when they trash a movie I enjoyed that perhaps they had unrealistic views of their own. Hollywood does what it does, for the majority of their productions, solely to make money and provide entertainment.

    Very rare is the film which wishes to provide the truth. Absolute unvarnished truth is seldom good fodder for entertainment. If you look back over most films of the last three decades, there are relatively few which can truly be considered realistic.

    Additionally, as you’ve pointed out, the majority of people going to the theaters are unaware of the reality of things. A single degree change is, of course, ridiculously damaging to the world at large. As in any disaster movie, they take what might (at a very long shot, outside chance) occur, then exaggerate it to a ridiculous degree.

    Big ticket Hollywood does this to entertain. If people attend cinema events, expecting deep thought, clear lines of logic and realistic occurrences (consistent within the frame of the movie’s setting) then you can expect to be consistently disappointed.

    I believe that going to a movie with the expectation of being entertained by good acting and a story is not too much.

    Expecting realistic viewing is simply more then the movie industry is prepared to provide.

  2. David Brin says:

    PS I agree about 2012.

    See here my comments on the awful Bruce Willis film Surrogates, for some of the same reasons. I also comment on the deprressing “idiot plot” that controls most movies.



  3. Tim says:

    I don’t think that people are necessarily more freaked out/concerned with the titanic than the miniscule. I think what really matters to people is who it’s going to affect and when. I’m sure you can find a story in recent news of some mothers becoming overly concerned about a product that contained a small amount of some harmful substance, even though the amount wasn’t enough to harm anyone. Also, how quickly will the USDA, or the company involved, pull a food product off of the shelves because there is the slightest of chances that it could contain an allergen?
    I think that movies have to make things bigger in order to thrill the audiences, as they always have (You’ve got to razzle-dazzle ’em).

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