Total Recalls


We did the crazy thing. We watched 1990’s Total Recall while eating burritos and then went to the cinema to watch the remake. It’s hard to figure out which one is worse. Which is quite an achievement if you think about it. But let me start with a positive note, before I go all ranty about a single aspect of the new version.

Our beloved protagonist… bah… who am I kidding… Quaid is in a quest to get his memories back and eventually finds someone who can help. In the old movie, it’s a super-weird psychic known as Kuato that by magic manages to restore some memories. In case you don’t remember:

In the new one, Quaid is instead connected to a computer through electrodes in his head. They replaced psychics with technology. I can’t help but believe that it’s a small piece of evidence that humanity is growing up, stopping to believe in fairy tales and trusting its fate in technology and engineering. At last, three or four hundred years of steady progress in improving people’s quality of life are paying of (mind you, also fueling a few terrible wars too).

Now to the rant! This was such a blatant disregard of the laws of nature that I felt like walking away from the movie, like I did with Lockout.

Let’s start with some facts. What happens if you put people inside a vessel, like a car or an elevator, and drop it? Let me show you what happens by showing you a scene from the movie that made it to the trailer (jump to 2:00):

Disregard the part when they decelerate in only three meters and still survive.

What happens is that the contents of the vessel seem to float because they are free falling with the same acceleration and initial speed as the vessel. In a more complex scenario but still using the same principles, you can experience weightlessness inside an aircraft. NASA uses that to train astronauts, Hollywood used that to film Apollo 13 (jump to 4:15):

And if you seen the movie you know where I’m going with this. In the new version, there’s a hole through the earth, from the UK to Australia. I’m not going to analyze how expensive that is or why it makes no sense. Keeping all our houses at spring temperature all year around, no matter whether it’s hotter or colder outside was, at some point, so impossible people wouldn’t even dream of it (specially the cooling down part). Science fiction is about dreaming, so, let’s dream about a hole from UK to Australia.

This hole is used for transport. They have a huge cylinder that people enter that travels through the hole. They sit in rows and get strapped to the seats like in a roller-coaster. I’m not spoiling anything, this is shown at the very beginning. They drop the cylinder and… what should happen now? Think of the car being dropped and make your guess: The cylinder is in free fall and so is everything inside it, things should appear to float… that’s not what happens in the movie.

In the movie, they enjoy gravity… and if you think that’s bad… get ready for more. When they are getting closer to the center of the earth, the PA system says something like “get ready for gravity reversal”. For a period of time they are weightless and some parts of the cylinder, with people strapped to the seats, is turned around, which is quite cool. When they leave the core of the planet, gravity comes back like someone waking up from a nightmare and everything falls. That is so wrong.

There seems to be no extra propulsion system, which if the hole through the earth is not vacum, would make for a very long trip… 20 hours or so? I don’t know, I didn’t calculate it. Even if the hole is free of air it’ll take a while… 2 hours? 3 hours? I don’t know… again, I didn’t do the math, if you want it, just ask me and I’ll do it.

What is more important though, is that without any propulsion system, you wouldn’t get to the other side of the earth. If you did, you’d have a perpetual motion machine, which violates the second law of thermodinaics, rigorously formulated by Sadi Carnot in 1824. Let’s assume there’s a propulsion system, ok? An invisible one… let’s say… it’s maglev on the walls or something like that… please? thank you.

Now Hollywood says: but isn’t this whole gravity reversal extremely cool? we want it on the big screen!

Agreed… but Mr Hollywood, hear me out… this is how that transport system should have worked:

  1. Everybody goes inside the huge vessel and get themselves strapped to the seats like in a roller-coaster… it looks cool and realistic, as it’ll be quite a ride.
  2. We have a countdown (awesome! why don’t airplanes have countdowns? imagine everybody going in unison 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, brakes released! take off!).
  3. The cylinder drops and everybody inside experience instant zero gravity… things float, drinks are spilled, people vomit… ok… not that one.
  4. We turn everybody upside down, like they did in the movie, while they are weightless.
  5. We hit the rockets… yes… the vessel now has rockets to accelerate. Or maglev, or whatever, doesn’t matter. The vessel accelerates at 2g (1g is gravity’s pull, another g is caused by the rockets), making earth-like artificial gravity. Alternative the vessel accelerates at 3g or 4g, because they are just a bunch of shitty workers and can take it. If that acceleration is kept, by the time it reaches the core, it’d be traveling awfully fast, and by that I think space-shuttle-worthy fast… I can do the math if you ask me.
  6. At some point they turn the rockets off and it starts falling at 1g again and everybody inside experiences another weightless moment.
  7. We turn everybody around again.
  8. We fire the rockets in the oposite direction… remember, we need as much force to stop it as we need it to get it moving, so everybody experiences gravity again. Instead of rockets, we could just use the atmosphere inside the tube to slow it down. Air is used to slow down spaceships coming back to Earth all the time, and that’s why landing on Mars is harder than landing on Earth… you have less atmosphere to slow you down.
  9. Getting closer to the end of the trip, the strong deceleration stops and everybody experiences zero gravity once again, which is quite convenient, because we turned them upside down twice, which leaves them pointing up in the UK, but pointing down in Australia. So why they experience zero g again, we turn them again and we slowly stop it just in time to see some kangaroos.

So… Hollywood… wouldn’t that have been much more impressive? you had rockets and instead of one wrong gravity reversal, you’d have three correct ones in every trip. Think of the plot potential! I’m giving you three for the price of one!

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